Building a Workshop From Nothing

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Forum topic by Michael303 posted 01-17-2016 11:16 PM 1219 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 865 days

01-17-2016 11:16 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m Michael and I’m new here. My wife and I just made a long overdue move from our town home with minimal workspace to a single family home with an empty, unfinished basement. Now that I finally have some real usable space I’d like to start setting up a workshop down there. I’m guessing I have about 500 sq ft to work with.

The shop space won’t be exclusively woodworking. I have very few woodworking tools and haven’t done much since high school. To start it will be more of a general DIY area for home projects like I’m assuming a lot of your home shops are. I haven’t tried to get a full 4×8 sheet down there yet either. It will be close.

The first things I’d like to do is build a general workbench but I’m not sure really where to start. I suppose I could put together a pretty simple table with a shelf underneath but I wanted to ask some of you guys what kind of wood/material I should use to make it and features I could think about adding beyond that. Stuff like storage and electrical outlets.

Like I said, I don’t have many tools at this point so I’m not even sure what I need first for this. I have a miter saw, router and jig saw so I’ll probably need some more tools. After the shop table project I’d like to do new built in shelves and fireplace mantle so we can fit a bigger tv in the living room so I’m open to buying whatever tools I’d need for that too.

Lastly my wife is worried about dust collection and ventilation in the basement so I’m not sure what I need there.

Any feedback is appreciated. I realize this is a lot for one post but I wasn’t sure where to begin and at this point I just don’t know what I don’t know.


-- I'm new to woodworking, so explain it like I'm a 5 year old. - Michael

15 replies so far

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2656 posts in 2915 days

#1 posted 01-18-2016 12:35 AM

Woodworking in a basement gets very fine dust all over the house. At least that was my experience.

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1286 posts in 1723 days

#2 posted 01-18-2016 12:45 AM

Where is your furnace. Not good to have it in the same area as a lot of fine dust…..... ............... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 1169 days

#3 posted 01-18-2016 12:56 AM

Your selection of tools will be determined by the type of woodworking you want to do. A lathe would be less important to a cabinet maker than a person wanting to do bowls.

For a quick 1st workbench split a 4×8 sheet of 3/4 inch MDF into two 2×8 pieces and glue them together to form the top. A few 2×4s can build a stable base. Later you can replace with a better workbench.

The previous posters are right about the dust. You could try a Grizzly filter placed between the shop and the stairs. I routine see this model on sale for $150 and you can get a coupon for free shipping. The idea would be for any air leaving your shop gets sucked through the air filter.

Make sure that the cold air return to the furnace does not draw air from the basement. Also tape any joints.

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View MrFid's profile


874 posts in 1897 days

#4 posted 01-18-2016 01:16 AM

I’d agree with the commenters so far that dust can be an issue in a basement, but it’s by no means a non-starter. Follow the above advice about sealing your furnace well, invest in some dust collection at the source (either a big DC a la Harbor Freight 2HP or a shop vac/dust deputy depending on your need), as well as a air filtration system (the Jet ones come up on Craigslist around me fairly often), and you should be good to go. This is also not an issue if you don’t have forced air HVAC. I have baseboards and therefore the furnace wouldn’t be an issue, although I work in my garage. Good luck, and welcome! Keep asking questions!

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2945 days

#5 posted 01-18-2016 01:21 AM

Depends on what you do for woodworking in the basement. The only power tools I have are a band saw, drill press, and lathe. Everything else is done with hand tools. I have had this shop in my basement for five years now and there is no dust problem in the house. I hook up the shopvac to the band saw when I use it. Never had a problem with dust. If you are using a bunch of powered tools, yeah, I imagine dust would be a problem. Unplug and you don’t have that issue.

As far as a bench, there are a million options out there and I am sure you will get about half of them from responses on here. From using doors to plywood to colossal benches with all the bells and whistles. Everybody is an advocate for their bench and that is what you will get for advice, including me.

Me personally, I built my first bench from a video on Fine Woodworking. It was a very simple bench, easy to make, and it got my feet wet with some woodworking techniques I never used before. It was a good little bench and served me well for a couple of years. I then “outgrew” it and bought a bench with more features that were conducive to the type of woodworking I am in to. When I first started woodworking, I didn’t know if I would be a power tool guy or a hand tool guy. Once I figured that out, the bench needed to support hand tool work. But I still have the bench I built and it is used often for secondary work not done on my main workbench. And just like every tool I built myself, that bench is a source of pride and someday I hope to pass it down to someone in my family.

Good luck and Happy Woodworking!

-- Mike

View BurlyBob's profile


5486 posts in 2258 days

#6 posted 01-18-2016 01:25 AM

You mentioned outlets. I followed the advice of my electrician friend and have cussed him everyday since then. I even chewed him out last weekend. My advice is keep the bottom of the outlet box above 48” from the floor. that way you won’t cover it by leaning a sheet of plywood against the wall.

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 1144 days

#7 posted 01-18-2016 01:39 AM

I have mine in a partitioned off area in the basement, 15×15ft, I have 3, 20”’ box fans with Merf 8 2”, 20×20” pleated furnace filters on them, $4 at the big box store, $20 for each fan, DC to my machines, a Jet 1100 with a 30 micron bag, I have almost 0 dust on horizontal surfaces after 3-4 months. I am retired and spend about 5-6 hours in the shop M-F, not always machining though.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View JBrow's profile


1353 posts in 913 days

#8 posted 01-18-2016 01:41 AM


Starting Out. Welcome! You are right; you packed a lot into one post. But I will try to respond to your questions/concerns, largely agreeing with everyone else. My first recommendation is a magazine subscription. There are several woodworking magazines out there. I would recommend “Woodsmith”, but you can probably find many at a news stand or bookstore where you can find one good for you. Subscriptions do not cost a lot and these magazines cover a number of topics that you may find interesting or helpful.

Workbench. I recalled viewing an episode of “Woodsmith” aired on PBS (Season 2 episode 206, Aired on Feb. 14, 2009), where they built two different workbenches. One may be right up your alley. It is a workbench made of several layers ¾” Medium Density Fiber (MDF) Board glued and screwed together with several built in clamping options, setting atop legs and a frame made of construction lumber. It also features a shelf that sets on the stretchers.

Other than any hardware, the bench could be built with the tools you already have (assuming you have a circular saw) and is fairly cheap to build. A preview of the Woodsmith “Weekend Workbench” episode is at Not knowing whether you have ever cut MDF, it is EXTREMELY dusty. Keep the wife off your back and cut it outside should you decide to go with this workbench. Also apply a couple coats of polyurethane to protect bench from any moisture you may have in the basement.

I closed the underside of my workbench with cabinets, recessed in from the edges to make room for clamps. I have a receptacle mounted under the work surface and out of the way. An extension cord (14-2) cord and plug provide power to the receptacle. The cord is stored on the workbench leg when not in use.

Tools. 1) The first tool I recommend is a powerful shop vac, since you are working in the basement. It will help effectively cleanup in the shop. I have a Craftsman 16 gallon 2.25 hp shop vacuum that has lasted 30 years. Then equip it with a HEPA filter to catch fine dust. I use the GORE™ CleanStream Filters. Then add a cyclone pre-separator. Mine is Oneida’s and I bought it from Woodcraft. The cyclone pre-separator will protect the filter from dust, extending the period between filter cleanings. Also pick up a hose and adapt it to the shop vac so you can connect the shop vac directly to the router, circular saw, etc.

The remaining tools I list are buy-as-you-go tools. For example, you would probably want to sand the mantel you plan to build to remove mill marks before you apply paint or varnish. If so and you do not have a random orbital palm sander, buy the sander when you purchase the mantel lumber.

2) A set of handheld power tools would be handy to have. Some cordless tools like a drill/driver are good to have – Home Depot sell Ryobi cordless sets that are not outrageously expensive and hold up well. Corded tools such as a belt and/or random orbital palm sander would be handy when preparing wood for finishing. A variety of clamps including spring clamps, bar clamps and C clamps are also good.

3) The second tool I would recommend is a track saw. You can purchase a pricey system from Festool or Dewalt system with their plunge saws. I opted for a system that retrofits to circular saws. I am sure mine is not nearly the tool that Dewalt or Festool offer, but it cost a whole lot less and it gets the job done. The track systems keeps the circular saw running straight with little effort, and is a big help when breaking down 4’ x 8’ sheet goods. I suppose you could even rip lumber with the system, though I have not done so.

4) As far as stationary power tools, I believe the table saw would be first on my list. Which one? That depends on how deep into woodworking you plan to go. If it is an occasional project, then a 10” contractor’s table saw would perhaps be the best option. These are relatively light weight and will handle a dado blade and crosscut and rip lumber and are affordable. Also, if you remain committed to the basement workshop, it is easier to get downstairs than a heavy cabinet saw.

5) If you are serious about woodworking, then carefully consider dust collection that will collect debris from your stationary tools. Cyclones are best and more power is better, but any dust collector is better than none! I believe this should be among the first of the high dollar tools, especially if you are committed to a basement workshop.

Shop Location. Carefully consider whether the basement is where you want to locate the workshop, unless you expect to only do a few projects here and there. The garage is, I believe a better choice for serious woodworking because there are fewer problems than with the basement workshop. Since I began woodworking as a hobby, I have had woodworking shops in 2 basements and 2 attached garages. I am now woodworking in an attached garage, which is, in my view, far and away the better of the two locations. But if you are committed to the basement workshop for serious woodworking, then, in my experience, there are several important considerations when setting up the shop in the basement.

Considerations for the basement workshop include: sound isolation, mechanical systems isolation, lighting, flooding, laundry room location (typically in the basement), moving machinery, moving materials, ceiling height, and access to the basement from the house.

It is important to note that fine wood dust is not only a nuisance, but it can be give rise to health problems. Forced air ducted HVAC systems can be quite effective at moving dust throughout the house. If the home has a flame fired (propane, natural gas, fuel oil, etc.) furnace and/or hot water heater, keeping the burners clean is a major concern and isolation from dust must be very effective. High efficiency mechanicals that draw combustion air from outdoors help, but I believe isolation of the hot water heater and furnace from dust is still important, since these are not systems suited for a dusty environment. And any forced air ducts or returns in the workshop must be closed off and sealed. And lastly, consider flammable and hazardous solvents given off when applying a varnish to a project.

When it comes to sound isolation, insulation is a must in the ceiling joist bays, assuming you want to keep peace with the family. Even with this done, sound is transmitted through the drywall or drop ceilings into the first floor living space. Ceiling height of 8’ or more is workable. Less than this makes it far more difficult to shoe horn a tall dust collector in place.

Flooding of a basement workshop would be a nightmare.

You fortunate, on one hand to have an unfinished basement, but then there is a lot of work ahead if you intend to dive into the deep end of woodworking. On the negative side, finishing a basement is a major expense; made less if you do the work yourself. On the other hand, with a good well thought out plan, I believe you can achieve effective (probably not perfect) mechanical systems and sound isolation. You can plan and build a mechanical room and laundry room that are well isolated from the woodworking environment. There are sound absorbing products like denim or mineral wool or spray foam insulation and sound absorbing drywall that you could install.

View rwe2156's profile


2916 posts in 1474 days

#9 posted 01-18-2016 01:10 PM

Dust will be your biggest issue if the air handler is in the basement you need to seal it off in a closet. Trust me, you do not want that stuff in your house. Do some research on respiratory diseases caused by wood dust you’ll see why the concern.

Beginners usually do a lot of sanding this will be the biggest source of the fine dust that goes everywhere. A down draft table or portable booth with air filtration (and a respirator) is a possiblity.

BTW, Hand tools = no dust. I recommend you at least take a look at “unplugged” ww’ing, at least in the beginning. Even if you get machines, you need good hand tool skills. Be forewarned, you can spend about as much money on a jointer plane as a table saw!

As far as learning, for me it was lots of reading and lots of videos. You will need to learn about quality tools and where to buy them. Then comes sharpening, measuring and marking, etc. These are things you need to learn before you even make your first cut.

There are a ton of sources out there. Fine WW’ing has some good videos (worth the membership fee). For hand tool work, check out Paul Sellers, Renaissance ww’er and Unplugged.

You’ll get all kinds of suggestions. My philosophy is start out simple and use projects to learn skills (some will end up justifiably in the firewood pile no worries).

My suggestion is get a decent hand saw, a gent’s saw, a #4 plane (if you can’t find an old Stanley get a WoodRiver from Woodcraft) a decent combo square (doesn’t have to be a Starret, but not the ones from HD. Igaging makes decent stuff) a marking knife, a few chisels (Narex 1/4, 1/2”) and a mallet. With this rudimentary set of tools find a few simple projects like as step stool, a tool tote, and learn some simple jointer. Just get your feet wet and be patient.

Good luck you have chosen a very rewarding hobby.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View tomsteve's profile


782 posts in 1212 days

#10 posted 01-18-2016 01:33 PM

welcome! only one thing i can add:
along with getting material down there, make sure you can get whatever you build back upstairs.

View dhazelton's profile


2766 posts in 2289 days

#11 posted 01-18-2016 02:06 PM

I’d get a good circular saw and some long cutting guides or a track saw to break down sheet goods (outside if you need to). Then you need sawhorses to cut the on. Then you need a heavy extension cord (see how this goes?). I’d skip the table saw for now (if you need to cut dados you can do it with a router).

Other than a way to cut wood you’ll need a way to nail it together. When I first started making things I would fumble with finish nails while trying to hold a piece of moulding up against a wall or a cabinet. Get a compressor and nail gun, even the cheap Harbor Freight guns are supposed to be okay.

View Michael303's profile


8 posts in 865 days

#12 posted 01-19-2016 12:24 AM

Thanks so much, everyone, for the extensive feedback. There seems to be a bunch of great info here that should help me avoid some bumps down the road.

Our furnace is in the basement so it sounds like the first thing I need to do is research the best way to mitigate the dust and make sure there’s no issue. Our house seems to get dusty enough as it is and I don’t need to add to it. Not to mention the health issues.

All the tips on which tools to look for first will be helpful as I get into my first projects. I’ll post again soon as I come up with some more specific questions as I search through old threads.


-- I'm new to woodworking, so explain it like I'm a 5 year old. - Michael

View clin's profile


838 posts in 989 days

#13 posted 01-19-2016 01:23 AM

Another vote for breaking down sheet stock before bringing it into the workshop. I don’t have a track saw (just a straight edge and circular saw), so I don’t make finished cuts this way. But with a good blade, there’s really no reason you can’t.

Dust is an issue. It isn’t simply that you may track dust from the shop into the house. It’s the sharing of the heating and cooling system in the house with the shop. If you could isolate the shop space ventilation from the rest of the house, this would help a lot.

Obviously installing separate heating and cooling for the shop can be expensive, but fine particle dust is considered a health issue. Bad enough to expose yourself in your shop. Really bad to contaminate your house and expose your family.

Bill Pentz is the go-to guy on this issue. Check out his web site for a lot of really good information on this topic.

-- Clin

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


4497 posts in 2402 days

#14 posted 01-19-2016 04:32 AM

My 1st workbench was the old service center desk from a PepBoys that got a refurb. On occasion I still run across a piece of scrap from that thing even though it is long since been taken apart and replaced with better benches. The workshop like the woodworkers skill evolves over time.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3886 days

#15 posted 01-19-2016 04:49 AM

im always surprised at that question

its all about capitol investment and what yr willing to part with

im as cheap as they get so Ild go to auctions

and build for near near free, but i always buy used tools and used cars : )

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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