random #2: Just realized exactly how tiny my shop is :(

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 02-26-2009 02:08 PM 1982 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Walnut Wood - I just need to know... Part 2 of random series Part 3: Anthropomorphic tools - My DeWALT sander is watching me »

I finally ran the numbers. My shop is a 1-car rental garage in cramped, suburban LA. Making things extra strange is that there is a 6’ tall cinder block wall running down one side of the property that terminates right at the corner of my garage. It actually buts into it, overlapping the wall by the width of the cinder blocks. The fence around the back of the property passes about 4’ behind the garage, giving me a little tree-covered (Hollywood Junipers and Ficus benjamina) area I plan to use for wood drying of small logs I find here, and tiny resawn/stickered stuff – the bonsai version of a real wood drying area :), and then it turns right in line with the edge of the garage and terminates on the other corner, butting right into that side. This means I can’t get to the outer side of one long wall of my garage.

It’s sealed off from me by a cement wall and a wooden fence. It’s my neighbor’s wall, esentially and sometimes I hear him banging on it. I think he might have pegboard installed, because it’s sounded like he’s gardening, hanging tools up as he finishes using them on the outside of my garage wall. I think he has a potting table pushed up against it, but I can’t know, because it’s hidden by a wall across my entire property. It’s especially weird for me, as I grew up in the middle of nowhere, in the deep woods, with no neighbors, really. It was total seclusion, and now even in a separate home – which definitely beats apartment life of a few years ago, don’t get me wrong – I still don’t ‘own’ the whole garage. I can’t go knocking out a hole to vent my dust collector, or a fume extractor on that wall, which is the empty (of windows/doors) long wall. But I digress. It’s just a rental house, and I’m hoping to buy a house with a 2-car garage one of these years. This place is just a stepping stone to my dreams, and I’m plenty happy with everything the place does allow me to do in the meantime, which includes a lot of learning, and experience building.

Anyway, it’s 13’x17.5’ inside, or a whopping 227.5sq. ft. I subtracted the footprints of my tools, which include a very large router table (Woodpecker’s biggest), a RIDGID table saw (pretty big), 2 2×8, heavy workbench tables (on sale a couple years ago at Sam’s Club), a Craftsman 12” drill press, a Delta 6” jointer, a Craftsman 18” wood/metal bandsaw, a Delta 1HP dust collector w/ 30gal galv. trash can separator, and the floor cabinet I just built. And I’m really anxious to get a good 9” disc/6”x24” belt sander. Where am I going to put it, though? And where am I ever going to set up all the welding stuff I want to learn about? I’m glad the landlady pays for gardeners, because I barely have room for the 2 shovels, rake, and pushbroom I hung in the corner behind the door, all in overlapping fashion.

The remaining, scattered, usable floor area in my garage is 124sq. ft., or roughly a 10’x12’ patch. I wish that were all contiguous. That would actually be a pretty sweet area for me to work in. Unfortunately, that’s all in bits here and there, lost in large part between tools against the walls, or divided in half by the huge table saw in the middle of the room. It was quite a struggle to move heavy tools around back and forth for weeks while building that cabinet. There’s no chance of making anything like a bed, or couch, or dining room table, so for now I’m concentrating on smaller things. I can’t even imagine how much faster I’d be with another car’s worth of space in which to have a true woodworker’s bench – the big 4’x8’ kind, with the vice built in and everything. While building the lazy susan this past week, I’d set up the saw, make some cuts, then knock it down, sink the blade, remove the guard, stow the fence, and use the saw as a work table upon which to biscuit-join the pieces. Then I laid out wax paper and did the glue-ups on the saw, moving everything setting up the saw again to rip the edge banding later, and knocking it down once more to glue that on. It’s like working in a tavern puzzle.

The other problem is that my one 2’x8’ table upon which I could do a lot of assembly-type work has been piled at least 1’ high in junk spilling off all edges for probably a year. There’s just been absolutely nowhere to move it all to. That’s why I built the shop cabinet, and it holds a tremendous amount of stuff – need to post about that soon. I’m moving almost everything into there, or recycling it, giving it away, or selling it. I managed to sell my fold-up circular saw to my officemate’s friend 2 weeks ago. What a huge relief that was! Almost 6 additional sq. ft. of space! I danced in its emptied corner that night, in celebration.

Probably the next half-year is just going to be getting my ducks in a row, cleaning the rest of the place out of my accumulated junk, organizing, and building more shelves and cabinets to get everything up off the floor and in a place, so I can reclaim my space. I suppose in some ways this is good training. If I had 2-cars worth of space a year or two ago, I’d probably spill into all areas and choke myself out of there, too :) Now I’m kind of hardened against that sort of space-waste, like I’ve been through some kind of military academy that trains it out of you. I’ve also built a too-elaborate wood storage shed outside to hold pretty much all of my lumber, and am making a smaller, stepped shelving thing now to hang up high on the long wall of the garage, and will post about that soon, too. The only part that’s a little upsetting is that it’ll probably be a year in all of building just to get me more room, and then I’ll probably find a great place to move to on craigslist, and have to take down all of my intricate work getting this place set up as well as it possibly can be. I don’t know how I’ll ever get the wood shed out of the back yard. It’s far bigger than either of the gates, and those are the only ways out. Maybe helicopter :)

What kind of sq. ft. do you have in your shop? Ever considered subtracting your tool/table/storage footprints to see how much actual usable space you have? Do you wish you had more, or can you pretty much go from tool to tool, to assembly area with no need to reshuffle your whole shop?

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

4 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5156 days

#1 posted 02-26-2009 03:30 PM

Gary, I can that for most of us, there are three essentials for our shops- space, tools and clamps- that we never seem to have enough of to satisfy our woodworking needs. I have never formally subtracted my tool footprint from my shop area but I can say, without a doubt, that I, like the vast majority of us, do not have enough space in my shop. I can assemble one cabinet at a time and that is with a lot of shuffling during the process. I have a personal paradigm that, in a similar fashion to time, work will expand to fill the available area.

But it amazing what can be done in small shop spaces. I have often commented on a former co-worker who could boast of having a 10’x10’ shop with a benchtop jointer, planer and table saw in there. And he managed to produced some fine furniture in this shop. In a recent post Dilo gave us a look inside his 42 sq ft shop. There is no arguing that the work he produces is simply masterful.

I am sure, at least initially, that I would be more than satisfied with a 1000 sq ft shop but I am equally positive that in short fashion I would lamenting the lack of available space. But is would be fun to have this space “problem” and it would obviously give me room for more tools!!!!

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4776 days

#2 posted 02-27-2009 02:34 AM

will this do?
Just kidding, this is a “before” shot of where I should be working, but thats a long sorry tale and a blog post for another day. My “workshop” currently depends on the weather as it,s outside. I,m on a hand tool trip now so my space needs are flexible as I don,t need a power point but i,ve been in your position before. It all depends on how organized you are. Just remember if you aren,t organized then it doesn,t matter how big the space, you,ll still fill it with junk!

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4716 days

#3 posted 02-27-2009 06:40 AM

Scott – I’m adding one more necessity: I’m also always in short supply of time! I actually have enough clamps for most things I do now, but then, I did recently build a floor cabinet, and simply did not have enough for certain glue-ups, and those glue-ups suffered. You are definitely right about space filling up regardless, though I think for me, a 2-car garage with about a 9’ clearance before the roof studs, and then an A-frame rafter space built solidly for all the winched “liftables” I’d want to install overhead would about do it. I’m actually almost out of tools now, meaning I’ve pretty much gotten everything I need, save the belt and disc sander. I can see upgrading to larger versions of some things – bigger saw with large table, larger dust collector – but the “must have” acquisition list has been pretty empty for awhile.

For anything larger than something that fits easily on a table, I seem to be forever shuffling, sliding tools out of the way so I can set up infeed and outfeed rollers for the saw, always banging into benchtops when moving things around. The thing I’m absolutely missing every time is a workbench. I think everyone would agree with that, but I’m plumb out of room in which to have one, let alone build one. I’d like something about 4’x8’, with space all around it so I can attack work from all angles. My 2’x8’ bench, which is a mess, but is getting cleaned up, is pushed into a corner. If I’m working on assembling something 3’x3’, I can’t get the whole thing on there. Currently, I’m making a shelving system that’s 2’x2’x6’. It’ll just fit on the table (when cleaned off), but won’t really leave any room for the tools, jigs, and other things with which to assemble it. I’m certain the dream of a 2 car garage would still have struggles, but I’m 90% certain that someday, when I have that space, at least 80% of what I do will require no shufflings, and I can just work. That’s my biggest wish, outside of more time.

Kiwi – HAHA! That cracked me up. My stepdad has a kind of warehouse-like metal shop, usually filled with loud noises and foremen, but I went down there in high school one night by myself to work on a camera rig idea I had. I only turned on a couple lights here and there, where needed, so I was kind of in isolated pools of light at each station in a sea of darkness. It was creepy, and very lonely. I think if I had as much space as in that picture all to myself, my original post would have ended with different questions, more like “Does anyone want to come over? Please? You can use my tools… whatever. It’s so lonely here.” :)

And organization indeed. That’s what I’m doing right now. I built a floor cabinet that holds a crap-ton of stuff – still moving things into it. I built a wood storage shed that holds all of the 2’x4’, 4’x8’, and 8’ long lumber I have so far. And now I’m building a wall rack that will be up high, and not hit me in the head, by design, and hopefully ALL of the small cutoffs and shorts piling up around me in the garage will fit into it. I’m moving more and more piles around, and they keep getting heavier, and more wobbly, like jenga games. I know this is a growing problem, and I’ll keep building until I run out of cubby space there, too, but the idea is to keep tabs on it, and when I see it filling up, I’ll come up with a little project – like a nice box – and pull from it to reduce the clutter back down. Here’s hoping, on all fronts.

Thanks for the support, guys!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View BigBob's profile


64 posts in 4823 days

#4 posted 02-27-2009 03:51 PM

Hi Gary, the space is always an issue, no matter how large your shop is. My shop is a 2 car garage. The car livesin the driveway, the shop mine. It measures about 21ft by 24 ft and it’s STILL not big enough. Fine Woodworking has a lot of articles about small shops andlaying them out. I built a 16 ft workbench along one wall with a radial arm saw right in the midldle of the bench. I use it to cross cut only and it really saws a lot of time. a radial arm saw is out of fashion these days and cheap to buy because they are dangerious to rip with, and have been replaced by the chop off saw.
Thanks for your kind comments on my bench and ships wheel. I’ll add you to my buddies.

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