Safety, sawdust, and other home workshop considerations

For countless homeowners, a workshop tucked away in a garage or basement is a useful resource and a place of relaxation. The space can be used tinker on a pet project, pursue a side business such as woodworking, or simply to corral the multitude of tools you've acquired.

If you're just getting started with a home workshop, you'll want to make sure you have ample room for your materials. Given that you'll be working with potentially dangerous tools, you should also ensure that the workshop is as safe as possible.

While the garage and basement are traditional locations for a workshop, you don't have to limit yourself to these areas. Caitlin Castelaz, writing for the home improvement professional Bob Vila, says outbuildings such as sheds can work well. You might even set up a shop in your bedroom or attic, as long as you won't have trouble bringing materials to these rooms.

Make sure you have enough light to see what you're doing. The home improvement site Charles + Hudson says the places used for workshops often have minimal lighting, so it's helpful to add some work lamps for better illumination. Popular Mechanics says fluorescent fixtures will also do a good job, and painting the ceiling and walls white will scatter the light better.

No workshop is complete without a good workbench. Jenny Stanley, writing for Family Handyman, says there are plenty of options available, including benches you can build yourself without too much trouble. Some possibilities include a simple table made with 2x4s, a light-duty table constructed with PVC pipe for legs, or a mobile workbench on casters.

If space is limited, consider a hinged workbench that can fold up against the wall when not in use. Many benches will also feature a fairly narrow work area or be mounted on the wall to minimize the floor area they take up.

Aim for the perfect height when setting up your workbench. Popular Mechanics says 32 to 40 inches will work well, depending on the type of work you're doing. If you prefer to sit while working, a height of 29 inches is ideal.

While some benches will offer drawers and shelves for storing tools and supplies, you'll likely need other places to keep these items as well. Pegboards are a classic storage solution, giving you the ability to hang tools in an easy-to-reach location. Charles + Hudson says a rolling tool chest is also helpful.

The work area should have enough electrical outlets to adequately power any lights and tools you'll be using. You may want to consult with an electrician to install additional outlets. Popular Mechanics says outlets used for power tools should be on a separate circuit from the workshop's lights, so you won't be in the dark if you trip a breaker.

Upgrading the floor can be a useful step. Adding a sealer or epoxy coating can improve light reflection and make the floor easier to clean. Rubber mats or interlocking rubber tiles will also work well, since they'll offer better traction, reduce noise, and prevent floor damage if you drop a tool.

Avoid carpeting in the workshop. Stuart Deutsch, writing for Popular Mechanics, says this is particularly important with metal working, since shavings can embed themselves in the carpet and are difficult to remove.

Proper ventilation is an important consideration when establishing a workshop, since this will help cut down on fumes, sawdust, and other airborne pollutants. The Canadian building supply company Timber Mart says you can air out the space by simply opening a door or window. However, powered systems such as exhaust fans or a series of box fans are preferable.

Some products are specifically designed to collect sawdust, metal shavings, and other debris. Deutsch says these include air filtration systems and hoods to trap debris thrown off by power saws. Charles + Hudson says a workshop should ideally combine ventilation, dust collection, and a central vacuum system for the best air quality.

Safety is a critical consideration in any workshop. Timber Mart says oily rags are highly flammable and can spontaneously combust if kept together. These rags can be put in an empty paint can filled with water, then taken to a hazardous waste disposal site.

Be prepared for any emergencies. Sophia Smith, writing for Make Magazine, says the workshop should have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in easily accessible areas.

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