From Garage To Home Workshop

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This article is from Issue 43 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A hodgepodge of tools, materials, and household items made this attached two-car garage the perfect candidate for an extreme workshop makeover.

Your hands-on guide for making it happen

By Jim Harrold

Surveys have stated time and again that the garage is the most common location for a home shop. True, not everyone has a basement, nor the money to afford a dedicated outbuilding to house a shop, leaving the garage the obvious fallback. But that’s okay, because the garage can prove more than adequate as a shop space when thoughtfully planned out and equipped with accommodating projects and tools. And that’s without sacrificing needed space for a car, bikes, and home repair and maintenance items. “Really?” you ask. Absolutely!

To prove it, the editors of Woodcraft Magazine, along with selected freelance craftsmen, teamed up to transform a typical, somewhat disorganized two-car garage (above, right) into a compact, full-service home woodworking shop. The results speak for themselves.

To help you do the same, we created a practical guide in this issue for a complete garage makeover in stages, including a timeline (right) of improvements to keep your workflow orderly and moving forward. We’ll go from space prep to choosing a bench to building a full range of projects for creating workstations and dedicated storage. These you can whittle away at over the course of a few months. And even if you’re not transforming a garage, you can use any or all of what you find here for a basement shop or elsewhere. The ball’s in your court now. Your dream shop awaits. All you really need is the willingness to take the first step.

Start with a shop plan

Creating order out of chaos in a cluttered two-car garage or similar space takes planning with a strong emphasis on efficiency. You don’t have a lot of room, and every square inch counts. Because your shop will share the space with a vehicle and other items, you’ll want to set your machines on wheels to move them out of the way or locate them where needed for a given operation.

Your first step is to map out a floor plan on graph paper. Consider the Dream Shop Planner, complete with templates (below right). Draw out the interior dimensions of the garage, the doors and windows, and locate your tools, storage, and table surfaces. The Floor Plan above shows how we laid out our garage shop. Establish general areas where you see yourself breaking down project stock and the most efficient arrangement of machines. Ensure clearance for running long stock through the jointer, planer, and tablesaw. Of course with mobilized machinery, nothing is set in stone. Flexibility is the key for quickly reconfiguring the shop to reflect the day’s intended tasks. Similarly determine where you might assemble and finish projects. In a small shop, it may be the same area where you temporarily had parked your mobile machines.

Another way to maximize a small shop space is to make multifunction components. Here, examples abound. Along one wall you find two stackable stands and multi-shelf cabinets that support two removable torsion-box countertops. Together, these three “shop starters” serve as an assembly table, countertop, and a staging area and provide tuck-away storage for the tablesaw and other machines. When assembling projects, you simply move the stools to the center of the floor and place the torsion boxes on top.

Sharing the same space is the easy-access hand-tool cabinet. Nearby, two wall-hung racks offer storage for a variety of clamps. Along the back wall stands the mitersaw station/lumber storage rack for breaking down stock. Most machine work is done at the center of the garage where you find the flip-top benchtop tool cart, jointer, and table saw. These mobilized machines quickly stow along the walls, or, in some cases, under countertops, when not in use.

Draft a wiring plan

Once you’ve drawn up your shop’s floor plan, map out where you want your electrical outlets for both 110v and 220v, based on your tools’ needs, and where you intend to use them. Consider adding extra outlets as it’s easier and cheaper to do it now. (Your electrician can help you determine if you need a dedicated subpanel. This shop required a 100-amp panel.) In the Wiring and Lighting Plan (Figure 2), you’ll see that some machines and the dust collector required dedicated circuits. The bottom line: ensure that you have enough power for a well-equipped, one-man shop where you may be running a dust collector, jointer, and tablesaw (or other tool) at the same time.

Turning to lighting, while 50 FC (foot-candles) may prove adequate, for detail work (and older eyes) some experts might suggest 100 FC. The 4'-long, 4-bulb fluorescent light fixtures shown in Figure 2 offer up 80-90 FC, with the lion’s share of lights located above the shop side of the garage space where needed most. The first row of light fixtures illuminates the torsion-box workbench area; the second row was positioned to minimize dark spots and illuminate the central floor area. To save money, the switch for the new lights was positioned close to the subpanel. The original fixtures were kept so that there’s a switch close to the garage door.

To take advantage of available natural light, the workbench found a home by the window. And for those times when color really counts (or when ventilation for finishing is needed), opening the garage door–weather permitting–solves the problem with the push of a button.

If your garage shop requires heating, air-conditioning, and a ducted dust-collection system, spec that into your plan as well.

When not serving as a countertop, rest the torsion-box countertops on just two stools and use them as an assembly table.
Rely on your set of hand tools to divide up the space and create special holders to complete the cabinet.

Create a work budget and schedule

With your shop and electrical plans fleshed out, work up a building schedule and budget. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to work at a comfortable pace, relying on professionals to handle the electrical, heating, and cooling assignments. Get bids and tally costs, both for the contracted work and the selected projects that you intend to build. If you need to, stretch your project building out so you don’t have to take such a big hit all at once. (For reference, the electrical work for this shop ran $1,500. The featured projects–made from common home center materials–cost $2,200.) If there’s any coin left over, spend it on tools or add comfort by laying down feet-friendly shop flooring (page 30).

A split saw fence with stops, cubby and cabinet storage, and a tilt-out scrapwood bin make this mitersaw station a valuable addition to any shop.
The tabletop on this mobile benchtop tool cart rotates and locks in place, allowing for dual use.

Pairs of brackets provide deep storage for several rows of bar and pipe clamps. The small rack (Inset) aims at variety, storing F-style, pistol grip, and spring clamps.

Hire contractors, paint, and prep

Time to get physical. Clean out the garage, and, if needed, temporarily set items aside or store them in a locker to create room to work. With the space empty, bring in the electrician and any other contractor. Figure 3 provides a look at the wiring in the garage shop. Here, the electrician cut through the drywall to run wiring and install duplex receptacles. (The damage was easily concealed with inexpensive 1⁄4" luan plywood and 31⁄2" wide plywood trim.)

With the contracted work complete, patch and paint the walls and ceiling as needed. Here, the upper half of the walls received a fresh cream-colored coat of paint to contrast nicely with mahogany-colored luan.

Finally, install flat wall cleats as shown in the Flat-Cleat Detail in Figure 3 for hanging cabinets. Add wall brackets and shelves as needed.

Build the shop projects

If creating a shop from an empty room, note that the torsion countertops, stools, and base cabinets let you outfit the space from within. Once built, these shop starters give you a flat work surface on which to perform a variety of benchtop tasks (Photo A) or a place where you can conveniently assemble parts for the remaining featured projects. For more on workbench options, see page 52.

Hanging on wall cleats above the workbench, Tommy MacDonald’s cabinet (Photo B) offers arm’s-reach access to favorite hand tools. Rabbets, dadoes, and screw construction make this a project you can build in a day or two.

For crosscutting, the 8'-long mitersaw station/lumber rack (Photo C) fills an essential role. Wheels  let you to move it away from the wall to better access the sheet goods and boards on the back side. Cabinets below and cubbies above offer specialized storage for all kinds of tools and accessories.

Stored in a corner or elsewhere when not in use, the mobile flip-top cabinet features a rotating and locking top for attaching a benchtop machine on one countertop face (Photo D). With the tool stored between the cabinet sides, the opposing countertop can provide an extra surface for assembly work.

Conquering storage for a variety of clamps, this wall-hung rack (Photo E) features simple solutions for holding bar and pipe clamps. A second rack hangs on the side of a rolling power-tool closet.  

Special Thanks To Our Tool Sponsors

Here’s a list of the manufacturers supplying the featured tools and accessories in our garage shop. Check woodcraft.com or your local Woodcraft store for availability.

14" Bandsaw, Model LT14SUV
Laguna Tools
lagunatools.com; (800) 234-1976

Clamps: F-style, K-bodies, C-clamps, Strap Clamp
Bessey Tools North America
besseytools.com; (800) 828-1004

12" DB Glide Mitersaw, Model GCM12SD
SkilBosch
boschtools.com; (877) 267-2499

10" Left Tilt 2 hp Tablesaw, Model 50-200R M1
General International
general.ca; (888) 949-1161

Portable Router Table
JessEm Tool Company
jessem.com; (866) 272-7492

Miter Gauge, Model 1000HD
Incra Precision Tools
incrementaltools.com; (888) 804-6272

Finishes
General Finishes
generalfinishes.com; (800) 783-6050

Flooring
Reflex Mouldings USA Flex-Tile
reflexmouldingsusa.com; (816) 765-7301

Router Bits
Whiteside Machine Co.
whitesiderouterbits.com; (800) 225-3982

Router Bits and Saw Blades
Freud
freudtools.com; (800) 472-7307

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