Ros Barnes workshop

Organize Your Shop for Good Work Flow

By Erin O'Donnell
CEO and Founder, Dovetail Community Workshop

How organized is your workshop? Do you outline tools on the pegboard so they can easily find their way home, above have rows of carefully labeled bins? You do? Then will you come organize my garage?

Chances are you struggle as I do with keeping things neat in a cramped little space. But there are a few principles of work flow that can help you decide where to place things in a woodshop. I recently visited Ros Barnes in his expansive workshop in Belen, New Mexico, to get some tips and ideas for how to set up Dovetail when we have our own space.

Ros Barnes workshop

Ros is a retired junior high shop teacher and general contractor, and a longtime woodworker. He has built three shops of his own and learned a little more each time -- like how adding lots of windows for natural light ate up a lot of his usable wall space.

“I enjoy it. On average, I spend about four hours a day out in the shop,” Ros says.

His current 1,500-square-foot shop is well organized and spacious. (He has hosted fellow members of the Albuquerque Woodworkers Association for their annual toy build -- every holiday season, AWA members turn out hundreds of handmade toys for local children in need. They. Are. Awesome. So are the toys.)

Ros says a lot of shop organization is about personal preference. Here are a few smart ideas I gleaned from my tour:

Table saw at center: This is the heart of the shop. It’s usually one of the biggest items you’ll have in a space, and it’s the starting point for a lot of projects. If you can, place it in the center of your shop. Bonus tip: Mount an organizer for push sticks, tape measures, and other table saw helpers on the side if you have room.

Ros Barnes workshop
Ros Barnes workshop

Group similar tools: Ros keeps his miter saw, band saw, and radial saw along the same wall. Further down are two drill presses -- one for wood, one metal. Between this wall and the table saw is an island with all kinds of sanders.

Ros Barnes workshop
Ros Barnes workshop

Save space: Even though he has plenty of room, Ros still has a few space savers that are extra cool. He built a transformer of a cabinet for his 9-inch planer. The cabinet is on casters, and it fits into the row of cabinets next to the drill presses, creating a nice empty work surface. When he needs the planer, Ros rolls out the cabinet and flips open the top. The planer is attached upside down. He swivels the panel until it’s right side up, and the top of the cabinet hinges open to become an extension of the work surface. It reminds me of an old sewing machine table. Click on the pictures for enlargements.

Be mobile: Make things easy to move around when you need to rearrange your space. Ros has a rack of clamps on wheels, so he can bring it near his work area when needed and roll it out of the way when he’s done. He also has a mobile feeder table for his table saw, with rollers on top to support and feed long stock. If your large equipment doesn’t have casters, you can buy dollies for them with wheels that lock when you’re working. When Ros was a contractor, his focus was tools that were portable, so he could pack up and head to the work site. “I got good at knowing what tools I needed for which jobs,” he says.

Easy cleanup: Depending on the size of your space, have multiple trash and recycle bins so you can easily get garbage out of your way. Ros also hangs brushes and dustpans from every workbench so he can deal with whatever the dust collector missed, quickly.

Many, many thanks to Ros for welcoming me into his shop! Obviously there are many more organization hacks out there. I found a trove at makezine.com/2015/12/21/10-tips-for-organizing-your-workshop -- especially good for wrangling all the hand tools, fasteners, electrical cords, and the tiny things that like to scatter or disappear.

Do you have a favorite trick for shop organization? Tell us below in the comments and we’ll share it with all of our Facebook and Twitter followers.

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