“Every time I’m choosing a new a location, I head down there with a big flask of coffee and a clicker to count all the people that walk past. Then I walk to the nearest public transportation at rush hour and look at how people are heading home. I turned down one location because while it was right next to the subway, I noticed all the commuters were coming out of the other subway entrance. It turns out all the residences in that area were on the other side of the street.” —ShopKeep Founder and Experienced Small Business Owner
So what does all this boil down to? I favour starting with a good workbench and top quality hand tools – chisels, a couple of planes, a hammer, a few Japanese handsaws – stuff like that. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when properly equipped. Build simple items at first, and then add the very best power tools you can – as you can afford to – in the order that makes the most sense for the work you’re interested in. Yes, this gets you off to a slower start, but what’s the rush? You’ll soon surpass the ‘buy-it-all-at-once’ folks who end up struggling with beginner tools that hold them back from getting better.
As always, great article! While my dirtbag adventure will likely only be about 6-7 months, I am starting to wonder about logistics. You mention that most people use the automobile they have. I drive a Prius. Not ideal for sleeping in, but I’m a pretty content ground dweller. I know that long-term I may start to question this. Here’s the proposition I’m considering: by saving on gas (45-50 mpg), I can occasionally cough up the money for lodging when I feel the need for added comfort. I can definitely do the number crunching, but I’m wondering if you’ve encountered people doing this or did similar analyses of your own at any point. I’d love to hear any insights you may have on this.
Plywood comes in several different types, the most common being pine and lauan. We used ¼” lauan plywood for the walls in our van. Lauan is cheap, it bends easily, and in our opinion its grain pattern looks nicer than pine. Hardwood plywood like birch costs more than pine or lauan, it weighs more, and it’s more difficult to bend. This type of plywood is a great option for furniture, but we think lauan is a better choice for your walls and ceiling.
I framed in a 4x8 Garden Shed on the back.  I didn't want it so deep that stuff would get buried in it.  I need to take an updated picture of the back.  These pics were from early on and I have changed some things in the organization.  I used similar framing techniques and built a lean to roof attached with metal hangers.  I chose to use clear corrugated roofing to allow natural light into this shed.  You can see the 2 shopvacs that were originally part of my simple vacuum system.  I have removed them and found that I get better airflow using an electric leaf blower with the vacuum attachment hooked up to my system.  There is a large metal trashcan with a dust collection separator to collect the larger pieces of saw dust and chips.  My air compressor is on a shelf on the right now and I ran a hose through the wall and to a 25 foot reel attached to the ceiling.  I wired separate switched for both on the inside of my shop.  These systems work extremely well for a small shop.  The wall provides some insulation from the overwhelming noise they would otherwise create inside the shop.
Hospitality expert, Chip Conley founded and grew the Joie De Vivre hotels from a single San Francisco location to become California’s largest boutique hotel management company. How? He understood the value of a unique vision when it’s consistently applied. He created each hotel to reflect the spirit of a niche-oriented magazine that he felt represented his target market. Examples include the Phoenix (Rolling Stone), the Rex (The New Yorker), Hotel Avante (Wired), Wild Palms Hotel (Fast Company), Hotel Los Gatos (Town and Country), and the Water's Edge (Yachting). Obviously your inspiration doesn’t need to be a magazine, it can just as easily be a song, a group of words, or just a particular image. Find something that resonates with the customers you have in mind and design your store to reflect that vision.
Non-Standard Miter Slots - This one is a downer.  One of the primary advantages of having a table saw is access to jigs that expand the saws functionality.  This is a major issue if you plan on buying after market jigs.  Given that we are limiting the cost of this buildout to $500, I am guessing that after market jigs are probably low on the priority list.  Your going to want jigs once you start researching what they enable you to do, my advice is to build your own - there are plenty of plans online.  
It’s also a good idea to cover up any exposed insulation or open stud bays so that you have a flat surface to mount stuff on the walls of your workshop. Here we’re attaching plywood panels to the metal framing but in most garages or sheds you can just nail them directly to the studs. We’re also getting a jump on organizing by putting in a hose reel next to the location we’ve chosen for our air compressor.
In my opinion, the best shop space is a flexible one. I know many folks expected that after setting up my shop so many times, I would be able to design the PERFECT shop space including a finishing room, a dust collection closet, and even some internal walls. But the truth is, the most important lesson I learned over the years was to expect change. My shop is not a static entity. It is more like a living breathing creature that adapts, evolves, grows, shrinks, and changes configuration. Committing to an internal spacial arrangement too early could yield disappointing results. This is why you won’t see me placing dust collection ductwork in the floor. I need to work in a space for at least a few months before I can be confident in my initial setup. Even then, I fully expect things to change at some point. If I made too many restrictive and/or permanent decisions ahead of time, these changes could be difficult or impossible to implement. So my best piece of advice is to forget about the concept of perfection. Instead, focus on flexibility. The ideal shop, in my mind, is little more than 4 walls, a roof, and a butt-load of outlets and lights. So here are some of my basic general goals for my new shop space.

Other than that, you can’t have too much light — especially north light! — and you want accommodations for all the electricity you can imagine. Ceiling fans are a must. A good dust collection system is good, too. Don’t forget to plumb in for compressed air. Do NOT use hard PVC water pipe for compressed air — ever. If/when it breaks or ruptures, it explodes into tiny sharp glass-like shards. I know firsthand. I’ll tell you about it some other time. Think balloon popping!
We’ve been focused on the first category so far, but there is also an allure to buying an existing business. These enterprises will often come with brand awareness, a customer base, trained employees, an established supply chain, and most importantly (we hope), demonstrated profitability. As a result, countless startup risks can be diminished by taking this route. That is only true, however, if you make sure to carry out thorough due diligence on the existing business.

Since your business name is often the first thing potential customers will see or hear, think of it as one of your key tools for leaving a lasting impression. The right name, like a firm handshake, can play a role in your brand’s perception. So make sure it’s strong, catchy, and unique, but most importantly sends the right message about your business.
Whether you plan to go it alone or hire a professional, there are many resources available to help you plan and execute your retail store layout. If you don’t feel comfortable tackling the project yourself, a professional retail store planner, interior designer, or display designer can turn your dreams into reality. Or if you want to handle it all yourself, store planning software and other online idea resources can make the job easier.
When starting a small business, many store owners underestimate the value of a persuasive shop design. What they don’t realize is that people are visual creatures. In fact, 90% of the information transmitted in the human brain is visual. Clear, consistent store design will ensure that you attract your ideal customers into your business by delivering a subconscious uniform message.
Assembling parts is easiest when you can work at a comfortable height. But the height of that working surface depends on the size of the project. These ABC boxes, so called because they’re made with sides of three different dimensions, make a variable-height assembly table base. By rotating the boxes or standing them on end, you’ll get three different working heights.

Finally, at the beginning you'll do just fine with a basic set of router bits that run ~$40.  A starter set will typically include straight bits for edge matching material, a selection of edge finishing bits, and some joinery bits.  As you work on a few projects you may find that more specialized bits are needed.   But specialized bits are expensive - so purchasing them as you have a specific need makes more sense than buying in anticipation of a need.


Shops can range from functional spaces adorned with unpainted wallboard to beautifully finished, painted, and trimmed-out spaces. Ultimately, I think it depends on your budget and how important your surroundings are to your mindset as you’re working, or to your clients’ if they will be viewing your shop. If finishing your shop will improve the quality of the work that you will produce, thereby relaxing or inspiring you, or showcase for your clients the quality of the work of which you are capable, it may be a worthwhile invest­ment. A more finished space may also allow for activities like parties or even a weekly poker game (as long as drinks stay off the tools).

For small business owners, these tools present an incredible opportunity to set smarter business goals and easily identify some of the key factors of success and growth in their business. However, when you couple the breadth of technology options with decisions about basic store and restaurant equipment, such as espresso machines or air conditioning units, it can become a little overwhelming to figure out what is actually worth the investment.
Everything from the way the customer is greeted as they walk through the door to the way your products are presented following a sale matters. The smallest details can make the biggest difference. Early on when just starting your small business, you as an owner, will be able to exert a lot of direct control over these details. But as you grow, you will come to recognize the value of a well-trained and motivated staff.
A good starting point here is to write down two or three keywords that you think define your brand and then allow all your design choices to be guided by those words. For example, a local cheese shop could be organic, artisanal, and authentic; a wine bar could be sophisticated, 1920s, French; or a local specialty food store could be gourmet, helpful, natural.
A good starting point here is to write down two or three keywords that you think define your brand and then allow all your design choices to be guided by those words. For example, a local cheese shop could be organic, artisanal, and authentic; a wine bar could be sophisticated, 1920s, French; or a local specialty food store could be gourmet, helpful, natural.
Hi, I have looked through pictures of the shop books. What I am interested in finding is a book with layout design options. I am ready to build a new shop for myself and want to put dust and electrical under the slab. Best layout designs would help me to figure out how to layout a shop that is aprox. 28'x 36'. Is there a book that has this type of information.
Use this model whether you’re looking to turn your team of one into a two-person shop or you’re hoping to build out your marketing department to a team of 10 or more.  By focusing on the skill sets your business needs to be successful — rather than on the resume of an individual candidate — you’ll ensure vital functions are covered while expanding in a sustainable way.
Secondly, your size allows you to laser-focus your attention on the right audience. Walmart wants to sell everything to everyone. So maybe instead, you just focus on selling colorful earmuffs to children in the Mission District in San Francisco. This kind of clarity allows you to compete for search rankings on Google, key positions on Yelp and other business recommendation engines, and for space on social media.
Before joining the top to the base, loosen the bolts and screws on the lower stretchers to create a little play in the leg posts. Align the top notches with the leg posts and tap the top into place with a hammer and piece of scrap wood, working evenly around the table until all leg posts are level with the tabletop. Tighten the lower stretchers and you’re done. A hefty thanks to Doug Merrill for this weighty idea.
First, try to remove all the extraneous household items that don’t facilitate making stuff. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to dig past kids bikes or empty luggage to get to your paint supplies. In the real world though, storage is hard to come by, so you’ll have to give a little to get a little. Consider a line of demarcation in your garage to separate “household” from “workshop.” If you don’t have enough room, consider a smaller-space workbench, or rent off-site storage. You could even build a shed for more covered storage.
Once you know your top priorities, you can start thinking about the space each element can take up and where it should go. It is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together when you're working with a small space, so don't get frustrated if it doesn't work out right away. And know that you'll likely have to make some sacrifices. Play with a few options, and choose the one that works best for your situation.
Many small businesses in New York and New Jersey were forced to close following Superstorm Sandy because they lacked the insurance that would have gotten them back on their feet. That part is well known. What’s less well known is that this lack of proper insurance, coupled with the lack proper legal incorporation, resulted in many entrepreneurs seeing their personal assets come under threat.
Find out what tools you need and how to budget for shop setup. Whether you are going to be doing furniture, cabinetry or woodturning, this workshop tools list and budgeting guide can help. Learn how to prioritize purchases of shop tools based on space, interests and cost. Check out a comparison of the workshop tools you can get for $4000 vs. $10,000 and determine how much you need to spend for the shop you want.
Ultimate Small Shop offers a comprehensive guide illustrating how to set up a workshop. It may be just a small basement shop or a part of the garage converted into a workshop. The guide lays out all the steps and actually caps the investment at under a thousand dollars. Woodworkers can build their workshop for less than $1,000. This does not entail any compromise of tools or the scope of woodworking projects. The guide provides a shopping list including the best tools and there are exact links to find those tools and buy them at the best prices. There are floor plans to ensure layouts are optimized even in the most cramped spaces.
There are some variances in the features and reliability of different model years, and differences between the Mercedes Sprinter, Dodge Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Dodge Promaster - so make sure to do your research. The Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook is an incredible resource on all things Sprinter (and van conversions in general), and it goes over all the options in detail.
Another great source of store design inspiration is your product vendors and their line reps. After all, your success is their success, so they’re usually happy to share store design and merchandising ideas. Many provide retailers with free or low-cost branded display units, too. Some line reps will even assist you in product mapping your store, display setup, and replenishment. It never hurts to ask!
However, while this product might draw the customer through the door, it will not, on its own, make your business a success. A strong small business has to be resilient to the challenges the world can throw at it, whether that means an economic recession, sudden fluctuations in commodity prices, or problematic suppliers. And a big part of resilience comes in the form of diversification.
In addition to keeping your workshop comfortable with climate control add-ons, don’t forget to keep your body in optimal condition as you work. A water cooler tucked away in the corner of your workshop will provide a big quality of life boost and allow you to keep at your projects without having to run to the kitchen for a glass of water every time you feel thirsty. 

A grid floor plan, also called a straight layout, is a very efficient use of both floor and wall space. With fixtures and displays running parallel to walls, a grid floor plan maximizes every inch of available floor space, including the corners. Grid layouts are easy for customers to navigate and for store owners to categorize. Plus, they offer plenty of end cap and feature wall exposure for promotional items and seasonal products.
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