The Workshop Triangle
Once the workshop location is determined, it's time to begin planning how to lay it out. First, acknowledge the need to formulate a plan that's realistic in terms of the space allotted. The size of the structure or workspace will place some constraints on how much can be done. Taking into account size limitations, begin fashioning a plan that keeps efficiency in mind.
The layout of a workshop will be based, in part, on how it will be used — whether for carpentry, fine woodworking, metalwork or other activities. Regardless of category, however, it's important to keep in mind the principles of efficiency and organization. A layout that's clearly thought out in terms of functionality will make all the difference in creating a workspace that offers a pleasant surrounding as well as a space that's conducive to work.
Rather than purchasing equipment first and then trying to decide where to put it all, start with a diagram instead. For the workshop in our project, the diagram included major stationary tools and storage placed along the walls, and a sizeable workbench placed in the center of the room.
For most workshop applications, efficient workspace design follows a triangle, with the most important workstations at the three corners of the triangle.
A shop geared toward woodworking would have lumber storage located at one corner of the triangle. Storage space for wood — both long pieces and flat plywood pieces — should be adequate. Raised storage, such as racks or shelves mounted on the wall, must be sturdy. Wood storage should also be in close proximity to the stationary tools or machines (table saw, jointer, power planer, etc.) to avoid frequently carrying heavy wood across the span of the workspace. Wood storage should be handy and near the area where the heavy woodworking tasks will take place. Keep in mind that a considerable amount of space will be needed around stationary tools such as a table saws and jointers for manipulating large pieces of raw lumber.
The second corner of the triangle is in the center of the room and, in our case, is where the workbench is located. Following work progress in sequence, the workbench is typically the second workstation where medium-duty work is done after heavier preparatory or wood-milling steps are finished. The workbench is where work is typically done using hand tools or smaller power tools such as hand drills, routers and joinery tools.
The third corner of the triangle is the finishing station, where fine and detailed work takes place. At this station, tasks such as sanding, wood finishing and painting may take place. Since the detailed work is likely to be done here, it may be critical to keep this station more organized, clean and free of dust than the others.
Segregating the functional workstations in this way helps to keep the right tools and materials where they are needed for specific tasks. Meanwhile, keeping the three workstations in the close proximity of the triangle configuration makes it easy to proceed from one phase of a project to the next in a logical fashion.
Adequate storage for tools is essential, but easy access is also highly important for an efficiently designed workshop.
General tool storage can be in an area adjacent to the triangle so that individual tools are in easy reach for any project. Efficient design helps eliminate wasted time searching for necessary tools, and wasted steps carrying items back and forth — both of which can add up quickly.