Top Shop: Sawdust and Sparks

 A Versatile Double-Duty Workshop

Dave Arnold discovered early on that working with wood frequently includes metal as well. And he discovered that much of what he needed wasn’t available commercially. Now, after a few workshop modifications, he can make nearly everything he needs—from wood or metal. 

Dave Arnold described his first workshop as “a hole in the ground divided by a laundry room.” Once, it took more than an hour just to cut the angles on a 16'-long fascia board because of the gyrations required to get it down the stairs and around the corner.

No more. The shop Dave, 68, and his wife, Glenna, designed and attached to their New Albany, Indiana, home is so well laid out (see floor plan on page 45), access is no longer an issue. And whether he’s working with wood or metal, Dave’s collection of mobile tools provides plenty of open workspace. 

“With my finite space and equipment, I’ve not been able to come up with a better layout,” says Dave, a retired safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration. 

After spending 13 years in the basement shop, Dave moved into his new space in 1990. The first thing he did was sell his old table saw and replace it with a Powermatic 66. Now the shop’s workhorse, the table saw (right) has been outfitted with an overhead dust pickup and guard combination and an attached enclosure for his plunge router and lift system (both designed by Dave).

“I discovered many years ago that the dust pickup on table saws, even cabinet saws, left a lot to be desired, and with shop space and storage being at a premium, I wanted to incorporate my router with the saw’s side table,” Dave explains.

Consistent with his plan to make his shop as versatile and user-friendly as possible, Dave mounted the saw on a mobile base. When it’s time to add or remove stock from the attic wood storage area, Dave simply rolls the table off to the side to make room for the drop-down stairs. 

Ever the innovator, Dave refined a dust-collector design he saw in a magazine and applied it to his shop. He used two galvanized garbage cans and some roof flashing to fashion a dual-filtered centrifugal (cyclone) separator. The remotely controlled separator also serves the jointer, planer, thickness sander, wood lathe, and 18" bandsaw, all of which are on casters or mobile bases.

Dave designed and built this machinist’s chest and matching hardware chest from mahogany, giving each unit 11 drawers.

Three benches, also on casters, provide plenty of workspace. His old primary bench—too tall (Dave is 5'6") and lacking adequate storage space—still has a place in the shop, but the new 30 x 84" master workbench is Dave’s pride and joy. 

“I had 20 years to think about the things I would do when I built my bench. The first thing I did was size it for me,” says Dave with a laugh. The paneling, rails, drawers, and stiles all are made of walnut stock Dave acquired from a friend 20 years ago. The top is 8/4 laminated hard maple. “I love the contrast of those two woods,” says Dave.

Although the bench is massive and heavy (Dave estimates it weighs more than 600 lbs.), it had to be mobile. So he designed a retractable caster system that allows him to reposition the bench. Using 5" ball-bearing casters and a veneer screw at each end, Dave can raise the bench. “Lifting it requires cranking each end of the bench with its respective screw, and while it’s not really difficult, it’s not something you want to do every day,” says Dave (see page 44).

The Workshop at a Glance

Size: 17×33' with 9' ceiling plus 10×17' wood storage area in attic.

Construction: Brick exterior on concrete slab; R-19 insulation, 6" stud walls, ½" CDX sheathing; insulated 10' garage door.

Heating and cooling: Natural gas forced-air heating and air-conditioning.

Lighting: Two 2×4' skylights; six fluorescent lights with four 4' bulbs; track lighting with adjustable spotlights over workbench; multiple task lights; and portable light stand.

Electrical: Dedicated 60-amp service panel with multiple 110- and 220-volt circuits.

Dust collection: Self-customized 2-hp cyclone. 

Air compressor: 22 gallon, 3½-hp Craftsman.

As with any shop, adequate storage space is essential, and Dave’s shop has an abundance of it. Rough stock is stored in the attic and on shelves around the shop’s perimeter. Sheet goods are vertically stacked in a special rack in the garage, just outside of the shop’s main entry door. Wall-hung cabinets neatly contain saw blades; sanders and sandpaper; finishing supplies and spray equipment; glues, tape, and specialty items; turning equipment and supplies; metal working equipment and supplies; and more. Multiple drawers, including an 11-drawer mahogany chest that Dave designed and built, keep smaller items organized and easy to locate. “Including drawers of all sizes, my shop has 94,” Dave boasts.

A combination of ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights and task lights provides plenty of illumination. Electrical outlets every 4' give Dave the flexibility to roll mobile lights into virtually any position. To minimize noise transmission to the outside, the shop has just two windows on the short side away from the neighbors, but a pair of 2×4' skylights provides supplemental lighting. 

Although Dave has no formal woodworking training, he traces his interest in woodworking to his childhood in South Florida. At the age of five he was given a hatchet “and promptly attacked some of the smaller oak trees in the woods behind our house,” Dave recalls. But he cites his interest in aviation (he got is pilot’s license in high school) and his ability to “tear things apart in my mind” as fundamental to the development of his woodworking skills.

“I’m technically oriented,” Dave explains, “and I have an inquisitive nature. I am able to pick up a book or manual and extract what I need. My approach has been to read and study. That’s how I progressed.”

With his accumulated knowledge, Dave was able to build his own shop and make several furniture pieces for their home. In addition, he has a special fondness for ornamental turning (see page 48). African blackwood is his species of choice, but he often uses European boxwood because it accepts details so well. The heart of Dave’s shop is his table saw, which features several modifications. “I discovered years ago with the pick-up at the bottom of the cabinet and all of the action going on above, efficiency was minimal,” he says. Dave’s answer was an overhead pick-up system and guard combination. A square steel welded arm supports the 4" dust-collection hose. The overhead guard is spring loaded and can be raised and lowered with a handle. To make the folding outfeed table, see Figure 1 on page 46. 

Dave’s shop includes plenty of open workspace around his workbenches, including the master bench shown here. A pair of windows provides natural light and supplements the overhead and task lights Dave incorporated throughout the shop. In the left foreground is a partial view of the rosewood veneer and solid rosewood base cabinet for Dave’s ornamental lathe. In the background are the scrollsaw and computer for the numerically controlled milling machine.  Clamp racks occupy each corner. One of three benches occupies the rear wall, and wall-hung cabinets provide plenty of storage space. Rubber mats cover the concrete slab floor.

Dave built this 2-hp cyclone separator and dust collector for $40 from a magazine plan he modified. A 4" hose runs above the ceiling to allow clearance for the garage door. The blower is behind the bag inside the box to reduce noise, and air is dual filtered before it returns to the shop. Solids fall in the castor-mounted can; dust particles settle inside the bag. “My conventional dust collector was very noisy, and working with the bag was a pain,” says Dave. “I can go for years without emptying this bag.” 


After 20 years on his mental drawing board, Dave built this master workbench in 2000. For the first time in his woodworking life, he has a bench that is the perfect height for him. The base is solid walnut with 8/4 frame and panel construction with mortise-and-tenon joinery. The top is laminated maple. The front includes six drawers on ball-bearing drawer slides. Dave lowered the opposite side top rail down by its own width, allowing for a full-width (57") drawer directly beneath the benchtop. “I’ve got straightedges, dowels, and bench accessories in there.” But best of all, the 600-plus-pound bench is mobile.

Dave designed a retractable caster system (similar to a landing gear—his background is in aviation, remember) that lets him to crank up each end and move the bench to suit his needs). “I spent weeks scratching my head trying to figure out the mechanism,” The final design included 5" ball-bearing casters, veneer screws, stretchers, bracers, and nylon blocks. The bench will clear the floor by 1". Stopblocks assure that the casters are level.

The Floor Plan 

Because local setback requirements prevented Dave from building the larger shop he wanted, lumber storage, tool and bench mobility, and access points dominated his design plan.

A drop-down stairway lines up perfectly with the standard-size entry door. When it’s time to load up on lumber, Dave simply rolls the table saw out of the way and has a straight shot up the stairs. Dave arranged his workflow to move along one long side of his shop. His jointer, planer, and surface sander are all on casters, allowing him to move or position them as needed, depending on the task at hand. The wood lathe is the only immobile large machine, but it is positioned close to a bench and cabinets housing turning equipment and supplies. The result is a small area in the shop that is fully dedicated to woodturning. 

Despite the relatively small size of his shop, Dave insists on having adequate space to work on a project. With three benches to choose from and every item except for the wood lathe on casters, Dave can easily approach a workpiece from any side with elbow room to spare.

1 Adjustable outfeed rollers:
To make outfeed rollers like Dave’s, see Figure 1. The rollers are made from 1½" PVC pipe. He cut plugs from ¾" stock and drilled ¼" holes for axles. Then Dave used a disk sander on each blank, sanding just enough of a taper so it would fit inside the pipe. The frame is oak; the rollers are 16" long. With a 35"-high table top, Dave made each section 34" long, allowing for an inch of floor clearance. 

2 Safer taper jig:
Commercial tapering jigs just didn’t cut it, so Dave designed his own. “The premise is that by having it captured in the miter slot with a lockable fence, you can lock a piece on top. It’s much safer to use,” Dave explains. A sled that fits in the miter slot keeps the jig parallel to the blade. An adjustable fence on top is slotted front and back, and Dave can lock it down with wing nuts.  To make one like it, see Figure 2.

3 Sheet goods rack:
Dave stores his sheet goods in a special rack just outside the shop’s main entry door. (See Figure 3 for dimensions.) With his 9'ceiling, he has enough clearance to tip the 8' sheet on edge when sliding it into or out of the rack. The base is made of 2×4s covered with sheet metal. “That makes it slick, so the sheets will slide right over it,” Dave says. The 2×6 ceiling frame is attached to studs in the ceiling. Cleats divide the area into several bays set at an angle.

4 Plywood scooter:
To ease the transfer of sheet goods from storage to the shop, Dave designed the plywood scooter in Figure 4. The base is an 18"-long piece of scrap with a notch cut into it. Skateboard wheel assemblies are mounted underneath. 

5 Magnetic featherboard:
Using a magnet salvaged from an old stereo speaker, Dave designed the featherboard shown in Figure 5. He used a piece of scrap for the base and attached a file handle on the top.

Dave purposely designed the attic area over the shop so he could keep store lumber out of the way but close by. A ¾" plywood cover (seen on the left in the photo) covers the opening when Dave is working. “It’s recessed so it’s level with the floor,” says Dave. “When I’m restacking or working intently, it gives me a solid floor to work on, and it’s a safety device.” Each side has a sidewall with holes in the bottom. An exhaust fan draws warm air across new lumber, through the holes, and out the vent. “I can take lumber off a freshly cut log in summer and take it down to 10% moisture content in about 10 weeks,” says Dave. 

Dave Arnold - Applying His Talents to Turning 

With ornamental turning one of his primary pursuits, his modified ornamental lathe is an essential piece of equipment. A year passed between the time Dave ordered it and when it arrived at his shop in 2001. And as he’s done with many of his shop tools, Dave made modifications (five, to be exact) to this one. A member of Ornamental Turners International (OTI), Dave was invited to make a presentation featuring his modifications at the organization’s 2006 convention in Maine.  

Here are three examples of Dave’s ornamental turning designs. From left: “Five Balls within a Ball” is made of European boxwood. Standing 21½" tall, the design includes a captured ring on the stand. The ball was done on a standard lathe; the stand on an ornamental lathe. No finish was applied. “It took three months of consistent effort and improvisation to complete it,” Dave says. His “Decorative Bowl” is made of holly with a makore base and an African blackwood ring. The bowl measures 8" in diameter. The “Lidded Box” measures 15" tall. The egg, which opens, is 3½" in diameter and made of spalted tamarin, an Asian species. The finial, stem, and fluted ball are makore.

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