Grasping at Saws

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This article is from Issue 26 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Storage areas and workstations operating in tandem make Bill Sands’ shop flow as smoothly as a hand plane on soft maple.

The key to building and outfitting a well-organized, functional workshop is planning and patience. Just ask Bill Sands. After 10 years of planning and four years of outfitting, his Parkersburg, West Virginia, shop is on the verge of completion. “I have one more lathe cabinet to build,” says Bill, a 65-year-old retired research technician. “The shop has evolved to the point where I have what I like.” That means an abundance of cabinets and drawers—some fixed and some mobile—that provide Bill with ready-access to hand tools and accessories whether he’s at the workbench, sanding station, or table saw. 

Bill began his shop design 10 years ago when he retired and got serious about woodworking.Back then he had a garage shop and his arsenal of tools was limited to a radial-arm saw and some hand tools. He acquired more tools and set about planning his future shop. “I had a good idea where I was headed before the footings were dug,” explains Bill. “The key is thinking about it, the kind of woodworking you do, and how you want the shop to work from one end to the other. The starting place: make a plan.” 

That plan became Bill’s dedicated 30x40' outbuilding shop with high ceilings, plenty of wall-hung and base cabinet storage in close proximity to the workstations they serve, and sufficient passageways that provide Bill with easy movement around the shop. It’s been four years since the shop shell went up and his wife, Bonnie, put her car back in the garage. But because Bill built all of the storage areas himself, installed ductwork for the dust collector, and performed myriad other tasks to outfit the space, making it truly functional has been a work in progress. “It was one of those ‘pile it all in this corner and work in that corner’ type of thing,” says Bill. “As I progressed, things got picked up and put away.” 

Central to the shop is Bill’s 42×84" multipurpose assembly table (above). Bill topped two small workbench bases with a torsion box, a gridwork of closely spaced ribs sandwiched betwen 3/4" MDF panels, to create a strong rigid assembly table. The box is banded with white oak and topped with a replaceable hardboard work surface. Both bases were bolted to the floor for extra stability.  Eight drawers on the near end provide plenty of storage for marking, measuring, and miscellaneous tools; eight drawers on the opposite end (close to the lathe) house lathe accessories. Not only is the assembly table one of Bill’s favorite spots because of its utility when working on a project, but it (along with his high-back office chair) serves as the social hub of the shop.  “A lot of mental woodworking gets done there,” says Bill. “It’s the equivalent of the old pot-bellied stove at the general store. I think every shop should have one.” 

In a spacious cluster behind the assembly station (see floor plan on page 45) are the table saw, jointer, and planer. Instead of the more common router insert, Bill outfitted the table saw with a downdraft sanding table as-shown. Positioned between the table saw rails, it provides a solid work surface without interfering with the saw fence. It is plumbed into the Oneida dust collector and collects dust generated by both power or manual sanders.

The Workshop at a Glance

Size: 30 x 40' with 10' ceiling. 

Construction: Concrete block with 5"-thick reinforced-concrete floor. Fiberglass insulation, 2×6 studs, OSB sheeting under asphalt shingles. Vinyl siding matches the house. 

Heating and cooling: Natural gas forced-air furnace with 2-ton air conditioner.

Lighting: Eighteen 8' fluorescent lights placed in six rows; each row is switched separately. Task lighting throughout. 

Electrical: 100-amp distribution panel fed by 220-volt single phase from house. 20-amp 110-volt outlets in the ceiling and every 6' along the walls. Ceiling-mounted 110-volt cord reels and 20-amp, 220-volt outlets in the ceiling and every 8' along the walls, with one 30-amp, 220-volt ceiling drop. Two 220/110-volt outlets in the floor.

Dust collection: Oneida 3-hp super Dust Gorilla ducted with 4" PVC. Three JDS air-filtration systems hang from the ceiling.

Air compressor: Porter-Cable 60-gallon vertical twin cylinder. Air is plumbed throughout the shop through ¾" copper. Four 30' hose reels are ceiling mounted.

DEDICATED CABINET STORAGE takes up about 50 running feet of wall space as shown above, while dust-collection drops to stationary tools haul chips and sawdust to Bill’s 3-hp Oneida cyclone dust collector. At right, rows of open cubbies provide homes for an impressive lineup of portable power tools.

Wall and base cabinets behind and below each of the major stationary tools store the necessary accessories. In addition, Bill installed  a fold-out panel clamping jig attached to the wall between the jointer and planer. “I like to build end-grain cutting boards,” explains Bill. “Gluing up panels for these and other glue-ups is easier with a dedicated panel clamping jig.” 

Several other dedicated workstations with abundant storage occupy positions at the west end of the shop. Some countertops are covered with rubber mats to provide traction and protect workpieces. Cabinets and cubbies above store hand tools as shown, a various assortment of fasteners, portable power tools, and Bill’s collection of hand planes with a mitersaw station positioned on the countertop. Bill has two mitersaws here—one for fine and one for rough cuts.

Also nearby is the sanding station shown. Most of Bill’s sanding and buffing machines are attached to a 4×4" table, also equipped with drawers and cabinets for storage. Although most of Bill’s power tools are stationary, the sanding station sits on casters, offering easy mobility. A 4" dust-collection drop and flex hose make dust collection a snap. 

To make the best use of wall space, Bill opted for a windowless shop, but multiple rows of fluorescent lights and articulated lights throughout provide sufficient general and task lighting. Ceiling-, wall-, and floor-mounted electrical outlets provide power where Bill needs it but keep cord clutter to a minimum. With a 10' ceiling throughout, the lights, dust-collection ducts, air-hose reels, and air filtrators are out of harm’s way when Bill moves full-size sheet goods or 10' boards into the shop. 

In addition to building all of the cabinets and drawers for the shop, Bill applies his woodworking skills to building tambour door bread boxes, cutting boards, and keepsake boxes for storing personal treasures. His wood species of choice include canary wood, bloodwood, and cocobolo. “I especially like canary wood for the color, grain patterns, the way it mills, and the way it smells,” says Bill. And while he prefers oils and wax, shellac is his preferred finish for bread boxes; mineral oil for cutting boards. 

bill’s 4×4' mobile sanding station, with eight storage drawers on one side and a cabinet on the opposite side, is equipped with a 4" dust-collection drop and flexible hose. 
A 3-hp OnEIda dust collector occupies one corner of the shop by his lumber storage. Four-inch ducts span the ceiling and the shop’s perimeter, with eight separate drops.

Bill’s mobile scrap cart includes a woven wire bottom so debris falls through to the floor and can be swept up. The five-section sheet goods rack is just inside the roll-up door, making transfer of large sheets from trailer to storage an easy task.

Although Bill was exposed to woodworking as a youngster, life got in the way—things like careers and raising a family. Bill and his wife, Bonnie, were also active in a motorcycle club, a pursuit that involved spending considerable time on the road. So it wasn’t until he retired that Bill moved beyond the basics of household repairs and turned to woodworking. “In the 10 years since I have read everything I could get my hands on,” says Bill. He also spent three days a week overseeing the local woodworkers’ club shop, absorbing tips and techniques he picks up from other woodworkers. 


The Floor Plan 

Lessons Bill learned while working in a cramped garage shop served him well when planning his new shop in a freestanding building behind his house. And even after the shell was finished in 2004, his plan continued to evolve. “I strove to arrange everything for the most efficient use of the finite space available,” Bill explains. “I vowed to avoid 

cluttering up the shop with things that don’t earn their keep.”  A simple method for stocking the shop with sheet goods and rough stock sets the tone. He simply backs the trailer up to the 7×10' roll-up garage door, giving him easy access to the five-bin sheet goods rack on one side and the wall-mounted lumber rack on the other. Ten-foot ceilings allow him to move materials into storage or to a workstation without interference from the overhead lights and ductwork. 

In his old shop, Bill got tired of moving machines every time he wanted to work on a long board or set up a different workstation. Now, all of his major tools are stationary and are arranged in an efficient layout for the basic milling operations of jointing, planing, and sawing. 

Knowing that space would be at a premium, Bill designed the shop with no windows to take advantage of as much wall area as possible. Dedicated wall-mounted cabinets are positioned next to the machines they serve, such as table saw accessories in the saw cabinet, the hand saw cabinet near the workbench, and sharpening stones and supplies near the sink and bench grinder. 

Shop amenities include central heating and air-conditioning, on-demand hot water, a well-stocked mini frig, satellite radio, and a high-back, comfortable desk chair when it’s time to turn off the machines, grab a beverage, and sit around the assembly table with Bonnie and friends. “Sometimes with Bonnie and sometimes with friends we solve most of the world’s problems here,” Bill says with a smile. 

Smart Ideas for the Taking

Quick-and-easy tote box: 

Bill designed this tote box for a class he teaches on joinery. A single plastic tray can be filled with fasteners or other supplies and slides into an opening in the box’s base. This nearby wall cabinet contains 24 plastic boxes where Bill stores fasteners and small accessories. A hemostat and a magnetic wand are stored inside the doors to make it easier to retrieve items from the small bins inside the boxes. 

Circle-sanding jig: 

This disc sander circle-sanding jig is easily constructed from plywood. By adjusting the knob, Bill can change the diameter of the circle he is sanding. He uses it primarily for sanding circular parts he uses to make wooden toys and puzzles for kids. 

Two-handed jointer pushpad: 

For added pressure and stability when face-jointing long stock, Bill designed this two-handed jointer pushpad. 

Dovetail jig workbench: 

Bill designed the base that supports the 24" Porter-Cable Omnijig. A stork design adds texture and interest to the cabinet doors and the shop in general.

Bill’s collection of hand planes allows him to follow the old saying that “real woodworkers make shavings, not sawdust.”

Bill Sands

A lthough Bill spends a fair amount of time in his new shop, there is life outside of woodworking. He decided he was “too old and brittle” to rekindle his interest in the motorcycle club. Instead, he and Bonnie entertain friends, enjoy smoking/barbecuing on ceramic cookers, and cooking with camp ovens (cast-iron Dutch ovens over coals). In addition to teaching hand tool and joinery classes at the local Woodcraft store, Bill instructs the wood technology class at West Virginia University-Parkersburg. “I like to see the light come on as the students grasp the concept I am explaining or demonstrating,” Bill says. “The big smiles are great when they have the opportunity to put their knowledge to work.” 

Here’s a SAMPLING of items Bill has made when he’s not building cabinets for his shop: 


END-GRAIN CUTTING BOARD made of walnut, canary wood, and hard maple.
CLOCK/BUSINESS CARD HOLDER made from “a knurly piece of wood,” sanded, waxed, and buffed. 

DODECAHEDRON, a 12-sided polygon filled with steel nuts, to be shaken for stress relief.

TAMBOUR-DOOR BREADBOX made of oak.

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