Updated: Jan 22
The singing of a table saw running through board foot after board foot of wood may sound great to you, but its not a song enjoyed by everyone. Shop noise comes in various forms and not only causes harm to yourself, it can drive a wedge between you and your neighbors. Many of us hobbyists, DIY enthusiasts and weekend warriors work from our home shops and garages. Regular noise and tight proximity to your neighbors is a recipe for conflict - not to mention the fact that it can be detrimental to your own hearing.
There are a few ways noise can travel, so it is important to implement multiple strategies to reduce, absorb and block it. We'll talk about some strategies that can be used if you are building a new work space or retrofitting an existing one.
How does noise travel?
Sound waves are particles vibrating and slamming into each other in an outward direction from the source. The bigger the vibration, the louder the sound. As it travels, it can be absorbed by or bounce off of objects. Typically the more smooth and solid an object is, the greater the chance it will bounce off it and continue traveling through the air (or whatever medium it is traveling through). Sound waves can also vibrate through an object to continue along its path. Have you ever heard loud stomping coming from an occupant in a room above you? Their footsteps are causing vibrations that are traveling along and through their walls and floor to your ears.
What contributes to loud noises in a workshop?
It is obvious our power tools create a great deal of noise, but your shop construction and setup could be contributing to the decibel level heard outside your shop. Here's 3 ways to turn the volume down.
Decouple your machines
Isolate the source
Don't bounce it - trap and absorb noise
Reduce Shop Noise by Decoupling
The best way to keep your shop quiet and neighbors happy is to reduce the noise that is transferred from its source. Sound vibrations travel through some mediums better than others. Metal on metal contact is a major culprit.
Reduce Noise Transfer from Metal to Metal Contact
Metal is quite conductive. It does little to prevent vibrations passing through itself onto adjoining surfaces. For instance, a miter saw mounted on a rolling metal cart may be convenient for storage purposes, but while the saw is running, the sound waves are transferring through the saw to the cart and outward with little interference to lower the decibel level.
Rubber washers dampen noise by absorbing the sound vibrations coming in contact with it. They are commonly used in sound systems and speakers to reduce distortion from the sound vibrations. The same concept can be applied to your shop. By separating the mounting screws from your machine with a rubber washer, you reduce the amount of vibration being transferred to the surface it is mounted to. The screw or bolt is no longer in direct contact with the noise-producing machine, but decoupled by the washer sitting in between. Rubber washers come in varying thicknesses - some even with adhesive backing. Use the links below to start your search.
Isolation Pads work on the same principle. Prevent vibration transfer from the machine making the noise to the object it rests on or is mounted to. Air compressors, dust collectors, thickness planers, saws, lathes all create a lot of noise that travels through the surrounding air and nearby objects - even more so with those in direct contact with it such as the floor.
Many of us work in a garage on a concrete floor. The hard surface does a poor job of absorbing noise vibrations. To decouple your tools from the floor, place isolation pads (iso pads) under the machine.
Iso pads can significantly reduce the decibel levels by absorbing more vibrations preventing more waves bouncing off the floor to your neighbors' ears.
Some options come with a hole in the middle to mount your tool to the floor (pictured above). This can defeat the purpose as vibrations can still travel through the bolt mounted into the floor, so if you go this route, be sure to use a rubber washer to decouple the bolt from the machine. There are endless styles to choose from, but 4 great options are below.
Iso pads and rubber washers go a long way to decouple your tools, but further work can be done to keep noise contained.
Isolate Shop Noise at the Source
Power tools allow us to work more efficiently and have become a necessity. Most aren't built to limit the nose they produce. But, that doesn't mean you can't do anything to lower the decibel levels emitted from these machines. Isolating the noise at the source reduces the need to take more drastic and costly measures after the sounds have escaped and spread throughout your space.
Sound Dampening Spray
Cabinet tools like table saws provide an enclosed shell around the noisy motor. They are typically metal or plastic which do little to prevent sound from passing through. An easy DIY solution to dampen noise within the cabinet is to apply undercoating spray to the inside of the cabinet. Once the rubberized spray hardens, it creates an additional barrier for sound to be absorbed by rather than pass through.
There are a few options from automotive undercoating to sprays designed for high-end sound systems. Be sure to purchase a high-grade rubberized spray for maximum benefit. Spray foam is another option, though it tends to be more expensive and expands out larger than undercoat spray will.
Building a closet to isolate a noisy air compressor or dust collector? Add sound deadening undercoating to the inside walls to limit the sound vibrations from making their way through. Take a look at three great options below.
Adhesive Sound Deadening Mat
If you don't like the idea of spraying foam or undercoating on your tools, a less permanent solution is to use a sound mat designed to absorb noise. Adhesive mats can be applied to the interior of machine cabinets or enclosures.
Sound deadening mats are typically used in the automotive industry to quiet road noise or to improve sound system quality. They can also be used to dampen power tool noise. The added benefit of a sound deadening mat is that you can cut to any size and fit it snugly anywhere. The thicker the material (more mils), the better it is at dampening noise. There are no shortage of options available online.
For the best bang for your buck (least cost per square foot), Siles Liner provides one of the thickest (4mm) mats with a closed-cell foam deadener with a peel and stick backing.
See below for a variety of peel and stick sound deadening mat options.
Trap and Absorb Shop Noise
The noise in the shop may not be a concern to you, but the sounds that escape your shop can disturb the neighborhood. There are several things you can do to trap and absorb the sound within the walls of your workshop. If you fit in this camp, I can't recommend a quality pair of noise cancelling headphones enough. I love these 3M Worktunes headphones - I even use them when mowing the lawn.
Block Sound by Closing Air Gaps
Sound waves travel quite well through open space filled with air. The air molecules bounce into one another along the sound wave and carry the noise outward. Since creating a vacuum around your workshop isn't an option, the next best thing to do is close up any air gaps with caulk or spray foam.
It may not sound like much, but as I sit here writing this, I can hear the wind howling past and through the air gaps in my window along with the noise of every car speeding by. I can imagine how loud it would be if it were a table saw or air compressor running outside my window. The sound waves would still vibrate and pass through my windows, but I'd hear much less of it if the small gaps around the windows were closed up. More of the sound would be reflected or absorbed rather than easily pass through. I envy those with soundproof windows!
Keep in mind, the silicone caulk may hold up better in the long run, but is more messy to apply.
Pro-tip: Keep a wet cloth nearby to wipe the excess caulk to keep it looking neat.
Expanding spray foam tends to be more expensive, but does a great job in closing in small areas that will be hidden - don't use foam in areas that will be seen. Use caulk for that.
Absorb Noise with Rubber Anti-fatigue Floor Mats
A concrete floor, like many hard surfaces, will allow sound to bounce off it - doing little to no
absorbing. Rubber floors can help and have the added benefit of anti-fatigue qualities on your body. Standing on a hard surface for long periods of time takes its toll, so do your feet, back AND ears a favor.
They come in many names: anti-fatigue mats, anti-vibrations mats, rubber floor mats, etc.
They can even be placed under machinery similar to the iso pads we covered earlier.
Any rubberized floor mat will trap more sound than a concrete floor and lower the decibel level in your area. Even a rugged door mat can help, but doesn't have the same anti-fatigue qualities as a rubber mat and holds more saw dust leading to other issues.
Soundproof Your Shop with Sound Deadening Curtains
Hanging thick curtains in front of windows can have some positive impact to noise reduction. However, there are several sound deadening curtains designed with this specific goal in mind. From simple curtains to industrial grade panels, there are a few options to help.
These will absorb sound and muffle it - not completely block the noise from passing through. There are large blankets, sound panels that can be hung overlapped to cover a large area and dedicated noise barrier blankets for industrial/heavy machinery applications.
Soundproofing your shop
It can be as simple as closing air gaps and hanging sound absorbent curtains or a larger project installing insulation in the walls. Every little bit helps and can be the difference between protecting and losing your hearing or keeping a friendly relationship with your neighborhood. We'd love to know what else you have done that works well to eliminate noise in your work shop. Leave us a comment below to tell us about it. Don't forget to sign up to our mailing list below so you don't miss new articles as they are posted!
Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.