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The Perfect Home Workshop Setup

Updated on March 25, 2011

The Home Workshop

When you are filled with the desire to fix and make things for your house,  you need a comfortable place to work and to store the tools properly.

To give the most convenience, efficiency and pleasure to the handyman and handywoman, a proper workbench and tool storage is needed. Give as much space to it as possible. You may have a small spare room which is not being used; or a small section or a corner which can be walled or screened off, perhaps in the attic or basement or garage; or even a large unused closet. The amount of space you allot to a workshop need not be too large—but it must be comfortable, well ventilated, and of course with sufficient light to enable you to work properly.

Electric Lighting

Before you make and install any of the fixtures, give thought to the room (or corner of room) which is to be devoted to your work­shop. Is it light? If it isn't near a window, or if you are going to do your "puttering" at night, then you must be sure to install a good electric light over your workbench (and a bright ceiling or wall light, too, if possible) so that you will avoid eyestrain. For very close work you might want a light near the surface of the workbench-you can have a droplight fixture, suspended by a cord from a ceiling or wall fixture, and raise or lower the light as is needed.

If there is no overhead fixture or socket, but if there is a wall plug on the baseboard near your workbench, plug in a lamp (either table or floor lamp) which has a "goose neck" top—the flexible metal arrangement which enables the light to be raised and lowered over your work.

Workshop Floor

You might do some heavy hammering or other type of shop work which will be a strain on the floor. If your wood floor is too weak for such strain, it may be a good idea for you to lay an extra floor on top of the existing one, for strength. However, in a well built house this shouldn't be a problem, as the floor is usually strong enough. But, to make it easy to keep clean, cover the floor with linoleum or vinyl flooring, as it can be cleaned with a damp cloth after each one of your chores with the tools.

If your workshop is in a basement or garage which has a cement or concrete floor, then your only problem might be dampness underfoot. If that is so, lay a wood flooring over the cement floor, and if you prefer you can also add linoleum over that.

An apartment dweller who uses a closet as a workshop should put a 5/8" ply score floor covered with linoleum over the original floor for both protection and easy cleaning.

Fire Prevention

The workshop is a vulnerable spot, because of paints, oils, other materials which are inflammable. Make a metal fireproof cabinet or compartment in the shop where you can store such materials when they are not being used. Be sure to pick up oily rags and discard or place them in a fireproof container. Loose papers, shavings of wood and sawdust, must be swept off the floor, before you "lock up shop" after a fix-it-job. Also, see that no matches or matchboxes are left around, when using any inflammable liquids. Don't leave stubs of cigarettes on wood surfaces—provide sufficient metal ash trays, better yet, don't even smoke there. It is a good idea to keep a pail of sand handy in your work area.

If safety is as important to you as it is me, splash out and buy a multi-purpose fire extinguisher. Not only is it a good idea but your manly friends will think you've got all the bases covered with this addition. Extra points if you mount it in its own special place with a sign over the top.

Workshop Workbench

Now we come to the actual fixtures in the workshop. The first requisite is the workbench, which you can make to suit the dimen­sions of the shop. It should be sturdy, have as large a working surface as possible, and a rack for tools built on to it, which enables you to have ready at hand all the tools which you need. This rack should be attached to the wall (against which bench is placed), to prevent vibration of the tools while work is being done on the bench.

However, if you do not wish to make a workbench, but want to use instead an old sturdy kitchen table, by all means convert that into a bench. And on the wall, above the table, attach a separate rack for the tools, and you have your complete working unit.

Rack for Tools

Whether you have this attached to the workbench, or over the converted kitchen table, the type of rack is the same. Make three or four holes for rawl plugs in the wall masonry, and attach the rack to the wall with screws. The holes that are bored in the rack for the tools should be of the sizes necessary to accommodate the various tools. The front row of holes can have some slit open to the edge of the board, for flat blades (such as a chisel or knife) to be passed through, then the handle turned after tool is inserted.

The final design of rack is optional—you may want only one row of holes, or else you may want clamps on top of board for tools. There is no hard and fast rule about this—you select whatever tool rack you feel would please you best and give you most convenience.

Some tools are too large to be hung on a rack and need to be laid flat, such as hammer, saw, etc. In that case, have an additional rack—a wide flat shelf screwed on to wall, above the tool rack—for the storage of the larger tools. Or, if you don't prefer a rack, you could have a tool cabinet, or convert an old bookcase or bookshelves and stand it next to your table or workbench so you can lay the tools on the shelves. You don't have to go out and buy a lot of new things and lumber—you'd be surprised how many articles you can convert which are now unused in your house.

If you are short on space, you will find a pegboard useful for storage of many tools on a wall or closet door.

Make certain that sharp-bladed tools, such as saws and knives, are kept out of reach of children. Place those on the highest shelf, or in closed cabinet, when not in use.

Have a special box on the shelf for bits—they are usually kept in a roll of soft cloth, like the old flannel cases used for silverware.

Rack for Nail and Screw Jars

Nails can be a nuisance if not properly sorted; each size should be put into a glass jar so it can be seen easily—and it also lets you know when the supply is running low and more should be bought. The same applies to screws.

Build a rack for the jars so they will not be in the way and will stand less chance of being broken. These jars are also good for other items, such as hooks, bolts, nuts, and washers.

The wood should be heavy enough to carry the weight, but doesn't have to be too thick. Saw the board to desired size. Draw a line down center of the length of the board. Mark off distances of jars, allowing at least 1 inch clearance between each jar. The length of shelf and the number of jars depends on your own needs, of course. Pierce a hole through center of the metal top of the jar (of course, you use screw-top jars only!). Lay the jar top on the board, with the hole pierced in the cover to match the mark you've already made on the board. Drive a screw through the hole into the board, using l/z inch round head screw.

Attach the shelf (with the jar tops now screwed under it) to the wall.

If space is at a premium, you will find cigar boxes, or other boxes of that type, convenient for storage of these small items.

Saw Horse

This is also called a "saw buck" or "trestle." It is very useful for sawing wood. And if you are ambitious enough to make a pair of them, you'll find endless uses—such as laying across large boards and forming a scaffold (for wallpapering or other wall and ceiling re­pairs). Be sure that the legs are strong and are well braced to give a sturdy base and keep from turning over.

To make the saw horse, first cut one leg, with the proper degree of slant at top and the necessary degree of slant at bottom. Use a T-square to get required angles. When you're satisfied that it will stand properly, use it as a pattern to saw the other three legs. Cut the top strip, and nail the four legs to it, in pairs, the tops of the legs coming flush with the top of the board.

Now nail two side braces to the legs, then saw off the ends to match the slant of the legs. Then nail the two long braces, making sure the ends come flush with the slanted ends of the two shorter braces on the sides. Using one long brace makes the saw horse easier to store. Apartment dwellers that usually have less space than home owners can buy saw horse brackets that come apart for easy storage.

Rack for Waste Bag

In the home workshop a rack for holding a bag into which can be thrown wastepaper, cans, and rags, is a handy thing to build.

Nail two uprights on the wall, then a board of similar width over them. Cut the two projecting boards and nail them to the top board. Cut the two diagonal supports, with proper angles at both ends so they fit under the arm and against the bottom of the wall support. Nail to the arm, then to the support.

Screw hooks into the back and arm strips, or drive in nails which you then bend upwards, and hang a strong burlap or canvas bag on them.

Rack for Lumber

The usual home workshop may not be large enough to store lumber; but if you have an attic or a basement with exposed joists, an overhead rack can be built easily. Just how low the rack can come depends on the available headroom, and you must take into considera­tion whether high clearance is needed for walking under it. Also the length of rack is determined by the length of the lumber you store.

Tool-Carrying Box

Not all fix-its can be done in the home workshop, and for those times when you have to carry tools to various parts of the house or garden, make yourself a simple carrying box.
First assemble the bottom and four sides with nails. The sides can be as deep or shallow, or tapered or straight, as you prefer. Cut the center panel which acts as a divider inside the box. With a coping saw make an opening through which your fingers will fit, to carry the box. Place the partition in center of the box, and attach it with nails through the bottom of box and the two end boards. Sandpaper all surfaces smooth.

Work Table

An extra table, if there is room for it in the workshop, is a great convenience for the handyman. You can build this easily; the first consideration is that it be simple and strong. The size will, of course, depend on the space you have available; but generally a table 5 feet long x 2 feet wide fills the needs of a workshop well.

First build the framework of the legs. You don't need to buy new wood for these; if you have some strong pieces of used lumber, they can be cut for the framework. For extra strength, a lengthwise cross-strip is nailed on the two strips between the legs under both ends of table.

For the top do not use wood that is too soft, because you'll be doing a good deal of repairing and making things on the surface of this work table, and it will have to take punishment. Plane the surface and edges smooth.

All you need for this work table are the wood, saw, nails, hammer, and plane, and it is just about the easiest thing for the home workman.

This table doesn't have to be confined to workshop or basement —by using better grade of wood, then applying a stain or paint, this table of simple lines can have many uses in other rooms of the house.

Wall Drop Leaf Table

When space is at a premium, make a drop leaf wall table. This may be any convenient size, arranged to fold away when not in use. There are many other places throughout the house where this space-saving device is excellent.

Hardwood is most satisfactory for the top, while for the rest you may utilize any soft, well-seasoned wood. The size of hardwood boards for the top depends upon how large you want the table to be. Cut to size and glue together, or glue and join with dowels for greater strength. Cut a narrow piece to be placed nearest the wall and join with hinges to the other boards. Glue and screw battens toward the underside of the table top to act like drawer stops to keep the bracket arms in place when the table top is horizontal.
You will need also two upright wall cleats and a top wall cleat, two bracket uprights, two bracket arms, and two diagonal bracket braces.

Cut the two uprights the proper length for the height you wish the completed table, measuring from the top of the baseboard. Nail these in place to the wall studs. Set the horizontal top cleat along the wall and, after making sure it is level, nail in place.

To make the first bracket, miter together the bracket uprights and arms. Cut a diagonal to the exact length for the slanting side of the right-angled triangle and miter the ends. These should be glued and screwed for firmness. Test to be certain that the top of the bracket is level with the floor because your table top will rest upon it. Make a second bracket like the first. (For a small table, one bracket will be sufficient.)

Attach these brackets with hinges to the uprights in such a way that they will swing out and back to hold the table top. If the table top is very wide, the bracket supports should be double-hinged to fold back on themselves. In this way, they take up less space.

Extra Workshop Conveniences

While the workshop is primarily a place of utility, it need not be austerely rugged. On the contrary, you can make it a cheerful retreat for yourself when you are working, and at the same time a place where a friend or a member of the family can feel welcome just to talk or to give a helping hand.

If you like music while you work, include a small radio, or television set.

Another worthwhile addition is an electric or gas plate, which is set, of course, on a piece of metal for safety. This plate can be used for warming the glue pot, etc. if too chilled—but it can also serve a pleasurable purpose by enabling you to make a pot of coffee or tea or whatever your favorite hot beverage is. A snack while working with your tools—whether alone or with a companion —helps make the task lighter.

A nice setup will create a comfortable and enjoyable workplace. It can act as a sanctuary when the wife has friends over or her mother, or a place to retreat if you forgot your wedding anniversary. So consider a fold out bed if you've got the room for it.


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    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 

      3 years ago from Iowa, USA

      I have my workshop out in the garage with some south-facing windows. It has a cement floor and is a great place to work on projects. I agree that having a place to set up a workshop and organize your tools can help you get projects done.


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