Remember that if you are budgeting for a new workshop, then building or converting an existing building is only the first stage. After completion it must be equipped, although this can take place over a period of time as funds allow. And, of course, there will be running costs. An unheated workshop in winter is not a pleasant environment in which to work.
Planning Your Work
When choosing your workspace, there are several points to consider. Firstly, do you need to install your own machines or could you get time-saving timber preparation done by a local wood machinist or joinery firm? If you are prepared to acquire skills with a relatively small kit of hand tools, you could manage without the noise, dust and generally unpleasant working conditions created by machines and power tools, not to mention the expense.
Once you know the sort of woodwork you intend to do, make a list of the equipment you’re likely to need. Include in this hand and power tools, plus possible machines. It’s useful to draw up two lists: one of essential kit that you cannot do without, and a second one of potential equipment you may need to buy in the future. This will help you when planning the basic layout of the workshop.
Heating and Humidity
Heating and humidity control are both very important. Timber is sensitive to changes in atmosphere and an unheated workshop will invariably be damp. This will result in warped timber and your tools and machines may rust, too. Outdoor workshops should be heated carefully with a form of dry heat. Mobile gas heaters may be convenient but they also emit moisture. Think about installing an electric low-output background heater that runs all the time, and a dehumidifier. This not only extracts moisture from the air but also keeps the air warm. If you are likely to work for long periods of time, consider installing a woodburner or a stove that runs off sawdust. Garage and garden-shed workshops should have insulated walls, ceilings and floors. You should also add a damp-proof membrane to internal walls and ceilings to reduce condensation.
Noise and Insulation
Most forms of woodwork entail noise at some stage. Routers and planers are among the worst offenders, although some hand tools are not quiet, either. Unless you live in a remote area away from other people, always consider your neighbours. If in doubt about noise levels, ask a friend to listen outside the workshop while you operate the noisiest equipment. If using power tools or machines, make sure you set a reasonable time each evening when you shut these down. When considering materials for heat insulation, polystyrene may be cheap, easy to fit and effective, but it does little to deaden noise: rolls of fibreglass are a better option.
Power and Lighting
If connecting an outbuilding or shed to a power supply, check with your local government regarding-any likely regulations. All electrical work must comply and be installed, or checked, by a qualified electrician. If running an electric cable underground from the house, use the armoured type, which has a protective sheathing. A cable can be suspended overhead, although there is a greater risk from accidental damage. It should be a minimum distance from the ground and attached to a tensioned catenary wire. This wire must be earthed to the main earthing point of the house, and any external joints should be made with waterproof connectors.
Install more electric sockets than you think you will need and position them around the workshop to avoid cables trailing across the work area. Good lighting is essential, with overhead fluorescent strip lighting the easiest to install. If possible, situate your bench alongside a window and use an anglepoise lamp to illuminate bench work. Although daylight is best, watch out for direct sunlight on timber components, which can warp and twist as a result.
Workshop security is a major concern. Location is important, and a workshop at the far end of a long garden is more at risk than one close to the house. When evaluating the risks, consider how you would get into your workshop if you lost the only key. This will highlight weaknesses, such as padlocks that can be cut, external hinges that could be prised off and windows that could be forced.
Simple alarm systems are inexpensive to fit and may well act as a deterrent. Outdoor security lighting with movement sensors can be installed relatively cheaply. Padlocks with built-in alarms are another option.
If you do not want to fit steel bars to your windows, make simple shutters from plywood that can be fixed in position easily and secured from within.
Sadly, portable power tools are stolen to order these days. You only need add up the cost of a few items to see what it would cost to replace them if lost through theft. Mark all power tools with your postal code using electronic chips or invisible ink, so they can be identified if recovered by police after a break-in. If possible, make sure the contents of your workshop are insured. If woodworking is your hobby, it should be possible to add an inventory to your household insurance policy. If you intend to make money from woodworking, business insurance may be an option.
Catenary wire A steel wire stretched overhead between two points, usually buildings. Used to suspend a power cable.