Setting Up a Wood Workshop with Limited Space – Part I – Workflow and Layout

Site & Workshop

In the squeeze of a small space, setting up your woodworking shop with all the bells and whistles might feel like mission impossible, but it doesn't need to be! Whether you're reclaiming your garage or a spare room, it is all about getting clever with the layout. Seeing a small space shapeshift into an efficient workshop will be just as satisfying as the completion of the projects created within it.

Workshop Workflow

Every project you do within the workshop involves multiple steps; the accumulation of these steps can be summarised as the workflow. The workflow encompasses the movement of your body, tools, materials and electricity through space.

One of the first and most important things to consider when setting up a small workshop is, what are you going to be making, and with what tools? If you’re crafting small boxes with hand tools, then the workflow of your shop is going to be entirely different than someone who is making dining tables with power tools and machinery. It can be helpful to write down all of the steps involved - from moving the raw material into your workshop, to moving the finished product out of it.

If you’re starting with lengths of timber or sheet goods, these will need to be broken down. Consider how these large materials move in and out of the space. This is where understanding and planning the workflow throughout your shop will maximise your productivity.

Maybe you need to rip sheet goods on your small table saw; how will it be supported on the infeed and outfeed? This is where handy accessories like roller stands, which can be packed away when needed come out to play. Or, making your own outfeed bench, customised as an outfeed work transfer surface and workbench in one perhaps is the way to go.





But wait, before you lock in that workflow! Things change, ideas change and materials change. Your workshop needs to be able to adapt as your needs change. Just because hand tools are the order of the day today, doesn’t mean you’ll want to keep it like that forever. Ponder the future possibilities of your workshop, and how it can be rearranged to add new additions to your creative arsenal.




Small Wood Workshop Layout

The layout of your workshop should be determined by your workflow, and is one of the most important elements that will determine the efficiency the space. You could have all the floorspace your heart desires, but if the layout is wrong, you’ll waste more time moving yourself and your materials around the workshop. In fact, a smaller workshop laid out optimally will reduce this wasted time and motion.

You know the saying: fail to plan, plan to fail – or to waste time, effort and materials. Drawing out a plan of the space can help you to visualise the best layout for your shop. Mark out fixed elements such as windows and doors, and their swing, posts, electrical outlets and any other obstacles. Understanding the limitations of your space, allows you to think ahead for those tricky operations. Take stock of if all the items that are going to be taking up floorspace such as machinery, extraction, workbenches and storage, and their footprint. Now, on your plan you can test different layouts and determine the best design.

A favoured layout found in some of the home workshops of Timbecon employees is a doughnut shape. In this layout, your fixed workbenches and storage line the walls of the room, with static machinery in the centre. If you are more focused on hand tools, you may prefer the workbench in the centre of the room, allowing easy manoeuvring around your project. Wherever your workbench or machines may be located, mobile bases and castors allow the space to be adjusted to the needs of each project. Of course, ensure that the machines or bench can be lowered to the floor or tightly locked, so they are stable.


A final consideration that some overlook is having ample, clean space for the glue up and finishing stages. I know I have been caught out before by not observing how the lengthy clamps I was using would protrude into my working area, limiting movement and safety. Likewise, what movement is necessary to apply finishes easily and consistently for the best result.

There is a lot to deliberate on during this stage of setting up your small workshop, however, by methodically designing your layout according to your workflow you will create an environment capability of handling whatever you’ve planned throw at it!

Click here for Part II - Lighting, Electrical and Extraction

Click here for Part III - Storage

Click here for Part IV – The Workbench