How to start woodworking in a basement or apartment

  • Dewalt DW745 portable table saw
  • Ryobi CSS-210 - 210MM sliding compound mitre saw
  • The Bosch PKS 55 circular saw
  • Ryobi's 250W Bench Drill Press
  • A budget version is the Ryobi work bench. It comes with clamps
  • Bosch GAS 19 V-Li cordless vacuum cleaner
  • Makita VC2512L Wet and Dry L-Class Dust Extractor 1000W
Date:23 March 2017 Tags:, ,

So you want to start woodworking, but don’t have the space in a garage or shed where you can saw and sand to your heart’s content. Never fear: We show you the basics you need to set up a wood shop in a basement or other indoor space.

By Stuart Deutsch

Start woodworking

One of the most common reasons people shy away from woodworking is that they think they need a huge garage or workspace. But you can successfully set up a small hobbyist woodworking shop in any space, even in an apartment. A compact wood shop just takes a little planning and preparation.

First, as most eager but hesitant potential hobbyists realize, you have to be much more thoughtful about tool selection. A 14-inch band saw? In your dreams. In a small space, you’re going to have to rely on bench-top or handheld tools. (It is possible to forgo power tools entirely in favor of hand tools, but that’s a discussion better left for another time.)

Then there are material considerations, such as how to bring full-size sheets of plywood home to cut down to size (you don’t). And safety and cleanup are two more concerns: Proper ventilation and dust collection, a cinch in a larger shop, can be quite a challenge (and a potential health hazard). Nevertheless, you can set up a great wood shop in a small space, and we’ll show you what you need.

1. Portable Table Saw

If you ask 10 woodworkers which powered tool they use most, eight or nine will probably tell you it’s their table saw. A full-size table saw can be used for breaking down large sheets of plywood, sawing tenons and plenty more.

A large table saw just isn’t a feasible fit in most small shops. But you should be able to get away with at least a portable table saw. Never mind veteran woodworkers who might look down on these compact tools–they’re well-suited for many of the smaller ripping and crosscutting operations you’ll need to perform.

Here’s the DeWalt DW745 portable table saw:

DeWalt DW745 portable table saw

2. Mitre Saws

If you need to do a lot of straight or angled crosscutting, a mitre saw is a no-brainer. Though it’s not as versatile as a 254 millimetre sliding model, a 210 millimetre miter saw is affordable (typically at under R4 000) and can handle 6-inch-wide boards, while remaining small enough that you can stow it away on a shelf.

A great example is the Ryobi CSS-210 – 210MM sliding compound mitre saw:

Ryobi CSS-210 - 210MM sliding compound mitre saw

3. Circular & Track Saws

For larger rip cuts or breaking down a large sheet of plywood, a circular saw or track saw is the way to go. There are many straightedges and guides that can help you achieve straight and accurate cuts with a circular saw, or you can make your own.

A track saw makes things even easier and offers greater accuracy, but these saws are also quite a bit costlier. With a circular saw, you have to keep the shoe pressed against a guide while pushing the saw forward. Track saws, on the other hand, pop onto their tracks and need only to be pushed forward. Track saws often feature splinter guards to help reduce tearout as well for smoother and straighter edges.

Bosch has a range of circular saws available at under R1 600, like the PKS 55:

Bosch Circular Saw PKS 55

4. Drill Press

A drill press won’t replace a handheld drill, but it will be helpful when you need to accurately place holes with repeatability and control. Certain drill bits are also far safer to use in a drill press than in a handheld drill.

There are, of course, many other power and hand tools to consider when you try your hand at woodworking. But once you’ve got these basics, you can add more gear to fit your particular plans.

Take a look at the Ryobi 250W Bench Drill Press:

Ryobi 250W Bench Drill Press

5. Work Benches

In a small space, there’s not much room for one-trick ponies: You need gear that can do many different things, and that goes for your work space, stands and benches, too. You can add a wood clamp to a multifunction workbench, but you probably need compact work or tool-holding stands to make up for the lack of a large work surface. Occasionally you may need to take your work to another room or even outside, in which case portability is also important. Be on the lookout for benches that can support some bench-top tools as well.

A budget version is the Ryobi work bench. It comes with clamps:

A budget version is the Ryobi work bench. It comes with clamps

6. Lumber and Raw Materials

If you have a small shop, you’re probably not going to have the option of milling your own lumber to square. So the easiest way to go is to buy boards in the thickness and width you’ll need. When buying sheet stock at a lumberyard or home center, the employees there can usually cut boards or sheets down to approximate sizes for you on a panel saw–sometimes for free, but typically for a fee. This is also a great option for those who don’t have a table saw.

When working indoors, I try to avoid materials like MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and particleboard because of the formaldehyde and chemical binders present in them.

7. Sawdust Control

It’s true for large and small shops alike: Sawdust and chips get everywhere when you use power tools. Small home-woodworking shops are often in shared rooms and may be poorly ventilated. And airborne sawdust and particulates linger for a while before settling. It’s a bad combination for human lungs, which are not fond of sawdust, let alone the types of chemicals found in plywood and other engineered materials.

A dust mask or respirator will protect you while you’re working, but won’t do anything to protect you or your family from suspended particles still in the air. For this reason, an air filter is an absolute must if you work with woods indoors (I know of guys who sneezed out sawdust after working too long without an air cleaner). It’s possible to make your own air cleaner out of box fans and furnace filters, but retail air cleaners will usually be much more compact.

If you’re sanding or performing some other task that will create fine dust, do it outside if possible. But a good dust-collection or -extraction system can also prevent a great deal of sawdust from becoming airborne in the first place.

8. Sawdust Clean-Up

Cleaning up sawdust can be an ordeal. To make it as painless as possible, spend some time at the beginning and during a project to control and direct where the sawdust goes.

In an indoor or basement shop with industrial carpeting, lay down inexpensive laminate flooring to make your life a bit easier at the end of the day. Be sure to anchor the panels or place a large rubber mat beneath to keep them from sliding over the carpet. (Covering up your carpet is even more critical if you want to go beyond wood and work with a material such as aluminum in your indoor shop; metal shavings dig into any kind of carpeting and are incredibly frustrating to clean up.) To prevent sawdust from spreading too far away, try some temporary or make-shift walls.

9. Shop Vacuum

Household vacuum machines are not designed to handle large quantities of sawdust or wood chips. Their filters clog up quickly, greatly reducing suction. While you can get away with using a small cordless vacuum for small messes, a shop vacuum offers greater power and capacity.

One example is the Bosch GAS 19 V-Li cordless vacuum cleaner:

Bosch GAS 19 V-Li cordless vacuum cleaner

10. Dust Extractor

Another option to consider is an expensive but efficient Makita or Festool dust extractor. Festool’s dust extractors are designed to work with other branded tools, but they also match up with most other brands’ compact power tools as well. A nice thing about Festool’s vacs is that the hoses dock neatly inside the units. Makita’s dust extractors work just about as well and won’t break your bank as much.

If you’re looking to collect the sawdust from a planer or shaper, or other large tool with a collection port, you’ll be better off with a full-size dust-collection system.

Makita’s VC2512L dust extractor is geared for both wet and dry extraction:

Makita VC2512L Wet and Dry L-Class Dust Extractor 1000W



This article was originally written for and posted by Popular Mechanics USA.

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