For the Love of Woodworking

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This article is from Issue 30 of Woodcraft Magazine.

At 58, Mike Panzano of Sewell, New Jersey, pays homage to his father, a career carpenter and specialty woodworker, as he fondly recalls his early exposure to his favorite hobby.  “When I was three years old,” says Mike, “Dad would put tools on the kitchen table and have me name them and describe what they did.” He goes on, “When I was six or seven, we went to the local lumberyard, where Dad tested my ability to know a wood species by smell.” This, it turns out, proved to be a wonderful bonding experience that lasted until Mike was 42. “We were a great team,” he says of that golden time.  And, more than 50 years later, Mike still buys his specialty wood at the same lumberyard. If only his dad could have seen Mike’s ultimate tribute to him, his shop.

In 2007, and at the encouragement of his wife, Rosemary, the couple set out to create a new home, which would allow Mike to build the attached workshop of his dreams. This would be the space where he could actively ply his lifelong interest in woodworking, from building furniture for his home and family to creating a wine cellar and tasting room. Having thought long and hard about the shape, tools, storage, and overall organization, Mike followed through on his mission, with the end result taking a top prize in Woodcraft Magazine’s America’s Top Shops Contest.

Mike was able to integrate his home and shop into a pleasing architectural design.

The shop’s grade-level perimeter walls describe a space that measures 24 × 36'. The shop includes a one-car-wide garage door for easily moving tools and materials in and projects out, access doors to the adjoining house and backyard, and a bank of multipaned windows for flooding the shop with pleasing natural light. These complement the high-intensity fluorescent light fixtures on the vaulted ceiling, creating ideal conditions for “accurate paint matching and finishing,” says Mike.

Inside, custom-made base cabinets with full-extension drawers run along the west wall as shown on page 47, and provide the 19' melamine countertop for supporting rough-sawn and surfaced stock at the radial-arm saw and mitersaw. A few stand-alone cabinets sit at strategic locations around the shop floor. Together, a total of 19 cabinets offer dedicated storage for hand tools, hardware, sanding supplies, jigs, table saw accessories, and more. The long countertop, meanwhile, includes a Kreg fence system with stops and work hold-downs. As you’ll see in “Smart Ideas for the Taking,” and in the photo at left, Mike turns to his jig-making skills to speed work while adding precision and safety to several tools.

Beyond the assembly table (foreground), where Mike houses his sliding table saw jig, is the table saw accessory cabinet tucked under the saw table itself.

A melamine countertop with a fence serves Mike’s radial-arm saw and mitersaw. Below, full-extension drawers create storage for supplies.

Tricked out with jig-making hardware, Mike’s multifunctional drill-press table features a plywood platform containing a Kreg Heavy Duty Trak (#145829) with Kreg Flip Stops (#145822), four-arm knobs (#27R14), T-Track (#142805), and Magswitch Mag-Jigs (#147833) to secure the jig to the steel table. (Products are available from Woodcraft Supply.)

The Workshop at a Glance

Size: Overall shop 24 × 36'; finish room 10 × 10'; dust-collection/air-compressor room 8 × 10'.

Construction: 2 × 4 stud walls with high-density insulation; building attaches to the house via a vestibule, forming an L in relation to the main building. Includes a garage door for delivery of materials and pickup of completed projects.

Heating and cooling: In-floor radiant heat and dedicated air-conditioning system. 

Lighting: Twelve two-tube, 8'-long high-intensity fluorescent fixtures. Additional 4'-long fixtures. Ten oversized windows.

Electrical: 200-amp dedicated electrical service with some floor outlets located near selected machines.

Dust Collection: Oneida 5 hp cyclone dust-collection system with metal piping and fittings with some in-floor ductwork to selected machines. Two JDS fine-particle air filtration systems.

Air compressor: Ridgid 4½-gallon compressor.

As part of his shop design, Mike had thermostatically- controlled heating and cooling systems installed. Because he built the shop from scratch, he was able to go with radiant floor heating to keep temperatures even throughout the shop without sacrificing space for dust-collecting radiators. 

To collect dust at every tool, Mike chose a whole-shop dust-collection system that’s serviced by a mighty                                                                                             5 hp, 5 cyclone dust collector by Oneida. He avoided running pipes vertically from the ceiling to selected free-standing tools by routing portions of the ductwork under the floor. Says Mike, “This eliminates stacks and the chance of tripping over a flexible hose.” He created a separate 8 × 10' room for the dust collector and located the air compressor there as well to muffle the noise. 

Mike further supplemented his shop maintenance approach by installing two large JDS fine-particle air-filtration systems, making his shop virtually dust free and environmentally friendly. He created a 10 × 10' finishing room to store finishes and completely isolate projects  from dust during the finishing process.

Mike stores his routers and router accessories in this dedicated wheeled cabinet set up for cutting clean, crisp dovetails with his Omnijig. Note the dust port below the jig for effective collection.

The Floor Plan

Mike took two years to formulate the layout for his shop. He located one of his favorite machines, his Powermatic table saw, at the center, a few steps away from his wood storage rack. Because his planer and jointer are mobile, he can pull them away from the walls when needed to surface, edge, and size rough-sawn stock. He also keeps a vertical panel saw near his store of lumber and sheet goods for trimming large sheets into more manageable pieces. When floor space and traffic flow become more important—say, for a large project assembly—he parks the machines out of the way to maximize floor space. Having wheels under many of his machines also helps with cleaning any residual sawdust. Even the customized cabinet Mike built for his dovetail Porter-Cable Omnijig sports wheels.

The finishing room serves double-duty and includes Mike’s drawing table for designing projects. Here, he can to take full advantage of his five years of art training. Though not apparent in the floor plan, a handy bathroom lies just outside the shop in the vestibule leading into the house.

Smart ideas for the taking

Bandsaw blade rack

Mike made and hung these opposing U-shaped laminations to store his bandsaw blades. In the past, when he’d fold his blades into hoops, they’d sometimes spring back and bite him. To build the holders, simply glue and screw laminations of ¾" plywood together; then bandsaw them to shape and secure them to wall studs, spacing them the needed distance apart to accommodate the size of blades you use.

Multipurpose table saw fence

Set up a fence stop or control ripcuts with hold-downs using this versatile saddle fence which you custom-make to fit over your saw’s existing fence. Like other jigs in his arsenal, Mike locks this one in place with Magswitch Mag-Jigs. T-tracks, T-bolts, washers, and knobs let him add a fixed stop or featherboard. By cutting an arch in the fence side, you can cut rabbets along a workpiece edge safely and easily.

Self-centering slot-cutting jig

Finding the exact center for routing slots in the edge of a workpiece just got a whole lot easier with this scrapwood project. Here, the arms pivot, collapsing the sides against the workpiece, making quick work of mortising slots with a handheld plunge router. Size the circular base to match the base of your tool.

Sliding jig for dadoes and rabbets

For cutting rabbets, tenons, and dadoes at the table saw, Mike made this precision jig, which employs a T-Track for miter slot runners and for easy adjustment of the fence stop. Construction consists of ¾" plywood for the base and hardwood stock of various thicknesses for the remaining parts as well as common jig hardware.

A window on Mike and his woodworking

Upon graduating from college 37 years ago, Mike Panzano began building his own business, what today is an international advertising agency that specializes in the marketing of unique experiential destinations. A recent job, for example, involved creating a program that promoted a mega shopping mall in Moscow. 

Having worked with wood all his life, Mike retreats to his shop whenever he can to challenge himself with yet another assignment. “My woodworking projects,” he says, “are mostly period reproductions, and I love to give them away to friends and family.” That said, his four-drawer walnut lamp table, shown at right, stayed at home and catches your eye the instant you step inside the front door. Says its creator, “Working on your artistic skills is as important as honing your technical skills. Proportion, color, and visual appeal come from the artistic side.”

A second hobby of Mike’s—studying, tasting, and collecting fine wines—prompted him to construct the temperature-controlled wine cellar shown at left, with built-in storage for up to 500 bottles, a wine-tasting table made from reclaimed American chestnut, and a pleasing pine hutch. A much longer “harvest” table, also of American chestnut, resides in an informal dining room just off the kitchen. Mix in a few baby cradles and hobby horses for children and grandchildren of friends, and the portrait assumes its final appearance—that of a man whose love of woodworking and family blends in the earthen hues of native woods and the joy of giving.

By stepping into Mike’s wine cellar you get a taste for the variety of woodworking he’s tackled, from the chestnut table to the pine hutch to the wine storage built-ins.

Mike used his Legacy milling machine to turn the four identical legs of this walnut lamp table.

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