How to Organize a Small Workshop

I’ve got a lot of home repair projects in my immediate future and I’ve noticed, from experience, that when my workshop is usable and organized those projects tend to go a lot more smoothly. In the past few months I’ve decided to focus on making my tiny workshop both useful and pleasant. The challenge has been that our 1920s garage is tiny–sized for two Model-Ts–and must also accommodate our Honda Fit. At the risk of seeming like I’ve come down from the mountaintop with stone tablets, permit me to share a few things I’ve learned about tiny workshop design:

  • Put everything on wheels. Get some locking wheels at the hardware store and the workshop will be infinitely re-configurable. You can even roll everything outside when needed to work on large pieces or to deal with dust issues.
  • Use Sketchup to figure out the best configuration. Most tools, cars and cabinets have been modeled for you by the Sketchup community. All you have to do is make a quick sketch of your work space and download the components.
  • Make all tools and workbenches the same height. When you do this every surface is a potential out-feed table for a table saw, miter saw etc.
  • Use chalkboard paint to label cabinets and drawers.
  • Clean as you work. I don’t always live up to this principle in the workshop or in the kitchen, but when you don’t have a lot of room you’ve got to put stuff back and get rid of scraps otherwise things get ugly and dangerous.
  • Thou shalt not store crap in thy workshop. A clean and organized workshop is inspiring. Banish the crap and you’ll make space for creativity. I even hosted a cocktail party in the workshop on Halloween.

And to the dolt who recently suggested closing libraries, let me note that the inspiration for the layout of my workshop came from a book I stumbled on while browsing the stacks of the library, Great Workshops From Fine Woodworking. When it comes to home repair and woodworking information I seek out Taunton Press books when at the library.

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  1. Close libraries?! How crazy! My sewing room was so large, about 19’x18′ that I just closed the door to my messes. This was the beauty of the whole setup of a separate room. I had a dining table for cutting. It was also the place I wrapped gifts. It was such a joy to be able to wrap gifts at Christmas and walk back into the other part of the house that had no paper and ribbons scraps. I know that cleaning up after yourself is a good concept, but that was the freedom I gained from a whole dedicated room for working.

  2. Long time reader here…Very much appreciate this posting as I’m in the midst of building a workshop of my own and want to plan for this sort of “cleaning as I go” and avoid messes I’ve made in the past with storing too much junk in it. Thanks too for continuing to inspire as the seasons change. Appreciate your and Kelly’s heart for creating rather than consuming whenever possible.

    • Yes! Another space saving idea. I’ll blog about it when I finish building the fence contraption.

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