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AW Extra 1/10/13 - Is Your Shop Too Small?


Is Your Shop Too Small?

Tips for making king-size projects in a pint-size shop.

By George Vondriska

n a recent poll of woodworkers, the most common complaint,by far, was that their shops were too small. Even one guy with 5,000 square feet thought he was cramped!

In spite of that, most of us would like to be able to turn out dining room tables, kitchen cabinets and other big projects. Well, if your shop and tools are small, but your dreams are gigantic, here are some ideas that will help.

A nest of crickets

Call them low boys, stools or crickets— whatever you call them, these stands are amazingly useful. And because they nest, they’re perfect for a cramped shop. You can make four of them out of one sheet of 3⁄4-in. plywood. The 16-in. height is just right for large work that might not fit on normal sawhorses. For working around the house, that extra height makes it easy to reach the ceiling. If that’s not reason enough, when your buddies come over to give you “helpful” shop advice, you’ve got plenty of seating.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Use a router for crosscuts

Ever tried to trim the ends on an 8-ft. dining table in a shop that’s only 9-ft. wide? The trick is to use a router instead of your tablesaw. Rough-cut the top with a circular saw or jig saw first, using a fine blade to avoid splintering. Then use a simple T-square jig and a router with a straight bit to trim the work to length.

Note that one leg of the T-square has already been trimmed by the router, so you can simply line up that end with your cutting line. Hang on to the jig and use it only with that router and bit. I once made a bunch of cabinets without using a tablesaw at all. I simply rough-cut the pieces with a circular saw (see p. 50), then trimmed them to final size with a router.

Cut dadoes with a router

Here’s the scene: You’re building an entertainment center and the sides are 7-ft. high and almost 3-ft. deep (big enough for that big-screen TV you’ve always wanted). But the sides have to be dadoed for shelves. Forget trying to use a dado head on the tablesaw, unless you happen to have 8-ft. rails on your saw! Instead, use a router and this easily made jig:

Make the jig from a straight board and a piece of 1⁄8- or 1⁄4-in. plywood or hardboard wide enough to extend 4 in. on either side of the board. Glue and screw together, then trim the bottom board using your router and a straight bit. The diameter of the bit should be whatever size you plan to use for the dado. I trim one side with a 1⁄2-in. bit and the other side with a 3⁄4-in. bit.

To cut the dado, simply line up the edge of the jig with wherever you want the dado.

Making the jig

Ceiling drawers

To eke out every cubic inch of storage in a basement shop, try these boxes that hang between your ceiling joists. When a drawer is down, you have easy access to its contents. A lag screw or bolt works well for a pivot and a pair of pivoting cleats holds each drawer in place. They’re perfect for tools and supplies you don’t need to get at all the time.

Collapsible work stands

In a small shop, the more things that can be folded up and moved out of the way, the better. These work stands are easy to build, easy to store and cheap. They’re especially good for finishing and gluing up panels. One sheet of 5⁄8-in. AC plywood will yield six stands. If you make them the same height as your tablesaw they will double as infeed and outfeed supports.

Rough-cut plywood

It’s awkward to manhandle plywood in a small shop and sometimes your cuts aren’t accurate just because the sheets are so unwieldy. One solution is to rough-cut the pieces with a circular saw and then make final cuts on your tablesaw. Lay the plywood on top of a piece of building foam, use a fine-tooth blade in your saw and set the saw so it cuts just 1⁄8-in. deeper than the plywood. Then simply kneel on top to cut. It’s much easier than sawhorses.

Make sure that you leave a factory edge on each piece that you cut. Although you may have to trim it off later, it’s essential as a reference for your first cut on the tablesaw.

Pay for service

For some situations, the easiest thing to do is to pay a larger shop to do the work. For example, a wide belt sander, shown at left, is great for leveling glued-up tabletops, especially if the grain is curly or otherwise difficult to plane. You’ll find one in cabinet shops and even some large school shops. Cost to have this done is variable, but generally low.

Joint edges with a router

Trying to joint the edges of 8-ft. long by 12⁄3- in.-thick hard-maple boards on a small jointer can end in disaster. Use a router, guided by a long straightedge, instead. The factory edge on a piece of hardwood plywood is sufficiently straight. Clamp the straightedge to the board so you’re removing about 1⁄16 in. Use a straight 1⁄2-in. or 3⁄4-in. bit with a guide bearing above the bit (available from mailorder sources like Jesada Tools, 800-531- 5559; around $30).

Easy-to-store clamp racks

In a small shop, there’s no room for a dedicated glue-up table, and often no room for much of an assembly table either. But you can make room for edge gluing with these clamp racks that fasten to sawhorses when needed.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker February 2000, issue #78.

February 2000, issue #78

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