The Small Shop Myth

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Blog entry by Bob Kollman posted 10-22-2009 05:56 PM 4905 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Many of the LJ contributers are small shops like mine. It occured to me that not even the smallest shop comes with a small price tag. Four years ago when I started my “small shop” it started with a router and circular saw. I made a custom table so the circular saw could make fast repetive cuts. It was only a matter of weeks before I desided I needed a table saw.

The table saw was actually a Jet bench top table saw that sat on 4 legs. It was only a matter of weeks before I desided that the Jet saw was to light duty, and unsafe for cutting large sheets of plywood or for cross cutting wide boards. I desided that I needed a contractors saw.

The contractors saw sits in my shop today. It meets most of my needs. But after a few weeks I desided that the blade that came with the saw was not good enough. I bought a high end blade that cost 1/5 th the cost of the saw itself. Sure would be nice to have a miter saw, but I compromised by buying a miter for the table saw instead.

Weeks later I saw a 10” miter saw at a big box store for only 40 bucks. Of course I bought it! But it came with no blade, so I bought a cheap blade for the cheap miter saw. A couple weeks later I knew that I had to have a high end blade, after all the cheap saw made really nice mitered corners. By the way, are those cob webs on my table saw miter? Hummm….

Since that time it has been drills, planers, jointers, clamps, blades, more routers, router bits, clamps, drill bits, planer blades, sand paper, sanders, clamps, router tables, bicuit joiners, biscuits, clamps, kreg jig, bench sanders, mortising jig, clamps, table saw sleds, dove tail jigs, dedicated routers, clamps, sliding miter saw, soft wood screws, hard wood screws, clamps, hinges , mortising jig for hinges, dowel pin jigs, dowel pin drill bits, clamps, dado blades, sharpening stones, card scrapers, chisels, clamps, calipers, layout tools, pencils (5 cents each), bruches (10 buks each), and now I’ve desided that I need more and better hand tools. Also could use a couple of clamps.

Freinds, you have all experienced this, and I never mentioned the wood, books, magazines, or time it takes to
craft our projects and skills. You maybe a master cabinet maker like Jim1, or a weekend warrior like Michael C, but by no means have I encountered a small shop on LJ’s.

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

22 comments so far

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1506 posts in 3492 days

#1 posted 10-22-2009 06:17 PM

lol. the TIME! yikes, the time.

no, i dont really think there’s such thing as a small shop either other than in terms of square feet of open space. We just learn how to most efficiently pack things away and use vertical space wisely – like Studley!

View dbhost's profile


5726 posts in 3260 days

#2 posted 10-22-2009 06:39 PM

Have you read my workshop tour or blog entries? I actually have a running tally of what I have in my workshop cost wise (For insurance purposes). I paid less for a brand new Toyota SR5 4×4 back in 1989 than I have in that shop now.

Honestly, my first table saw was a goof. I knew I wanted a Ryobi BT3100. A friend had one that I had used and I loved it. I went to Home Depot and found the BTS21 which was explained as the update / replacement to that saw. WRONG. Not that the BTS is a bad saw, but it is NO BT3×00 saw by any stretch of the imagination. I sold it and bought my BT…

My first router was a fixed base 1.5HP 1/4” shank router. I quickly outgrew that.

Then bits and blades, and of course dust collection. (The first time I blew my nose and came up with nothing but sawdust even when using a dust mask worried me, a LOT).

I have been as cost effective as I can be without sacrificing what I wanted for capacity or function. For example I could have gotten by for a LOT less money with a Delta 10” band saw, but I wanted a true 14” saw with a riser block, so I paid the $$ to get into a Harbor Freight saw. I know HF has its detractors, but this is a fine saw, especially if you like to tinker with machines.

As low $$ as I have my shop, I have seen shops here, and elsewhere that have more in shop building, and equipment than I have in my house, and those are just for hobby woodworkers.

To say the least, this is NOT something you should get into to try to save a few bucks. This is something you get into for the love of the craft, and creative expression.

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

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117126 posts in 3605 days

#3 posted 10-22-2009 06:42 PM

I have a shop bigger than some but floor space is all but gone.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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2539 posts in 3985 days

#4 posted 10-22-2009 07:28 PM

Usually when I refer to my “shop” as small I am talking about the actual size of the space I have to work in..not the amount of tools I cram into it! Yes, tools cost money, and some tools you use more than others. It seems to me that maybe you need to be a more informed purchaser and less of an impulse buyer. Whenever I make a tool purchase weather it’s a sanding block, or a 12” sliding compound miter saw I do research, I ask other woodworkers and fellow lunberjocks their opinion, and I read tons of reviews if they are available. I spent over $200 on a PC biscuit joiner kit that I have used maybe 10 times in the last 5 years…..but I have it and if I need it its their waiting for me. Some items you can skimp on and maybe go Harbor Freight, but the real deal pieces like table saws, band saws etc I spend as much as I can afford and as big as I can fit in my single car garage shop.


View Frankie Talarico Jr.'s profile

Frankie Talarico Jr.

353 posts in 3384 days

#5 posted 10-22-2009 08:02 PM

seems the less you use the tool the more expensive it is.

Tools are a never ending battle for bigger and better. I stopped fighting it and gave in. I find myself complaining less about the tools and more about the guys using them. Always room for more experience, and lets not forget the tooling that comes with it

-- Live by what you believe, not what they want you to believe.

View TDDriver's profile


15 posts in 3167 days

#6 posted 10-22-2009 08:25 PM

I work in a one-car stall in my three-car garage. In hindsight, I should have laid claim to the two-car bay. I have a Delta hybrid TS on a mobile base and have build mobile bases for my router table, jointer, planer and bandsaw, so I can slide them out of the way when not in use.


-- My best ideas are usually too short. That's why I buy two more boards than the project requires.

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Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#7 posted 10-22-2009 09:34 PM

I live in a tiny little cottage in northern California. When we moved in, we divided the amount we paid for the house by the square footage of the house, and came up with a number to add to the price of everything in the house to give us a true feeling for how much it cost us.

Even though we rarely watched it, that 15 year old monster CRT television was quickly replaced by a modern flat panel because the square footage we got easily overshadowed the price of the new LCD. Lots of appliances fared similarly.

Because of that, the price of a tool is way down in the analysis when I’m purchasing it. This doesn’t necessarily mean I buy the most expensive tool available, but given the limited space I’ve got and the amount I’ve paid for that space, the decision to purchase an additional tool is far more momentous than a hundred or two dollars this way or that on the price of the tool.

And the other consideration is wood: If I have to buy a specific wood, rather than waiting to see what comes up on Craigslist for reclaiming, that price can quickly overshadow the tools too. I’m just a hobbyist, but the difference between a $30 Craftsman random orbital sander and a $300 Festool one is quickly overshadowed by ten bucks a board foot.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View pommy's profile


1697 posts in 3719 days

#8 posted 10-22-2009 09:43 PM

I still think my shop is the smallest on here but as my wife says it not the size its what you do with it that matters

-- cut it saw it scrap it SKPE: ANDREW.CARTER69

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3396 days

#9 posted 10-22-2009 09:57 PM

I made the mistake of buying a wood lathe one day. Just the lathe and a set of Buck brothers lathe chisels. Set it up and started playing with scraps of pine 2x and 4×4 wood. Next thing I know, there are chain saws, table saw, grinders,sanders, and woodworking tools all over my garage. Can’t do much with just a lathe, gotta be able to prep the wood you’re gonna turn. LOL

View dustyal's profile


1295 posts in 3503 days

#10 posted 10-22-2009 11:15 PM

amen, brother… I have a very small space… uh, like 7×15 foot. You’d be surprised what you can cram into that space when it comes to woodworking “must haves.” A new table saw and jointer are next up on my list. Dust collection… did you mention that? I really want to attempt some lathe work… bowls. Need the space.

Help… I get all wrapped up in tool reviews to see where I can get most bang for the buck… Arggggghhhh… Do I buy a dado blade for my little table saw or wait and get a dado blade that will work “better” on a new table saw… oh, the decisions one must make. I made the ultimate decision… buy the tool then figure about where it goes and where to plug it in… and get help changing from 110 to 220v.

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

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1506 posts in 3492 days

#11 posted 10-22-2009 11:51 PM

Dan – yes that certainly puts things into perspective. however, it pays to remember that for many of us the cost of the house is wrapped up in a long-term mortgage, whereas the cost term of tools is much smaller.

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360 posts in 3250 days

#12 posted 10-23-2009 12:49 AM

Wow – Dilo’s the man!

-- James -

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4153 days

#13 posted 10-23-2009 01:19 AM

So here’s a question: I’m currently crammed into a 1940s era garage that I share with the washer/dryer and other stuff. I’m looking at building myself a shop in the back yard, we think we can spare about 20×14 from the lot.

I’ve convinced myself I don’t need a table saw, I use a circular saw on a rail. I have a benchtop planer on a roll-around table, and I have a drill press. I would like a bandsaw, but I think that’s about the last of the fixed equipment I’ll need.

How do you guys with small shops and fixed equipment arrange things? How and where do you store lumber? Sheet goods? What compromises do you end up doing to maneuver a a 4×8 or 5×5 sheet of plywood around?

In the summer time here I just work outside, but we’re about to go into the rainy season, and I’d like to be able to work through the rain. So, what should I be designing for?

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3492 days

#14 posted 10-23-2009 01:44 AM

i store the large quantities of lumber in a separate shed, in that way i’m lucky. as far as sheet goods go, i try not to ever have to maneuver them in their entirety.

my shop is about 10×15, and i’m learning that with a bit of planning it’s probably as much as i really need. obviously things like table saws and planers need to be movable and you cant work on too many things at once, but thats not so bad. a nice storage system really does wonders. have doors and windows the open also help. sometimes you do need to start planing a board from outside ;-)

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3396 days

#15 posted 10-23-2009 01:56 AM

Dan L. everything has wheels, I even bought the the Ridgid TS 2400 portable saw so i can put it out in the driveway when nesc. My DC is outside under a shed roof and lumber storage is a small plastic shed outside the garage.

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