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A Dream Shop Without a Nightmare Budget

By Ruth Walker, thewoodgal.com

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Ruth Walker builds commissioned furniture in her dream shop and blogs about her woodworking and gardening at thewoodgal.com.

When I began visiting woodworking forums to research and solicit ideas for my dream shop, I quickly found there was no shortage of opinions (some downright fanatical) on how I should spend my money. But because my shop is also a source of income, I had to prioritize those features that keep me flexible, keep me working, and keep my business solvent. So I ran every big-ticket item through the filter of those priorities. Not only did I end up with a fantastic working shop, but I also managed to create a wonderful retreat I’ll enjoy for years to come. And all without breaking the bank. Here are some of the critical decisions that I had to make about the most hotly debated wish-list items I was considering.

Do I need 200-amp electrical service? Every piece of online advice I got seemed to shout an emphatic “Yes!” My electrician said, “No.” I have to admit I knew very little about what my electrical needs might be. After talking at length about what the shop would be used for, we determined I’d most likely be running no more than two big pieces of equipment at a time (my big 12" jointer and the 3-hp dust collector, for example). He told me he’d be happy to give me 200-amp service, but was honest enough to tell me I just didn’t need it for my uses.

Instead, I invested the money in forming a central channel in the shop’s concrete floor, below, which will future-proof the shop somewhat should my electrical and dust-collection needs change.

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The channel in the center of the shop is sized to carry wiring and future dust-collection ducting. And a 2×12 is the perfect size for a cap.

Do I need an in-shop bathroom? Though another hotly debated, top-of-the-list item on the forums, the $5,000 rough quote to add the bathroom and tie it into the sewer line made the decision for me. It was a luxury I just couldn’t afford. Since my home is 25 steps away, the two minutes I would save when nature called weren’t worth the cash.

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An insulated slab along with additional insulation in the ceiling means my shop only requires a woodburning stove for winter heat and an open window for summer cooling.

Instead, I invested that money into under-slab insulation and additional blown-in insulation in the cathedral ceiling. Iowa can deliver some extreme temperatures, both in the winter and summer. This keeps me working comfortably for months rather than two additional minutes.

For “running water,” I added a rain barrel on a shop-made stand. Hooked to a wash basin which empties into the floor drain, the barrel lets me clean up before heading into the house and doesn’t take up as much floor space as a dedicated bathroom would have.

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My makeshift plumbing in front of my makeshift spray booth. Both temporary solutions saved me money and precious floor space and are likely to become permanent.

Do I need a spray booth? This was one luxury on which my forum friends and I agreed. Yes! My commissioned pieces are often large and on deadline, so spraying is my best finishing option. But I was having so much difficulty settling on a spray-booth size that I decided to defer the matter until after the shop was built and I’d had time to work in it awhile.

My temporary solution, however, might just become a permanent one. I acquired a discarded 10×10' metal gazebo frame, draped $50 worth of tarps over the top of it, and secured them with binder clips. A barn fan exhausts through the wall on one end of the booth to give me a perfect place to spray without exposing the rest of my shop to overspray and fumes.

And the best part: Should I need to expand the footprint of the booth, I can easily build a temporary addition with more tarps and a few 2×4s.

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