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How to Build a Woodworking Shop with Limited Space and Money

When I took my first woodworking class, I didn’t know it would lead to a home shop, an Etsy store, or a plan for a small business. All I knew is that I was curious and wanted to try it. Once I took the first class at my local Woodcraft store, I was hooked.

Plans were immediately set in motion to build a woodworking shop as soon as I could.

First, we had to move. No, we didn’t move so I could build a shop (it was a crappy apartment we couldn’t wait to get out of), but there definitely wasn’t any extra room. We considered leasing warehouse space to build a shop, but I couldn’t justify the extra expense for what might turn out to be a hobby.

When we looked at houses to buy, my only requirement was a garage. Thankfully, we found a great house in a beautiful neighborhood and (most importantly) it had a garage. We’ve never parked our car in it because from the moment we moved in, I began setting it up as a woodworking shop.

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For anyone who might be interested in getting into any type of woodworking, your first shop doesn’t need a lot of space or a ton of money. I share my shop with my motorcycle, the kids’ bikes, and the washer and dryer. Here’s how I did it without breaking the bank.

Figure Out What You Want to Make

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You don’t have to decide from the very beginning everything you’ll ever make. Believe me, the more you do and learn, the more ideas will come your way. But it is good to have an idea of what you want to do as this determines what kind of tools and accessories you need.

I knew I would make pens because I enjoyed the first class so much. I had a feeling I’d try my hand at other things eventually. You might want to make figurines, bowls, spindles, or any number of items. And if you’re not sure, YouTube is an excellent place to learn and get some ideas. I like Mike Waldt and RJB Woodturner.

Keep Size and Space in Mind

Size is important in putting together your shop. The size of the items you make determines the size of the tools you’ll need. The amount of space you have to work is a determining factor, too.

You would be amazed, though, at what you can make with smaller tools. Mini-lathes can turn bowls up to 10 inches in diameter and spindles up to 18 inches long. Bench top band saws can cut wood up to 4 inches thick with a throat depth from 5 ½ to 9 inches.

My first lathe came from Harbor Freight. Is it top of the line? No, but it was a good place to start. I had a gift card and a coupon (something they put out frequently) so the price was even better.

Table Top Tools are a Big Help

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If you can build yourself a flat surface in your shop, you’ve got space for tools. The garage already had one work space built in when we bought it (the previous owner was a carpenter). It fits three tools and gives me space to assemble pens and do other small stuff. When I needed more space, I bought a couple of sawhorses and a piece of plywood. Ta-da, another work space was created.

Throughout my work space, I’ve got several table top tools that do what I need and allow me to make all kinds of things: pens, small bowls, wine stoppers, key chains, shaving brushes, goblets, and candle holders. 

  • Mini-lathe
  • Table top band saw
  • Table top drill press
  • Combo belt and disc sander

None of these were the best on the market options. They’re middle of the road items that I waited for a sale, a coupon, or a gift certificate to buy. As time goes on, and I evolve as a woodworker, I’ll replace what I have with tools that are more powerful and can do more. I’m always looking at and pricing tools.

Choose Tools That Can Do Multiple Jobs

When space and money are at a premium, you need tools that can multi-task. A single tool for a single job isn’t practical. My wood lathe does several jobs and my other table top tools are used in home improvement projects all the time.

Let’s focus on what the wood lathe can do:

  1. Drill pen blanks with a two-jaw chuck and Jacobs chuck 
  2. Barrel trim the pen blanks after the brass tubes have been glued in. 
  3. Pens can even be assembled on the lathe with head and tail stock inserts so a special pen assembly press is not necessary.

The more you can get out of one tool with a few accessories, the less you’ll spend overall and the more space you’ll save.

Stay Organized

Image via Graphic Stock

When you don’t have a lot of space, the last thing you need is a bunch of clutter. I was fortunate enough that my garage already had existing shelving when I started. If not, I would have added it because it’s so important. Magnets and boards with hooks installed on the wall are big space saver too. Many of my tools are within arms reach right on the wall.

What really makes this work is that I put things away when I’m done turning. Sure, it can feel like a hassle when I’ve been in the garage for eight hours, forgot to eat lunch, and just want to take a shower, but it’s worth the effort. I never have to worry that I won’t be able to find a tool when I need it later.

If money is still a concern (something I understand well), let your family know what you’re trying to do. My in-laws have been extremely supportive and every birthday and Christmas, I receive gift cards meant to help me expand my shop and buy better tools. Of course, it probably helps that I keep my family in pens, wine stoppers, and bottle openers, too.

My point is that if you want to build your own woodworking shop, you can. Do your research, get organized, and be patient. Waiting for sales and only buying exactly what you need will keep you from going into debt or stressing about how you’ll afford a tool. Start with basic tools and work your way up to bigger and better.

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