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Laying Out A Hand Tool Workshop Area

Laying Out A Hand Tool Workshop Area

Easter Weekend has come and gone -  I'm in my "happy place". It is starting to get chilly here in the Overberg, so I know that in the next couple of weeks I will get the workshop stove going most mornings, bask in its crackling warmth and incinerate the large and embarrassing pile of mistakes that I have been accumulating since last winter!

At my workbench, I am friends with nine young Maple trees, a couple of metres away in the garden, and I marvel each day at how they change colour from bright green to golds, russets and deep reds as they lose their leaves and we head towards the winter solstice.

Enough lyrical waxing..... I have always looked at other woodworkers' workshops with a mix of interest and fascination, learning new and clever ways of doing things, great ideas, wonderful problem solving and garnering a few "definitely don't do that" notes along the way.

There can never be a "one size fits all" approach when putting your workshop together, and most definitely "He who dies with the most tools, wins", is a pointless yardstick with which to measure quality, creativity, talent and expertise.

So....Into the workshop.

Having created  separate spaces for machine work and bench work, I find that I enjoy woodwork so much more. The "Bench Room"  is the space where I draw, design, cut and plane, sharpen and actually join bits of wood together.

My bench room is not only where I do my hand tool work, it is also a wonderful space where woodworking friends and I chat every day, enjoy good coffee, solve the world's problems and constantly learn from each other. I enjoy the much cleaner environment compared to the machine room, with only plane shavings and hand cut joint waste to contend with, which unfortunately still manage to zero in on my coffee mug with deadly accuracy. (Note to self-Burmese Teak tastes really bad in strong black coffee!)

The bench room is separated into a number of small, yet reasonably efficient areas:

Joinery Bench:

I built the bench about 25 years ago, swearing that this one would be the last! It was made from reclaimed Boekenhout (Cape Beech), African Padauk, Hard Maple, Jackalberry and Dahoma. Based on a conglomeration of ideas and designs from Fine Woodworking Magazine, and Scott Landis' "The Workbench Book", I built what I thought would be an efficient, attractive and sensible bench. I still do. Building this bench tested all of my meagre skills over and over, with compound dovetail joints, three wooden bench screws, drawbored mortise & tenons and it's general construction.

The bench is placed so that I can access it from all sides (I am vertically challenged, so the arms are short!). Two Veritas Bench Pups, two Veritas Wonder Pups, one Veritas Adjustable Holdfast, a pair of Gramercy Holdfasts, a ramped shooting board and a few bench hooks complete the setup.

Since finishing this bench late last century, (I've always wanted to say that!) I have built a number of cabinetmaking & carving benches for friends, assisted others in building their own and built a reproduction 18th century Dutch workbench as a working museum exhibit. I am currently helping a very good friend to build his first serious joinery workbench..... my wife reckons I must have a "thing" for workbenches!



Hand Tool Till: 

Directly behind the business side of, and at the same height as the workbench is a counter with shelves below. Above the counter is the hand tool till. 

The Hand Tool Till contains:

  • Narex Cranked Neck Paring Chisels (set of 4)
  • Narex Paring Chisels (set of 5)
  • Narex Dovetail Chisels (set of 3)
  • Narex Carbide Burnisher
  • Lie-Nielsen Planemaker's Floats (set of 4)
  • Flexcut Small Cabinetmaker's Drawknife
  • Narex Mortise Chisels (set of 6)
  • Narex Matched Left/Right Skew Chisels (set of 8)
  • Narex Corner Chisel
  • Narex Rasps (set of 4)
  • Veritas Chairmaker's Concave Spokeshave
  • Veritas Flat Spokeshave
  • Veritas Convex Spokeshave
  • Luban Flat Spokeshave
  • Quilted Maple Low Angle Spokeshave (made from Veritas blade kit)
  • Flat Head Cabinetmaker's Screwdrivers (set of 4)
  • Drawboring Pins (set of 3)
  • Woodpeckers Mini Scraper
  • Japanese Small Handheld Anvil
  • Narex Standard Awl
  • Narex Birdcage Awl
  • Vintage Yankee Screwdriver
  • Blue Spruce Mallet
  • Glen Drake #2 Brass Mallet
  • Veritas Journeyman's Mallet
  • Beech Carver's Mallet
  • Wild Olive Carver's Mallet
  • Lie-Nielsen Plane Screwdriver
  • Bill Harris Cabinet Scraper Holder
  • BillHarris 1:5 Dovetail Marker
  • Bill Harris 1:7 Dovetail Marker
  • Incra 300mm Flat Ruler
  • Incra 300mm Bend Ruler
  • Incra 300mm "T" Ruler
  • Incra 300mm Centre Ruler
  • Incra 150mm "T" Ruler
  • Incra Protractor
  • Incra 6" Imperial "T" Square
  • Vintage Small Marples Sliding Bevel Gauge
  • Vintage Large Marples Sliding Bevel Gauge
  • Vintage Imperial Folding Ruler
  • Vintage Metric Folding Ruler
  • Woodpeckers Metric/imperial Saddle Square
  • Zona 3" Flat Square
  • Shinwa Protractor Square
  • Digital Protractor
  • iGaging 4" Double Square
  • Lie-Nielsen Pocket Ruler
  • Scalpels
  • Veritas Beading Tool Set
  • Double Bevel Marking Knife
  • Kakuri Japanese Marking Knife
  • Veritas Standard Wheel Marking Gauge
  • Veritas Micro-adjustable Wheel Marking Gauge

Each tool fits into it's own slot (I hate having to repair a tool because it got damaged by connecting with another tool and I can also instantly see if a tool is not in it's proper place!) in a given tray that hangs on a cleat strip. This way, if I need to take the tool set to another location (for onsite work or teaching purposes), it is a simple matter of grabbing whichever trays are required.


The system works well, except that if I were to remake it, I would angle the cleat board by another 6º or so, to enable slightly top-heavy tools to sit a bit more safely. The till trays are all made from Tulip Poplar, a stable and easy working creamy white softwood that joints and planes well, is inexpensive and readily available from Rare Woods. (I use it a lot as a secondary wood for drawers and internal frames). The tool till system works very well for me in the workshop, I prefer a fairly clear workbench (I use the countertop below the till to place tools that are in use), and it is quick and easy to select or replace a tool from either a sitting or standing position at the bench.

Regarding chisels, when one starts to lose it's edge, I either hone it immediately, or replace it upside down in it's slot, so when I get to the end of the work session, I then know exactly which blades need attention.



The are two cupboards above the hand tool till. They were both reclaimed from a kitchen undergoing renovation, built of Maple and have leaded glass doors. These cupboards also each have a small light which keeps the temperature and humidity within the cupboards constant and prevents rust. They both burn permanently. 

The Left Cupboard contains the following:

  • Veritas Miniature Router Plane (Fantastic for small hinge mortises)
  • Veritas Large Router Plane with Fence
  • Luban Bronze Low Angle Block Plane
  • Veritas #80 Cabinet Scraper
  • Clifton 3/8" Shoulder Plane
  • Veritas Small Shoulder Plane
  • Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane
  • Veritas Large Shoulder Plane
  • Lie-Nielsen #97 Bronze Large Chisel Plane
  • Lie-Nielsen #98 Bronze Side Rebate Plane
  • Lie-Nielsen #99 Bronze Side Rebate Plane
  • Veritas Bronze Miniature Spokeshaves (set of three)
  • Veritas #7 Adjustable Mouth Low Angle Jointer Plane
  • Veritas #62 Adjustable Mouth  Low Angle Jack Plane
  • Veritas #4-1/2 Adjustable Mouth Standard Angle Smoothing Plane
  • Veritas #164-1/2H Adjustable Mouth Low Angle Smoothing Plane
  • Veritas Adjustable Mouth Skew Blade Low Angle Shooting Plane


 The Right Cupboard contains the following:

  • CMT Pin Type Moisture Meter
  • 300mm Combination Squares x 2
  • Sawsets x 2 (different setting ranges)
  • 3" Engineer's Square
  • 4" Engineer's Square
  • 6" Engineer's Square
  • 12" Engineer's Square
  • Bill Harris Brass & Cocobolo Adjustable 8" Try Square
  • Crown Large Mitre Square
  • Vintage Marples 6" Try Square
  • Vintage Marples 10" Try Square
  • Vintage Marples 12" Try Square
  • Zona Modelmaker's Backsaw
  • Crown Flushcut Saw
  • Nakaya Japanese Dovetail Saw
  • Veneer Hammer (self made)
  • Veneer Saw
  • Vintage Marples 12" Bow Saw
  • Knew Concepts 5" Fretsaw
  • Pax 1776 Dovetail Rip Backsaw
  • Crown Small Backsaw
  • Lie-Nielsen Large 11 TPI Rip Backsaw
  • Vintage Deep Throat Fretsaw
  • Nicholson Saw Sharpening File Set
  • File Card
  • Narex Small  Mallet
  • Narex Large Mallet
  • Lie-Nielsen Leather Wallet containing twelve various shaped Narex, Pax, Crown and Veritas Cabinet Scrapers. Thanks again for the wallet, Brian!

The workbench is situated centrally in the room  between the till/ cupboard/ counter setup and the opposite wall, with the natural light coming in from my right (I am right handed). On the opposite wall are two more of the Maple kitchen cupboards filled with a Fine Woodworking Magazine Collection going back to the late 70's for easy reference.

Below these cupboards is another 600mm deep counter with shelves below, a kneehole area and a hand tool panel mounted to the wall.

This panel is populated with the following:

  • Estwing Claw Hammer
  • Veritas Bronze Mallet 
  • Leather Faced Mallet
  • Ball Pein Pattern Hammer
  • Warrington Pattern Hammer
  • Upholstery Hammer
  • Japanese Hammer
  • Carpenter's Hornbeam Mallet
  • Carpenter's Beech Mallet
  • Framer's Square
  • Stair Gauge Set
  • Woodpeckers Long Story Stick
  • Woodpeckers 600mm Story Stick
  • Veritas Stringing Tools & Accessories
  • Veritas Router Plane Metric Blade Set
  • Veritas Router Plane Stringing Attachment
  • Estwing Hatchet
  • Veritas MK2 Deluxe Honing Guide Set
  • Narex Screwdriver Set
  • Wooden Screwbox & Taps 1/2"
  • Wooden Screwbox & Taps 3/4"
  • Wooden Screwbox & Taps 1"
  • Wooden Screwbox & Taps 1-1/2"
  • Veritas Pro Tapered Reamer
  • Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutter 3/8"
  • Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutter 1/2"
  • Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutter 5/8"
  • 2 x sizes of Rotring Compass Sets
  • 2 x pairs of Dividers
  • French Curve Sets
  • Veritas Variable Burnisher
  • Dremel Tool
  • Olfa Cutter
  • Large Drawknife
  • Facing Hatchet
  • Spear's & Jackson Rip Saw
  • Disston Panel Saw
  • Hygrometer
  • Brass Water Spray Can
  • Small selection of Pfeil Carving Chisels
  • Carver's Slipstones
  • Vintage Small Miller's Falls Eggbeater Drill circa 1890's
  • Vintage Mahogany and silver plated Trammel set circa 1907
  • Maple Bench Hooks x 2

On the counter below this tool board are an A2 Olfa Cutting Mat and a slab of granite for flattening purposes. (This is a cut-out from a sink installation, you can get them for free from anyone who installs kitchens). Also, on this counter are my ancient Tormek 1200 Wet Sharpening Machine and the Suehiro and Shapton water stones and a DMT Extra Coarse Diamond Plate.

Empty 20L paint buckets serve as dustbins throughout the bench room workshop. Plenty of double 220V outlets along the walls at waist height and compressed air points hanging above the bench and assembly table make a big difference.

The rest of the bench room consists of  the following:

Assembly Area

This area also has a 600mm deep counter with cupboards (salvaged from a restaurant) and clamp racks lining one wall. The opposite wall contains cupboards (salvaged from the same restaurant), hot & cold running water with sink and my reference library.

Against the clamp rack wall within easy reach of the assembly table are shelves that contain glues, adhesives, linseed oil mixes, Danish oil, turpentine, thinners, denatured alchohol, shellacs, dyes, steel wool, glue pots, glue brushes, extra rulers, pumice, rottenstone, bar gauges, vacuum press pump, electric hot plate for large hide glue pots, baby bottle warmer for small hide glue work and the all important filter coffee machine! The bar fridge sits in a cupboard below the coffee machine - perfect.

The clamp rack line-up is as follows:

8 x Ehoma 600mm Parallel Jaw Clamps

16 x Ehoma 300mm Parallel Jaw Clamps

16 x Ehoma 160mm Parallel Jaw Clamps

8 x Duratec 600mm Parallel Jaw Clamps

4 x Duratec 450mm Single Hand Bar Clamps

6 x Duratec 300mm Single Hand Bar Clamps

4 x Panel Clamps

30 x Assorted Sizes of Spring Clamps

4 x Jorgensen 12" Wooden Handscrews

4 x Jorgensen 10" Wooden Handscrews

4 x Jorgensen 8" Wooden  Handscrews

4 x Dubuque 8" Wooden Handscrews (built from kits)

8 x Dubuque 4" Wooden Handscrews (built from kits)

2 x Woodpeckers Mitre Clamps Sets

3 x Kreg Pocket Hole Clamps

1 x Ramped Shooting Board

Central to this area is the assembly table. It is a simple pine frame with a shelf underneath. I use a cheap hardboard honeycomb door for glueing up and assembly, placed on this frame. These doors are readily available from any hardware store, are flat and when the surface gets really bad, I flip it over and use the other side. Cheap, easy and eminently practical!

At the end of the bench room are my desk, phone and computer/printer setup. The little woodburning stove is situated between the joinery and assembly benches. The laminated flooring was reclaimed from my mum-in-law who was putting down wall to wall carpeting. 

Back in the main bench area is a roll-around chest of drawers, which contains screws, brads, upholstery tacks and cabinetmaking hardware. When I am fitting hardware, I simply roll the cabinet out to the assembly table. Above the semi-permanent position of the roll-around drawer chest, is a wall mounted station for battery drills, driver, chargers and pneumatic pin nailer.

There is general flourescent lighting throughout the room, and a couple of "hotspot" halogen lights. I also use an old angle poise lamp for raking light and a an angle poise ring-light with a magnifier lense for close up detailed work.

With plenty of seating, my bench room is a pleasant place, a place where I can think, where I can be creative and where my projects take shape. With the library and computer on hand, I can find ideas, solve problems and at the desk, I can draw and write in a creative  environment. (and listen to Fine Music Radio while I work).

The intention in sharing my bench room layout & equipment choices with you, is to hopefully help and guide you against making the very many expensive mistakes and bad equipment choices that I have made over some 40+ years of woodworking on a budget. It also comes from my own yearning over the years to see what other woodworkers use, how they lay things out, how they approach problems, what works for them and what doesn't.

This is an introspective and honest exercise.

There are always things that one would change and improve, given time and money, but for now, this room and it's tools work for me, really comfortably.

This is not an ideal hand tool workshop for everyone, it is not intended in the slightest to be even a good example, but I hope that the article will generate some conversation, comments and suggestions both positive & negative, as well the sharing of your own ideas and experiences.

Please comment on the blog post, ask questions, offer answers, your own tips & suggestions, come up with ideas for new posts and most of all have fun in your workshop.

PS. If you need coffee and wish to chat woodworking, please pop in, fellow woodworkers are always welcome!

Let's keep make shavings, not dust! 



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Tobias Lochner - April 26, 2018

Hi Sarel, Thank you for your motivating comments. Many woodworkers produce amazing pieces in single car garages and even smaller spaces all over the world and especially in Europe. I think you are really on the right track with roll-around trolly systems for everything, I my machine room, the drill press, spindle sander, lathe, Leigh Jig, disc/belt sander, mitre saw and mortiser are all on a standard size “box” each with braked castors. It really does work! I look forward to seeing some pictures of your workshop and your progress. Good luck and if there is anything that I can assist you with, shout loudly!

Sarel Venter - April 26, 2018

Hallo Tobias
I stumbled upon your blog and immediately enjoyed it. It is informative and a great source for a novice hand tool woodworker. I have made notes from your post and definitely will incorporate it into my planning. I already started with a workshop build (4.5mx3m). It is small but then hand tools makes it big. My garage is now my workshop with everything that is mobile and foldable in order to still allow my car to be parked inside. I surely will follow your postings to gain knowledge.

Tobias Lochner - April 20, 2018

Evening Don. Thanks for the comments. You won’t believe how many of my tools I have managed to find on the “previously loved market” over the years.

How are you enjoying your new Incra fence?

Stanford is just around the corner, you have an open invitation to my workshop anytime. You don’t perhaps have a spare Lie-Nielsen #1, 2, 3 and #4 in Bronze in need of some love?

Seriously though, if you are coming my way, please feel free to pop in.

Don MacIver - April 20, 2018

Without you, Veritas would have gone bust years ago. I thank you that I can still buy high quality tools to continue my quest to make the biggest mess, best sawdust and highest quality refined firewood in the Overberg. If you need any of these items, please contact me. Your workshop inspires me to achieve greater things.

Johan - April 15, 2018

Hi Tobias, Thank you I feel so priviledged to be invited to exhibit at the Wood Symphony Exhibition 2018, all the world’s very best Wood artists are represented and mind blowing what these talented artists are creating in wood.
The wood carvers till sounds just the thing and I would love to have one, perhaps you could post it on this forum as a project using all those fabulous hand tools as inspiration and perhaps to emulate!

Tobias Lochner - April 11, 2018

Morning Anton. Thanks for your comments.
Considering that you are most probably gong to place your workbench (with that amazing Benchcrafted leg vise) against a wall, then the cupboard idea is the most sensible. There are plenty of good designs on Pinterest. I would not just put up a boring melamine cupboard, I would suggest that you make something really beautiful and challenging out of well chosen hard wood. Give it some flair, make a statement, enjoy the build and enjoy the end product. When you come to my workshop next time, I will lend you a few books with some excellent ideas. Also, I think that your idea of running a cleat system along all of the walls of your new workshop is very clever. and is something that I wholly recommend. (It beats drilling holes again and again as you find you need to move a cupboard or shelf or rack).

Tobias Lochner - April 11, 2018

Hi Johan. Thanks very much for your comments. It’ great to hear from you.

Congratulations on having your exceptional woodturning art accepted into the Turned And Sculpted Wood 2018 International Exhibition. You should be extremely proud!

Thank you for your beautifully written comments. I have found a design for a 18th century, flatpack portable Carver’s Tool Till that immediately made me think of you. I will send you a picture and would be very happy to make you one, should you be interested.

Tobias Lochner - April 11, 2018

Hi Brandon, and thanks for your positive comments.

Having also visited your workshop, I understand your requirement to have your tools covered and more protected from overspray and other activities in the workshop. I would suggest that you consider making trays that each have sliding lids. These will work much better than hinged or loose lids because they will offer up a better “seal” , and will also not get in your way when opened for use.

If your design your trays to a standard outer size, then you can easily pack them for transit. By building a large French cleat board, and a few portable smaller ones with rear leg supports, (a two tray, four tray etc) you can take trays from the larger “Motherboard” to anywhere on your workshop that you need to work. Note that a small rear-legged cleat board with two trays or a couple more, will use a much smaller footprint on the bench or elsewhere than the same number of trays placed flat on the work surface. Please let us know how you get along and definitely take some pictures.
Anton de kock - April 11, 2018

Thanks Guy. A very informative helpful article and having seen your setup just a couple days ago, is a fresh reminder. When one thinks of hand told one often pictures ..well some hand tools lying around and in particular, during or after a project the anarchy of hand tools all over the work area. Your setup proves that it is very possible to layout and setup ones hand tools to work as a “well oiled machine”. Easy accessible , logical well thought out locations, tools for job located AT the job. Currently busy in the early stages of my own workshop setup, tips are useful. My ownly major issue now is seeing how well all the tools “display” and seeing how having them exposed and on hand can work, kind of poses a new challenge for me, I was going to conceal all tools in cupboards .. a sort of minimalist less is more approach… However , now I need to figure out how and what to hide and what to display . the drawing board I go… Excellent article! Regards . Anton

Johan Pieterse - April 10, 2018

Hi Tobias, Thank for sharing the layout of your workshop, the beautiful/functional workbench and awesome hand tools, only the very best will do and it all becomes finely tuned instruments – yes! the workbench is an instrument too, if one is to do fine wood creations by hand. I also had the priviledge to visit your home and workshop, with the Maple trees outside it is truly Zen. So often have I planned and dreamed to have my own workshop set up properly, but there always seem to be one project to finish first! Anyone aspiring to begin a work area for their wood work, your writing and the availability now of all the very best handtools, encourages and inspire us to create that special place to be present to the enjoyment of a sharp plane or chisel against wood.

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