If you try to justify your woodworking by saying that it saves money over buying furniture, you are going to lose. Woodworking, like growing your own vegetables, is a passion that you should never attempt to do the math on. Like eating your own tomatoes, filling your own bookcase, writing at your own desk or eating on your own table are things that you enjoy beyond their monetary value. With that in mind, we turn to the category of shop accessories with an eye toward both practical additions and creature comforts.
Looking back over my lifelong hobby of woodworking, I think that the first shop accessory I would buy today would be an air compressor. Honestly, I would buy a compressor before buying a shop vac. I was fortunate in that when I bought my compressor, I was also still maintaining a pickup truck and a Triumph Spitfire, so I could “justify” a large upright model. However, I began my love affair with air tools when they were hooked up to a relatively inexpensive portable compressor. The first foray was when I needed a very narrow profile drill in order to repair a set of cheap dressers a friend had bought by installing drawer slides. I had nothing that would fit, so I bought an Ingersoll Rand 3/8” air drill and I was hooked. That was in 1984, and I still have that drill and I still use it often. In addition to an air drill, I would add a brad nailer, a ¼” crown stapler and a pin nailer. None of these were very expensive. My nailer and stapler are from Sears, and I’ve had them for over 20 years. My pin nailer is a Porter Cable and it came at a reasonable price. Until you have built a quick jig, pinned the corners of a picture frame together or temporarily attached a template to your stock, you will not appreciate these tools.
Turning our thoughts to safety, I would invest, at least in a minimal way, in trying to get every extension cord, power cord, airline and vacuum hose off of the floor of your shop. Take the time to wire outlets in/on the walls near your power equipment and find a way to drop extension cords and airlines in from above. When working with tools, hand or power, you want to pay attention to the cutting edge of the tool, not the placement of your feet. In the same vein, consider permanent and portable task lighting to supplement generous overhead lighting. Personally, I can’t wait until LED shop lights are affordable. Fluorescent lights fail miserably in unheated shops, i.e. cold start situations, and Halogen shop lights suck up an enormous amount of electricity and give off way too much heat in the summer. If you are going to add heat, make sure it is compatible with what you are going to do while using it. I use a Big Buddy propane space heater, but I never use it while sanding or finishing where something in the air might explode. Speaking of the stuff that is in the air, dust masks and respirators should be available for you and anyone who might be helping. Of course, it goes without saying that safety glasses and push sticks need to also be available. If you wear glasses, prescription safety glasses are a necessary investment.
The other things that I use often enough to put them on the A-list include:
- Shop vac – You need to clean up the mess you make. If you can’t afford a dust-collection system, get a strong enough vac to work with your stationary tools. Or, get cheap small vacs to work with smaller contributors. I have a $39 shop vac attached to and sitting inside the leg-set of my band saw and it works like a champ.
- Tool Cabinets – You will always appreciate any effort you make toward keeping your tools organized, available, clean and rust free.
- Pegboard or Slot-wall – You will also appreciate keeping a subset of your tools handy.
- Shop rags – Yeah, you can use old tee-shirts and bed sheets, but a sack of 25 shop rags is usually cheap enough to treat yourself.
- First-Aid Kit & Fire Extinguisher – I have never needed the latter, but more than once, I have needed the first-aid kit. In its absence, the shop rags are also useful.
Once you have the basics in place, build yourself a workbench, build jigs and fixtures and figure out all the ways you can use/develop your woodworking skills in the pursuit of the perfect shop.
A word from the editor: This series has been difficult for my wife/editor to read without commenting. Almost 30 years ago, I made her a maple trestle kitchen table and six chairs. When we moved into this house, I wanted to make the table more functional by making it shorter but adding extension leaves at each end. During the conversion, I sat a circular saw on the table without noticing that the blade-guard was stuck open. The damage was irreparable, so I made the table into a workbench (and the sliding extension into a dual threaded end-vise). I need to replace that table.