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All About Building a Workshop

The details of your workshop depend on the projects you prefer and the space you’ve got available.

Workshop Anthony Tieuli

If you do any work around the house, you need a workshop. What that workshop looks like depends on several factors, but none is more important than the kind of work you’ll do in it. A mechanic’s shop looks very different from a carpenter’s.

Size and Location are Major Factors

No one ever complains that their shop is too big. Stake out as much space as you possibly can. Shops can be in the basement (near the door if it’s a walkout), or in the garage, or even in a garden shed. It is a big advantage to have a door to the outside in a shop, particularly if you plan to bring in lumber, sheet goods such as plywood, or the lawn mower for repair. The bigger the door, the better

For most people, climate will play a role in shop location. Basement shops rarely need heating or cooling, but in many areas they will require dehumidification to keep tools from rusting and wood from warping. Garage shops and garden sheds are simple to condition in temperate climates, but in cold areas you may need to consider heating the space. In hot areas, you might want to air condition it.

Consider whether you plan potentially hazardous work in the shop. For example, if you expect to use flammable solvents, or to weld, the basement of your home probably isn’t the right location. You’ll want a space that is well-ventilated and separate from the house.

The garage might be more suitable, and a separate building would be even better. Any shop that contains a potential fire hazard needs to have at least two exits. One can be a door, and the other an operable window that’s big enough to get through.

Pay Attention to Storage and Organization

Every shop needs a workbench of some sort, and maybe two, since you shouldn’t build furniture on the same bench you used to rebuild your mower’s engine.

When space is tight, or when you’ve got a special project that requires an additional work surface, a popular solution is to place a thick plywood panel across a pair of sawhorses. This temporary work station is quick to set up and compact to store, especially if you have folding sawhorses.

In all cases, you’ll need places to store your tools and supplies. It’s probably not possible to have enough cabinets and shelves.

Think about how you’d like to organize your tools, as well. The variety of tools a homeowner might acquire over the years can be surprising, so having a flexible organizational system can be very helpful. Pegboard provides an inexpensive and versatile way to keep frequently used tools close at hand.. Just rearrange the hooks to accommodate new tools. Wall-mounted toolboxes are another option.

A rolling mechanic’s toolbox is incredibly useful, particularly if you don’t have wall space for pegboard. With its graduated drawer sizes, it’s a great way to organize tools from small to large, even if they aren’t mechanic’s tools.

You’ll probably end up with a bunch of fasteners and some leftover material like lumber scraps. These things are great to have around and can save trips to the home center, but for that to work you need to be able to find what you have when you need it. Small cabinets with plenty of drawers that can be labeled are the fix for fasteners. Materials can be harder to store, as they tend to be bulky. Wall cabinets and open shelves both are helpful, depending on what it is you have. For example, paints can go in cabinets, and wood on the shelves.

Plan for Ample Light and Electrical Power

Like space and storage, it’s probably impossible to have too much light or too many electrical outlets. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on lighting, particularly if you go with big fluorescent fixtures. A cheaper alternative is to wire a bunch of inexpensive keyless lampholders on the ceiling and screw in 60-watt equivalent LED bulbs. You may also want several reflector lamps for task lighting.

You’ll need several outlets just for plugging in battery chargers. A couple more near the bench for your handheld power tools. If you’re wiring these new, it’s a good idea to upgrade to 20-amp circuits (instead of the typical 15-amp ones. Twenty-amp circuits require 12-gauge wire instead of the usual, lighter 14-gauge, but you’ll save trips to the breaker panel. Also, in practically every shop environment—basement, garage, or shed—the code requires outlets to be GFCI protected.

Woodworking Shops

If you’re a woodworker, you’ll want a tablesaw or a bandsaw, as well as a router table and maybe a jointer, as well as space to manipulate lumber over them. Buying and installing a mobile base on at least one of these big tools is a good idea. By mobilizing a heavy stationary tool, you’ll be better able to clean your shop area and make room for the large projects that might come your way. If you buy professional versions of these machines, you’ll need 240 volt circuits to run them. All these tools make dust, so consider central dust collection. In either case, hang a couple of fire extinguishers around the shop.

More than any other type of shop, wood shops need a place for storing material. Even if you buy lumber or plywood on an as-needed basis, odds are that you’ll end up with plenty of leftovers that are just too good to throw away.

Mechanic’s Shops

If you’re a home mechanic, you’ll need an air compressor, grinder, drill press, and perhaps welding equipment. Depending on the compressor and welder, you might need 240-volt power, as well. If you do any welding, you’ll need ventilation and fire extinguishers.

And you’ll need space. Whether it’s a ’57 Chevy you’re working on, or a lawn mower, or an old tractor, it needs to be inside with room to walk around it, to manipulate jacks, and so on.

How About Gardening?

More commonly referred to as a gardening shed than a shop, the difference is academic. Gardeners need a bench for potting, and even if there’s no electricity to the shed, they’ll need light from ample windows.

Tool storage is paramount for the gardener. Many tools have long handles, so wall-mounted hangers that can vertically store half a dozen shovels, rakes, cultivators, and the like are a great use of space. Cabinets for pesticides and supplies are important, as well as bins or racks for potting soil and fertilizers. Storage for mowers, trimmers, rototillers and the like is important, as well as a safe way to store fuel for these devices.

No matter what you need a shop for, you won’t regret creating a dedicated space for one.