Top Shop: The Compact, Good-Neighbor Workshop

When a home has its own furnituremaker, the whole family wins.

Located on a corner lot in the quiet, idyllic suburbs of Naperville, Illinois, west of Chicago, the Jaromin residence doesn’t look any different from the surrounding homes. To the casual passerby, its attractive two-story structure with two-car garage blends right in. Even if you stopped out front and gave a listen, you might only hear a lawn mower, children at play, or birds warbling in the tree boughs overhead. You may have no clue that just behind the garage lurks a fully-loaded, yet tidy, home workshop capable of producing custom furniture for every room in the house. Only the bump-out addition shown on page 49 suggests otherwise.
To keep machine noise from entering his home, Patrick insulated the adjoining stud wall with Homasote’s 440 Sound Barrier, a structural 4'-wide, 1/2"-thick sheet good material made from cellulose fiber that applies vertically over the interior framing. He used the same material to clad the dust-collection closet, quelling the noise for both the neighbors and himself.

Double doors provide the main entrance to the shop, opening into the garage where Patrick stores his sheet goods and project stock.

The Workshop at a Glance

Size: 14 x 22' with a vaulted ceiling and same-size 4'-high crawl space below. Two-car garage doubles as wood and sheet goods storage as well as an assembly space for oversized projects.

Construction: Attached wood frame addition with a poured concrete foundation and crawl space. Exterior walls are thermally insulated, with no additional soundproofing. The interior wall, shared with the family room, retains its former thermal insulation and exterior OSB layer, plus an added layer of soundproofing Homasote and tongue-and-groove paneling.

Heating and cooling: Forced-air HVAC system shared with the house and a wall-mounted 240V electric space heater.

Lighting: 2 skylights; (4) 4-bulb, 4' fluorescent fixtures; 2 tracks, 6 lamps each.

Electrical: Power provided by 200-amp main panel: (2) 120V/20 amp general circuits, (1) 120V/15 amp circuit for lights, (1) 240V/20 amp for the dust collector, (1) 240V/15 amp for the compressor, and (1) 240V/30 amp dedicated to the Grizzly drum sander. Additional power provided by a 30-amp sub panel in the garage into the new shop: a 240/20 amp spare for the table saw (for future rewiring) and a 240V/15 amp circuit for the bandsaw.

Dust collection: A 4-bag, 3 hp, 2100 cfm Woodtek dust collector with 6" main trunk S&D (sewer and drain) lines having 4" S&D drops.

Air compressor: 17-gallon oil-less compressor.


The add-on structure just behind the garage encloses a 300 square foot workshop; the white exterior door (left) provides access to a closet that houses the shop’s 3 hp dust collector.

The attached shop structure sits on a concrete foundation and includes double doors. These open to the garage at the front of the house, making it easy to transport plywood and boards into the shop, and furniture out. A single door at the rear end offers entrance to the backyard. The oak shop floor sits a few steps above the garage floor and covers the 4'-high serviceable crawl space below, accessible via a large trap door. It’s here where Patrick keeps his remote-controlled compressor and stores a variety of shop and family items. “I’ve found it (the crawl space) invaluable for running cabling for audio, networking, TV, and extra power circuits,” he says.

With two main 6" trunk lines around the upper reaches of the shop, Patrick provides collection for all his dust and chip makers, including his favorite tool, a 15-year-old Grizzly dual-drum sander that he purchased used for $400.

Inside the shop, Patrick chose to line his walls with attractive tongue-and-groove pine that proved cost-effective and practical. Says the craftsman: “The walls of my former garage-based shop had 5/8" drywall; it proved easy to patch, but limiting when I wanted to hang a jig wherever I needed. Now, with wood walls, I can hang anything anywhere, from cabinets to clamps to jigs.”
While Patrick admits to living in a safe and quiet neighborhood, he opted against having windows in the exterior walls to improve security and to maximize hanging space. To capture natural light for sanding and finishing, as well as for warming up the interior, he had a pair of skylights installed in the vaulted ceiling. For artificial lighting, he chose four 4'-long fluorescent fixtures (each with four bulbs), and two tracks containing six lamps each.

This modern-day shop tool helps Patrick design projects, find answers to his woodworking problems at online forums, and order parts and supplies.

Controlling the shop’s key components via a network of simple on/off switches and two keypads says volumes about Patrick’s skill in everything electronic. In addition to his air compressor, he programmed his lights, vent fan, dust collector, and air-filtration system to activate from several convenient spots around the shop upon various cues. His techy inclinations don’t stop there. As shown above, Patrick’s networked computer station fulfills a host of needs. “Ever since I discovered Google’s SketchUp software, I’ve used it exclusively to design my shop, furniture projects, and workshop fixtures,” he says. He also installed a TV and DVD player in the shop that he connected to a pair of ceiling speakers.
Finally, Patrick selected the south wall to serve as his primary countertop area. Above it hang a pair of wall cabinets with dry- erase doors for jotting down notes; sitting below are several cabinets containing drawers for shop supplies. Unique to this area are his pull-out saw-blade storage rack and his custom-made mobile base for wheeling out his jointer when needed (see "Pull-out jointer base", below). In the loft at one end of the shop, you’ll find cubbies where Patrick sorts and stores choice pieces of stock for upcoming projects. Still more stock and sheet goods stand just outside the double doors opening to the shop from the garage.

Using SketchUp, Patrick designed a pull-out saw blade rack with full-extension drawer slides for his radial-arm saw.

The Floor Plan

“With a space as limited as mine,” says Patrick of his 14 × 22' workshop, “there were few options available. The only reasonable place for my table saw was along the fireplace brick.” (See the floor plan.) So rather than moving materials straight from the garage, into the shop, and directly onto the saw, he breaks down large sheets in the garage first and then brings the rough-cut parts into the shop. “It’s not really a significant concession,” says Patrick.
The second feature he wanted was a full-length countertop with tracks for stopblocks along the long south wall. “This is the perfect home for my mitersaw and radial-arm saw,” he says, giving him plenty of work support for long boards. Later in the planning, Patrick realized that the perfect place to store the jointer was in a cubby below the countertop where he can simply roll it out for use. Mobile bases supporting other key tools, such as his bandsaw, help him maintain a clutter-free work area for assembling projects by simply pushing tools out of the way.
To increase countertop space, he uses his cabinet saw’s sizeable outfeed table as a workbench to perform all kinds of functions, from small project assembly, to design work, to a place where Patrick can pull up a stool and browse through woodworking catalogs. Lastly, his utility sink and finish storage area offer up a place to prepare finishes and clean applicators after spreading a coat or two.

Smart ideas for the taking

Pull-out jointer base

While working through a host of practical solutions for maximizing floor space in his shop, Patrick stumbled upon the idea of building a pull-out jointer base out of 2x stock, ¾" plywood, and nine fixed casters that run perpendicular to the jointer bed. When he needs to joint stock, he simply wheels the tool out of its cubby below the long countertop. Note in the photo how a floor track guides the “outrigger” wheel, causing the tool to move straight in and out of its storage space.

Cordless-drill charging station

This simply-constructed plywood storage solution mounts to wall studs and holds up to three portable drills, but it can easily be expanded. The top shelf serves as yet another place for holding related items. Secure it within a foot or two of a receptacle.

Woodworking for the family

Now 40 years old, Patrick has worked with wood since age 13. “My very first project was a coat rack I made for my parents,” he says. When majoring in technical theater in college, he worked as a freelance actor, graphic artist, set designer, and technical director for several small theater companies in Buffalo, New York. Here he built platforms, flats, and set pieces from construction lumber in tiny shops using crude, low-end tools. 

The only exception to this was a brief summer stint working in a two-man woodworking shop building everything from cherry-veneer bank desks to teak sailboat hatches and replica architectural moldings and corbels. “In a few short months, I learned a great deal about casework construction, veneering, and working with hardwoods and serious power and hand tools,” says Patrick.
Then, in 1998, he gained acclaim for a children’s Web site he had created (“Alex’s Box of Crayons”) and from that exposure landed a “real” job in Chicago. Today, he’s a Java developer and systems administrator with the title VP of Technology for JG Sullivan Interactive, Inc.
His re-introduction to woodworking started shortly after getting married and moving out to the city’s western suburbs. “I began by purchasing a small, inexpensive benchtop table saw to remodel our master bedroom and other home-improvement projects,” he says. Then an experienced woodworking neighbor suggested he join him for a trip to a woodworking show. “It was there I purchased a contractor’s saw and my hobby/passion really took off,” Patrick says. Shortly after, the first of his three children entered his life and he began the tradition of building custom cribs and dressers for each child.
To see more of Patrick’s projects, shop construction, and workshop, go to:

Built for his youngest son, this dresser features eye-catching dovetail joints in contrasting walnut and cherry.

With drawers and a door, this playful maple and cherry dresser features butterfly hardware and an inlaid butterfly to match.

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