The first mistake, at least if you’re wired like me, is in thinking too much.
If it’s your first shop, just go out there, slap a couple of boards on a couple of sawhorses, and start playing around. The thing is, if it’s your first shop you probably don’t have a really good idea of how you’re going to work, in your own shop. So think about it for an hour or two, then get out there and get something you can work on slapped together. You can always change it around later.
The second mistake, (again, if you’re unfortunate enough to be wired like me) is changing it all around too much.
When fully in the grips of that mistake, I spent a whole week trying to design the “perfect” shop, one that would allow for all eventualities and be ergonomically designed for all operations… eventually I realized that I’d have to learn and redesign as I go—but rather than actually move stuff around in the shop, I keep a little pad of graph paper where I can sketch out ideas as they come up. It’s a nice way to keep things moving in that department… without having to actually keep moving things. And writing it down seems to help you learn, or at least it helps me.
So don’t keep fiddling with your shop: set it up to get working, and fiddle on the page. Best of both worlds. And later on, when it comes time, you’ll be in a much better position to make yourself a “dream shop.” (Just buy a new notebook when you finish!)
Okay, so those are the two big mistakes (so far!). Now I have some simple benches down both walls, with shelves climbing all the way up, and a great big (fairly crude, but solid) table made from 2×4s, scrap wood, and one nice piece of fresh plywood for the top (and a notebook full of ideas, a couple of which aren’t bad). In keeping with the spirit of not getting too bogged down on finding the “perfect” place to put my tools, I’ve mounted all of my power tools on a doubled-up piece of ply. This allows me to move them around quickly, clamp them securely to the benches, and store them under the benches when not in use—also lets me mount jigs and so forth to the ply. Similarly, I’ve stored most of my hand-tools into some old drawers that I had lying around to keep the clutter down… and I find that certain ones end up in the middle of the shop (like the wrenches and screwdrivers) while others end up in the corners (like the tap and die tools). This seems like a pretty good way of starting to figure out how Shop Mk. 2 should be laid out, when the time comes to build it.
Okay, so I’ve talked about my stupid mistakes… now for some of my clever ideas!
Clever idea #1 is pretty simple. I’ve seen a lot of photos of shops on this site, and a lot of them have pretty bare walls up top. That’s prime deep storage area! Just remember to label the crates or boxes that you tuck up there, where you can see it!
Clever idea #2 is also pretty simple: establish good habits from the get-go. If it’s your first shop, you haven’t had any time to form work habits in there. And that’s a fantastic opportunity. So keep it clean. Clean up a little every day, first thing you do when you go in there. Put your tools away at the end of every project. I know, I know—it sounds boring, and you want to get going on your projects! But once you form the habits, you’ll find that you always have a clean place to work, and that you’re not wasting hours of potentially productive time looking for your tape measure.
Clever idea #3: do you really need it? REALLY? We’re all watching the wallet these days, some more than others. My budget for my shop right now is something like $50 a month. Looking back on it, I realize that I wasted about half of the money I’ve spent on the shop so far, either buying stuff I don’t (yet) need, or stuff that, with a little thought, I could have made myself. So I started asking myself, every time I had the thought “I need A or B” I’d question that, and I ended up putting the money together to buy the perfect blade for my radial arm saw—which is the subject of the next post.