Planning out a new workshop floor plan

Well, I have been and gone and done it this time. It’s all very well putting in applications for the bank to loan you large sums of money it is quite another thing to have them accepted. I am sure some of the guys in my workshop think I am off my trolley. It wasn’t but a few months ago that I was telling them how bad everything was, how we had to keep our spending down to new lower budgets because if we didn’t the next cuts we would have had to make would have been human cuts. Cuts in either wages or staff. Now I am twittering on about buying a new workshop, equipping it with this or that kind of planer thicknesser, getting this or that panel saw. It must be confusing and I have no answer to the criticism except to blame the clearly shortsighted attitude onto management.

Planning out a new workshop is always fun. I suppose I have had three or four cracks at it now at different times of my life and in different circumstances and every time I have got it wrong. It seems that the Third Law of Aerodynamics is especially at work in this case. (The Third Law of Aerodynamics states quite clearly that what ever you do you are knackered). Incidentally I got that information on the third law from a very reliable source. Frank was a retired boffin I think from British Aerospace. He came five or six years ago on one of our short courses to learn veneering. In retirement he had set himself the task of making a replica Tomkin long case clock. The whole thing: movement, hands, face, case and all. He sent me a photograph of it just recently. Finally, he had managed to complete what was a major undertaking and the thing is, he had made it absolutely superbly. Frank, if you read this you should share this project with the Woodworker. However, I digress.

I suppose I have had three or four cracks at it now at different times of my life and in different circumstances and every time I have got it wrong.

When you are laying out a new workshop you can play a particularly entertaining board game. First you need a scale floor plan of your workshop drawn out on graph paper marking where all the doors and windows are and, if they are already fixed, where all the electric points and outlets are. The next stage is to go to the manufacturers of the machines you are thinking of installing and get the plan dimensions of these machines. You then make little card templates of each machine in the same scale as your floor plan then go and look for any other large objects that you might have to install, your bench area, your timber storage area and a storage area for board material. You measure those up and make a little card template to scale to represent them. You are now equipped to play the game which is this: what is the ideal position for each of these machines allowing for you, the craftsman, to work around them and allowing for a board of a chosen dimension to go across that production set up? The key to it is choosing the problem correctly. Are you handling 8′ x 4′ sheets of MDF or are you handling dirty great 12′ boards of Ash or, like our friends the chair makers in Hartland, are your components hardly ever longer than 24″.

When you are laying out a new workshop you can play a particularly entertaining board game.

Given a large enough supply of machine catalogues and enough flexibility of mind to give yourself different problems an inventive woodworker could spend the entire winter playing this game and never make a stick of furniture. Think of it as the woodworkers equivalent to Dungeons and Dragons. There are, of course, several traps, pitfalls and just general cock ups that you can make. I will tell you about one or two just to get you going but it would be unsporting to warn you about everything. You see when you are working in plan like this it is difficult to bear in mind that machine table heights can work in your favour and they can also work against you. For example, if you have the situation where you want to put two occasionally used machines quite close to one another it may be to your advantage that the machine table heights should be exactly the same so the job can run across both tables. The converse of this can apply if your table heights are at different levels. Most band saws, for example, have a table considerably above the common machine table height which may enable you to cast long jobs above other machines. Most planer thicknessers have a thicknessing table below common machine height so position your thicknesser very carefully. For instance, we know in our workshop if you want to plane and thickness timber for a solid wood dining table that is longer than 10 feet we have got to do it somewhere else.

When it comes to choosing which machine to buy I would suspect that our requirements would be rather different from your own. This is a busy commercial workshop. Each machine is probably used by half a dozen different people every day. Some of them may be less careful with it than others so we need machines that can take a battering. Not, I hope, that any of my staff or students would batter any of my old ladies but my machines have to be very solid and reliable. A workshop with one machinist who carefully adjusts and sets the machine up and leaves it that way at the end of the job is not necessarily going to need the heaviest equipment.


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