Chapter 6: 1941-1950  6:3. Typical workshop space available to amateur woodworkers

under construction

3. Typical workshop space available to amateur woodworkers


shiller average house size

The fragment on the left is taken from Robert J Shiller, an economist at Yale University. The data comes originally from the United States census, but the actual source is not cited. This is an area that I will continue work on, because it is important, when considering the space in the home dedicated to a workshop.

Source: Robert J Shiller, "Long-Term Perspectives on the Current Boom in Home Prices", Economist's Voice March 2006, page 6. 

Regardless of Shiller's data, above, finding "smoking-gun" evidence about the existence of workshops in homes in this decade -- 1941-1950, or, for that matter, every other decade -- is not easy, largely because the data is not collected systematically. Instead, surveys are occasionally conducted and the results published in newspaper or popular magazines. For the most part these surveys prove unsatisfactory, because the statistics included are not accompanied by a description of how the data was collected.

Given this situation, for the time being, I shall rely on less satisfactory sources. One of these examples is the partial newspaper article in the box below. Not only does the article claim that workshops for woodworking are widely available in homes, but that these shops are well equipped with power woodworking tools as well.

Additional evidence about the existence of home workshops comes from a 1952 article in the Saturday Evening Post, on Hans Goldschmidt, inventor of the Shopsmith (See 6.5.)  In the aftermath of World War II, with Americans were looking forward to settling into a peace-time, Goldschmidt was investigating a potential "gadget" to manufacture that would be snapped up by eager purchasers.  He was struck by the fact that -- as Philip Creden claims -- "Americans liked to work with their hands" — something that Goldschmidt knew was considered demeaning  by lawyers, doctors and professors in Europe.

(The son of a German professor, Goldschmidt had spent his youth in both Europe and New England.)

He also noted a prediction that most homes would soon have workshops. Although this fact is not documented, reasoning argues the following: 

In post-WW II, new houses were being constructed at a rapid pace, and if these houses did not have basements -- a prime location for a home workshop -- these same houses almost certainly had an attached, two-car garage, another prime location for a home workshop.

Source: Goldschmidt interview,  Frank J Taylor, "The Easy Way to Get Rich", Saturday Evening Post 224 no 39 September 1952 pages 44+

Moreover, Goldschmidt reasoned, with rising incomes and increased leisure time,  that gave money to spend on hobbies.

After long stints in war plants, millions of our people were power-tool-crazy....  Nobody does things the hard way any more .... Everybody wants a machine to do even his hobby work.

Source: Goldschmidt interview,  Frank J Taylor, "The Easy Way to Get Rich", Saturday Evening Post 224 no 39 September 1952 pages 44+

The August 1942 issue of The American Home dedicates its pages to "10 Fascinating Hobbies". The image below shows the basement shop of  G V Fuller, a resident of Englewood, N J. You can tell that the author of the article was not an "insider" to woodworking, because no attention is given to details about tools -- hand or power -- owned by Mr. Fuller:

basement workshop in 1940s

How to Lay Out Your Home Workshop
From How to Get the Most Out of  Your Home  Workshop
New York: Popular Science Publishing Co, 1946.
Like Robinson Crusoe on his island, one machine in a shop is a law unto itself. If it is a circular saw, for instance, it may be the center for all other equipment. But let a shaper or a band saw be added, and the situation is changed, for machines, like men, have personality. Each prefers a certain task; each works best in its proper surroundings and with suitable companionship.
A jointer or a circular saw, to handle long pieces of lumber, demands a large working clearance in front or behind. A large room, of course, satisfies this need. In the usual small home shop, however, this space must be found by passing lengthy boards over benches and low ma-chines, or by locating the machine near  a door or a window, through which stock may be thrust for feeding or removing.
A lathe, for most work, requires only to stand against a wall. Other power tools usually need but two feet of space in front and at the sides. It is evident, therefore, that the placing of a machine depends not only on accessibility, but also on the size and shape of the room, the other machines, and the type of work to be done.
The personality of the user also must be considered. The most convenient placing of equipment is often not the neatest, and if the owner is bothered by a lack of order and is oppressed by the feeling of restriction occasioned by irregular spotting of ma-chines, he may find it best to arrange them according to appearance rather than their most efficient use.
This article suggests several arrangements for small shops equipped with from two to four individually driven woodworking machines. There is also a diagram of a fully-equipped shop, such as a home work-shop club might own. It must be emphasized that these are only suggestions, in-tended to help in placing accessories to the best advantage in the room the owner has available. Your own workshop, of course, should be highly individualized.
home workshop layout PS 1946These diagrams show no cabinets. Shouldn't they be considered in a shop plan?
It is the writer's conviction, as a result of much experience, that most accessories and hardware materials can be stored in cabinets under the machines and benches, and hand tools and lumber placed in racks on the wall or in hanging cupboards. Floor space is precious, so why build skeleton benches and mount machines on open stands, and then build floor cabinets to clutter up the room ? Arrange the machines first, and adapt storage space to them. Cabinets and similar equipment will be fully considered in later articles.
Could a shop be started in a single garage?
If the garage is 12' by 20', as many are, it is possible to obtain a working space about 5' wide by driving the car close to one side. This is rather narrow and limits the number and kind of machines that can be chosen, but it is much better than nothing.
Considering everything, the layout suggested in Fig. 1 is quite satisfactory. The bench indicated is 6' long, with cupboard room inside and a good working space at the vise end. With the scroll saw adjusted for cutting from the side, not only can small lumber be handled, but long decorative bands or cut-outs as well.
The lathe is chosen because turning can-not be done by hand, or even imitated with-out prohibitive labor. If outboard turning is to be done, the machine is easily swiveled to a diagonal position.
How can end space in the garage be utilized?
Figure 2 is a good plan for a shop at the end of the garage. If a side door is present or can be cut in, set the circular saw near it, where long boards can be fed in. The saw, if equipped with rollers, can be pushed back at the end of the bench if the car encroaches. In this shop, moldings on straight work and outside curves are possible, but sawed curves and fretwork must be done by hand.
Must benches, and machines other than the circular saw, be placed against the walls?
No. Some of the best arrangements come from putting the ends to the wall, or even by standing equipment entirely out in the room, as in Fig.3. This plan is excellent for irregular layouts, as in a basement. Notice that the drill press, lathe, and circular saw are within a radius of about 3' from the bench vise. A scroll saw could stand along the back of the bench within the same circle. All machines are within a couple of steps from the bench.
How may a small lean-to or other addition to a garage be made into a shop?
The plans in Figs. 1 and 2 would fit. Figure 4 is an ingenious arrangement for an addition built on the end of a garage 10' wide. Although the room is but 6' wide, long boards can be crosscut or ripped by the use of a circular saw of the overhead-track variety mounted on a bench at one end. A slit in the garage end and a large window opposite will allow stock up to 4' wide to pass. A supporting bench is built in the garage.
In Fig. 5, the bench and lathe are re-placed with a scroll saw, the saw bench serving as a workbench and cabinet.. Machine crosscutting and ripping, jointing, shaping, disk sanding, grinding, scroll sawing, edge filing, die filing, and metal sawing are possible in this shop.
Should the first machines be arranged in the order they would take in a complete shop?
Not necessarily. It is better to stand them where they will work to the best advantage. As more units are added, the work of certain machines may become more specialized and they will be less frequently used, so it may be better to shift them to a less desirable position. Nevertheless, the arrangement of the complete shop should be planned at the start so that windows, doors, and electrical outlets can be intelligently placed for that purpose. Minor deviations in the original plan can always be made if necessary.
What about the arrangement of a commercial shop or one for a home workshop club?
Always arrange the machines to save as many steps as possible. In the mass production of an article, the machines needed should be close together. Step saving is clearly shown in the diagram on this page.
Another point to keep in mind is that if several men are working at once, the power tools should be so arranged that the operators do not get in one another's way.

Source: [Anonymous] How to Get the Most Out of Your Home Workshop New York: Popular Science Publishing, 1946, pages 18-21

The account about planning the layout of your home workshop outlined above above reflects conditions that prevailed before the rationing on a wide variety of goods was eliminated following the armistice in 1945.

The account below -- it addresses considerations of the homeowner planning a workshop in his home around 1950 -- shows what you might call an attitudinal change, i.e., the attitude has changed from a reality, that if you're going to have a workshop in your home, you have to contend with a workshop in cramped space, to a new attitude that reflects more space available, in part because homes constructed in that era were substantially larger than older, existing ones. (Click here to look at the Shiller graph of how square-footage of houses changed in the twentieth century.)

I also need to add that these same home workshop layout diagrams are in the 1956 Delta Manufacturing Division's booklet, How to Plan a Homeworkshop. Edited by Ed Hamilton, this is a still-useful guide for laying out a home workshop today; that these plans are alos used in 1956 -- minus the curves the artist uses to show required work-area space for each tool -- suggest for me that, really, if changes had occurred in the decade between armistice and the mid-1950s in square-footage of houses, these changes were not considered great enough to make necessary major revisions in already-existing home workshop layout plans.

One caveat I need to add, however, is the impact of the addition of the attached two-car garage in new house construction. More than any other factor, the two-car garage gave home-owners reasonably convenient space for creating home workshops. (This is a topic that I will explore more fully later.)



YOUR HOME WORKSHOP begins with a plan. Even though you purchase only one small power tool at the outset, there must be a bench or stand on which to place it, there must be floor space for the bench and also space around the bench or stand in which to operate the machine. And there you are — space and place come first, then the machine. Already you have a plan, even though it may not be drawn on paper with all the work areas and placement of the power tools calculated and dimensioned beforehand. It must be a casual plan, like the shop pictured above. Homeshops cannot be arranged with the dull, blueprint precision of a factory production line. There are very good reasons why. One of them is that the schedule of the homeshop may call for the making of a one-evening project, such as a pair of book ends or a simple shelf, and also a chest of drawers to be done in spare time over a period of months. Obviously then, the saving of seconds in the handling of materials and in machine operations is not a matter of primary importance. Suppose you do take a little longer to handle and cut a board to length and width than would be permissible in commercial shops where minute multiple savings in time add up to a lot of money earned. It's your own time, isn't it? And nobody's paying you for it.


"Home workshop" is just another name for a recreation room. Tight production schedules have no place in it. Rather it's a place for relaxation, a place for planning new and interesting projects, a place for learning new things about the operation of small power tools. The shop pictured on page 5 illustrates the point. Study it carefully and you won't see much evidence of a calculated plan. Of course, the lathe has been placed under an accessory cabinet, the drill press has been located in a corner where it usually belongs, there's a bandsaw out on the floor where there's plenty of room all around it and it's certain there's a circular saw around somewhere. All this is just part of a casual plan, a corner of a homeshop in a basement, clean and neat as a pin. But the projects pictured show that work, craftwork, is done in the shop. Another important thing about this picture is that there are two people in the shop who give every evidence of thoroughly enjoying them-selves.

lammey workshop layout 1 1950Shop space available is one thing that's important in planning a homeshop. Compare the plan in Fig. 1[top image in this box] with the one in Fig. 2 [ddirectly above] and you'll see that the first floor plan is comparatively spacious while the other places the maximum number of power machines in the minimum of floor space. The curved lines drawn on the plans indicate the minimum working area required about each machine. In the plan above note that the working areas overlap. Wherever the working areas overlap, the general convenience and workability of the shop will be restricted proportionately. A reasonably accurate rule to follow when laying out a homeshop on paper is to allow space representing 36 in. in front and on both sides of machines that can stand against the wall. Such machines include the drill press, lathe, sander, shaper and grinder; also the bandsaw, with some exceptions. Allow a 48-in. working space around a circular saw and jointer for good measure.

 lammey workshop layout 2 1950

Understand that this is not a precise and orthodox procedure. Neither does it cover every contingency. For example, in the plan in Fig. 1, should you have to drill holes at the center of a long piece of stock you would have to move either the drill press or the scrolisaw. Some home craftsmen mount power tools on heavy casters or dollies so that they may be easily moved about the shop. Such an arrangement is especially handy where space is restricted. However, you'll find that this method of figuring space saves time.


Now, if you draw the plan to a fairly accurate scale of the room you intend to use as a shop, you can quickly figure the amount of working space required for a given number of power tools. Try to have plenty of working space in front of the workbench, for here's where you'll precut a lot of stock to rough lengths with hand tools. One should keep in mind also that power tools in the popular homeshop sizes have work tables that are comparatively small. The largest saw table practical for the homeshop is about 36 in. wide with the table extensions, or grids, attached. Other machine tables are much smaller. The average homeshop bandsaw has a table measuring about 14 x 14 in. Stock longer than 48 to 60 in. in length cannot be worked effectively on tables of this size. However, the maximum length of single pieces of stock used in the average cabinet seldom exceeds 60 in.

Source: W. Clyde Lammey, Power Tools and How to  Use Them New York: Popular Mechanics Press, 1950, pages 5-7.


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