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A Tour of Mike Brown's Shop

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the 'new' old building

We moved to a new location in June, 2007, and one of the things that attracted me to the property we bought is this building behind the house. As soon as I saw it, I started planning how I would set it up as my woodworking shop.

concept sketch

Here is an in-progress model of the shop using Google Sketchup:

ghost shop

The first step of every project is demolition, and this was no different. The previous owner left the building pretty clean, but as you can see, there were two workbenches…

looks like a gymnasium

…several wall-mounted cabinets, a shelf, an old hot water heater, an old exercise machine, and some paint buckets,

starting with a clean slate

So after about five hours, we have an almost-clean sheet of paper to work with. After I took these pictures, I removed the last workbench and the sink cabinet, leaving a completely bare structure.

Now that I had everything cleaned out of the building, it was time to prep and paint the floor. This was a long and sweaty process:

the old floor

I got to know every square inch of that floor, all 79,200 of them. I kept thinking “wax on, wax off” as I did the hand sanding. I really wanted to get the floor to pristine condition to make sure the epoxy stuck well and lasted for years. The last thing I want to do is pull a bunch of tools out and re-do some or all of the floor.

the new floor

I did encounter a couple of issues. The first is cracks in the floor. When they say fill cracks with paintable caulk, they mean it. I tried to force paint into some cracks but they telegraphed through after the paint dried. The second problem was I bought two gallon kits from one factory batch and one gallon from another factory batch. The third one is a significantly different shade of beige, but luckily the boundary is going to be right where a dividing wall will go. Make sure you buy enough kits for the whole project and all from the same batch.

closeup view: beige 'n chips

I chose the beige color, rather than standard garage grey because beige, with the brown flakes sprinkled on, is going to hide the sawdust really well. It also reflects light well and significantly brightened up the shop.

the compressor

Since the building currently has no ceiling, I decided to run air compressor hoses to two places in the shop, one to a retractable reel over the assembly table (which can extend 25' and reach anywhere in the main shop room), and another one to a retractable reel in the finishing room. I've lived with compressor hoses running from a wall-mounted manual reel and lying all over the floor for years. With these reels mounted to the ceiling, it's a simple matter to grab it, snap on the tool, pull down just enough hose, do the job and retract it back again.

one of the air reels roughed in

I got a lot of help at Outlet Tool Supply in Atascadero, about 15 minutes from my house. The very knowledgeable salesman helped me choose every fitting and hose right from the output of my compressor to each reel. The system is built with flexible hoses and quick-connects at every joint, allowing me to easily swap in a new hose in case of a leak.

fully installed reels—air & electric

Now that the drywall is in and painted, I remounted the reels and everything is working well.

Here in California's Central Coast (between Carmel and Santa Barbara) we get some strong temperature extremes—it can hit 110° in the day in summer but drop back to 55° at night. In the winter it can go as low as 19°. I just barely survived the heat in my workshop in Texas so a comfortable work environment is paramount. The unit I picked is from LG, with 12,000 BTU cooling and 11,200 BTU heating capacity. That should be correctly sized to keep my 550 ft ² shop just right. The unit is Energy Star rated, but since I'm generating my own power, I won't worry about how much I'll be using it through the summer and winter.

ac unit roughed in

I installed the frame into the hole with a bunch of 2" screws right into the studs, tilting it about ½" below level at the back to allow for proper drainage of the condensed water. I then slid the unit into the frame, screwed it in and popped on the front panel. I'll put the drywall back later and seal around the unit. I'll also run the 240V circuit from the breaker box and rough-in the outlet as soon as I get guidance from my electrician.

finished ac inside

With the drywall complete, I installed and painted the inside…

finished ac outside

…and outside trim.

sheet goods storage

One thing that always comes up short in workshops is storage space for sheet goods and lumber. After my previous shop experiences, I have figured out what works best for me. I built a 4' partition wall for sheet goods storage…

lumber storage

…and bought two Triton rack kits and mounted them close to the ceiling so I can put things underneath, or expand downward in the future if necessary.

you can never have too many…

I found the clamp rack design I used in ShopNotes #19, #46, and #73. It's situated in the corner of the shop on the north wall and on the doors of the noisy room, just steps away from where the assembly table will go. My clamps are separated into different styles. I planned things out on graph paper to figure out the best layout. The pipe clamps slide into a 118" slot…

K-Body type parallel clamps

…the bar clamps and Bessy/Jet clamps slide into narrower slots…


…and the grip clamps fit into slots and over blocks.

My old shop had a nice dust collection system using very heavy 4" PVC pipe for the main trunk to the collector, with flexible hoses and gates to each tool. The only drawback was it was just laid on the floor and in the case of the table saw, I had to step over the pipe all the time, and when I wanted to use it for a hand-held tool like a palm sander or belt sander, the hose was heavy and the reducers kept popping out. So this time I'm going to use a much lighter weight polystyrene 4" pipe and run it along the top of the walls with drop downs to each tool as needed. I'm using 4" bolt-tightened metal clamps to hold the pipes up.

my dust collector

I've added a chip-separator lid on a 20" garbage can as a first stage before the main dust collector. This will cut down on how often I need to wrestle with the plastic bag mounted under the filter unit. I've built a small sound-deadening rooom around the chip separator, dust collector, and air compressor to cut down on the noise they make while in operation. The dust collector is controlled with a remote control switch clipped to my tool belt. Both the DC and compressor are on remote controls.

DC at the table saw

I started the DC piping with the table saw and jointer, bringing their pipes together, each with its own blast gate. When I first fired up the system I was very happy about the air draw all the way back to the table saw, an approximate 35' trip.

DC at the router table

Next I ran a long flex hose against the east wall so I can hook up my big rolling tools like the router table, drum sander, and planer.

DC at the sanding table

Then I piped up the sanding station—the unit draws ambient dust through the platform and the second smaller pipe pulls dust directly out of the palm sander.

DC at the band saw

Finally I ran the piping around the corner and down to the bandsaw.

overhead dust filter

I hung the Jet dust filter, bolted directly into the cross beams, over the table saw. It does a good job of pulling any ambient dust out of the air.

Having had very limited workbench space and even less storage space in other shops, I decided to run a workbench all the way down the western wall and have drawers underneath to store everything. Embedded into the workbench will be a Delta Downdraft Dust Collection Table and a radial arm saw. I decided to go with a variation of Norm Abram's updated workbench in his shop, as built in The New Yankee Workshop, Episode 1306.

wall space begging for some cabinetry

This picture shows the empty wall. Instead of Norm's choice of birch plywood I went with shealthing material, about half the price and it won't be seen so I figured it was a good deal. The only issues were a bit of warping of the panels and some voids when I glued/screwed the cleats to the panels, but it worked out fine in the end.

sub-assembly of dividers and connecting cleats

Here are the cut 28" x 31½" dividers and 4" cleats. It's hard to keep the dividers upright to attach the cleats so I used my Jet clamps to hold things in place during assembly. Due to the length of the wall and thinking ahead for the position of the sanding platform and radial arm saw, I decided to make two 8' units, then an odd-size unit on the left and an odd-size unit on the right.

left side filler section

On the left side I had to notch around the PVC water supply pipe and a capped-off propane supply pipe.

right side filler section

On the right side I had one standard-width drawer bay and the leftover space up to the wall of the noisy room.

all of the sub-assemblies awaiting top 'n trim

From the fully integrated units, I built a frame of half-lapped 2x4s. One strip along the back, one strip along the front (overhanging 4") and one centered over each panel. The half-laps are glued and screwed, then the whole network is screwed down to the cleats and panels. This forms the strong sub-frame for the sheet goods that make the workbench top.

drawer assemblies

With the bench in place, I can start on the drawers. My goal is to have everything in drawers, nothing hanging from pegs or on shelves. I'm using my dovetailing system from Jointech. I had to re-learn how to use it, but once I got it set up, the drawers practically make themselves. I built four 2" deep drawers and four 4" deep drawers at this time. As time goes by I can decide what size drawers to build.

first drawer installed

Since I was going to install eight drawers here and two more in the laundry room in the house, I decided to make jigs for attaching the 100 pound, full-extension drawer slides to the drawers and cabinets. And the first one goes in perfectly (and that rarely happens so I'm enjoying the moment).

drawer dividers

I spent most of the Superbowl cutting out pieces of graph paper to fit all of my tools into the drawers. I then cut and hot glued pieces of hardboard into place. This is the result of the first drawer. Only seven more to go.

support for sanding platform

Here's where it gets interesting. I had to make strong, undermounted supports for the sanding platform and the radial arm saw base. The top of the platform will sit flush with the workbench top so I have to cut a hole of fairly exact placement and size for the unit and its dust collection fittings.

ras base installed

The radial arm saw base is placed on support cleats, then lag bolted front and back. The base will sit just below the sheet goods so no big hole for the base is required. I stood on it to make sure it was strong enough to handle the weight of the saw and I didn't see any give so I have my fingers crossed.

rough sheathing in place

Next I cut and screwed down three sheets of sheathing to the 2x4 frame, and cut the hole for the sanding platform.

finish top surface in place

Then I cut and finish nailed-down the 18" hardboard—the top surface of the bench. We're getting into the home stretch!

ras bones installed

Now that the bench is in place, I can go back and complete the installation of the radial arm saw. It's a 1960s vintage Craftsman model, that I bought in Austin for $50 at a garage sale. I switched the motor to 240V, and installed new round black wire.

height adjustment shaft—looks a little short

The height adjustment shaft just sticks through the front of the bench, but the stock handle doesn't have enough clearance to turn, so I had to come up with the different plan.

Quick-Grips were never envisioned for clamping a V-belt to a pulley

I bought a 2" diameter pulley, a small V belt, and an octagonal-shaped PVC end cap. I cut a section of V-belt just the right size to fit around the pulley, then epoxied it into place.

PVC height adjusting 'knob'

I then epoxied the end cap and pounded it down onto the pulley—the V-belt acts as a gasket of just the right size to make everything fit tightly. The new adjustment knob then fits onto the end of the shaft.

Although most shop tours show a lot of the finished work area as well as tool layout, mine is more of a construction detail tour. This sort of information may prove just as useful as a tour of a finished shop. Maybe I'll get around to posting some overview shots of the finished space at a later date.

Posted 2 August 2008

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