Setting up shop @work

Who’s the lucky guy? I AM! I got to set up my own shop at home, and I get to set up a shop at work! Two shops! But vastly different scope. And size. Let me give you a tour!

4.9 by 12 meters – or 16′ by 40′. That is my new playground at work. I work at a company for people with disabilities and/or special needs, and we offer several different areas for the people employed through the Permanent Adapted Work program. We run a big laundry operation, we fill and deliver baskets of fruits to companies, we have a shredding service, a candle factory (hand dipped candles) and several other activities.

And now we are starting up a woodworking shop. Which is my “child” so to speak. We are working on setting it up now. There’s a lot to be done, lots of tools we still need to get – but as of now it is functional. Stone on top of stone type situation.

The shop won’t be a big production kind of setup. We have a 5:1 ratio for coordinators/supervisors, which means that I will supervise up to 5 people at the same time if I am tasked with running the shop. Since the workers are people with very individual needs, abilities, disabilities and limitations, the work needs to be adapted to each person. Some can be given a stack of wood and a cut list, others can not be allowed to use a machine that will cut off a hand in a fraction of a second, but they can assemble precut materials all day long.

It is in the nature of this kind of business that a steady production rate cannot be guaranteed. John might need to stay home because of his arthritis acting up, Jane does not show for work because of her psyche and Ned’s wheel chair with stand-up functionality needs to be sent in for service. We need to develop the business side of the woodwork shop, and that’s the reason I might not be the one actually running the shop since I have other tasks. But I am fine with that, because I have my own shop at home. And in THAT shop, I am King!

NOTE: Most of the machines comes from Record Power. The reason is a reasonable price range, and the fact that it is the main brand for the reseller we bought the equipment from. It was a familiar brand to me, as I own a band saw and a dust collector unit which I am very happy with. Now you know why it looks like a RP showroom in there!

With these considerations in mind, I targeted the shop to be able to do small production runs and to be very versatile. I limited the selection of machines to a core minimum, and we’ll add to the collection as needed.

The machines

I chose a medium sized table saw with a sliding table. We need to be able to rip down sheet goods, which makes the sliding table very nice to have. Here in Europe, the “American style” table saw isn’t very common, but the “panel saw” is common. We got a 10” Record Power TS250-RS with all the bells and whistles.

The next on the list is the band saw. I chose the same saw I have at home; the Record Power BS400. It is a 16” band saw with heavy cast iron wheels and a 2HP motor. Capable of ripping 12” oak without any problems (I have tried it!).

Moving on, we have a Record Power BDS250 belt/disc sander combo with 6” belt and 10” disc.

We got a Record Power PT310 Planer Thicknesser with 12” capacity (perfect match for the band saw). Not really a need to have machine, but certainly nice to have. I know a few farmers around here who have band saw sawmills…

Tucked in a corner we have a 90 liter (about 23 gallons) capacity CamVac CGV386-5 with two 1000W (230VAC) motors. This thing sucks! Which is a good thing.

The CamVac units work with vacuum – low volume of air at a high pressure. The “classic” dust collectors with a fabric bag and large impeller relies on huge amounts of air with very low pressure. The good thing about the vacuum based systems is that they work just as well – if not even better – when you hook up a small diameter hose to them. That ain’t the story for the bag type suckers!

Another thing about the CamVac units – and a feature unique to them – is the exhaust ports. These can be hooked to a hose. This reduces the noise dramatically, and if we make a noise baffle it will be even more quiet. I’ll write a separate article about that once done, but I can tell you that the difference is pretty dramatic simply by putting a hose on the outlet. A couple of noise baffles will reduce the noise even more, and we’ll build an enclosure around the unit to quiet it down even more.

The drawback for this unit is the drum size. 90 litres fills up pretty fast if the thicknesser is used a lot, but we’ll solve that with a simple DIY chip separator from one of the big barrels used in the laundry for detergents, fabric softeners and allround alchemy. More on that in a bit.

You can read a lot about dust collection in this article.

Next to the dust collector, we have a lathe. I did not specify a lathe, but my boss bought one anyway. Can’t argue with that, really. It is a Twister FU-200 Eco. I am not a wood turner, so I don’t know a lot about lathes. But it seems like a very nice machine indeed.

The work bench is a Sjöbergs Elite 1500. Decent, but I miss my Quick Release Eclipse vise

I think it is a very nice bench, but I would not buy one. Not for that price tag. It is as basic as can be, and using the vises are slow and cumbersome. I talk a bit about this in the article about my work bench, if you are interested. Since I now have some hands-on experience on the Sjöbergs elite bench in addition to my fathers’ small Sjöberg, I can report that my thoughts about this style of bench has been proven correct. While very good benches, this style of bench lacks several important features:

  • No quick-release vise
  • Too many and too big dog holes
  • The vises rack slightly
  • Way too expensive compared to what you get

I might be a bit biased here, but I think the classic Scandinavian work bench is too simple in its design and that it lacks several features found on many other bench designs. Sjöbergs has chosen really big dogs on the elite for some reason – 1” or 25mm! The more common 19mm or 3/4” accessories that’s widely accessible here in Norway, cannot be used. I find that really stupid! Of course, I can buy Sjöbergs accessories that fits, but the selection is severely limited and very pricey. Pass.

The dust collection system

From the before mentioned CamVac unit, the dust collection system runs to each machine / statin using a clear plastic pipe system.

And you can relax. We won’t blow up from static electricity sparks! Read the rant I linked to; there are two main myths we need to kill. Dust collector explosions is one of them.

If this setup generates a lot of static electricity buildup, I’ll wrap a copper wire around the pipes. It won’t ground the system (can’t really ground an insulator. Which plastic is.), but it will DISSIPATE the static buildup. Totally different thing. Mythbusters proved this by accident when they did the myth “static cannon”. They blasted a PVC pipe with bone dry sand to build up static electricity (rubbing a herd of cats on the thing was probably inefficient, and something PETA would blow a fuse over…). They got some real good zaps from the pipe, but they could not build static electricity above a certain level. The metal jack stands the pipe rested on, dissipated the buildup to ground… Case closed.

IF static buildup is a problem and you are getting zapped, wrap the plastic pipes in copper wire. You’ll probably still get some zaps, but you won’t feel like a sheep out of bounds anymore. No Less zap for you!

The duct work branches off in two directions, each section can be shut off with blast gates. There are blast gates at every station too.

I ran a section of pipe above the work bench. A dust port with a blast gate is located directly above the work bench. We will lower it so that it is easy to reach. An electric outlet will be placed next to the dust port. Perfect for sanding, routing or any other operations where power and/or dust collection is needed. Hook up the tool in the ceiling; no chords or hoses on the floor. This makes it safer, more tidy and it is more accessible for people in wheelchairs (they will need help hooking up the tool of course).

The lathe has its own dust port, and we have an adjustable dust shroud on a pivoting arm on order that will take care of dust and small chips when we use the lathe.

The band saw is permanently hooked up, with a blast gate.

The table saw is furthest away from the CamVac, but no dust escapes. The system works really well! Way better than I dared to hope, to be honest with you.

Branching off to the right, and we have the belt/disc sander. I made a small dust port on the floor next to it. Just sweep the floor, open the blast gate to the dust port, switch on the dust collector and shove the chips and dust into the dust port. Gone!

Lastly, the ductwork ends in a port meant for the planer/thicknesser. As mentioned before, we’ll make a separator to avoid filling up the CamVac unit. The laundry uses big 300 liters (79 gallons) plastic drums of detergent and softeners, and we’ll use one of those.

The separator will be a pretty simple thing. We cut the top off to form a lid in which a straight pipe is placed in the middle. A 45° fitting is placed near the edge of the lid, and pointed along the side of the drum. Sort of a cyclone thing. The lid is secured with latches, and a neoprene ring seals the lid to the drum.

All in all I think we’ll end up with a pretty decent woodworking shop. Since we’re not going to do a lot of hand tool work, the focus has been to set up a shop for small production runs and versatility. We have the tools needed to rip down sheet goods, and we can break down lumber that comes rough from the sawmill.

Shop layout

This shop shop have a lot of similarities with my own shop. The work bench is the focal point of course. I see a lot of shops built up around a table saw, which is fine if the table saw is the go-to tool for everything. Since I am a hand tool user – and the users of this shop might be unsuited for table saw operation – I see things a bit differently. The main tasks happens at the work bench, and we need good accessibility. You can work all around the bench, with ample space in front of it since that’s the main work area. There is plenty of space for one person working the lathe while another works at the bench.

The table saw is strategically placed so that we can break down sheet goods easily before moving the cut parts to the next station. It is capable of handling full sheets of plywood which commonly are 1.2 by 2.4 metres here in Norway (about 4 by 8 feet), and we have allocated space for moving a full sheet through the saw.

This is the layout – there is no wall on the right hand side, as you might have noticed from the images above. The empty area to the right is free space where we can put work stations, assembly table(s) or perhaps a finish booth. There will be a dedicated space for storing materials in that area.

Click on the image for a large version

The band saw is placed further in, and it won’t come into conflict with the table saw even when the rolling table is at the extreme forward position with a 2.4 meter wide piece of plywood on top. It is placed 50cm (19”) out from the wall so that the doors can open fully. Nothing will be placed “in the line of sight” of the band saw. It is possible to rip a 4 meter long board, which probably won’t ever happen – but one needs to think about stuff like that.

As you can see, there’s ample space to the right of the band saw. The idea is to build a long work bench / assembly table along that wall, about 60cm deep. That way it won’t come into conflict with the “line of sight” of the band saw.

The lathe is placed next to the dust collector in the lower left corner. It can be moved around if needed, but it is set up so that there’s plenty of space around it.

To the left of the work bench, a disc/belt sander combo machine is located. Next to the sander I’ve made a dust port on the floor so that shavings and dust from the shop can be swept to the port and sucked away.

We bought a wheel kit for the planer/thicknesser. When needed, we can roll it to a suitable spot and do the work. No need to dedicate a lot of floor / wall space for it, really. One needs to think about infeed and outfeed on the machines. For a 1.4 meter long planer/thicknesser and assuming we won’t process boards longer than 3 metres, we would need about 8 meters in total! That’s 26′ 3”. Unless one processes rough sawn boards every day, that’s a waste of space. In stead, we dedicate that corner to the planer/thicknesser, but we can add wall cabinets, shelves or lumber racks above it. We can also place tool carts, clamp carts or other things on wheels on either side.

There are double power outlets at each machine. The light and dust collector has their own circuits while the other machines share one circuit. This limits the number of machines that can be used simultaneously, but I don’t think that there will be need for two machines at once anyway – and the dust collector might not meet the demand. Initially I had planned for at least two different circuits for the machines, but the electrician and my boss decided it was not needed (trying to keep the costs down). I was not at work that day, so they could not consult me. And I don’t think it is going to be a problem anyway. If so should happen, it’s easy enough to put in another circuit.

All in all it has been a fun project so far. There’s still tools to be bought, things to be done and infrastructure to be built. Similar to my own shop, those things will come with time and as needed. Nobody will build the perfect shop then start using it. The perfect shop is the one that’s being adapted to the work, demands and needs at hand.

Some considerations needs to be met, of course. The in- and out feed area for every tool. Trying to have the same work height on everything. In this stop, the band saw and work bench are 90cm while the table saw is 85cm from floor to top of work surface (we’ll look into making a 5cm base to raise it if needed).

The work bench is accessible from all sides. The dust collector port and power outlets (not mounted yet) above means the floor space around it is uncluttered. A support table on wheels will be made to hold tools and misc. items while working, keeping the work bench uncluttered. Sjöberg makes cabinets to go underneath the bench, but I don’t think we’ll need one – there are ample space for cabinets and chest of drawers all around.

Space agony at home?

You might think that coming home to my own shop is a bit of a disappointment compared to the big shop at work? Absolutely not! The shop at work is 5×12 meters. The shop at home is 4 – 4.7 by 7.6 meters (it’s slightly L shaped with half of the shop being slightly narrower). Roughly 13 by 25 feet at home, 16 by 40 at work. Since I am a hand tool guy, I find that my home shop is more than big enough, even though it is almost half the size.

My creative space at home!

It has been really fun to set up shop twice. Setting up my own shop has been a dream for nearly two decades now, and when we bought the house I immediately started the conversion of a one bay garage into a woodworking shop. Having thought about this for so long, I had some clear ideas on what I wanted. But I also knew that I needed to build the road while walking it. Things are a bit different in 3D than on paper…

Leaning on my knowledge, all those years of dreaming and – most important – the experience from developing my own shop, it is satisfying seeing that my vision for the shop at work is well thought out and planned. The dust collector system layout works incredibly well, the work flow is very good and there are plenty of space for additional tools, storage or work stations.

Whether this turns out to be a beehive or a less used space, I have done everything I can to set up the shop as versatile, practical and adaptable as possible. Especially since there’s a good chance someone else will run the shop – who knows; I might find a different career that I want to pursue, or I am needed for other tasks in the company. I’ve been adamant about not taking or feeling ownership of this shop for these reasons, but to make it a good work space for any possibilities the future might bring.

It is a good place to be, and a nice space to work in. I feel confident stating: Mission accomplished!

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