There isn't much question in my mind that the ideal situation for a workshop is a separate building built to purpose. Well-insulated, lots of natural light, high-ceilings, wood floors ... the list goes on and on. If there was a suitable place on my suburban lot, exactly that would happen in short order.
Reality for many of us is different; woodworking happens either in the basement or in the garage. I am luckier than many in that I have a three-car garage, but it has to accommodate four hobbies-- gardening, tent camping, biking and woodworking--as well as the usual paraphernalia for home maintenance. (The cars stay in the driveway.) Woodworking gets the lion's share, but the space is just plain awkward. It's not big enough, there's not a lot of available wall space, it can be too cold and there is almost no natural light when the garage doors are closed. These are issues faced by many woodworkers and I hope this discussion will be useful.
Here's the garage from the street:
The two bays on the left are 20' deep and the one on the right is 24' deep. The overall width is 31'. The ceilings are 9 1/2' high.
My bench has been on the right side behind the single door since we moved here almost 4 years ago and I am keeping it there. One goal I have is to store everything I use regularly at the bench no more than a step or two from it. I've been short on accessible storage next to my bench, so the first thing I did this spring was build floor to ceiling shelves along the right side of it:
60 lineal feet of shelves was a big improvement, although I do have to use a ladder to reach the top shelf. An alternative favored by many is to install wall cabinets for tools, which would look nicer but not be more functional. My personal preference is shelves. They cost very little, are quick to build and have a lot more capacity. Extending them to the ceiling allowed me to secure them to the top plate.
On the left side of the bench, I have my tool chest and an antique butcher block that I will be using as a joinery bench. I raised it up to be 38" off the ground.
This let me put my main bench back down to palm height, 35" in my case.
The flooring is utility mats made from recycled tires that I got at a ranch store. As far as I am concerned, they are ideal because they create a vapor barrier, are easy on the feet and protect dropped tools.
Working at the bench in good weather is great because I can put the garage door up and have lots of natural light. Because the garage doors lack windows, the shop feels like a dungeon when they are closed, even though I have half a dozen LED fixtures. I had hoped to replace one section of the door with one that has windows, but neither the manufacturer nor the local distributor would consider it. The best they can offer is a brand new door with the top two of four sections containing windows, at a cost of $1,200. I am considering it but it aggravates me to replace a perfectly good door. Right now I am thinking about building my own replacement section using polycarbonate for windows. It looks like I could just unbolt the existing one and bolt on a replacement, using the existing steel supports around the perimeter and the same hinges. I think I could keep it light enough to operate properly.
I'd really like to have no power tools in this space, but the deeper bay, electrical connections and other issues don't allow it, so I put the three power tools that I would replace if they failed in the back: my bandsaw, drill press and power planer:
On the right, I have more shelves that are used primarily for hand power tools, paint and home maintenance supplies.
I am pretty satisfied with this section of the garage. Once I solve the natural light issue, the remaining challenge will be heat for the winter months. I'll post about that later.