Building a MiniShop (Miniature Workshop) that can handle wood, plastic, metal and electronics requires some planning and will rely on multipurpose tools. The goal here is to have everything needed for drilling, cutting, soldering, sanding, routing, sawing and finishing within a 4x4 foot area and can be powered by standard 120v power outlets (without tripping a breaker). Everyone's MiniShop will be different depending on interest. I am trying to build a MiniShop that can handle just about everything.
Uniquely, I'd also like to setup a camera system to make videos of different projects. This means lighting, audio and camera mounting. But lets focus on building the MiniShop first!
The work bench, table, work surface, or whatever else you want to call it is where most of the work will be done. Just like your tools I wouldn't skimp here, but don't blow the bank either.
If you're feeling adventurous you can even build your own workbench from the ground up - one day I hope to undertake such a project! Unfortunately this wasn't an option for me currently for two reasons: First, my saw is currently lent out and I have no way of cutting large boards or 2x4s. Second, I am building my MiniShop in the same room where I keep my amazing dog, Cashmere, while I'm at work and she loves to chew on wood occasionally if she gets bored.
Originally I was dead set on the The Black & Decker WM425 Workmate. A collapsible work table that has some cool features (like a built in jaw clamp!). However, after thinking on it for a while it had two outstanding issues: It wasn't high enough, coming in at 29", and besides the clamping capabilities was feature poor. (I want a standing bench - no chairs or stools allowed at my MiniShop!)
Although more expensive, I opted for the Kobalt Heavy Duty 3-Drawer Workbench. Honest, I'm not affiliated with Lowe's or anything (yet...?).
This table is a good bang for the buck and affords me more storage and versatility than the WM425 every could. It even comes with a light!
The MDF board, however is a little lacking, and one of the drawers has a small (~1/4 inch) gap - but that may be fixable with tightening/loosening some screws. Overall I'm geek'd about it.
Along the feature dense thinking, the Dremel 4200 corded model seems to be the do-all work horse. It has several screw and clamp on accessories, and a variety of bits and attachments to handle all kinds of materials. Perfect for a feature dense MiniShop concept.
- Dremel 4200-6/40 - Purchased
- Dremel 231 Sharper/Router Table - On the wish list!
- Dremel 220-01 Rotary Tool Work Station - Purchased
- Dremel 225-01 Flex Shaft Attachment - Definitely on the wish list!
The Dremel has the ability to work on almost any material type, and has the power and torque to work on larger items. There are higher-end models and brands out there, but I believe this is the best bang for the buck. The kit I linked to above also comes with a slew of accessories that make it an amazing buy, in my opinion.
Wood, Metal and Plastic can mostly be taken care of with the Dremel. The electronics, however, will require three other tools to start with.
- Helping Hands - Working with small wires and electronics requires the kind of precision my hands do not currently have. The Helping Hands with a magnifying class and grip clips will be a huge help for the smaller tasks.
- Soldering Gun and Solder - These days this is less important to get going. With bread boards and the open hardware built for prototyping, there are lots of plug and play options. I already have this on hand and plan on building it into the MiniShop.
- Wire Cutters/Strippers - Stripping, cutting, bending, pulling and otherwise a tool for handling all kinds of wire. The only thing these will have a hard time working with is the tiny wires inside USB cables.
There are three main power tools I would recommend everyone have available:
- The Circular Saw - This, like the Dremel, is a tool not to skimp on. Buy quality and it will improve your life 100 fold- Used for cutting and ripping boards, from 4x8 plywood to 2x4s. If the Dremel can't cut it, this can.
- The Reciprocating Saw - This tool is amazing for cutting metal, wood or plastic depending on what blades you buy. Significantly helps in taking apart pallets for reclaiming wood.
- The Drill - Spend some money here too. If buying cordless, make sure it has a great battery. Personally, 18v is the way to go. A lot of projects may not need that kind of power, but when drilling 3" circles into wood, you'll appreciate the extra torque. If you have the money, pick up a power screwdriver for smaller jobs to save your hands.
If you have no hand tools, I'd recommend picking up a kit first, and then augmenting what you need. I'm a fan of Kobalt, in case you didn't notice, so I'll be linking to those, but you can use whatever you prefer. At minimum have the following:
- 16 ounce Claw-headed hammer - Classic. I don't think any introduction is needed. Hit things with it. Like nails, tables, sheet metal and thumbs.
- 8 inch Pry Bar - I cannot say enough about this little tool. They're cheap and come in handy everywhere. Always have it on you, actually. -after trying to find mine, I think I've lost it... Something to go on my purchase list as well.
- Pliers - Needle nose, diagonal, slip joint, locking and groove joint. These will all come in handy.
- Scissors - A standard pair and an electrician's pair are nice to have on hand.
- Screwdriver set - An amazing driver set. Having multiple sizes of bits readily available is important. I prefer interchangeable bits, some folks prefer separate screwdrivers. If you'll have a hard time keeping track of small pieces, go for separate screw drivers.
- Precision Screwdriver Set- As wonderful as that driver set above is, it lacks a certain finesse when dealing with the smaller screws.
- Socket Set - Sockets sets and Hex bolts may be the most frustrating but useful fasteners you run into. Pick up a set that has good organization!
- Allen wrench set - A complete set with a holder. It will save losing that critically important hex size that you'll need for everything on a project.
- Measuring tape - Measure twice, cut once! Look at getting a good metal ruler and T-square as well.
- Exacto Knife - scoring, cutting and opening boxes.
- Coping Saw - Cutting woods, trim and molding. - The dremel essentially replaces this tool, but I recommend keeping some non-electric essentials around.
- Hack Saw - Cutting metals, screws, bolts, PVC, etc... - Same disclaimer as the Coping Saw.
- Rubber Mallet - This is at the bottom of the list as it is a "nice to have" not a "need to have". Rubber Mallets allow you to hammer objects together (box joints, for example!) without scuffing or damaging the material. I'd recommend a lighter mallet to provide more control on the swing.
Safety Third, as Mike Rowe says.
- Safety Glasses** - I use a pair of 3M safety glasses with a lanyard to keep them tight to my face (most safety glasses are not built for someone my size). The worst thing is getting a fleck of saw dust up under your glasses. Look for anti-fog - you'll thank your past-self for making the consideration.
- HearingProtection - Okay, I don't have these yet and I really need to. These are IMPORTANT.
- Gloves - Save your fingers. Blisters, cuts, abbrasions, nicks... Gloves will save you from all of that. Find some that have thicker knuckle protection and a reinforced grip.
CNC/3D Printer/Laser Cutter
Not to be implemented in the first phase of building this project, I want a CNC Router and/or a 3D Printer. My heart is set on the Form 1 by FormLabs. Simply as it is one of the first, and cheapest, stereo-lithographic 3D Printers on the market. This means a higher resolution, cleaner model, and... well I love the thing. Unless someone can show me an all-in-one device that can fit in my 4x4 area, this will have to go on the wish list for the immediate future.
** - Quick story on eye protection: My Grandfather, who taught me most of what I know about anything Making, had his eye gouged out as a kid by a snowball after another kid packed it with rocks. Needless to say my Grandfather took eye protection very seriously from then on. If he taught me one thing, it is to use eye protection.