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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

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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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Turning on a Dime

So here I was bitten by the wood turning bug but I was missing something very important, the tools to turn with. First I turned to Craigs List to see if I could find a lathe there. Oh there were plenty of lathe’s out there for sale to be sure, but they were either really old and weary looking or fairly new and still pretty pricey for my budget. My thought was that as much as I had fallen in love with the Nova Comet it’s price was a bit out of my reach at the time and did I really want to spend that much money upfront for something that in the long run I may find I don’t like or take to as much as I thought I would.

From there I began looking at other options from local tool shops to countless searches online. For the most part all the price points for lathes are pretty much in the same category. Starting at $300.00 and going up from there with all the bells and whistles that you could think of.

After a number of searches and reading tons of reviews I came across a 10 x 18 mini lathe at Harbor Freight. The cost was minimal and I admit to being one who lives by the motto of you get what you pay for as the price was considerably less expensive then most other lathes in this size. This had me looking into it even more.

I began searching and reading reviews on the lathe and was pleasantly surprised to find that the reviews for the Central Machinery 10 x 18 min lathe were very favorable. The construction was solid, the motor was powerful, the lather has five speeds: 750, 1100, 1600, 2200, and 3200 RPM’s, and the headstock spindle is a standard size of 1″ x 8tpi which make sit nice for adding a chuck down the road. The headstock and tailstock are a MT2 taper which again is standard for most parts.

The price of the lathe is $219.99 but being a patient person paid off for me as I waited for them to put it on sale and then with a 20% off coupon the cost pre-tax was $169.00. Now I will say that with the savings I purchased a two year replacement plan which if I remember correctly was an additional $20.00 just to be on the safe side.

Out of the box the lathe was ready to go with minimal setup, it comes with Allen keys for adjusting the belt. Changing the speeds on the lathe is fairly simple, using one of the supplied Allen keys you loosen the motor, move the belt onto the proper pulleys, tighten it back down and you’re ready to go. After one and a half years of turning I did have to replace the belt which did take some figuring out but in the end not to bad. (Will write a post on changing the belt in the future)

The one thing I did notice that when turning a project the chisels did tend to hang up on the tool rest a bit. That was fixed easily enough by sanding off the paint on it and then applying some wax to the top of the tool rest which then allowed the chisels to just slide across it.

In the year and a half that I have been using the lathe it has performed quite well for me and I’ve been extremely happy with it. I’ve now turned everything from pens, shaving brushes, bottle stoppers, and some small bowls with it. A couple of different chucks have been purchased along with a drill chuck and pen drilling chuck. A few people have mentioned that the motor does tend to run a bit warm and it does but that has not seemed to make any difference in how it performs.

All in all I have been very happy with this lathe and would not hesitate to recommend it as good way to get into turning on a dime.

 

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