Setting Up Your Workshop

Here is some advice on how to set up a workshop for easy access to tools and supplies.
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Setting Up Your Workshop

A workshop is a useful—but not exactly essential—part of home improvement. In truth, most of your work will occur on site: You can't build an archway in your basement or garage, and then tack it to the walls.

So your workshop can be plain or ornate, as long as it satisfies three basic functions: storing the junk you need (like your must-have tools) so you can find it when you need it, giving you a place to work efficiently, and offering plenty of light and electrical outlets.

A Working Shop

Basements and garages are both candidates for the workshop location. A basement is warm, but may have too little air circulation for dusty projects or work with toxic chemicals, and may not be accessible for large projects. The garage may be hot in summer, cold in winter, and liable to usurpation by motor vehicles. Still, it's better than the basement for painting, sanding, noisy work, and large projects.

Whatever location you choose, the need for fast-in, fast-out access dictates the iron rule of organization—everything gets a place.


The workbench should have a surface at least 2' deep and 6' wide. Don't buy a workbench—make one from 2 × 4s and 34" plywood or an old door. Prevent sway with diagonal bracing or by fastening the workbench to the wall.

Get a vise to hold tools while you sharpen them, and to hold other objects while drilling, sawing, or filing.

Electrical Matters

You can't have too much light. Fluorescent lights are a cheap source of unbeatable no-shadow illumination. To save time, wire several lights to one switch.

Nor can you have too many electric outlets. Place an outlet every 4' along the wall behind the workbench, and double-check the grounding system.

Storage Solutions

Building Smarts

When you buy a new tool, don't just throw the manual under the workbench. A file or folder will keep the manuals in good condition—where you can actually find them.

The main reason to fuss with storage is because nobody likes searching for stuff. In the interest of saving money, I've suggested some low-rent storage solutions. But whatever you use, make it logical, make it handy, make it accessible—and use it.

Can you use these kinds of storage?

ItemStorage Suggestion
Power toolsCases, open shelves, or hooks.
Hand toolsPegboard, toolbag or bucket, drawers, nails, or hooks for squares, levels, etc.
ClampsHanging on pegboard, beefy nails, orlag screws.
Health and safetyA closed box. (Store masks and equipment respirators in plastic bags.)
Extension cordsNails or hooks. Coil the cord, wrap the last 3' around the hank, and tuck the end through the loops.
FastenersCans, original packaging, narrow shelves, or plastic containers.

Time-Saving Tips

Because home improvements always seem to take too long, I always think about how I can save time. Here are some tips I've found helpful:

  • Store tools intelligently. Keep other tools in their places, where you can find them.

  • Narrow shelves are perfect for storing fasteners. Face the label out for fast action.

  • A tool belt will speed up your project, and is worth its weight for preventing stooping.

  • Use labels. I keep a stack of adhesive mailing labels and a marker in the workshop, near some empty containers.

  • To avoid extra trips to the store, keep extra, half-broken, and didn't-fit parts on hand. Buy extra hardware—it's usually cheaper than another trip to the store.

  • Bring a list to the store so you don't forget anything.

  • Do projects in logical sequence: all the demolition, all the framing, all the electrical, all the drywall, and all the painting. This reduces tool hauling and helps you focus.