Basements are one of the most common spaces to set up a workshop. With a bit of planning, some forethought and a lot of creativity you’ll be on your way to an efficient, productive basement shop.
Watch our video: David Bedrosian
I’ve been a hobbyist woodworker for more than 35 years and over that time I’ve had three different shops. My current shop is in the basement of our house where we’ve lived for the past 25 years. Having a shop in the basement has some challenges, but it’s the reality for many woodworkers like me who don’t have space for a separate building or don’t want to set up in the garage or rent a shop. This article will share what I’ve learned and what works well for me with my shop. If your shop is in a garage or separate from your home, some of my tips may not apply, but I’m sure you’ll still find something useful.
Outside of the Shop
Bedrosian uses wire storage racks elsewhere in his basement to help reduce the clutter. Infrequently used items like extra glue and sandpaper are moved out of the shop onto the racks.
Moving large equipment into a basement shop can be a challenge. A moving dolly works for some equipment, but movers were hired to get this sliding table saw into Bedrosian’s shop.
Consider Infeed and Outfeed
Machines can be arranged within a relatively tight space to allow for an efficient workflow. Bedrosian’s planer and jointer are close together, and there was space between them for his drill press. Push blocks for the jointer are kept above a cabinet so they’re always within reach.
Keep It Close
Magnets are effective for holding push sticks and adjusting tools on the machine where they’ll be used. Notice the base Bedrosian added under his bandsaw. It brings the bandsaw’s table up to the same height as his table saw, allowing it to double as an outfeed table.
Raising or lowering machines can help them work within a smaller space. Bedrosian’s router table is low enough so that it doesn’t interfere when he’s working with long boards at his shaper or mitre saw. The router table can be pulled forward to rout long boards.
Don’t skimp on the number of outlets in your shop. Bedrosian uses surface-mounted outlets connected with conduit and positions them at a height that works well for different machines.
Narrow shelves attached to the wall take up minimal space but add a lot of storage for power tools and accessories. Wider shelves can be used higher up to hold larger tools such as routers.
Suck Some Serious Air
A cyclone dust collector with two pleated filters clears the dust and chips from the various machines in Bedrosian’s shop. An underpowered dust collection system isn’t going to do you many favours.
Bedrosian stores his drills and drivers on small individual shelves so they’re tight to the wall but are quick to grab when needed.
Storage is key in a well-organized shop. Bedrosian made a simple melamine cabinet with hardboard shelves to hold his table saw blades. A small rack on the end holds sanding blocks.
Bedrosian had space in a work cart to add storage for sheets of sandpaper. Each hardboard tray holds a different grit of paper with the grit engraved on the front. This general approach can be used for many smaller shop items like screws, dowels, sanding disks and other smaller bits and pieces.
Sometimes Simple Is Best
Simple storage solutions often work just as well. Good examples of simplicity are this board with screws to hold wrenches and a few blocks of wood to hold drill bits.
Lose it if you don’t use it
When I first set up my shop, I thought that I needed to store every tool, accessory and piece of wood within my shop so it was easily accessible. This was simple to do when I started woodworking, but it has become much more difficult as I acquire more equipment. Rather than letting this clutter build up on the floor and in the corners of my shop, I’ve come up with a shop rule. If I don’t use something at least once per month, I move it out of my shop so it’s not taking up valuable space. This doesn’t apply to machinery or things that are too heavy to easily move, but to infrequently used shop supplies, tools and accessories that can be relocated.
I’m fortunate to have quite a bit of storage space in my basement, outside of my shop space, so I can keep things like my circular saw, gallon-size bottles of Titebond glue and my roller stands on easily accessible shelving. My supply of lumber (including offcuts), sheet goods and veneer are also stored elsewhere in my basement so they don’t get in the way of my daily activities in the shop.
My rule works well for me, but if you don’t have extra storage space, you may need to trade off what you can store in your shop. Do you need to keep all of your offcuts? Are there any tools or accessories you can live without to free up space for more important things? With the success of my simple rule, I am looking at a new rule – if I haven’t used something in a year, I should sell it or give it away. Ask me in a year if I’ve been successful with that.
Getting in and out of the basement
We don’t have a walkout basement, so I access my shop using stairs that go down halfway to a small landing and then make a right angle turn before going down the remaining steps. The bend in the stairs adds to the challenge, but I’ve had success using a furniture dolly with straps to get my machinery safely down the stairs. This wasn’t an option with my sliding table saw, which weighs more than 500 pounds, so I hired movers for that job. If I were starting over, I would pay to have a second basement access added from the garage, but now that I have everything in the shop, it doesn’t seem necessary.
I work with both lumber and sheet goods so they need to be moved down to the shop. Lumber less than 12′ long and 5’×5′ sheets of plywood fit down the stairs. Larger sheet goods and longer lumber are typically broken down in my garage, but if needed I can feed them into the shop through a 50″ wide window. When I’ve completed a project, I’ll typically wrap it in moving blankets so it can be moved up the stairs without being damaged. Larger projects that won’t fit are completed in my garage, which is also where I have my spray booth. I discovered that a king-size headboard won’t fit up my stairs; fortunately, it fit through the window.
Control the noise
When we moved into our house, the basement was already finished with drywall and a drop ceiling so my options for noise control were limited when I set up my shop. Fortunately, the noise heard above the shop isn’t very loud so this hasn’t been an issue for my family. In fact, over the years it’s become a natural sound in the house. If your shop is unfinished, you have more choices. You can do something as simple as adding fibreglass insulation between the ceiling joists or you can get more elaborate and build a floating ceiling and walls. An online search on noise control is a good place to start when looking for ideas.
Optimal machine layout
Every shop space, as well as what makers build, will be different, so it’s not possible to create a universal approach to machine layout. My shop is 35′ long and 12′ wide and it has quite a few machines arranged within a relatively tight space while still allowing an efficient workflow for the type of projects I like to build. This includes making larger items like tables, desks and built-in cabinets along with smaller pieces like turned pens and bowls. I’ve refined my layout several times to meet my needs.
Determine a direction for wood flow so machines can be aligned the same way; this may allow you to stagger machines without limiting your infeed and outfeed capacity. With my 12′ wide shop, it was obvious that the machines should be oriented so the wood runs lengthwise while being machined. If your shop is square, you’ll have more options with your layout, but it may still be useful to orient the machines so the wood is running in one direction.
Consider where you stand to operate each machine. You want to leave enough space to operate the machine safely, but you don’t need to leave space where you’ll never stand. For example, I operate my jointer from one main location in front of it, so it made sense to place the back against a long wall. I need plenty of infeed and outfeed space, but it only needs to be 8″ wide since that’s the capacity of my jointer. I don’t need standing access at either end of the jointer tables so I was able to place my floor standing drill press at the infeed end of the jointer. The column is close to the wall so it doesn’t get in the way when jointing long, full-width boards. There’s just enough space between the two machines to allow me to lower the drill press table without hitting the jointer infeed table.
Think about machine height to avoid interference. In some cases, this means setting machines at the same height. For example, I’ve added a 3/4″ base under my 18″ bandsaw so it’s at the same height as my sliding table saw. This allows me to rip long boards at my bandsaw and use the sliding table as an infeed support.
In other cases, it means staggering the machine heights. My mitre saw, router table and shaper are placed in a row against a wall. The router table is in the middle and if it was at the same height as the other two machines, the fence and router bit would get in the way when cross cutting or shaping long boards. By lowering the router table 4″, I clear the way for boards up to 10′ long to be crosscut or shaped. This limits me to routing boards 30″ or shorter, but the router table is on wheels so I can easily pull it forward any time I’m working with longer stock. This configuration doesn’t allow for a long support table for my chop saw, as is commonly done. For me, this is an acceptable trade-off since I do my precision cross cutting at my sliding table saw.
Position your machines based on the size of projects you make. In an ideal shop, there would be enough space to machine wood of any size. For my size of shop, the layout works for the majority of the projects I make. For those times when I’m building a very large project, I can temporarily adjust the location of one or more machines to give me more space. For example, I’m limited to jointing boards that are just over 6′ long because of the location of my drum sander. For this reason, the sander is on wheels so I can push it against my bench to allow more outfeed space.
A well-equipped shop needs plenty of power for stationary machines and portable tools, yet this is something not all basements are equipped with. Consider hiring a professional to do your electrical work if you’re not comfortable or if it’s required by code. At a minimum, I would recommend separate 120V and 240V, 15A circuits each wired to several outlets. I would also recommend a separate 240V circuit for your dust collector and another 120V circuit for your lighting. You don’t want your shop to go dark if you trip a breaker from an overloaded machine.
If you have machines with 3HP or larger motors, you may need a 20A or 30A, 240V circuit. Keep in mind that machines might be able to share the same 240V circuit since you’ll likely be running only one machine at a time. Be sure to consider any future machines when you’re planning your power requirements. In my shop, I used surface-mount outlets connected with conduit since I didn’t want to cut into the drywall. Most of my outlets are higher than required by code to make them easier to access. My 120V circuits use GFCI outlets for added protection.
Keep it clean
Dust collection in a basement shop is very important, since any dust generated can make its way to the rest of the house. My shop has a large cyclone system connected to all my stationary machines, each with their own blast gate. For many machines, I enlarged the typical 4″ port to allow a 5″ or 6″ connection. If your dust collector has the capacity to do this it will increase the airflow considerably, which will improve both the chip and dust collection.
If possible, locate the machines that produce the most dust closest to your collector since that will maximize the airflow. To capture the dust coming off the top of your table saw blade, I recommend using a guard with dust collection like the one I described in the June/July 2021 issue of Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
Your dust collector can be used as an air cleaner if you have good-quality filters. With my particle counter, I can watch the air quality improve if I leave my dust collector running with a 6″ blast gate open after doing an operation that generates a lot of dust. Commercial or home-built air cleaners also work well.
My dust collector doesn’t work well with power tools like sanders and routers. For those, I use my smaller vacuum which I’ve equipped with a HEPA filter to avoid blowing fine dust in the air.
Use wall space wisely
I wanted to make the most of the wall space in my shop so I installed a combination of cabinets and shelves to hold various tools and accessories. The cabinets are 12″ deep and located above machines that are against the wall. They’re positioned so they don’t interfere with operating the machine and they don’t get in the way when moving through the shop. In areas where there’s not a lot of space to move, I needed to get more creative so I fastened 5″ wide shelves to the wall. These shelves are narrow enough that they don’t get in my way when I’m moving in the shop and they add lots of valuable storage space for drilling accessories, sanders and even my Domino.
I could have used the same shelving to hold my drills and drivers, but I wanted to be more space efficient so I made an individual shelf for each tool and fastened them in a staggered pattern. I had some overhead space at the left end of my shop near my dust collector so I added a wider shelf to hold my routers.
A place for everything
I like to work in a well-organized shop where I don’t have to spend time moving things around or looking for a particular tool. If I have 15 minutes to spend in the shop, I want all that time to be spent on working wood. The best way I know to accomplish this is to have a place for everything so it’s easy to put things back when I’m done with them. As a bonus, I can quickly tell if something’s missing.
I’ve got some fancy solutions to hold saw blades and sandpaper, but I also have very simple setups to hold wrenches and drill bits. Both approaches work equally well.
Keep it close at hand
Safety is a key aspect in my shop, so I have various push sticks and push blocks to use with many of my machines. I don’t want to have to go looking for these safety devices in the middle of an operation so I keep them close at hand. Push sticks are attached to the front of a machine with magnets and push blocks are kept on dedicated shelves by each machine. I also use magnets to hold any adjusting tools on the appropriate machine so they’re close by when I need them.
Choose your options
Planning what tools and machines to purchase is a personal preference. For example, some woodworkers feel a table saw isn’t justified in a small shop and they’re still successful with their woodworking. I use my table saw for many different operations so it’s an important machine for me. If you have a track saw for sheet goods and you don’t work much with larger solid wood workpieces, a table saw may not be worthwhile. Everyone is different, and you have to decide what’s worth the valuable real estate in your basement workshop.
Allow your shop to evolve
I didn’t set up my shop this way on Day 1. My basement shop is the result of a few decades of adjustments. Your shop will likely evolve with your woodworking, so consider your layout to be dynamic and don’t be afraid to make changes whenever the need arises.