Dear Mr. Electrician: I have enough extra room in my house for a wood shop in my basement or in my garage. Most of my projects will be with woodworking, but I also fix things as needed. I am on a tight budget and would like to build a shop as economically as possible. Should I locate my budget wood shop in the garage or in the basement?
Answer: I think that question is best answered by you after giving thoughtful consideration to many of the factors mentioned below. Yes you can build a wood shop on a tight budget. Careful planning is the key. Do a lot of research before spending money. Read about what others have done. Avoid the three most common mistakes when setting up a wood shop. Through my own personal experiences I have realized that it is possible to save money on tools and materials.
Finding Bargains For Your Budget Wood Shop
One thing I suggest is not to buy tools for your budget wood shop before you need them unless they are a fantastic bargain. In my youth I would buy new tools in case I ever needed them. Many years later some of those tools are still waiting for a purpose. I have found good working tools at fantastic discounts, sometimes new, but mostly used at garage sales, rummage sales, and contractor going out of business sales. Once I just happened to see a tool rental yard have a going out of business sale. I bought a good conduit bender there for about a third of its original price. Keep an eye on online advertising sites such as Craigslist.org and Facebook Marketplace. Join local Facebook yard sale groups for your area. Go to local rummage sales. A good place to find free things is Freecycle.org.
Utilities For Your Home Wood Shop
As an electrician I would first research your electrical power requirements. Your power needs can be substantial or can just be one 20 amp circuit. Is your main electrical panel located in the basement, garage, or somewhere else? If it is conveniently located, are there extra spaces in the electrical panel for additional electrical circuits? If it is not conveniently located will it be easy to install a heavy duty electrical circuit from the main electrical panel to your home workshop location. If you are planning for a lot of power tools it may be in your best interest to install a wood shop electrical sub-panel.
You may need some dedicated electrical circuits in your budget wood shop for not only power tools, but possibly for workshop lighting, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation. A basement workshop may not need air conditioning and heating because the temperature is fairly consistent underground. However you will still need some ventilation which can be as simple as an exhaust fan with a filter to keep the dust off the motor and fan blade. Fresh air can be brought in through a window.
A garage usually will not have a problem with ventilation due to the large garage doors. However heat and cooling may be required depending on your location.
Another thought is noise. Will your home shop activities disturb other members of the household? Will the neighbors get annoyed from the sound of power tools running at odd hours or on weekends? Some sound dampening may be required.
Additional questions about setting up a budget wood shop are answered in Ralph Chapman’s book. He can tell you how to set up a small home woodworking shop for less than $1000 based on his many years of experience as a woodworker. Ralph will also tell you how and where to save money on tool purchases. That alone is worth the price of his book.
Making Your Wood Shop Comfortable
In addition to what I mentioned above, good wood shop lighting is needed. Often the basement and the garage will not have adequate lighting for work. A garage may have more natural light available through the large open doors, but what about working at night? In many cases it is possible that you can use the existing lighting circuit and add some additional LED light fixtures.
Something that I like is cushioned mats on the floor. When you are working on your feet for several hours, having cushioned mats will make your feet feel so much better instead of standing on a hard surface floor.
Another thing to consider is clean up. A wood shop will produce much dust. A basement wood shop may lead to dust tracking up into the house. A garage shop may have the same issue. From personal experience I know that dust getting into the living quarters will not lead to marital bliss. On a budget a good shop vac will help keep the peace. For those who don’t need to stay within a budget, a dust collection system installed in your wood shop will keep everything clean as you work.
Safety in Your Wood Shop
Something that is important, but not often discussed is safety. Safety for you while working in the shop and also safety for others who may or may not visit you in the wood shop. Some things that you should have on hand for your own personal protection are face shields, goggles, hearing protection, respirator, dust masks, gloves, steel toe work shoes, and depending on the circumstances a hard hat.
To protect others outside of your wood shop, consideration should be given to the amount of noise that is made while using the tools and also how your dust and debris is disposed of. Blowing your dust out the side of your shop is not good for people, animals, and the environment overall. You should have a means to capture dust before it gets outdoors or in the house. A simple shop vac will often do. As your shop gets bigger and more productive a dust collector may be in order.
A cheap shop vac is the Bucket Head sold at Home Depot. It fits right on a standard five gallon bucket. It comes with a short hose, but a better accessory to go with the Bucket Head is the RIDGID 1-1/4″ Premium Car Cleaning Accessory Kit for Wet/Dry Vacs. The kit does not include a long wand, but one is available as a separate accessory. This is what I use. I purchased a used, big canvas two handled bag at a rummage sale to contain the accessories and extra filters. Carrying the compact Bucket Head around on residential jobs and in my truck is a lot easier than the bulky plastic tank shop vacuum with wheels that I had, but gave away because it just wasn’t fitting into my work style.
Some power tools can be extremely noisy and though you may be wearing hearing protection for yourself, other members of your household or your neighbors may be affected by the loud sounds. As mentioned above, some sound dampening measures may be in order. Padding or insulating walls and ceilings can help. Mineral wool insulation is known for it sound dampening characteristics as is extra layers of drywall. Limiting your loud tool operation to times when no one is home is thoughtful. It is possible to build portable sound dampening walls to move around to different power tools as you work. Just remember soft materials tend to absorb sound while hard materials reflect sound. When I worked on television and movie studios the contractors would finish off the well insulated walls with duct liner on the surface as it was great for absorbing sound.
Electrical outlets should be GFCI protected. Larger circuits for power tools can have GFCI circuit breakers installed. GFCI’s will protect you from electrical shocks and electrocution. I have experienced this myself where worn power cords on tools short to the metal frame of the tool. Sometimes very old tools can have insulation failure on the motor which can cause electrical leakage, but not enough to trip a standard circuit breaker.
How a Pro Furnishes a Wood Shop on a Budget
Ralph has prepared six chapters for setting up a budget home wood shop. And he says that you can do it all for less than $1000. As I mentioned before, planning is the key to building a wood shop on a budget. Reading about what others have done to build their home shop is part of the planning process. The six recommended chapters are listed below:
• Tool Selection
Determine which tools you need for your wood shop before you start buying. You should never spend your hard-earned cash on a tool that just ends up sitting unused.
A hand-tool-only shopping list if your budget is under $500 with links to buy them for the best price.
A power tool and hand-tool shopping list if your budget is under $1,000 with links to buy them for the best price.
• Space Selection
All of the possible types of home workshop spaces and the pros and cons of each.
Ideas and layouts for all sizes of workshops, from the large to tiny, including setting up a shop in your garage, basement, attic, living space, or a corner inside of your apartment.
The one place in your home that is perfect for a small wood shop, but very few ever consider it.
• Shop Layouts
Plan and design your workshop to fit nicely in whatever space you have available without sacrificing tools and the machines that you really need.
Perfect shop layouts for spaces that are 10’ x 10’ and under.
Using the “Doorway Trick” technique along with a smart layout can make a small space work like a larger one!
You will receive detailed floor plans and space-saving layout recommendations for your workshop. It includes power tool placement and dividing your work space effectively for various woodworking tasks.
The ONE tool you absolutely need to setup as movable to maximize your work space and his exact process for converting any heavy, stationary machine into a mobile tool that anyone can move around.
• Electricity, Lighting and Sound Proofing
You will learn the ins and outs of lighting and electricity for your wood shop, including cost and layout.
The cheap circuit type that can power almost anything without ever running the risk of blowing a circuit breaker.
How to lower all sound that escapes from your workshop by as much as 70%.
The best time of day to run your loudest equipment. Combine this with his sound-proofing tip and you’ll eliminate the possibility of disturbing neighbors.
How to sound-proof your shop using the same process singers use to record their music. This will reduce the sound coming from your shop by 50% or more.
• Heating, Cooling, Ventilation & Dust
A $3.00 trick that ensures you have clean air even without inside-to-outside ventilation.
The EXACT model of shop vac that is the best performer for its price.
Why “cheap” heaters are not the way to go if you want to save money. And what to do instead.
The best types of heaters for shops that are well insulated and also heaters for those that are not well insulated.
Don’t make this serious humidity mistake when choosing your heating solution. Doing so could ruin your wood stock within hours.
• Workshop Safety & More
The one type of shop fire that gives you a 50/50 chance of losing your home.
Two tricks to avoid tripping over cables.
90% of workshop fires can be prevented by doing this one post-work habit.
The 10 item checklist for shop safety.
The 4 items that can set your shop on fire faster than you can blink! (This is something all woodworkers must absolutely be aware of).
Whether you have a lot of questions about setting up a home wood shop on a budget or not, you will want to read about Ralph’s Ultimate Small Shop experiences. The saving of money on power tools alone is worth the read.
Here’s a link to other tool posts on my website.
My page on safety should be read by you.