Episode #003 – Simplifying Your Workshop – Part 1


Episode # 3 – Simplifying your Woodworking Workshop   Part 1

In Episode # 3, I talk about how to simplify your workshop to get more woodworking done.   Over the course of the next couple podcast episodes, I discuss the 5 things you can do to simplify your woodworking shop.

This episode is following what was discussed in Episode # 2 – 5 simple things you can do to find more time to woodwork.

What is Simplifying? 

When I say simplify, it is more than just organizing.

  • Organizing is certainly part of it.  But it is more than that . .  it is cleaning house and determining your needs.  If you just organize – you spend time and money on storage and containers to store things you probably don’t need anyway.  It is about getting rid of things you never use.
  • Running out to buy organizational “stuff” is usually just a waste of money if you start with the organization.  I have been there, and when I started simplifying my shop, I threw away a ton of boxes and shelving, etc. because they were just holding junk I was never using.  I also had a huge bond fire for wood I just never used.
  • If you buy organizational items before you follow the steps I am about to talk about, you will just buy more stuff to store the stuff you probably don’t use already.  (I love using the word “stuff” . . . it is a little broader than “junk.”
  • Often, organization of the stuff is not addressing the problem.  Often, the problem is you have too much stuff, and the stuff you should have does not have an assigned space.

Advantages to a Simple shop:

1)     Safer –

  1. Not tripping over things
  2. Dangerous tools are easily put away so small delicate hands do not find them.
  3. Easier to control dust.  Dust is a danger issue – not just for fires, but for your health.  Trust me on this issue.  I am going in for another CAT scan for the polyps in my sinuses.

2)     Easier to clean –

  1. This can save you money – can quickly clean up the saw dust before it gets into your HVAC and burn out the motor – or potentially cause a fire.

3)     You can get to your projects faster.

  1. You are creating room to just go into the shop and have fun.

4)  Saves you money

  1. You think twice about buying that new tool, gadget, or cool piece of wood.
  2. When you know where everything is, you avoid buying things twice.


The Five steps towards simplifying your shop

1)     Survey your existing workshop

2)     Analyze your woodworking flows

3)     Clean House

4)     Organize, design, re-design your shop

5)     Develop new rules and systems to maintain the simplicity

Step 1 – Survey your shop and decide what you want to do in your shop. 

1)     If you love to build furniture, then you will most likely need to focus your shop on a table saw and a large workbench or assembly table.

2)     If you are a big turner, you may want to focus your shop around your lathe, band saw, and drill press.  You will also be thinking about a place to store your pen or bowl blanks.

3)     Bottom line is decide what you really love doing in the shop and determine what you need to have in place to do what you want.

4)     You are not at the organization stage yet.  You are just deciding what needs to be in the shop and imagining a clean shop with nothing but those specific items.

Step 2 – Analyze your previous woodworking workflows

1)     Review your woodworking flow.  What habits have you gotten into while woodworking.  Which ones are good and bad.  A bad habit might be one that is forced by necessity – like placing your cold drink on your table saw (that can cause rust) because there are no other places to put it.

  1. Where do you put your drill or chilsel while working?  On another tool?  Does your table saw because a table that you have to clear every 30 minutes because there is junk on your other spaces?
  2. How do you like to work?  Do you have a temporary tool table that is just used to hold the immediate items you are working with?
  3. Decide what habits you want to get rid of.

2)     What worked for you?  When did you feel like you were able to get in the shop and just jump right into a project, and complete it as fast or faster than you thought you would?

  1. Try to determine what made that possible.  Had you set up a portion of your shop to handle a specific workflow?
  2. I have done that a few times.  Once with my kitchen table and with the stool I recently made for my Mother for Mother’s day.

3)     What did not work for you? 

  1. What project took forever because you had to move everything around in your shop, or because you had to find that piece of wood you knew you had or because you were looking for that drill bit, tool, router bit, etc.
  2. When did you get frustrated with something during your workflow – something was in the way – that old pill or scrap bits of wood you kept thinking you were going to use.
  3. Pulling out my sharpening stuff – slows down the hand tools


4)     What tools are in the space that shouldn’t be there or should be more readily accessible

  1. Do you wish you had your circular saw more accessible?
  2. Do you wish you could quickly grab a certain drill bit quickly without looking throw a loose drawer full?
  3. Do you have a stack of wood piled up somewhere that could be replaced by a tool on a stand like a scroll saw, planer, joiner, or other tool?


5)     What are your core tools. Pick out the tools that you know you use on the vast majority of your projects.

  1. Do you have a tool you use all of the time or on the majority of your projects?
  2. Do you have your go to set of hand tools?
  3. You might have some tools that you have not touched in months or a year?  Do you really need that tool?  Can you sell it on craig’s list.

6)     Map out your space. You should layout your workspace and determine its dimensions.  Determine the location of key features in your workshop.

  1. When laying out your shop, take into consideration the location of windows, wall space, existing shelving units, potential spaces that could be turned into storage areas out of your way.  Measure the length, height, and width of shelves and furniture.
  2. Make note of the placement of doors and how they open (they may limit placement of your tools).
  3. Pay close attention to you electrical outlets and existing lighting if you are on a budget.  You can always install lights later on, but if you are on a budget, you may want to plan a little in advance.
  4. This is also a good time to think of a potential usable space.  Take note of space you might be able to use for storage like: behind doors, above windows, underneath stairs if you are working in your basement.


7)     Recognize the limitations of your Workshop. Identifying the limitations of your existing workshop will help you during the next two steps of purging and organizing.  Things to consider and take note of are:

  1. Unusable tiny spaces
  2. Existing storage or lack thereof
  3. Too many windows or low ceilings
  4. Awkward shaped space
  5. Not enough lights or electrical outlets
  6. Limited wall space

8)     If you have room, see if you can create zones in your workshopDo you have a place where you can focus on cutting, a place to focus on sanding, a place to focus on finishing.  If you can visualize a potential for those spaces, it will help you when you get to the next phases.

Now that you’ve done you have surveyed and analyzed your space, you will be much more effective at cleaning house and you will have much less to organize.

As you go through steps 1 & 2, write down on what you notice.  Nothing is more frustrating that organizing your shop, and then realizing that you forgot to leave room for that sharpening station you were planning on building.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Episode #003 – Simplifying Your Workshop – Part 1

  1. As I was listening to your podcast I was in the process of cleaning my shop again. Unfortunately 2 of my friends died recently. Their wives had no idea what to do with their shops tools as they decided to move. I bought their shops and now I have 3 shops in the space designed for 1. Lots of scrap wood is the main problem and I think I have 100 screwdrivers. I am taking your podcast to heart and mainly getting rid of duplicates. I’m finding it hard to dispose of 90 screwdrivers. I hate to just throw them away along with a lot of other duplicates and Goodwill will take some stuff but has limits. The extras have been a hindrance to actually finding space to work.
    I bought a burn barrel and all the little scraps I have been burning. I hate it but what can you do when nobody has a use for it?
    Thanks for the incentive and the direction.
    Tony Williams

    • Tony, I am sorry to hear about your loss of two friends. Please accept my condolences. Losing friends is tough. Sounds like you have honored them by helping their wives by taking on at least some of their burden. Taking their tools and wood so their wives did not have to deal with them was very kind and helpful. Now you have to confront two problems – 1) it is hard for woodworkers to simply part with tools and wood, and 2) Some of those tools have a sentimental value because they were owned by friends. But, once you get to the other side and have a simple, organized shop, it is so rewarding. Here are some more ideas:
      1) See if there is a local woodworking school that might take some of the nicer pieces of wood and tools that you can’t use. You can also check with local cub scout packs and and boy scout troops to see if they might need some wood or tools (boys love to hammer nails especially).
      2) At least cook something over the fire like marshmallows 😉
      3) Put the screwdrivers up on craigslist or ebay for sure to at least get some money out of them, even if it is not that much. That money can be used to buy the wood for your next project (or for more organization tools).
      4) You might take some quick pictures of what you are thinking of parting with and emailing them to me. I haven’t thought of this before, but maybe I can post them on the site and see if any listeners might be interested. (This is just a random thought – I have never done anything like that before).
      I hope that my other podcasts give you ideas on how to organize things and where to create some room to keep the more sentimental items.
      P.S. Thanks for sharing that you are finding the podcast helpful. I really do appreciate it. If you find the time, I would love to see before and after pictures of your shop.