16 Tips for Working in a Small or Apartment Woodshop


If you are living in an apartment or your house is cluttered without enough space to work, you might think that woodworking is out of the cards. Fortunately, that is not the case. You can create an efficient workshop with a space as small as 6’ by 4’, which you will be able to find in any apartment across the globe.

When you are working in a small or apartment woodshop, you should only keep the tools you often use. Create compact storage boxes for them, and make sure that you choose quiet tools that do not wake the neighbors. Proper lighting and flooring can play a huge role. Make a workbench and get started.

Throughout this article, you will also learn the following info about working in a small woodshop:

  • How you can keep it clean and quiet around the clock
  • Numerous storage tips for working in a small area
  • Proper lighting tips
  • Several ideas for essential tools, woodblocks, and more

Avoid Power Tools and Avoid Dust

Two of the biggest problems people have when working in a small space are that power tools are too noisy and dusty. Whether they are battery-powered or plug-in, these tools make obnoxiously loud sounds that tend to cause a disturbance for the neighbors. Fortunately, several power tools don’t cause too much noise.

Another problem is that the dust from your projects could blow everywhere. If you are trying to preserve your deposit and keep the floors clean, then there’s no question that you have to keep your projects as dust-free as possible. Power tools create dust like nothing else, so they’re not always the best solution.

Instead of relying on power tools, you can use hand tools for your woodshop. Let us run through a handful of benefits that hand tools have over power tools below.

  1. Hand tools are much less noisy than power tools. Although battery-operated tools can cut down on some of the noise, nothing beats a hand tool’s controlled sound. You do not have to worry about disturbing the neighbors or upsetting your roommates in the apartment.
  2. You do not need to consume electricity or waste batteries when you’re using hand tools. They rely on the power of your hands, so you can save money and leave the extra components at the hardware store.
  3. Hand tools do not produce dust; They cause chips. When you are working in a woodshop in a small space or an apartment, chips are the way to go. You can clean chips quickly without missing countless dust particles.

Making Tool Storage – A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

You can choose to purchase premade storage solutions or make them with your hand tools. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to use power drills and table saws to get the job done. Measure the size of the wood that you need, cut it with a hacksaw, smooth it out with sandpaper, and screw it in place (you can choose nails if you wish).

Tool storage is essential, regardless of the size of your woodshop. Even if you’re working in a massive lumberyard, you need to have designated places for every tool. Big storage cabinets can get confusing, so try to limit the number of tools that you have.

A great way to keep your tools ready to go is to make slots with labels. Whether you’re using simple markers that say things like “Hammer” or “Nails” or want to detail the make/model is up to you. The point is to keep your tools within arm’s reach and easily accessible to prevent clutter.

When you’re working in a small space, disorganization is going to be your biggest enemy. You might lose tools or tiny parts, so keep everything in a storage box.

Adrian Preda covers numerous storage solutions for tools in this YouTube video:

Hand Tool Storage

If you are using a lot of power tools (which cause dust, so try to limit the amount that you have), you’ll have to get a separate compartment for the hand tools. Handheld screwdrivers, hammers, saws, vices, and many other tools should be a part of your collection. The good news is that it is quite easy to find storage for these tools.

Here are a few suggestions to store your hand tools:

  • Make a small 12” x 6” x 4” wooden box. You can sand it by hand and polish it. Saw off the top inch of the wooden box after you’ve glued it together, then add hinges. You can toss small tools that won’t get lost since they’re in a confined area.
  • Get a storage bucket. There are countless buckets that you can get at hardware stores. If you want to reduce your tools’ noise and keep them organized, consider getting a tool sleeve. They sit over the top of the bucket, providing several compartments for your hand tools.
  • Purchase a wall-mounted storage hanger, such as the VonHaus Wall-Mounted Plastic Pegboard. It’s loaded with space to store all of your tools, including a shelf that sits underneath the pegboard. You’ll have enough room for any hand tools, nails, screws, sandpaper, and other items that you need for your woodshop.

Proper Work Bench – Mini Workbench

The workbench is the central location of a woodshop. It’s where you make cuts, vice your materials, and glue everything together. The toughest challenge that many woodworkers face is finding a proper mini workbench to get the job done. You don’t need a massive bench to produce masterpieces, though.

As explained by Stephen K & Suzie J in their video, a 6’ x 4’ workbench is more than enough. Check out their design here:

The three most important traits of a top-notch mini workbench include:

  1. Stability: It needs to be able to hold its place without wobbling, especially if it’s standing on carpet.
  2. Durability: Your mini workbench should be able to take a beating without showing any signs of wear and tear.
  3. Functionality: The workbench should have space to install a vice, room for your tools, and a high-quality light source. You’ll learn more about lighting near the end of this article.

If you don’t want to take the time to make a workbench as you saw in the video, you could get the Goplus Adjustable Workbench. It’s adjustable, long-lasting, and it can hold up to 1500 pounds without breaking. It measures in at 28.5 inches x 42 inches, which is perfect for a small apartment.

Do You Want to Make Large Things or Stick With Small Things?

There’s a common misconception that a small woodshop will only allow small items to be made. Instead, you can make a plethora of items, regardless of the size of your workshop. However, it’s going to be much more difficult if you don’t have access to the proper tools. Have no fear; you can get it done by taking your time.

Here’s what you should know if you want to make large things:

  • You’ll need to keep your tools and wood separate from each other. Try to have a designated part of the room for wood. You can keep your tools in the aforementioned storage containers to prevent clutter.
  • Work with the biggest parts first. If you’re making a table, start with the tabletop. It’s best to get the large parts out of the way, so they’re not sitting in the corner of the room for several days or weeks. It’ll motivate you to finish the task and move on.
  • Only design what you can use or sell. Don’t make too many tables or chairs if you’re not able to use them. Woodworking is a hobby, but when you’re confined to a small space, all of your large projects should have a purpose.

Here is what you need to know if you want to stick with small things:

  • Make a cupboard or cabinet for your projects. Try to figure out the items’ average sizes and create or purchase a storage box to accommodate everything. If you can keep them sealed in a container, you’ll be able to keep the room looking neat.
  • Decide why you’re doing the project, and don’t be afraid to test. Unlike making large objects, working with small woodblocks and other items will allow you the freedom to make mistakes. You can design nameplates, book stoppers, doorknobs, and more.
  • Don’t forget to stay organized. Although you’re not dealing with massive chairs, chests, and tables, you mustn’t lose anything. The last thing you want is to be months into a small project and forget where you put it.

Make a Plan and Buy Only the Wood You Are Going to Need for the Project

Since you don’t have access to a large lumberyard or a stacked workshop with plenty of storage, you’re going to have to develop a plan. If you get too many supplies, you’ll clutter the room and ruin the whole woodshop. You might lose things or have to store them outside, both of which are unwanted.

Before you buy anything, figure out how much of every supply you’ll need. Wood is the core of woodworking, so you should learn what type of wood you’ll need and how much you should purchase. Never purchase too little wood; you must have enough. It’s always better to have too much.

Design blueprints so you can have everything ready to go. You shouldn’t have to leave the house to get new material every day. Instead, you should have it set out in the corner of the room or a long storage container. When you need to get another block or slab, you’ll have it prepared.

Consider Buying s4s Lumber Instead of Buying Planers, Jointers, and Table Saws

The Wood Whisperer explains that getting s4s lumber, also known as surfaced on four sides, will save you from needing planers, jointers, and table saws. S4s lumber is surfaced on every side, which means it’s smoothed out and sanded. You won’t need the extra power tools, which means you can save time, money, and storage space.

You can also choose s2s or s3s lumber if you know that you want unfinished surfaces. Rather than investing in extra tools and creating dust and noise, you can have the lumber prepared for your projects. Note that this method of purchasing wood requires a bit more planning since you’ll have to know which portions are exposed.

Getting s4s lumber is an excellent choice for making tables, chairs, and other stylish furniture pieces. The only downside is that it doesn’t receive paint as well, so you might have to add an extra layer of primer. Nevertheless, it’s worth purchasing for the vast majority of your projects.

Finish and Sealing (Dealing With Smell and Fumes)

Finish, sealing, and many other woodworking chemicals can cause strong odors. If you’re worried about alarming your neighbors or upsetting your roommates, then it’s a good idea to keep the room ventilated.

Here is a list of three ways that you can deal with the fumes:

  1. Make from Wood suggests that you ask about using finishing products in your apartment complex’s common area. If your place doesn’t allow it, then you’re not out of luck.
  2. Another method is to open all of the windows and doors in the apartment. Turn on all of the fans and keep the room ventilated. Do all of these steps about five minutes before you start finishing the wood to ensure that the air moves quickly enough.
  3. If you have access to a balcony, then you could do all of the finishing outside. Ensure that your neighbors know where the odor is coming from so they don’t get worried and call the front desk.

If none of these options work for you, then you could buy prefinished wood or bring it to a lumberyard to have it finished.

Learn to Use the Tools You Have – And Sell the Rest

Working in a small space requires a bit of involuntary minimalism. It gets easier if you’re willing to toss the tools that you don’t need. For example, there’s no reason that you should have seven different saws if you only use three of them. Fortunately, you can make a lot of money selling the tools that you don’t use.

If you’re beginning your woodworking journey from a small space, such as an apartment, and you don’t know what to get, you’re in luck. The Apartment Woodworker shows us the few tools that are needed to make a decent woodshop. You only need sanding tools, screwdrivers, saws, chisels, marking tools, and a few other supplies.

If you’re concerned about getting rid of too much or you don’t know what you might need in the future, design several projects. You’ll figure out which tools you’ll need; then you can sell the rest of them. Keep the money that you make in a separate account or jar. You can use the money to buy new tools when you’re able to expand your woodshop.

Dust Extraction – Canister Vacuum

Although it’d be nice to avoid dust, there’s no doubt that you’ll have to deal with it while doing woodwork. Creating chips rather than dust can be done by using mostly hand tools. Nonetheless, you’ll have to deal with a bit of dust when using saws.

Canister vacuums are the perfect size to extract dust from the scene. You don’t need to leave it sitting around or sweep it away. Instead, you can quickly suction the place and keep it nice and clean throughout the year.

The Eureka WhirlWind Bagless Canister Cleaner is a top-notch example of a great canister vacuum. It’s budget-friendly, semi-quiet, and it has a nozzle that’s perfect for fine dust particles. This canister vacuum is designed for upholstery, carpet, hardwood floors, and more. You can have a woodshop and keep it clean.

If you don’t want to invest in a canister vacuum, you could get a handheld broom and dustpan. It doesn’t hurt to have one in a tool chest, even if you have a canister vacuum. You don’t always need to plug it in to clean up a small mess.

Soundproof Enclosure

Controlling the noise of your woodshop is easy if you don’t use power tools. However, a loud saw can cause some commotion if the walls of your apartment complex are thin. Opening up the doors and windows will prevent the sound from building up. There are a few other things that you could do to cut out the sound.

Try these suggestions:

  • Use soundproofing blocks. There are plenty of websites that sell sound-deadening materials. Place them on the apartment floor, but don’t forget to cover the walls and ceiling if you can. Mass and density are the two key components of soundproofing.
  • Get soundproofing curtains. They’ll prevent the noise of your saw and vacuum from going through the windows and sliding glass door (if you have one in the back of the apartment or house).
  • Run fans whenever you’re using your woodshop. Fans can create white noise that drowns out the sound of your tools. Remember that everyone living in an apartment uses a vacuum, so don’t worry about annoying them. As long as it’s within the allotted noise-filled times of the day (most apartments have designated quiet hours), you shouldn’t have a problem.

Flooring (Carpet or Hardwood)

If you live in an apartment, then you probably won’t be able to change the floors. You’re going to have to stick with whatever you get. However, you could get a rug to cover the hardwood floors. There are plenty of sound-deadening rugs designed for music production studios that you could use to cut out the noise.

Hardwood floors are known for echoing the sounds of anything going on in the room. If you’re using a saw, it’s going to be amplified. That sound will travel through the floor down to your neighbors below. Even if you’re on the apartment’s bottom level, hardwood floors will echo the noise to the upstairs neighbors.

If you have carpet, then you’ll be able to enjoy its sound-reduction properties. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to soundproof the building, though. Keep the door shut in the room that you’re using the woodshop. Use sound-proofing rugs, blankets to cover the door, and panels for the walls.

Lighting (LED or Fluorescent)

When it comes to woodshop lighting, you don’t have to worry about disturbing your neighbors, roommates, or family members. The two main options are LED and fluorescent lights, so let us review both of them below.

  1. LED lights are the longest-lasting bulbs in the world. According to USLED, they can last for tens of thousands of hours before you’ll have to replace them. Furthermore, they’re much more energy-efficient than any other type of bulb on the market. Get a daylight white bulb to brighten the woodshop. The lumen count depends on the size of the room.
LED Replacement Tube for Fluorescent Tubes.  Courtesy of USLEDOpens in a new tab.
  1. LED lights have a built-in LED driver.  Most people don’t consider this but for residential use, the light has a built-in driver.  A driver is a power converter that converts AC current to DC current.  This is one of the reasons LED bulb and LED replacement tubes will have a higher initial investment. Do Not use the existing ballast from Fluorescent light fixtures.
LED Tube Wiring  Courtesy of USLEDOpens in a new tab.

Fluorescent bulbs used to be the most efficient option on the market before LEDs showed up. They’re known to be hazardous if they break, according to AARP. The only thing they have going for them is that they’re a bit cheaper than LED bulbs. If you choose fluorescent bulbs, try to get daylight white.

The best lighting setup would consist of two lamps, one on the floor and one clamped to the side of your workbench. You should also consider getting a ceiling light. Many woodshops have several lights throughout the ceiling to keep the room illuminated.

How Bright Should the Work Area Be?

Many experts claim that your workshop should have between 130 to 150 lumens per square foot. This limit will keep your woodshop bright, regardless of the light outside. Some workers prefer to keep their blinds closed to prevent external light sources from penetrating the room. You’ll be able to control the brightness completely.

This lumen count might sound like a lot, but most fluorescent and LED bulbs have thousands of lumens. You don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your woodshop illuminated. In a shop area, you will want to plan on 40  to 50 lumens per square foot to get proper lighting in your work area.  Since most apartment bedrooms are between 100 to 200 square feet, you’ll only need between 4,000 to 8,000 lumens total. Using LED lighting, a 200 square foot shop will consume around 70 Watts.

Note that these numbers are based on average calculations. Some people feel that they’re a bit too bright for a small space. If you want to know how much light you need, try installing a couple of lamps and see what it looks like. You should be able to see everything that you’re working with. Safety is the primary function of proper lighting.

Can I Have Too Much Light?

While it’s important to have enough light in your woodshop, there’s no doubt that you can have too much. If you have a bunch of lamps and overhead lights that brighten your workshop, you won’t be able to see anything. Brightness can cause massive production issues if you’re working with light-colored wood.

Make sure that the lights are placed in the correct location. The angle of lighting is equally as crucial as the number of lumens in the room. If everything is pointed away from the workbench, you won’t be able to see anything. On the other hand, if there’s too much direct light, it’ll be too difficult to focus on the projects you’re working on. 

Be aware of shadows when placing your lights.  You do not want to place a light behind your work area without lighting on both sides to eliminate your shadow as you work.

Wall color will also play a factor in determining how much light Is required in your shop.  Dark wall color will absorb more light than you might suspect.  Keeping your walls a lighter color will actually save you money by reflecting the light around the room.  See my article about The 5 Best Colors to Paint a Woodworking Shop.

Be Considerate of Your Neighbors

Noise, dust, chemical odors, and many other unwanted factors can upset your neighbors. Make sure that you’re considerate. Nobody wants to be forced to hear a table saw every day, nor do they want to smell the powerful odor of various polishing and finishing products.

Not only will you destroy your relationship with your neighbors, but it might get you evicted. People don’t want to deal with all of the side effects! Try to handle your woodshop business and keep it quiet, clean, and orderly. Your roommates (or family), neighbors, and apartment managers (if you’re living in a complex) will thank you.

Note: It’s a good idea to notify your neighbors and apartment staff if you’re going to be working with wood. The sounds and odors can cause concern if they don’t know where it’s coming from.

Conclusion

You can have a fully operational woodshop in a small space, including an apartment. If you are worried about putting off your hobby, there is no reason that you cannot keep it going. Feel free to build massive pieces of furniture or small handheld tools. It might take a little bit of care and caution, but you can do it if you follow this article’s suggestions.

Here is a quick recap of the post:

  • Consider getting s4s lumber to save yourself from getting extra tools.
  • Soundproof the woodshop, so you do not get noise complaints.
  • Keep the room ventilated to prevent the buildup of chemical odors.
  • Proper flooring and lighting can make a notable difference.
  • Always design your projects, so you know what supplies you will need.

Sources

John McCormick

I have been woodworking since being introduced to the hobby in High School. I enjoy woodworking as a hobby and would like to share some of what I have learned with the world. I have recently built a CNC router system and I have enjoyed learning this new dimension of the hobby.

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