Thursday, September 27, 2012


Some brief background:  We accepted an offer for our house this spring.  Six weeks later we had cleared all the hurdles and were told by our agent that the closing was certain and that we should move out.  We did, it wasn't.  We left all of our goods in storage for the summer hoping that the house would sell, but it didn't so we moved back in.  Bummer.

One of the major reasons we want to move is so I will have room to build a dedicated hand tool workshop (the other is my desire to restore a vintage craftsman cottage).  When life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.  Temporarily, my workshop will be in a two-car garage and I have decided to put some thought into how best to create a nice one.  I suspect that many, perhaps most, amateur woodworkers are in a similar situation.

I set some ground rules for myself:
  1. We are not going to be in this house for more than a year or two (hopefully) so permanent modifications are out;
  2. I am going to use what I have whenever possible so I don't have to move anything more, even if it is less than ideal;
  3. The workshop is going to be hand tool centric but I am keeping some of my power tools;
  4. I am going to try to limit the dedicated workshop space to 12'x24', i.e. half the garage.  
The last rule may seem arbitrary, but there are several reasons for it.  This is the size of the dedicated shop I plan to build.  My hobbies are woodworking, tent camping, bicycles (4 and a work station) and motorcycles (1).  Garage space is at a premium!

The first issue the garage woodworker has to confront is flooring.  Concrete will not do unless you are certain you will never drop an expensive tool.  I have seen nice plans for a wooden overlay floor, but that would be permanent.  Previously, I used foam, interlocking blocks, which are good but sharp edges will penetrate through to the floor.  I went to the local farm and ranch store to see what they had and found 5/8" thick 4'x7' general purpose rubber floor mats for $45 apiece, less than half of the cost of garage floor coverings I found elsewhere.  These are not horse stall mats, which are much heavier.  Four of these mats make a work area that extends 3' on all sides of my 2'x8' bench.  In my opinion, this is a great solution, very functional and something I can take with me when I leave.  After a month, I am very happy with it.  It is comfortable to stand on, safely cushions tools if dropped and doesn't have any noticeable impact on the "deadness" of the bench.  Here is what it looks like:

You'll notice that my bench is in the middle of the space and not against the wall under the window where it was.  Many of the experts recommend the latter but it didn't work for me.  Perhaps because the window faces west, looking at what I was working on was a little like what happens when you take a picture facing the sun.  I also found myself wishing I could use the bench from both sides and both ends.  After a month of working with it in the new location, I strongly prefer it.  I tend to do planing on one side and leave my Moxon vise and bench raiser set up on the other side.  In some respects, I feel like I have doubled my bench space.  The lighting suits me better as well.  The windows provide raking light when I want it but don't create an excessively bright background.  A tool chest is ideal to work from with an arrangement like this.  I can roll it around just where I want it.

The more I think about it, the more I think that, if you are going to have your bench against a wall, it should be arranged like Bob Rozaieski's.  He gets a lot out of a very small space.

Next post, I'll tell you about the rest of my new layout.  In the meantime, if you want to see a beautiful dedicated workshop, check this out.  Someday!


  1. Oh my. I hate moving. You seem to be suffering from Marc Spagnuolo (the wood whisperer) moving syndrome. Hopefully you have a happy ending like he has and get to build you dream shop.

    I'm with you on the bench in the middle of the room. Don't know how people make it work against the wall. I did a post about and got some interesting feed back.

    1. Marilyn,

      The responses to your post are interesting and well worth reading. I always enjoy looking at your site.

      Andy Margeson

  2. Jaime's shop is very nice. Interesting... in 1953 my grandfather built a grainery by hand for storing wheat, barley, and oat. It is slightly bigger but looks nearly identical. It is still in pristine condition. Only problem is that it is 200 miles from where I live!

  3. Andy,
    So sorry to hear about your housing issues; best of luck as you move forward. Looks like you've adapted well to the changes. I like what you are doing with the shop space you have. I am in a similar situation, but really only use about 10' x 15' of my 2-car garage. Thinking about permanently parking one car (mine, of course) outside and expanding into a 12' x 26' space such as yours.