Building a Shop

Cabinet shop owners converse about what they would do differently if they were to build their shop all over again, again. August 14, 2007

I'm weeks away from breaking ground on a new shop. I am currently in a 20 X 40 space. Cabinets (finished and in progress) and machinery are stacked on top of each other. I am building a 40 X 60 addition to the current building. I have been putting tons of thought into machinery position, storage, flow, etc. While the project is young, I was just curious what others had done and regretted or loved when building or setting up their new shop. We are a 1.5 man, well tooled cabinet shop.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Two years ago I built a 24 x 38 building for my one man woodshop. I originally wanted it to be 30 x 50 but had to scale back to fit on the property. I really wish I could have kept the 50 foot length, as I gave up a dedicated finishing room, which I really regret. If I could do it over again, I would probably go 30 x 50, or 40 x 60, if I had the space.

I did build it a two story, however, with a 4 foot roof overhang on the front over the doors. This is very helpful when it's raining, and the overhang made the upstairs 4 foot deeper than if I hadn't. This I would definitely do the same again. I used 10 ceilings on the first floor, and that is very good, as all my dust ducting, as well as heat duct, are run on the ceiling exposed.

It sounds like you will have a nice shop if you are adding 2400 feet to your current space.

From contributor S:
What's a "1.5 man shop"? Do you have some child labor?

From contributor F:

As far as square feet, I think you are at more than plenty with the addition. I built a 40x60, and as a one man operation, I am swimming in square footage.

I regret ever moving a single object into my building before it was 100% finished. Everything construction wise is harder to do after you fill the building with all your tools and materials. I regret going with a concrete floor. Although more expensive, a wood floor will not ruin your knees and back from standing on it day in and day out for decades. I regret not partitioning off a separate space for finishing from the very start. Major extra work to prepare for finishing in a dusty environment.

I like the 12 ceiling which gives plenty of overhead room to flip a board, etc. I like having a 100% open floor plan, which means no interior posts in the way. I like my secondhand metal halide warehouse light fixture which makes it bright as day and runs efficiently. I like having separate light switches for each fixture so I can save money when an area of the shop doesn't need to be lit.

From contributor V:
I'm in the midst of constructing my own as well, 36 x 40. I'm a one man band and this space doubles the area I'm in currently. One thing I did do was put radiant heat in the floor. The shop is about 20 feet from the corner of the house, so I ran my feed lines back to the house, underground, with the rest of my utility lines. I'll heat the whole system with an 80 gallon hot water heater in a closed system. If it's not too late for you, I'd look into it. I got a lot of good feedback from these forums when I was doing my research.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. 1.5 man = myself + my old man when he's not playing grampy.

I'm putting in an external wood furnace with hot air. Love radiant in the house, but my feet would sweat like none other in the shop.

Contributor F, great idea on the lighting, was thinking along the same lines. I hear what you are saying about the floor. I bought a boat load of interlocking anti-fatigue mats for my current shop and love them. I covered the whole stinking floor for a couple hundred bucks. They sweep up easy and give you as much of a hop in your step as a weekend off does. I'm going to try that for now.

Showroom in the shop or keep it separate? Electric service, 100 or 200 amps?

From contributor P:
My current shop was actually a restaurant at one time and has lots of electricity available, and I'm using most of it. I think amperage is third only to more room and more cash for a shop.

I'm building a 5000 sf shop sometime in the next ten or twelve months behind my current building. A few of the things that are must haves for me are a dock with an area for storing raw materials, reinforced concrete floors (I have plywood floors now, which is nice on the feet, but that's about the only good thing I can say), taller ceilings (8 footers currently), and a dedicated finishing room. The finishing room is a must have for me. Right now I have a room that doubles as an assembly and finishing room. What happens is that we can either assemble or I can finish, but doing both on the same day is pretty much out of the question.

From contributor T:
If I had it to do over, I would like to do lots of things differently, but simply did not have the money at the time.

If you plan to keep growing:
3 phase 600 amp minimum power.
14' min ceiling (my CNC router is just over 10' high).
Slab thickness and rebar for future equipment.
Approved spray booth - if you are not being regulated now - you will be.
I did not do any of that to start with but have had to since - cost twice as much.

Another thing is the parking lot. If you grow, you will be getting larger trucks delivering. You probably buy from someone local now, but when you are buying $20K+ at a delivery, you will shop around more.

From contributor J:
What brand of interlocking mats do you have and will lumber carts roll over them?

You have a lot of opportunity designing from scratch, so be careful! I built my 4000 sq ft shop 30 years ago and would do a lot of things different now.

We have 12 ceilings and would go 15 if I could do it again. I also dream of a wood floor, but it would have to be sturdy. We have a 10 wide garage door and that became a major problem when we acquired a forklift. 16 if you can do it.

I agree about in-floor heat. After installing in homes that have this, I found it kills the feet. In Germany they are getting away from in-floor in homes because they think it is unhealthy.

200 amp minimum service. We started with 200 and had to go 400 15 years ago to accommodate new machinery. Cheaper to do it now.

I think a comfortable shop environment is important. I plan on doing some remodeling to my building in the next couple years to make it more comfortable and attractive. Some building improvements cannot be written off, but a lot of energy related improvements can be.

From contributor D:
I just did it all over again, moved up from 4800 ft to 9000, with 20' ceilings, and all sorts of neat things. The building was 90% complete when I got it, so no chance to put in radiant or wood floors. What I have done in the past, and will do here as time and money permit, is put 3/4" T+G A/C fir ply on 3/4" sleepers - 16" oc - in the bench areas. One or two pieces of ply can be sanded to a taper and glued down as an 8' ramp so carts can get onto the ply floors. The wood has the right spring and will take all but the heaviest carts.

This is the 7th shop in 25 years, and even though I should know what I'm doing, I still question everything. It is not until the dust collection comes on and the machinery is singing that I can sleep. One thing I do with every shop is lay it out to scale, cut out scale machinery and 16' lumber carts, and push it all around. Get one you like and photo it, then overlay the dust collection, electrical, and air lines to see how they will all fit in.

From contributor N:
Go as big as you can afford. When I bought this place 20 years ago, it had a small usable shop on it (960 sf). I did a quick add on (400sf). Then the county showed up. "Dude, you need to apply for a home occupation permit." I did, paid the monies, got inspected and then my shop size was frozen in place. Lack of space has been my biggest problem since then. Now the zoning laws have changed. I can add on to the shop, but it must be to a commercial code, which isn't feasible. So I either move or buy a bunch of old truck trailers or cargo containers for added space or storage. As all of our governments grow, regulations and restrictions will also only get more restrictive, mostly due to need for increased revenue, taxes, environmental concerns and land use laws. Build it as big as you might want it to be in 10 years.

From contributor A:
Most new houses have 200 amp service. Install the largest electrical panel you can purchase or two of the typical house ones. Run dedicated 220 lines to receptacles every 10' around the perimeter of the room. Throw a lot of quad 110 outlets around bench or counter space. Throw a couple of 110 outlets in the ceiling for who knows what in the future.

Spend a couple of neurons figuring out the dust collector. Build a big loft area for the 4th dimension storage facility. Look into using SIPS (structural insulated panels) for the roof. Best roof common sense will buy. You can essentially timber frame the roof and the panels will do huge spans. You can cut skylights anywhere. They can be bought pre-drywalled.

From contributor E:
Lot of good advice here already, so I'll just echo a couple of suggestions. Get the biggest electrical you can, 200 amp should be minimum. I've got a 100 amp 3 phase and a 60 amp single phase and get close to maxing it out working with a part timer.

Depending on what part of the country you're in, tall ceilings are highly recommended. I've got 10' which is much better than my last shop, but I think the next shop will be 12-14'. 20' might be too high in New England. All your profit would go toward heating bills!

Location of your showroom (if you really need one), should probably be closest to the entrance of your property. You probably don't want potential clients walking through your shop to get to the showroom.

You'll want good access. I also recommend going with the widest garage door you can.
There's a lot more decisions coming, but get your infrastructure set up right and the rest should fall into place.

From contributor R:
I have 12' ceilings and they give me plenty of room, and total electric heat isn't bad with R19 walls and ceiling with white metal on interior just like the exterior metal. It makes the heat reflect off back into the room and cooling is a breeze. I use about 1000KW in summer and 3000KW in hard winter.