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Who REALLY knows Home Workshop Design??


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I'm in the initial stages of designing and building a new small workshop.  It will take up one bay of a three car attached garage. After parking two cars inside I’m left with only about 9’-6” of usable width and the garage is only 19' deep. I do have a 9’ ceiling but the ceiling joists are 2x4 (not 2x6 or 2x8 like most ceilings) so I can’t suspend any significant weight overhead. I have a standard roll up door at the apron end of that 19’ and a 30” man door (that swings in) to contend with on the opposite end. The up side is that I do have about 174 sq. feet of floor space and 185 sq. feet of wall space with a small window centered in the long wall (Ah - some daylight!). The garage interior is finished (insulated, dry-walled, and painted). And, unless I elect to park one or both cars outside (for additional short term project space), I shouldn't have to move shop equipment to accommodate the cars.

 

I'm planning on both a free standing workbench and a wall mounted multipurpose work surface. I’ve searched the internet, the library, inquired of local and state agencies, even emailed a couple college professors - but no one seems to be able or willing to tell me how to establish the ‘appropriate- for-me’ working heights for my various power tools. So, except for either best guess estimates or trial and error, I have absolutely no idea how far above the floor my bench grinder, band saw, drill press, radial arm saw, table saw, router table, or bench top planer or jointer should ideally be.

 

Sadly, there is almost no agreement for the above floor height of the most common wood shop power tool – the table saw. It seems anyone who does venture an opinion in this arena hedges their bet with some version of “the final choice is up to the individual.” It’s as though suggestions pertaining to floor plan layout (tool placement in the horizontal plane) are fair game for all but, the height above the floor (tool placement in the vertical plane) is sacred ground requiring a PHD in some unknown science. I think it far more likely that no one in the home workshop industry, publishers of shop design magazines included, have taken or even want to take the time to ferret out the applicable methodology and then translate it into an easy to understand presentation. Come On People - our very existence clearly confirms - its a three dimensional world.

 

I strongly suspect, even for a tool as simple as the lowly band saw, that there may be more than one right answer. For example re-sawing a 6 or 8 inch tall piece may be better performed with the work table a bit lower than ripping, crosscutting, or contouring ¾” flat stock. What complicates the issue is that, unlike most drill presses, band saws don’t have adjustable height work tables. It’s also likely that multiple human factors will affect the best user relative tool elevation above the floor. Most shop power tool operations require hand-eye coordination so there has to be a blend of physical and visual access to the point where the wood meets the tool.

 

The fields of anthropometrics, ergonomics, etc. seem to provide little help as to how to arrive at the best practical working heights for the various common pieces of wood shop machinery. Anthropometrics takes one particular group of people (Filipino females for example) and boils them down to an average set of physical dimensions. The object here is to be able to design for compatibility with the greatest number (the center of the bell curve) for that particular group.  Ergonomics, on the other hand, attempts to find what works best for businesses in reducing RMIs (repeated motion injuries) thereby reducing the employers’ liability. Insurance companies have risk reduction experts whose sole job is to assess working environments and make recommendations to client firms regarding how to lower the potential for medical claims. Or, to put it more concisely, ergonomics attempts to make the workplace and work related tasks adjustable to the individual. The bulk of ergonomic studies is most often focuses on the extended use of computers while seated however, and is therefore of little use to those of us standing while using one of many very different power tools in our home workshops. Sadly, the Dept. of Occupational Safety and Health in my home state claims to have no workplace ergonomic information whatsoever.

 

Today, our domestic furniture manufacturing is either so highly automated there is little need for the application of ergonomics or the manufacturing has been moved offshore where RMIs and the related employer liabilities are someone else’s problem. I cite furniture manufacturing simply because I know of no other industry where as many similarities to modern home wood working with power tools might exist. I also know of no other single hobby or interest where so many are so involved, and so deeply exposed to the multiplicity of power tools, and yet are so poorly informed as to how to determine the proper setup height for both maximum safety as well as enjoyment of use with a minimum discomfort.

 

While most tool manufacturers do an excellent job of designing their tools for us humans to use, they seem to share a shameful kinship by remaining totally mute on guidelines for the vertical placement of those tools in relation to the specific individual DIY owner/operator. Neither guards, nor bullet lists of DOs & Don’ts, nor cautions to unplug during set up, remove neckties, or wear hearing, eye, and respiratory protection, etc. can make up for either the discomfort or the dangers of operating any power tool at the wrong working height.

 

Some ‘erector set’ tool stand kits can be assembled to mount different tool base sizes and shapes but seldom offer any height adjustability. Those that do defer to the tool manufacturer to convey the critical information necessary to set up a particular tool & stand combination to the user appropriate height – a tail-chasing circle with no useful information.

 

Somewhere the pertinent information must surely exist.

 

Let’s face it, in the workplace most of us trust our employers (under OSHA regulations) to provide us with optimum ergonomic working conditions. In the home workshop it’s a whole new ball game. You have to make your workshop both a comfortable and safe place to work if you are to enjoy rewarding results without physical discomfort or injury.

 

I have no idea how many serious injuries annually in the United States are related to the use of power tolls in home workshops but I do hold the belief that number could be reduced by having each tool correctly set up at the best working height for both the operator and the task. Therefore, considering that (with the possible exception of contractors) home work shop activities today probably exceed the number of man hours doing similar tasks in the workplace; I feel all modern home woodworking tool manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, publishers, and the various state industrial safety organizations share the responsibility for shining some real light into this very significant and most neglected aspect of home workshop design.

 

Because people aren't manufactured, and tend to not develop to uniform physical dimensions, work bench heights aren’t standard either - far from it. So, the height dimension in any otherwise good workbench plan is only a best guess starting point suggestion.

 

Trolling the internet for "workbench height" recommendations only results in finding that many more of us out here are asking the exact same question.

 

I found tips from six woodworkers there, plus one about optimal workbench height suggestion from a woodworking tips site. I feel sure there’s much more information out there on this, maybe from OSHA, ANSI, or some other standards organization or an insurance company risk reduction specialist. Still researching for ideas about the applicable ergonomics best suited to establishing the best working height-for-me for each of my wood working tools both power and manual!

 

Any help out there would be most welcomed?

   

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This is an extremely long post and I intend to answer it, but I'm going to need to wait until tomorrow when I can read it thoroughly. Sorry for the delay, I've been moving the last 2 days.

 

Cool!  And, if you know of a source for some professional or industrial studies that might be helpful I'd appreciate a link or contact info. I would also appreciate knowing if there is another thread on this site that deals with workshop design. Thanks.

 

So, what's up with moving! New digs?  More room for tools?

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This is an extremely long post and I intend to answer it, but I'm going to need to wait until tomorrow when I can read it thoroughly. Sorry for the delay, I've been moving the last 2 days.

Yeah haha whoever built your house that fast needs to build mine!!

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Yeah haha whoever built your house that fast needs to build mine!!

 

I wish it were that easy Chase. We're staying with my parents until we get it built. It isn't even started yet, so it'll be a good while. 

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After taking time to read your entire post I have to ask the following:

 

1. What tools will be mounted on the fixed bench and what (if any) will be mounted on the freestanding bench?

2. Do you plan on using a stool at all?

 

To me there are a number of right answers. Different tools have different heights at which one may consider optimal for use. 

 

Most shop stools without height adjustment stand at 28"-30" depending on seat padding, so that's something to consider. 

 

If it were me, I'd first decide the layout in regards to what tool was going to be mounted where, and trying to group tools with higher optimal heights together and vice versa because with 2 benches we have 2 potential heights in play and possibly 3 if you were open to the mounted bench being 2 tiered. 

 

Next, and with the help of someone, I'd hold my hand out to a comfortable (but separate) working height for each individual tool, and having my assistant measure the height of my hand each time. Once you have a height for each tool, you can use those figures to determine an average height for both high and low situated tools. You'll have to account for things like the distance from the cutting appliance to the base of the tool, etc., but it should be fairly easy to come to a height that works. Depending on how many tools we're dealing with, you may have some that are a little higher or lower than what you would consider perfect, but unless you want separate surfaces for each tool, you'll just have to deal.   

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1. What tools will be mounted on the fixed bench and what (if any) will be mounted on the freestanding bench?

2. Do you plan on using a stool at all?

 

To me there are a number of right answers. Different tools have different heights at which one may consider optimal for use. 

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1. What tools will be mounted on the fixed bench and what (if any) will be mounted on the freestanding bench?

2. Do you plan on using a stool at all?

 

I have in mind that the fixed bench, which will be around 16' in overall length and run along the wall, will be at several heights. My Radial arm saw will be roughly in the center at its optimal height.

 

The section to the left of the RAS will not be home to any permanently mounted equipment but will be multifunctional. At this point the plan is to make it slightly lower than the RAS table and designed to be either fitted with an extension fence & table for the RAS, used as a place to set up temporary operations like soldering, grinding & honing, Dremel operation, and other small scale non sawdust producing tasks, or cleared off and used as a place to set up a drawing board and yes an adjustable height stool to draw up project plans, etc. The space below will probably become drawer and cabinet storage for small power tools, etc. The wall above will likely be multi door peg board storage above a row of small parts drawers/bins, etc.    

 

The section to the right of the RAS will probably be lower than the left table and may even be of two more individual heights. The part to the immediate right of the RAS will normally be home to an easily moveable 10" band saw (wish it were a bit bigger) so it may serve double duty from time to time, and the far right end will be a bit lower yet as it will be home to a pretty heavy bench drill press. The area beneath this section is currently slated for storage space for a 13" planer, a 6" bench grinder, and (hopefully) that 8" bench jointer we discussed in another thread.  The wall above will probably be cabinet/shelf storage for drill bits, router bits, power saw blades, & related jigs and accessories.

 

The freestanding bench will be a split top design, of the appropriate height for manual woodworking (hopefully doubling as a table saw outfeed surface), with nothing permanently attached. One long side will have flush legs and normally be fitted with a removable Moxon style vise and a removable deadman. The other long side and one end will have a overhung edges for attaching a Zyliss vise. The remaining end will have a built-in tail vise. I do plan to build a small add-on bench top bench for elevating any extended duration hand held power tool work (such as hand routing, drilling, saber sawing, etc.) up 8 or 10 inches above the relatively low manual woodworking height for greater comfort and improved accuracy. I'll probably want to be able to use the stool for some of this as well.

 

That's probably far more information than you wanted but, for now, everything is on hold until I can confidently proceed with established right-for-me height dimensions for at least the RAS and the rest of the tools/operations planned for the 16' along the wall benches. Looking for some well thought out starting point concepts to start with and fine tune from there. 

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