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How to Build a Space-Saving Workshop

This Old House general contractor Tom Silva helps a hobbyist woodworker turn her small garage into an efficient workspace—with tips anyone can use.

When Stefani Bachetti’s office relocated to Chicago’s River North neighborhood, the new address was only a couple of blocks away from the old office. But while the move wasn’t a big deal, she did lose something major—workshop access. The building where Stefani, who does research for an industrial-design firm, used to work had housed a large shop outfitted with a table saw, an assembly bench, and a drill press. So Stefani decided if she could no longer go to that shop, she’d bring one to her by converting her brick-walled one-car garage into a workspace for building small-scale furniture projects.

Filling her garage with saws and clamps would have been easy, but because it has to pull double duty, storing tools and her car during winter, the layout required some problem solving. That’s where Tom Silva stepped in.

How to Build a Garage Workshop

The solution focused on mobility. “Stefani has a long, narrow space, so we made the big tools easy to move around, letting her squeeze her car in,” explains Tom. He added a folding stand to a table saw she had placed on a workbench under the window, where it was too high to use comfortably. Tom shifted the saw to one of the long walls and, in front of it, built a Murphy table that folds up and out of the way when not in use (see Steps 5–10).

“The new bench is lower, about 32 inches off the ground, making it more comfortable when sanding or using hand tools,” he says. “But it also works as an outfeed support that prevents plywood or long boards you’re cutting on the table saw from falling down.”

Step 1: Start with a garage

An empty, open garage Nathan Kirkman

Turning the brick-walled 9-by-19½-foot garage into an efficient workshop required some smart space planning. During an episode of Ask TOH, Tom Silva showed homeowner Stefani Bachetti how to create a setup that worked for her.

Step 2: Create efficient storage

A homeowner and Tom Silva hang a peg board Nathan Kirkman

This shop is short on space, but Tom added a few details that a workspace of any size can benefit from. He and Stefani hung a 2-by-8-foot strip of pegboard that she had attached to a frame of 2×4s and leaned up against the wall.

“It was tucked behind the workbench, so you couldn’t access the lower part of the pegboard,” says Tom. Mounting the pegboard to the wall with masonry screws through a frame of 2×4s is the most economical way to keep frequently used tools close at hand and off the floor.

Step 3: Install soft flooring

Tom Silva installing soft flooring tiles Nathan Kirkman

Inexpensive 2-foot-square foam floor mats keep your feet and back happy during long shop sessions and prevent dropped tools from crashing onto the concrete floor. The price: about $1 per square foot for ¾-inch-thick foam. The interlocking tiles are easy to remove to make room for a car.

Step 4: Add ventilation

Tom Silva installing a ventilation fan Nathan Kirkman

Tom fitted the top of a metal box fan with two threaded hooks that attach to two more hooks screwed into a 2×4 stretcher that spans the window. This will allow Stefani to pull in fresh air during warmer months and blow out sawdust and fumes when she’s working.

Step 5: Build the frame for a murphy table

Tom Silva installing a hinge on a murphy table Nathan Kirkman

Start by making the tabletop support and legs. Build a frame from 2×4s and deck screws; this one is 46 by 34 inches. Add a couple of 2×4s across its width for stability. Cut a pair of 2×4s to 31½ inches for legs so the table’s height is just below the saw. Screw utility hinges to the legs and to blocking between the frame and first joist, as shown.

Step 6: Attach the frame to the wall

Tom Silva drilling a murphy table into a brick wall Nathan Kirkman

Add three evenly spaced hinges to the back of the frame, then screw the other leaves to a 2×4 cleat. Holding the frame ¾ inch under the finished height, temporarily support the cleat and drill five pilot holes, as shown. Fasten with masonry screws.

Step 7: Top frame with plywood

Homeowner and Tom Silva install a table top Nathan Kirkman

Tom sized the frame to support a two-piece top made with easy-to-transport 2-by-4-foot sections of ¾-inch plywood. Lay down the first piece, as shown, then pull it away from the wall to create a 6-inch overhang, which will provide a surface to clamp to.

Step 8: Attach the first section

Homeowner and Tom Silva install a table top Nathan Kirkman

Countersink pilot holes in the first piece of plywood, as shown, to prevent the screwheads from damaging chisels or a circular-saw blade. Fasten through the top into the frame.

Step 9: Add a second section

Homeowner and Tom Silva install a table top Nathan Kirkman

Measure the distance between the first piece of plywood and the wall, and use a circular or table saw to rip a second piece to width to fill the void. Position the second piece of plywood, as shown, and drill countersink holes; fasten with screws.

Step 10: Secure the latch

Securing a latch into a brick wall Nathan Kirkman

Fold the table up and mount a gate latch’s striker arm to a wood spacer that extends just beyond the frame front; fasten the spacer to the top’s underside next to the frame. Slip the latch behind the arm, so it catches. Drill pilot holes, then fasten with masonry screws.

“The new bench is lower, about 32 inches off the ground," says Tom. "That makes it more comfortable when sanding or using hand tools. But it also works as an outfeed support that prevents plywood or long boards you’re cutting on the table saw from falling down.”

To save more floor space, Tom suggested a sliding miter saw with an articulating arm, instead of rails that stick out in back. The saw’s design lets Stefani make crosscuts in boards up to 14 inches wide with the saw resting up against the wall. Its wheeled stand has outriggers to support long boards or lengths of molding, is easy to move around, and folds to store flat against the wall.

Step 11: Enjoy your new garage workshop!

A homeowner standing in her newly updated garage workshop. Nathan Kirkman

Finally, the new setup is ready for Stefani's first big project. “I made about 50 linear feet of oak open shelving,” she reports. The woodshop works so well, it could be bad news for the car. “It’s really dropped off my radar,” she says of the bright-red Ford Focus hatchback. “It’s only good for getting lumber and then coming home.”