Woodworking When You Live In An Apartment
The struggle is real. What is a blossoming woodworker to do if he/she lives in an apartment with no access to setting up shop in a garage or large workshop? Could you have a full-size table saw in an apartment and run that for a few hours a day? Hmmm, I am guessing that might not work for the other tenants for too long. There are many things to consider if you must do some woodworking in your apartment.
First of all, is it really possible to woodwork in an apartment? Sure it is, especially with the tools that are available today. It does take some work and planning, however, before you can actually get to some woodworking. The most important thing you can do, which has nothing to do with woodworking itself, is get permission from the owners or landlords. This way, when someone complains (hopefully not), you can let him/her know you have permission.
Assuming you have permission to start creating some beautiful woodworking projects in your apartment, the next step would be preparation of the workspace (and a few more related things I can think of). I want you to have the best experience possible so I have thought long and hard on this topic to help you have the greatest success possible. Without further ado, let’s get right to it!
Planning Your Wood Working Work Space in an Apartment
There are two things to consider, right off the bat. The first one is what area of your apartment will be designated as wood working work space? This should be pretty obvious, however, it is definitely worth mentioning. Regardless of what you will be working on, you must know what space you have to work with. Even if the area will be used for other things when not woodworking, you need to select the location.
Some popular spots in an apartment to woodwork are dining areas, believe it or not kitchens, spare bedrooms, extra-large entrance areas and balconies. Of course, there could be other locations like a living room but those other areas are popular in forums on the net. One spot I would consider, if you have it, is an underground parking spot, especially if you have secured storage close by.
The other one is knowing what type of projects you will be creating in your apartment work space. If you are planning on woodworking, you should know what you will be working on. Will these be small projects that can be done on a very small surface or will you need up to 8’ in length for larger projects? It doesn’t mean you can’t change it up over time, but knowing this in advance makes planning out your workspace much easier.
If you are going to be making tea light candle holders, for example, you might be able to just work off of your kitchen table. Throw a piece of plywood on top of the table and your good to go. Hopefully this example gets you thinking of what kind of space you really need. Remember as well that you can change your furniture around in the apartment to help you get the space required. Maybe minimalizing some of your possessions will clear-up an area for the woodworking as well.
Soundproofing an Apartment Woodworking Space
I am just going to assume that you want to make sure nobody gets annoyed by your power tools running in your apartment. If not, then skip to the next section. If so, then keep reading.
Depending on how in-depth you want to get into the whole setup, you could go as far as making or buying soundproofing panels and hanging them all around your apartment. These panels will buffer the sound you make with your tools, etc. The bonus of having these types of panels is now you can turn your music and movies up while you work.
If you don’t want to have panels hanging on the walls, consider purchasing some sheets of rigid insulation board. Owens Corning is a well-known brand but any brand will do. Purchase the thickest board you can afford.
What you will do with these insulation boards is, every time you are going to start working, you will bring these out from storage and cover large bare areas of wall and up against doorways and maybe even a window, if it makes sense. It’s hard for me to tell you exactly where because I don’t know what space you are using, however, just following my first suggestion on bare walls and doorways will help tremendously.
It might seem like a lot of extra work but I feel it is worth it to make sure you are respectful of others and who knows, maybe one of your neighbours will end up purchasing some of your woodworking. I know they won’t though, if they are annoyed by your sounds, even if they like your projects.
Dust Collection in an Apartment Workshop
Even in larger workshops, this component gets overlooked or ignored, unfortunately. Dust collection is important, not only for your health but for your safety as well.
If you have ever had access to commercial sized shops, like cabinet makers or some other type of wood working manufacturer, you will notice how clean the operation is. It’s not just about keeping the dust down, so you’re not breathing it in or potentially slipping on the floor because of it. It comes down to the projects you are working on and how they turn out. I have always found that having dust collection through a dust collection system improves the quality of my projects.
I think what it boils down to is that most people don’t want to spend the money on something that isn’t part of the woodworking, not realizing that it really is. The fear is that it will cost too much and cut into your profit. Well, I am here to tell you that having dust collection is essential and it is not overly expensive to purchase. For the purpose of this article, I went on Amazon and found dust collection systems sized from small to large.
For an apartment, I would recommend trying this dust deputy 5 gallon kit that can be hooked up to your shop vac and is very economical. Another option I really like for an apartment is the Wen 3401 dust collector. It is small enough for easy storage and won’t get in your way while you’re working.
While you are at it, if you are really serious about your hobby and want to keep your apartment as livable as possible while working, consider purchasing an air filtration system made specifically for a workshop. I saw a bunch of affordable ones on Amazon as well.
Designating a Space in Your Apartment for Woodworking
Obviously one of the more important parts of this process is deciding on what are you will use to craft your projects. Keep in mind that you can move furniture to make this happen. One idea would be, if you have a dining room but don’t really eat in that area very often, to make that your workshop.
If you feel you need some sort of table, you could make or buy a fold away table that hangs on the wall and pulls open when needed. This is also a fantastic idea for work benches. You could make a large foldaway workbench that you open up when it’s time to cut some wood. So the idea here is to decide on the space designated for woodworking and everything you do from here will be based on that area. The size of your tools, workbenches, everything.
Planning Storage for Woodworking in an Apartment
When you are setting up your work area, you need storage. In an apartment, your storage will potentially include where to put your tools, workbench and materials when you are not working. If you have the luxury of leaving everything in place, then you might want to skip this section and move on to the tools section.
Some ideas for storage are:
- Storing tools and materials right on workbenches.
- Storing your tools in totes and stacking the totes on top of each other.
- Utilizing space on a balcony for storage.
- Closets make good places to store tools and materials.
To help your storage issues, make sure to never have materials on hand that you’re not going to be using within a week. If you find you have extra material, which is 99.9% of the time, do make sure you really hold onto it, if you can. If you are keeping it because maybe someday you can use it, well that just doesn’t work when you have limited storage.
Tools for Woodworking in an Apartment
Selecting the right tools for woodworking in an apartment is crucial to being able to create and complete projects safely. So what are the right tools?
- First off, the right tools are tools you need to do what you want to do. This includes mocking up tools to replicate what other larger tools accomplish. An example would be setting up a jigsaw upside down on a table so the blade replicates a band saw. Instead of a table saw, use a circular saw.
- Smaller versions of power tools, for example, buying a table top drill press versus a floor model is the wise choice in an apartment. In point #1 I mentioned using a circular saw instead of a table saw. Now, I am going to suggest going with a smaller circular saw like this 4 1/2” which is available on Amazon.
I feel the best recommendation I can give you is that no matter what power tools you decide you need, if there is a cordless model available, that’s what you should get. Any handheld power tool like drills, circular saws, etc. will have cordless versions. Cordless tools are not only lighter and easier to carry and store, they are usually not as loud as their powered counterparts.
A workbench is a vital tool, in my mind, and getting the right one is key to success. Wheels and storage on a workbench will maximize your apartment workspace as well make it easier to move the bench and store your tools. You can either build your own, which might be the smartest option because you can customize it for size functionality and storage, or buy one. The cost to build a bench is more economical than purchasing one as well.
Tip of the day: I talked about dust control at the beginning of this article. A piece of equipment you need to own in an apartment woodworking area is “saw hoods”. You can try to make your own or buy one already pre-assembled. This saw hood on Amazon is for a chop or miter saw but you could potentially use it for other types of saws. A saw hood will help keep your mess under control and protect furniture from small pieces of flying wood. This leads nicely into my next and last section to cover.
Protecting Surfaces and Flooring in an Apartment When Woodworking
Even with your dust collection system in place and sucking up most of the sawdust, there will still be sawdust getting free and flying everywhere, getting into every nook and cranny. Investing in some good fabric drop cloths to cover furniture and even walls will help protect those things.
For protecting a floor I would not recommend laying a drop cloth down, especially when using power tools. No matter how safe you think it is, all it takes is one small slip and you could lose a finger or worse. To cover flooring and stay safe, laying down plywood will protect flooring and will be safe to walk on. Even if you drop something heavy, your floor will be safe when a ½” or thicker sheet of plywood is covering the floor.
Setting up a woodworking area in an apartment is not easy but not impossible. If you follow my suggestions above, I guarantee you will have success. Make the changes you need and don’t short change yourself by cutting corners. It will limit what you can accomplish and might put you in danger.
Another tip: when purchasing materials, most lumber yards will cut to length and width. Some will offer some free cuts and some won’t. If you are able to get most of your big cuts done right at the store, this might also allow you to own less power tools. Good luck to you!
Home depot even sells half sheets of plywood. If you don’t want to get the store to cut things like 2×4’s you could bring a cordless circular saw, carpenters square, pencil, safety glasses and a tape measure and cut the wood right in the parking lot. This also works great of you don’t have a large enough vehicle to accommodate large pieces of lumber.
Take your time when creating your apartment workshop and make sure the space you come up with suits your needs. That’s what it boils down to. Good luck.
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