A layout square, or combination square, comes in 6” and 12” sizes. Most woodworkers use the 6” model, simply because it’s easiest to carry around. Also, most of the stock you’ll use will be no bigger than 6” wide, so 12” is overkill. The layout square is a triangle that you can use to mark square cuts on stock. Once you measure the length of the cut, you line up the layout square with the edge of the board. The short side will give you a straight, square cut across the end grain. You can also measure off angles with the layout square. This helps when you’re trying to measure for a bevel on a table saw, or marking a cut for a miter saw. You can even use your layout square to determine an existing angle. Just be sure to buy one made of metal. The plastic ones are not only fragile, but they also can warp, making them pretty useless.
My contention has always been that you can build a serviceable shop in your home, develop your hand skills, and make fine furniture. In the past year, I had an opportunity to build a shop from the ground up after moving to a new home. I found a house with an unfinished basement, and set to work. In this article, I will discuss everything from layout, to electrical, to equipment selection. I intend to name names with respect to equipment, so that readers will know what I chose. Everyone’s budget will be different, but I think almost everyone will be able to treat this as a starting point, and adjust accordingly, depending on their own budget.
One tool that has been notably missing from the earlier builds is a router. There are so many reasons to own a router that I am not going to even try to list them. But if you want to get the creative juices flowing, take a look at this Pinterest page. The important thing to know is that this versatile tool can help you accomplish a number of tasks, everything from finishing edges to cutting dove tails.
As far as sharp goes, I subscribe to the school of thought that you need to hone an edge to hold up to what is is going to be cutting. The more you hone an edge, the thinner it becomes. This makes it sharp, but it also erodes it’s physical strength. If you want to slice paper or shave the hairs off your arm, go happy with a 2000 grit polish. If you are going to be hogging through wood, that edge will round over very quickly. IMHO you are better with a 500 grit finish at the most, and usually I am totally happy with the result of the 360 diamond hone.
One of the best deals on portable power tools, including routers and sometimes planers, comes in the form of factory-reconditioned tools. These are primarily tools that have been repaired at the factory after failing quality inspections or being returned by customers. While they cannot be sold as new, they are identical to new tools in quality and appearance and usually feature the same warranty (be sure to check). Typical savings are anywhere from 15% to 30%, though you sometimes can find even bigger bargains. These tools can be found at Amazon.com and other online tool sellers. It is also possible to buy them through retail stores and, in some cases, directly from the manufacturer’s Web site.
Just how small? Will you have an extra bedroom for your shop or will you be doing woodworking in your living room? Do you have to put the projects and tools away every time you want to entertain or will you leave everything set up all the time? A while back FWW had a video tour of a shop in Japan that was smaller than small. I'll try to find it and get back. Found it... shows what can be done in a small space but this shop was not on a small budget so no help there.
Frank Howarth is a unique guy - educated as an architect, but with practical woodworking skills to rival any journeyman. He has the most enviable workshop of anybody I've seen, and his projects are aspirational on every level - creativity, originality, ingenuity, and craftsmanship. He devotes a lot of time to talking about the layout and design of his ever-changing workshop, and there's a lot of clever ideas to steal and pass off as your own. If you can't tell, I love Frank. Oh, and his stopmotion videos are awesome.
I Like to Make Stuff is the perfect channel for beginners who want comprehensive teaching on woodworking. It has a show called Maker 101 that goes into the basic skills you need to start making stuff. I Like to Make Stuff is not intimidating to the beginner because it isnâ€™t afraid of showing woodworkers making mistakes on their project rather than always doing everything perfectly.
Check with Habitat for Humanity. If they have a store you may find several good items such as a bench, bandsaw or etc. When I retired and moved I donated a complete shop full of woodworking power tools and hand tools to Habitat. They sold them, I deducted them from my income tax. Unfortunately I could not retire my desire to woodwork and at age 78 I built a shop and use only hand tools and a bandsaw. Good exercise pushing a LN #7. Build yourself a solid bench with some southern pine with a moxon vise that can be built by hand. Get some holddowns!
Every woodworker needs a couple of levels. You probably won’t need one of the 6-foot levels used in construction, but 48” is a good length for many of the woodworking projects you’ll do. Usually, you’ll also need an 8” level too, usually known as a torpedo level. You’ll check the level and plum of your construction. Level means horizontal, and plumb is vertical.
One tool that I’ve used over and over when my clamps were too small, is ratchet straps. They come in handy when trying to glue several pieces together, like when making a table top out of 4 x 4’s. One problem though, is that when using ratchet straps on smaller pieces of wood, or longer boards, it’s possible to warp the piece you’re trying to make. However, if you’re careful, a ratchet strap can stand in for a clamp or two.
Birch comes in two varieties: yellow and white. Yellow birch is a pale yellow-to-white wood with reddish-brown heartwood, whereas white birch has a whiter color that resembles maple. Birch is readily available and less expensive than many other hardwoods. Birch is stable and easy to work with. However, it’s hard to stain because it can get blotchy, so it is generally preferred to paint Birch.
I went out and bought a dovetail pull saw for some of the finer cuts that I needed to make. I’m sure I’ve used this a few times on previous blog posts. It is great for the smaller cuts, and I’ve even used it to cut some larger pieces when my bigger saw didn’t fit. The combination of the dovetail pull saw and the push saw works fine, and isn’t too terribly expensive, but I’ve found something even cheaper that works just as well.
Woodworking is a fun hobby, but can be expensive as well. With all the power tools, hand tools, shop setups and, of course, the wood, many people are turned off to woodworking because of the impact on their wallets. That doesn’t have to be the case though. With a little pre-planning and inside knowledge, you can set up a basic wood shop and start making your own items without breaking the bank.