Dear Mr. Electrician: How can I build a cheap wood shop in my home?
Answer: Yes you can build a wood shop on a tight budget. Give some thoughtful consideration to many of the factors mentioned below. 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 personal experiences I have realized that it is possible to save money on tools and materials.
I suggest that you read the book “How To Set Up A Complete Wood Shop On a Budget” written by Ralph Chapman. It will answer your questions and give you great advice on setting up a cheap wood shop. NOTE: Text links below go to applicable products on Ralph Chapman’s website or on Amazon.com.
Finding Bargains For Your Wood Shop
I recommend that you not buy tools for your budget shop before you have a use for 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 for a woodworking business or can just be one 20 amp circuit for someone working at home. 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 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 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 cheap 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 standing for several hours, having cushioned mats will make your feet feel so much better.
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. A sticky mat helps with that. 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.
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.
There is a YouTube video about making your own cheap dust collector using 2 five gallon buckets and some readily available plastic pipe fittings. Watch it here:
Safety in Your Wood Shop
Safety for you while working in the shop and also safety for others who may 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.
Electrical receptacle 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.
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. Sound dampening measures may be in order. Padding or insulating walls and ceilings can help. Mineral wool insulation is known for its 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.
How a Pro Furnishes a Wood Shop on a Budget
Everything that I mentioned above and more has been compiled by Ralph into six chapters for setting up a budget built 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.
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.
Ask This Old House has a video on building a wood shop in a small garage:
Here’s a link to other tool posts on my website.
My page on safety should be read by you.