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New Studio from Scratch Ideas

Hi all,
I’m building a studio shed/building from scratch, and I know I want built in a counter and cabinets for storage, I’m at a loss on what I might need to have in there built in from the beginning. I’ve always just made do, but I’m fortunate enough now to be able to make a wish list. I fabricate jewelry, but don’t do casting, but I am considering branching out to enameling/cloisonné.

I was thinking a maybe a skylight for natural light, a sink, fan/vacuum system with a flex duct for the fumes and so I can move it when I move it?

I welcome any suggestions or food for thought. Thank you so much, I really appreciate this forum for all the great advice, kindness and patience I’ve read from participants.

Monica Y.

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If you think you’ll want a kiln, put in the required infrastructure now- you may need a higher level of electrical than you otherwise would, and you’ll need to plan for the heat with surfaces that can handle it and space around it. And speaking as someone who decided to dip a toe into enameling a month ago and is now hopelessly obsessed with it? Yeah, you’re going to want that kiln. :laughing:

Idk if this is the type of thing you were looking for, but: climate control. Make sure your fabulous workspace is going to be safe and comfortable year round. Especially air conditioning- in a lot of places, this is becoming more of a safety measure than a luxury. Moreso if you’re using equipment that adds heat.

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Like you, I made do for about 35 years with an old office desk for a bench and a homemade polishing hood. I still use the hood. When we built our current residence 22 years ago, I wanted to do the planning and spend the money to make a really nice shop. I did and then took it apart 10 years later and moved it to its current location. Accept that your shop will always be a work in process, but regardless of what iteration you are in, you will need flexible electrical power, heat, cooling, ventilation, light and possibly a sink. Regardless of the current layout of your shop, these features will always serve you well. Spend time looking at shops on the shop exchange. Look at catalogs for ideas, but not always solutions. I find that I can usually build my own solution once I know the problem that I am trying to solve. Leave room to grow. If you are curious, you will always be trying new art forms some of which will have unique shop space requirements. Always keep safety in mind. Good luck with your search and let us know how it goes…Rob


Imagine a shop that is 5’ x 7’ with a polisher in the basement and you have my work space for 12 years. I built an addition on the house and went from 35 square feet to 120 square feet. I am mainly a fabricator who wanted to try more but I lacked the space. I had no clue how to layout the space and I still don’t, 7 years later. I new I need a room with electricity, sunlight(ventilation), and water. I still haven’t settled on a floor.

I planned to have a fire rated drywall, super insulation, a sink in one corner and a door to the outside. Surprisingly the door was as much for tax purposes as anything else. I have slowly built-in as things became obvious. And I have ripped it all apart and moved things about too. In the words of some great designer, let form follow function. Make sure you have more outlets than you need. And be prepared to re-imagine.


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A few things I found work well for me, and note that these are not original ideas - I stole them from a manufacturing site that I used to work at. (YMMV)

  1. Use kitchen base cabinets on casters; individual cabinets have plywood tops and groups of cabinets have a top covering of melamine coated MDF. I then have rubber mats over these for many of the workbenches, and use thin indoor/outdoor carpet pads on top of the counters in some areas. Reinforce the cabinets with 2X4’s as needed in the corners, and cut blocks to lift them off of the casters when in use. This will allow you to reconfigure everything as projects and interests change. I dedicate a cabinet per machine/tool/work type and keep the associated supplies in the same cabinet. The same thing works fine for tables that will be in an open space, you just attach the casters and block the table up when you don’t want it to move, although I modified the table I use with extra crossbars to make it work. It also makes it easy for deep cleaning, you just take the blocks out and roll the whole thing out of the way. A 2X4 with a bent piece of steel on the end makes a handy “lever” for picking the cabinets up and removing/placing the blocks. If your floor is not level, use varying thickness of blocks to level the cabinets. Note that you do have to get good quality cabinets for this to work well, the cheap flatpack units you get at the big box stores don’t often hold up, but it seems like most cabinet shops understand what you are asking for if you tell them you want them on casters and can accommodate. Additionally, if you find someone doing a remodel with houses before 1980’s, you can find the real plywood cabinets often for free.
  2. Always a hard floor. Epoxy garage coating on concrete gives a decent look, but vinyl flooring works, it depends on what you are doing. (I’m set up as a lapidary shop.) Mats and small carpets can be added. A center drain is a good idea if you can accommodate.
  3. Wainscot the walls with cabinet grade plywood finished with a water resistant sealant.
  4. If you are doing the room from scratch, put the electrical outlets above the top of the cabinet. You won’t have to move the cabinet to move the electrical. Same goes for any plumbed in compressed air, vacuum system or water so that you can reach the connection point without moving the cabinet. I prefer ceiling drops for air and vac spaced 18" from the wall for the cabinets along the edges and electrical drops on a reel over the table in the center of the workspace. Any ventilation that needs to be added for should be planned in for, but the vac system can provide a small amount of smoke removal (think dust collector.) My future plans include a modification for dedicated venting for a fume hood.
  5. Lighting, Lighting and more Lighting. I regret that I didn’t put in more than just the shop lights - I should have put in some way to mix the fluorescent with incandescent and LED so that I could just “flip” the light types as needed. I also don’t have enough natural light, but that’s a limit of the space.
  6. Sometimes you can find other things for free or cheap that work well. I found a rolling medical sink - the entire cabinet is set up on wheels,and the sink is operated by foot controls from a dental office that was being remodeled. It just uses washing machine hoses to connect to source and a large flex hose to the drain. I never move it except to clean, but what a godsend a foot control sink is.



re electrical

plan the plugs and circuits…placement/ spacing/ quantity….so that you only have a few plugs per circuit, so you dont overload em and trip breakers…

certain equipment, like things with heating elements. big motors, air conditioners, etc…draw more power and usually need to be plugged directly into the outlet (ie: not an extention cord)…like kilns, boiler steamers, air conditioner. etc

easy access

a main kill switch or two…


A couple of things I found helpful when I’ve moved and had to set up shops.
Try to keep buffing area away from everything else, even with good venting it will help prevent a msessier work environment.
I had a used medium speed kitchen vent over my soldering station, vented through an outside nwall. Worked well.
I also put in a particulate air filtering system.
Best idea was that all electrical outlets/lights were controlled by one switch at the entrance. This insured that I never forgot to turn the pickle pot off.


I went through this process a few years ago, and I’ll tell you that you just can’t plan for everything.

But do put in twice as many outlets as you think you’ll need. I have 2 dedicated circuits for my space with 2 kill switches at the door, and they are both on a GFI (ground fault interrupter, I do gemstone carving and lapidary work also, and water and electricity made me nervous). My overhead lighting is on a separate circuit as I didn’t want my lights going out if I threw a breaker.

I do enameling and lost wax casting, so an overhead vent above my kilns vented outside was a no-brainer. I got lucky and got about 18’ x 2’ x 1.5" soapstone lab countertops from a high school for free for the kiln/casting area. I got another cultured marble countertop from Habitat for Humanity for free, too. My husband and I made the benches that hold the countertops out of bolted together 4"x4"s and 2"x4"s so they’re very sturdy.

I also got lucky on heavy trash day when someone was throwing away a kitchen-worth’s of cabinets. They line one wall.

I wanted vinyl (softer for when I drop things on the floor) but ended up with ceramic tile. Guess what, molten bronze burns ceramic tile almost as easily as it does vinyl. It also cracks and breaks when you drop things on it. I know I’d have more burns if I had vinyl, but the tile looks horrible now, too.

There is never enough room, as your interests will probably continue to expand. DON’T do what I did; put your books somewhere else; they end up occupying valuable space. DO leave yourself an escape path to the doorway and have several fire extinguishers in strategic areas. I do my casting at the furthermost end of the studio with an unimpeded way out.

James Cohen is right, keep polishing away from everything. I actually do my buffing outside, as it is so filth-making.

Lighting is really important, too. I have 2 fluorescent lights overhead, with 2 hanging task lights on surge protectors so I can turn them on when I’m working in those areas. They have the spotlights that you can direct to certain areas. I also have spotlight lamps for other areas. My shop has no windows by choice. I wanted it to be soundproof and didn’t want to make it easy for anyone to break in.

Have fun, it’s exciting to have dedicated space to work in! Let us know how it works out.

In the next couple of years I will be doing this as well. I think back to my general Chemistry teacher in college. He made us put down our plan for experiments step by step labeled 1, 2, 3, etc. It made us think through our problems in advance and have a guide sheet to help us keep on track. So I’ve been thinking of studio layout and needs for a few years already.

Something that is paramount to me is being hampered by past injuries. So from the start I’m going to build in things with the idea that I will need a different set up than those young kids wanting to do it all from scratch in a bare bones studio closet. There are cabinet set ups for those who have disabilities. If over head it can be with ease pulled forward and downward. Hmm this gets me thinking of putting things in a space that before would not have been used for stuff like a drill press that can then be pushed back upward. I tried one in a architects office. It was easy with just finger tips and hardly any muscle power needed. Conversely there are ones that can be below the counter. This concept of easy reach cupboards makes think of where to place certin tools and machines for out of the way convienence.

Then there is the utilization of space. What equipment do I have? What can be placed other things so there will be double utilization of space or using the same equipment. Think of your casting, soldering and work with chemicals all using the same ventilization hood. A second hand restaurant ventilization hood used for over the stoves would work well over a set up with a kiln, soderling station and a fume extraction for hazardous fumes. All of the things needed under a ventilization hood can be near the sink area as well. Ikea has good kitchen island rollable counters. I have one that my husband swears it ws like going through the 7 levels of hell to find at the Ikea near us. A Christmas present I cherish given his stories of his journey to never give up until he had one in hand. These kitchen islands are usually a little higher than a table. It makes it easier to use since you don’t have to be bent over. Great place for vises and other tools that need to be near where you put things together. Under it you have a nice shelf, and can add extra sheleves if you are handi. Gives you extra storage. Under that island would also be a good place to add those nice pull down/up gizmos so you could store a draw table. You get my thinking. What can be grouped and stored for easy access and usability.

As for power, how many machines do you need at any one time? Yes have several outlets, but what about places you can’t get power too or need a different out put such as 110 or 220? Now comes the handy wood working supply stores. They have power cords that are able to be put on tracks in the ceiling and have pull down cords for the power level you need. Good way to get around having outlets everywhere.

Then there is polishing and grinding areas. They are really messy areas. This needs to be in a corner area that will not have high traffic so it doesn’t get walked all over. Keep cleaning supplies near this area. Its also good to be near the sink area. The sink needs to be a nice deep and if possible double sided one. That way it can accommadate any level of metal work you might do in the future as well as doing two sink jobs at once. It’s also a good place to have your hazardous waste bins as well.

Just some of my thoughts. Now If I win a lottery, I might be able to do all I want to do.




Aggie has reminded me of something…maximum utilization of vertical space…

i have added shelves to the back of some of my jewelers benches, that i can reach while sitting down…or to the side of my benches…

for my work benches, i prefer a deeper 30” top

check out for workbenches…and other stuff…(be forewarned…it xan be a rabbit hole!)

they have a vast selection of widths and lengths of benchtops…even 48” length which is less common than 60”…


I forgot to mention in my previous reply that, if you work in a cellar or similar space, check your radon levels. When we built our current house 22 years ago they were fine. Over the years they crept up to 12 pC/L. Normal is 4. I had a remediation service come in and install a remediation system and we are now less than 1 last time I checked…Rob


hi rob

where does the radon come from?


Monica, I had the opportunity to build my new workshop from the ground up about three years ago. Before that I was working in a small, old building that accentuated problems. I did a lot of research and planning before the new workshop was built. I’m very happy with the result and have no regrets so far.

There are many valuable comments above and, to me, they reflect the need to build your space to suit your current needs and future desires. I started to write through some of my key decisions in the building design process but thought it was getting way too long. So I’m happy to send you building plans, electrical layout, ventilation specs, etc. or answer specific questions.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that seeps up from rocks and soil. In the open air it is present in very small amounts which quickly get blown away and thus pose no hazard. In an enclosed space, such as a basement or other room set directly on the ground, the concentration of radon can build up to unhealthy levels. Epidemiological studies have shown a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and incidence of lung cancer.

See Elliot’s explanation of what radon is. If you look at a map of the distribution of radon you will see that it is especially a problem in the North East US. That is not to say that it isn’t a problems in other locations, you just have to check. Testing for it is fairly easy and inexpensive. You can do a short term or long term test with the long term being a bit more accurate. Here in Central NY, you don’t buy a house without getting a radon test done first unless it is already being mitigated. See radon mitigation on the internet…Rob

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Graph Paper
Put your space on graph paper accurately to scale - I’ve found it’s the only way to plan ahead of time where things will fit . It also gives you a visual of what might go where & move it around until it does fit.
In my life my shop space is NEVER as big as I really wish, so fitting everything in efficiently can be a puzzle best worked out ahead of time.

BTW- did you know that a human needs at least 18" of space to turn around in, and much more to sit !



Thank you so much for everyone’s advice. I took all of it into consideration when I made the layout. Can’t wait until it’s done!