Your woodshop is one of the most important parts of becoming a better woodworker. There are core woodshop essentials you need for comfort, safety and security.
A woodworker always wants more tools. You might start off small but over time you’ll acquire more tools as you expand the types of projects you are making.
And we’ve likely all cut plywood in our driveway or glued up a project in our living room.
But for a variety of reasons, you eventually need a space you can call your own, a dedicated woodshop for your tools and working on your projects.
I initially made do with having my woodshop under my second floor deck in a converted wine-making shed. It was dark, musty, filled with spiders and their webs and had an uneven floor.
Eventually I moved to our garage where now I have better lighting, a flat floor and I’m not battling with spiders all the time.
So what woodshop essentials do you need?
Note: you may need other essentials depending on your situation. This is not a comprehensive list.
Fire Extinguisher: The Most Important of the Woodshop Essentials
This is first for a reason.
You need to have a reliable, full-charged fire extinguisher in your woodshop.
You have a lot of fuel in your woodshop. Lumber, sawdust and various finishes and solvents.
Plus you also have a lot of potential fire starters: sparks from power tools, sparks from grinding, oily rags that could spontaneously combust and heaters you might be using to stay warm (more on that later).
But your extinguisher also needs to be at the right place. Ideally you want one at each exit of your shop, so that you can grab it to fight a fire while having a clear exit path if the fire gets out of hand.
Learn how to use one, make sure to keep it charged up and have it checked regularly to ensure it will work when you most need it.
And consider some other safety considerations as outlined in 5 Woodshop Safety Tips You Absolutely Need
Adequate Woodshop Lighting
With the advent of less-expensive LEDs, there is almost no excuse anymore to put up with a dark woodshop.
Nor is it safe. You need to be able to see everything you’re doing in bright light, especially when using power tools like a table saw.
While it would be great to have a woodshop with natural lighting from windows and maybe even skylights, that would limit your woodworking to only sunny days and daytime hours.
So you will have to supplement any natural lighting with some sort of artificial light.
Traditionally in most woodshops, banks of fluorescent shop lights where the way to go. However now there are affordable LED (light emitting diode) alternatives that have the benefits of lower power consumption and longer life.
I put in this set of 8 LED strip lights in my garage at the back where I have most of my tools. I couldn’t believe how bright the garage became (and my wife thinks it’s too bright!), with a less than $100 investment and about an hour’s worth of work on a weekend.
There are also other options such as these that simply screw into an existing light bulb socket.
Have a way to easily turn them on when you enter your shop. Avoid putting them on a timer or smart switch as you don’t want to inadvertently have them turn off when in the middle of using a power tool.
And if you’re unsure of what lighting to buy, check out this guide from Wood Magazine.
Woodshop HVAC System
I often see videos on YouTube of woodworkers and woodturners who are bundled up in thick winter coats and wearing gloves (usually not advised when using power tools) in order to stay warm while they work in their cold woodshop.
Or worse there are woodworkers who can only use their shop during the warmer months.
And the converse: woodworkers that can only work in the cooler months as their shops get too hot in summertime.
While this is one of the more expensive upgrades to your woodshop, it is well worth it, especially if you spend a lot of time in your shop and want to work on projects the whole year.
Heating can be as simple as a portable electric heater. It can be moved around as needed and put away in the warmer months. Here are a few options you can consider, based on your budget:
Keep in mind though that most have a fan so ensure you’re not blowing sawdust around the shop when you have the heater turned on. More about shop dust collection later in this article.
Cooling can be handled by an oscillating fan or a ceiling mounted fan to pull the hot air up.
If you want to move a step up to a more permanent solution, both heating and cooling can be easily handled by a mini-split system dedicated to your shop. It does require more work to install and space on an outside wall for the outdoor unit and indoor unit. Plus there is the initial cost of the unit and installation if you don’t do it yourself (and in some areas you need a licensed installer to put it in for you).
However mini-splits tend to be quite efficient, except in very cold climates.
Other options would be to extend your house heating system into your workshop, whether it’s adding another indoor mini-split unit to your existing heat pump or extending ducting from a central air system.
Controlling Humidity in the Woodshop
Lumber, tools and you can’t deal with a moist or wet environment. Controlling humidity in the woodshop is key if you want to have successful projects, not damage your tools and have a comfortable, enjoyable place to work in.
Lumber when it gets wet can cup, warp and in general be unusable. If you’re spending good money on kiln-dried lumber but then put it in your shop in a humid environment, it will soak up that moisture again.
A lot of power tools are made from cast iron, with cast-iron table tops or bases for sturdiness and weight. Cast iron will rust in a humid environment.
So will steel hand tools such as chisels, saws and planes.
And then there’s the woodworker. You want to be comfortable and not have to work in a humid environment, whether that’s in winter from very wet, rainy or snowy weather or in summer where the humidity can make the heat unbearable.
Yes, you can coat your tools with a protective spray to protect them from surface rust. But that coating will have to be applied regularly. And even then you might still get some rust forming.
The best thing to do is to control the humidity in your shop and that’s by using a dehumidifier. There are portable units that do a good job like this one:
Keep in mind though that if you have a lot of humidity, consider connecting a drain hose to the humidifier and drain water outside or into a floor drain if you have one in your shop. Otherwise you might be emptying the humidifier water bucket every hour or so!
Or if you have a mini-split as mentioned before, you can run it in drying mode. It will drain to the outside as it pulls moist air out of your shop.
Dust Collection for Woodshops
The other key woodshop essential is dust collection.
This often is the hardest thing for a beginner woodworker to figure out. What type of dust collection they need.
Yes, there are the large industrial dust collectors that you’ll see in larger shops. These are designed for shops that run 5-7 days a week and generate a lot of sawdust from large power tools such as planers, jointers, table saws and lathes.
But generally that’s overkill for the beginner hobby woodworker.
Often you can just get away with a wet-dry shop vac. You can get attachments for various power tools so you can hook the vacuum up to them directly.
And there are even automatic outlets that will turn the vacuum on when you turn on your power tool and turn it off again when you are done.
One significant upgrade to a shop vac is a cyclone separator. This is a special cone-shaped attachment for a 5-gallon bucket or garbage can that collects the heavier sawdust and shavings, so that only the very fine dust ends up in your shop vac.
Keeping your shop clean is a must for your own health and safety. It also helps to wear a respirator or special mask as your shop vac likely won’t be able to capture all the dust you create.
And as you expand your tool collection, always look for power tools that have built-in ports for dust extraction. Some even come with optional adapters that will adapt the port to a shop vac hose.
It would be really tragic if one day you went into your woodshop and all your tools were gone!
As you buy tools, the contents of your woodshop may exceed in value of the rest of your house. Yet many woodworkers have shops that are secured with just a rusty padlock or no lock at all.
This depends of course on where your woodshop is.
If you have a basement woodshop then the main concern to address is someone breaking a ground level window and crawling in. You can put bars or a protective safety film over your windows to guard against that. The good thing is that if your house has a security system, that should also protect the basement.
For garage woodshops with the traditional garage door opener, make sure that is secure. Modern garage door openers now rotate the code that the remote openers use. You might also want to consider removing any external keypads, even though that may be a bit of an inconvenience. If someone were to see you type in the code or guess it, they would have access.
As with a basement workshop, if your garage workshop is attached to the house, it may already be covered by your house’s security system, if you have one. If not, it can easily be extended by adding door and window sensors and cameras.
For woodshops in external buildings separate from your house, treat it as you would your house. If you have a security system for your house, either extend the system to the shop or put in a separate system. This includes door and window sensors, cameras and motion detection lights.
And ensure when you post photos of your shop on social media, make sure the location is not attached to your photo or post and that there are no defining features in the photos that could pinpoint where your shop is located.
Provide Adequate Power to Your Woodshop
When you first start out with just a few hand power tools, you can just plug them into any old outlet in your shop or even run an extension cord from the next available outlet. Just use an appropriately rated cord to avoid overheating and potential fires!
Or use battery-powered power tools and then you can charge the batteries in the house before each work session.
But the moment that you graduate to getting your first stationary power tool such as a mitre saw or table saw, then you do have to consider having adequate power in your woodshop.
Right now I only have one main outlet in my woodshop, so I do have to run an extension cord from my table saw or mitre saw over to the outlet on the other side of the garage. That’s a bit dangerous since I could trip over the cord.
So one of my goals this year is to get an electrician in to run some conduit in my garage to have some outlets on all the walls.
Ideally you’d also want a dedicated sub-panel for your workshop. This is especially important if you have plans to one day have professional grade power tools that require 220volts (this varies of course on where you live). Plus with the sub panel you can simply turn it off completely to kill all power to your shop for safety reasons, especially if you have small kids. Make sure not to place your lights on the sub panel of course so you can still have the lights on.
I have a sub panel but it only has one circuit so far for a 10-40 outlet for charging up our Nissan Leaf. The plan is to add more circuits over time.
Consult a licensed electrician in your area for more information and to ensure anything you plan meets local electrical codes.
So that does seem like a lot to take into account when setting up your woodshop. But if you tackle these one at a time and start off with the bare minimum that I mentioned for each woodshop essential, you’ll have a well-running, safe and secure woodshop.
Wishing you all the best with your projects!
Victoria, BC, Canada