Building a workshop: am I in over my head?

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Forum topic by Derakon posted 01-08-2013 07:08 PM 3974 views 0 times favorited 106 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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89 posts in 3081 days

01-08-2013 07:08 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workshop

About a year and a half ago I moved from an apartment to a house with a garage. “This is great!”, I thought. “I can have a proper workshop! I won’t have to lug my table saw out to the deck every time I want to use it!” And indeed it is very nice to be able to work in the garage…but as is the way of things, I still don’t have enough space. I have to work around the laundry, the dry-food shelves, the bike storage, etc. I suspect that I will never have enough room. :)

Anyway, I thought it’d be a good idea to build a shed in the back yard and work out of there instead (there’s a shed there already, but it’s old and too small and has no power and etc.). That way I could have exactly the workspace I want and the garage would be freed up for whatever we need to stick in it. But I have no idea how to get started on this project and exactly how much work it’d be. Thus far all of my projects have been fairly small things—cutting boards, building blocks, shelves, picture frames, that kind of thing. So while I have a decent amount of experience I’m hardly an expert.

All the plans I’ve found online seem like they’d be way too small. 8’x10’? You can barely even move boards around in that! I find myself thinking big, like 12’x16’ or maybe bigger…but I have no idea what’s realistic, especially since I’d be doing basically all the work myself. And my yard doesn’t have drivable access, so I’d have to carry all the lumber back there by hand. Generally, I want enough space to set up a proper workbench; room to stow my larger power tools (router table, planer, etc.), lumber storage, and of course floor space. I’d need power; water would also be nice (but I could probably handle that by running a hose out), and insulation would also be welcome.

So basically I’d appreciate any advice y’all’d care to give me, and if there’s any “general introduction” guides, or especially plans for larger sheds, I’d love to see them. Thanks!

106 replies so far

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4072 days

#1 posted 01-08-2013 07:15 PM

It will be less expensive to build a storage shed than to build a workshop. If your garage is big enough for your shop once all the crap is gone, then you are probably better off doing that. Just make sure that if you have a wife and kids that they understand that the garage is your “shop.”

-- jay,

View Woodendeavor's profile


276 posts in 3520 days

#2 posted 01-08-2013 07:28 PM

If you want to build something small I would suggest calling your local permit office and see if there is a maximum size building you can put up without a permit. I know where I live I can build a 200 sqft building with out a permit. What ever you do don’t call it a work shop, call it storage when you talk to the permit office.

View thedude50's profile


3613 posts in 3391 days

#3 posted 01-08-2013 07:34 PM

well I would be happy to help you through the process so the first thing is you need to get in touch with your city government they will advise you of the code for building such a shop and if it is legal to do it in the first place. dont skip this as I know lots of guys who tried to skip this step and got burned had to tear down their new shop and then had to pay a large fine. in my city the largest shed i can build without a permit was 12×16 and so that is what I BUILT.


So after step on you will have to develop a working plan i drew mine up on paper the one thing different about my shed is it was to house all the stuff from the three car garage. I was able to get this done it had a few drawbacks like a freak wind storm that knocked the building to the ground the day before it was to be sided. So we re built it the second time i used hurricane straps to anchor the shed to the foundation.

a few oter ruls may make you change your plan in my city you can not run power to out buildings pretty crazy but if they catch you breaking rules they will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

so instead of me building a huge workshop in the yard i BUILT A SMALL SHED THE COST 1500 TO BUILD AND 300 TO ROOF I also was able to empty 99% of the crap in the Garage so i can have my shop. the advantages for me were better power access and more comfort as most of the shop is insulated and soon it all will be. also the easy access for delivering wood sheet goods are the worst to lug around the property to the back yard this made the 3 car shop a winner in my case. it would not work with out a nice water tight shed.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View TeamTurpin's profile


85 posts in 2975 days

#4 posted 01-08-2013 07:35 PM

Derakon, I’ve built a 12’ X 16’ workshop in my backyard and I love it. Check out the photos to see what can be done in a micro-shop.


View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3399 days

#5 posted 01-08-2013 07:56 PM


I just checked out your shop pictures. Looks like a great little setup. And those drop down tool cabinets are freakin’ genius.

-- Brian Timmons -

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 3598 days

#6 posted 01-08-2013 07:56 PM

I dunno…but for a hobbyist, you can start with the fact that you will be dealing largely with 8’ sticks so if you can position a table saw dead center you are dealing with 16’ plus wiggle room unless you have a door or window where you can get by with a shorter span. width is up to you but I think 16’ would be enough. Standard construction would dictate keeping the dimensions in multiples of 4’ unless you go with steel (multiples of 3’ I think unless you like to cut metal).

Electrical probably best to take-off from the house (we have a pretty stiff monthly standard meter charge here making a separate meter pretty expensive). I ran 100amp to mine but most of that is “future”. I have 3 20a 120v circuits in 3/4” EMT, 15amp for lighting and 2 240v runs…60amp would probably be enough since rarely will you use more than 1 tool at a time. Water??? I put in a line from the house but haven’t livened it up yet and really don’t need it much.

View Derakon's profile


89 posts in 3081 days

#7 posted 01-08-2013 08:07 PM

Thanks for the response, all!

Cosmicsniper: the problem is that the other stuff that is stored in the garage really doesn’t have a better place to be. I don’t want our dry food to be far away from the kitchen as it would be if it was in a backyard shed; ditto the laundry. Bicycles I guess could go back there, but that’s really about it.

Woodendeavour / thedude50: great call on contacting the government to check what’s legal. I definitely don’t want an illegal structure here!

TeamTurpin: nice workshop! There’s a lot of clever ideas here. I’m amused that 12’x16’ is a small workshop for you—it’d be pretty big for me! Unfortunately I suspect I’m not likely to find any barn builders in my area though—we’re very suburban (San Francisco Bay Area).

teejk: thanks for the advice. I admit water was more of a “would be nice to have” type of thing. Easiest would probably be to just run a hose out; it’s not like I need proper drainage or anything. Electrical coming off the main house was definitely what I had in mind—the fusebox has lots of room for additions.

View Manitario's profile


2816 posts in 3797 days

#8 posted 01-08-2013 08:13 PM

I started off similar to you; I had a small garage that I used to make small things, eg. cutting boards etc. The garage also doubled as storage space for a lot of stuff. As my interest in woodworking expanded, my tool collection also began to expand…if you are just starting out in ww and are going to grow in what you make, you’ll want to arrange to have space for a larger collection of tools, eg. router table, dust collector, possibly a bandsaw and a jointer, planer etc. As well, you’ll probably want to consider some room for wood storage. Unless you have a bunch of money to spend on building a new shop, running electricity to it etc. it might be easier to find a solution to using your current garage and building a small storage shed for the “non-woodworking” stuff you have in it right now.
FYI: my first “shop” was 12×24 (shared with bikes etc.) and my current shop is 17×31 which is my own space. First shop was too small, current one is just right, for now…

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Loren's profile


10785 posts in 4561 days

#9 posted 01-08-2013 08:20 PM

Put another shed in the yard and put all the
bikes and stuff in that.

A small work space is fine if you aren’t collecting
machinery. Hand tool purists and Festool fanatics
find ways to work in very compact spaces.

Still, the easiest solution in my opinion is to
banish everything you can which is not related
to woodworking from the garage. Build cabinets
for your dry foods and consolidate the laundry

View mcase's profile


446 posts in 4043 days

#10 posted 01-08-2013 08:21 PM

I’ve been in the remodeling business for years and Wood and Dude are absolutely right. Find out what your local building codes are. These can be a lot more complex than most people imagine. Some issues include ground cover, set backs, use etc. Some towns have different zones and you may have the required set back on one side of the street, but your neighbor across the street may not or may be in a dreaded “historical district.” The best thing is to find out what you can build where you live without inspection or permit. This is a wild card. In some communities its very limited in rural areas usually its pretty easy. Most inspectors will be happy yo go over what your going build and would rather advise before hand than have to condemn something later on. If you end up building, drop me line and I would be glad to give advice.

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 3598 days

#11 posted 01-08-2013 08:37 PM

definitely check with your town about building permits…I think here it’s 100 sq ft (hard to believe they would bother aint it?) but some places will make your life miserable without it…I was the 4th owner of house in NY where somebody finished the basement without permits…it cost me $10m to bring it up to code (today’s code btw, not when it was built) before I could sell.

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3924 days

#12 posted 01-08-2013 08:39 PM

teejk, I’m hoping you meant $10k and not $10m. LOL

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2921 days

#13 posted 01-08-2013 08:46 PM

Any chance there’s room enough behind the garage that you could just “expand” it? Perhaps by adding to the depth of what’s already there you could put a doorway between and then decide which half is best for your shop. You might end up with the addition and half the existing garage for your shop, or possibly the garage and half the addition for the new shop area, and still leave room for the bikes/food/Christmas storage/whatever. And the permitting for an addition rather than a new structure might be easier to deal with the city

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View a1Jim's profile


118144 posts in 4491 days

#14 posted 01-08-2013 08:52 PM

As a contractor of 25 years ,I agree about checking on the code but I would do it in a general way not giving your name or address ,just the area or town. Make sure your property is in the cities codes ,if not it may be covered by the county who may have different codes than your city.Some of things new builders forget to check is what are called set backs,these are required distances from the front,rear and sides of your property that you must not build on,as an example in my area you must 20ft from the front 5ft from the sides and 10ft from the rear property lines.If your property is not very large you might not be able to build want you want do to these restrictions. For a new builder I would recommend hiring experienced people to do the concrete and framing and maybe the roof depending on you physical status. The rest will go much more quickly once those parts are done by pros. During this time of year you should find someone who will work very reasonably get at least 3 bids if not more and make sure they are licensed and insured .


View b2rtch's profile


4920 posts in 3962 days

#15 posted 01-08-2013 09:26 PM

I built a 24×30 shop in SLC Utah.
The shop itself was around $23 000.00 ( the slab, the walls and the roof).
3 years later I have spent roughly 40 000. 00 + in the shop and I am still going.
This is never ending.
I write that not to show off but just to tell you that ti can get expensive

-- Bert

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