Video tour and tips for a small woodworking shop
An apartment wood shop is hopefully not your shop's final form, but it can still punch above its weight.
My small shop dictates a lot of things, so figuring out how to work with it has become a crucial part of my woodworking skill set. The space is 11 ft. x 11 ft., and not all of that’s usable—not ideal. But when Fine Woodworking lost its shop in 2018, I didn’t have room to whine about what’s ideal. I had to figure out my space, from storage to tooling to layout. None of the problems have proved insurmountable (or my solutions ingenious), but I have learned some things along the way.
For one, from tool walls to sliding tills in deep drawers, I’ve gone vertical with my storage. Floor space is hard-earned in my shop, so while I have and love my tool chest, it’d be out the door if it didn’t easily roll under my bench and double as a seat when needed. Even my handplanes are on stepped storage, allowing me to make the most of the space in a repurposed entertainment center that was designed to hold an old CRT TV. The sliding tills in a couple of drawers, inspired by traditional English tool chests, accomplish the same thing, giving me multiple layers of storage in an otherwise obnoxiously deep space. Then, of course, there’s shelving.
The second, and perhaps hardest-learned lesson, is that I need open space. This is slightly heartbreaking, since space is gold. But what that space buys me is actual room to work, especially assembly and wood storage. This goes without saying, but woodworking isn’t happening without wood or a place to assemble that wood. So while I’d love to squeeze another tool or two in my shop, it’d just get in the way of actual furniture making.
Speaking of tools, power tools have the steepest criteria for coming into my shop. They require a lot of room, after all. I started with a benchtop mortiser, added a planer (which I keep in my apartment’s basement, since I live in a converted house), and then a trim and midsize router, each with plunge and fixed bases. I got a track saw at some point too, and although that’s been collecting sawdust, I can’t give it up yet. The last power tool to come in was a loaner 14-in. bandsaw. I’m on the fence whether I’m going to keep it or bring in a wee (but reliable) tablesaw.
The shop’s not the easiest to work in, and it’s far from a dream, but it’s also far from a problem. After all, I still have a shop. Plus, my space makes Vic Tesolin’s early 40-sq.-ft. shop look child-size by comparison. Considering I’m a child-size Vic, it all balances out.
For more tips on working in a small space, click on
- How to Make Better Use of Your Shop Space (This one features a shop in a spare bedroom!)
- The Best Power Tool for Apartment Woodworking
- From the editor: A shop to call home