General woodworking workflow

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Forum topic by Neville posted 10-16-2012 05:18 AM 3783 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Neville's profile


29 posts in 2467 days

10-16-2012 05:18 AM

Topic tags/keywords: workflow work flow

Hi all,

While I am laying low due to some recent surgery I have been looking at (re-)designing the layout of my workshop. One way that I think will help me decide what goes where (and where tools should be stored) is along the lines of general woodworking “workflow” – the basic steps that you go through for most any project. As much as I have looked for “workflow” here in LJ’s and in the wider web there does not seem to be anything “definitive”. So I set out to roll my own and here’s what I have – any thoughts?

Starting with rough lumber:
—rough dimensioning to simplify next steps
—flatten, joint and thickness plane

starting with sheet goods:
—sheet breakdown

then irrespective of type of material:
—rough or final dimensioning
—dry assembly and a little swearing
—pre-finishing (sometimes easier than finishing an assembled piece)
—final assembly and some more swearing

Does that seem reasonable, or am I missing something important?

Thanks for your comments!

-- Neville, Calgary AB

13 replies so far

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3095 days

#1 posted 10-16-2012 05:45 AM

I think a lot of people over think this. If your the foreman for a 12 man crew punching out book shelves for the CEO then I guess the work flow would be important only to the the CEO. I am retired and have spent the past two years setting up my shop. If the beer fridge comes between the table saw and the down draft table, then so be it. It’s not how fast I get to the finish line, just that I can get across it.

Good luck with your shop.
Just my comments…................

-- mike...............

View AandCstyle's profile


3050 posts in 2250 days

#2 posted 10-17-2012 01:35 AM

Neville, I have found that I like to cross cut rough stock to the approximate required length before flattening, etc. to maximize the yield. Perhaps that step is implied in your schedule, but I thought it worth mentioning specifically. Also, sanding or scraping needs to be its own line item(s) since we all enjoy doing it so much. :) FWIW

-- Art

View thebigvise's profile


191 posts in 2894 days

#3 posted 10-17-2012 01:47 AM

I agree with your point, AandCstyle. Cross-cutting to rough length saves wood, is probably safer, and is more pleasant.

-- Paul, Clinton, NC

View pmayer's profile


1028 posts in 3059 days

#4 posted 10-17-2012 02:13 AM

I don’t think that work flow is the thing to key on for hobbysts and small shop pros. In the small shops that most of us operate a few extra steps here and there are not critical. I think it is more important to figure out the best way to utilize the space that you have. The way you arrange your tools will make a big difference in the usability of the shop. Move things around a bit, try multiple configurations, and you will find what you like best. It’s a pain, but in my experience it is impossible to come up with the right answer by using shop layout software tools. Those are a good starting point, but you can’t get the real feel for it until you are walking the floor from and looking at things in real life.

-- PaulMayer,

View Neville's profile


29 posts in 2467 days

#5 posted 10-17-2012 02:44 AM

Thanks for all the feedback folks. A couple of comments back:

Art, Paul – I call the cross-cutting rough lumber “rough dimensioning” as the very first step in managing lumber (as opposed to sheet good), and agree that that is a critical step in maximizing yield (provided of course that you don’t try to work with pieces too small to safely flatten and joint).

Mike, Paul M, you are both right that I can be overdoing this, but rather than slavishly following a workflow, I intend to use this as a rough guide to working, but more importantly as an aide to manage tools and storage in my single-car garage workshop. With about 200 sq ft, I pretty much have to clear the decks between different operations (things get crowded very quickly).

Thanks for all the comments so far.

-- Neville, Calgary AB

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3152 days

#6 posted 10-17-2012 03:30 AM

With small shops, I think machine position should be places where space is best used, not on workflow.

More than that, I find that with most hobbyists it’s more of a leisurely activity. I usually make a trip to the beer fridge between cuts, or pace around the shop while thinking through a series of cuts. It’s less about production and more about space optimization and fun.

-- jay,

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3278 days

#7 posted 10-18-2012 12:56 PM

In a small workshop, placement of your tools will be more for ease of actually using each one, then work flow. In my shop @ home, I’m always changing something around, just to get a better overall feel of space and ease of using something. I always leave plenty of room for my roll around shop chair, so I can sit and ponder if I should make a little more saw dust, or just call it a day and have a glass of wine. (or beer). It’s hard getting used to retirement…......but I’m working on it.

-- John @

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4928 posts in 3954 days

#8 posted 10-18-2012 02:18 PM

Most shops work in a circle (roughly of course) because the TS is often in the center of the shop. Mine is that way. I have about a 400 sq. ft. shop attached to the home and garage. I use wheeled tool stands wherever I can for added flex.


View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2242 days

#9 posted 10-18-2012 02:37 PM

And just to mix it up a bit more, I like to finish before final assembly. In my shop anyway, the quality of the finish is exponentially better when I pre-finish


View ClayandNancy's profile


519 posts in 3008 days

#10 posted 10-18-2012 02:38 PM

You forgot one step that I tend to use to often. “REPAIR MISTAKES”

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2280 days

#11 posted 10-18-2012 04:03 PM

I have a small shop. 16×18. Or 288 sq ft. I would love to have all my tools set up and just be able to move from one to another, but…. just not practical in such a small space. Jointer on wheels, planer on wheels, band saw on wheels, Sliding miter saw on a rolling stand that folds up and stands on its own. Table saw is on wheels, but I don’t move it. It pretty much stays parked in the middle unless I need to move it for maintenance. What I’ve done is started organizing the way things get parked. The sliding miter is right inside the door because I almost ALWAYS take it outside the shop as I use it to cut 10 or 12 foot pieces down to something closer to what I’ll be using. HAving a small shop has also taught me the value of putting things away when I’m done! :)

But…. it’s not a race and I don’t have to plan for super efficiency and if my wife ever complains about how long a particular project is taking, I just tell her I need to double the size of the shop to gain speed. (She’s only ever questioned it once… once I showed her the ballet involved in getting from point A to point B…. she understood)

View Dave's profile


154 posts in 3190 days

#12 posted 02-03-2013 06:02 PM

Neville, I’m thinking about the same thing since it’s too cold in my unheated garage shop to do much more than clean and move stuff around right now. As a hobbyist whose time comes in small chunks, I decided that workflow and good machine placement are the keys to enjoyment. I don’t want to be wasting my time moving stuff out of the way, converting combo machines, looking for room to set things down, etc.

My basic sequence is
1. Cut to rough length (leaving enough to joint and plane safely)
2. Joint the first wide face flat
3. Resaw the opposite face to rough thickness on the bandsaw (but only if I need to remove more than 0.25”)
4. Plane that other face flat to achieve final thickness (or until faces are parallel if I expect wood movement)
5. Joint the first “thin” edge (I used to try this after step 2 but it usually meant jointing against the grain)
6. Rip to final width on the tablesaw (I sometimes leave 1/16 or 1/32 so I can clean up any burns with a jointer or hand plane but if the piece is narrow and I expect wood movement I leave more and repeat 5, 6 in 24-72 hrs)
7. Crosscut one end of the board, removing just enough to ensure it’s perpendicular to the jointed edge – You could also use the ripped edge as a reference but this prevents compounding errors if your rip isn’t perfect.
8. Flip the board end-for-end keeping the same edge against the miter guage/sled to crosscut to final length

Steps 7 and 8 can also be done with a radial arm saw or miter saw. I don’t have either but that might be the way to go for long boards or ends with compound angles. From there I play it by ear based on the specific piece. Dados, mortices, tenons, and holes are usually next, with any trim details at the router done as late in the process as possible.

A big factor in good workflow is having someplace convenient to put your work-in-process. I’d like to get some mobile carts. That way I don’t waste lots of time carrying wood around from station to station, or clearing off places to set things down. Having enough space is also important. If you don’t, your choices are to reduce the scale of your projects, squeeze in more tools but spend more time moving machines around, or both.

Anyway, that’s how I do things. I hope to learn a few things myself as you hear back from the pros. In the meantime I’m thinking about how to set up my machines to make this process as quick as possible.

-- "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of widths." - Steven Wright

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2844 days

#13 posted 02-03-2013 08:29 PM

I commend you Neville for bringing this up. Indeed it is of great interest to a professional and likely less so to a hobbyist. If, however, the thoughts of the former can bring more enjoyment to the latter, hey, worth the time.

One thing not mentioned here is wood storage, both solid stock and sheet goods. If you buy material for two projects it’s nice to put half of it away. This area would be closest to the biggest door.

Table saw and jointer easy access from there. Often we move back and forth between those machines.

It should be simple to get the material from the outfeed table to a place where it can be cut to length (radial arm saw or miter saw). I prefer the miter saw very close to my assembly table because I do a lot of cut and trial fit repetitions.

Other tools seem to get their work delivered on carts for line boring, bandsawing, edge sanding, shaping, that sort of process.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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