Over the last 9 weeks we’ve watched the building
of my new home workshop – from the initial plans and bare site, to the
construction, wiring and lighting.
So what’s been learned? How well does the finished
workshop operate? And what are the shortcomings?
The key features of a home workshop have been
stressed through the series, but here they are in summary.
Go for the maximum wall height your budget and
Every metre that you can add to the height of the
walls is potentially a lot more storage space. For example, in my
workshop, one extra metre of wall height equates to an extra 40 square metres of
wall storage space. That’s an area greater than the entire floor space of a 6 x
6 metre shed! Sure it’s vertical and not horizontal, but it’s still a helluva
lot of space to attach shelves.
Furthermore, an extra metre of wall height results
in a roof that’s a metre higher – allowing items to be stored by hanging them
from the rafters. This is very useful for all manner of things – from hanging up
exhausts, to storing items on high-mounted flat racks.
Providing lots of natural lighting (eg through
windows, translucent plastic roofing sheets or skylights) has the potential to
significantly reduce electric light running costs and also to a give a level of
illuminance that’s hard to achieve with artificial lighting. The way in which
natural lighting is to be provided needs to be decided early in the workshop
Getting the electric lighting right in my workshop
was a far harder ask than it initially looked. In short, to provide a level of
illuminance that does not result in reduced working efficiency, you need
something in the order of three to four times the amount of lighting used in
typical workshops. In fact, instead of looking towards other workshops for a
guide, look at the lighting used in commercial offices and shops.
You will also probably find that the budget for
lighting is much higher than it initially looks – if buying new, perhaps as much
as 15 per cent of the cost of the entire workshop (and that cost doesn’t include
Workshop processes like sanding, using fibreglass
resin, painting and welding all need lots of ventilation. In cold climates, that
ventilation may need to be activated only when necessary; in mild climates, it
makes sense to have a constant through-put of air through your workspace.
Roof-mounted ventilators, wide-opening doors,
opening windows, fixed grilles, electric fans – all need to be considered. As
with natural lighting, decisions about ventilation need to be made early in the
You cannot have too large a door to your workshop!
It wasn’t until I had finished my workshop that I even considered whether the
width of a roller door opening was sufficient to let my metal bender be moved
into the workshop without having to turn it sideways. (It fitted, but only
Especially in a home workshop where lots of car
work will occur, having a large access opening makes things so much easier. Look
at build options – eg an extra-wide roller door, or two roller doors with a
removable pillar sited between. And don’t forget something I did – clearance
height. If you go up in wall height, it also makes sense to also increase the
height of the door openings.
Finally, many shed/workshop designs include a
personal access door. Having previously had a shed built with a personal access
door (a door I found I never used), I chose to leave it out of this design,
resulting in a cost saving. So consider whether you’re happy to open the main
door every time, or whether you’d like access through another smaller door.
But perhaps the most important of the key features
is something that is largely philosophical.
In addition to spending a lot of hours on the
workshop with my hands, I also spent a helluva lot of time just sitting in the
space (initially, on the bare slab!) thinking-through the internal organisation
of the workspace.
Where to put the bench? The lathe? The storage
shelves? Where to put the power points, the lights and the switchboard? Which
end of the workbench to have the vice; where to put the oxy equipment?
It sounds a bit wanky, but I think that now,
having finished, the ‘thinking-through’ part was the most important activity I
undertook. Why? Well, when I could start actually using the workshop, things
immediately fell into place. The tools were where I wanted them, the clearance
between the machines and the benches were fine, the lighting bright and even,
the power-points to hand.
In short, I could immediately be productive and
effective, because everything was where it should be.
So the interior design suits me – my height
(important when setting the height of working surfaces), my eyes (I like bright
illumination), my habits (cleaning-up by just tossing the tools back into their
open storage drawers), my interests (my first two jobs in the new workshop were
installing an electronic module in my car, and building a wooden truck for my 4
year old son), and my working style (safety glasses and ear muffs within easy
reach, radio playing).
None of those characteristics would necessarily
suit someone else (though you’d hope things like proximity of tools and open
spaces between machines would be universal) but they don’t have to – it’s my
workshop, built for me.
For any individual, this sort of ‘personalised’
design is hugely advantageous.
OK, so what don’t I like?
Firstly, the concrete is not of the same quality
throughout the shed. The area that after being laid was shaded – and so took a
long time to go hard – has a much softer surface than the concrete elsewhere in
the shed. In fact, it is soft enough that dust can be raised from its surface
just by hard rubbing. I assume (hope!) that once the tops of some of the small
rocks are revealed, this surface will become more hard-wearing.
Another problem is also with the concrete. The
‘step’ placed in the floor at the entrance (designed to stop water being able to
enter the workshop by being blown under the doors) does not have sufficient
‘fall’ at one end, resulting in water pooling. In short, the step has just the
opposite effect from that intended!
I am still undecided as to whether more
translucent roof panels should have been used. I fitted two towards the
‘machinery’ end of the workshop and these provide plenty of natural light. I
didn’t use more of these panels because I was concerned that they’d cause
excessive heating – and on a sunny day, the end of the shed with the two panels
is clearly warmer than the other end. However, how much unwanted heating these
panels provide can’t really be assessed until the height of summer, which at the
time of writing, it isn’t! If required, retrospective fitting of addition
translucent sheets will not be difficult.
I think I’ll fit a stainless steel sink and cold
water tap. Until one wasn’t readily to hand, I didn’t realise how often I
use water – rubbing back a part with wet-and-dry, getting a bucket of water for
cooling a part that’s being ground, washing hands and cleaning parts. Including
a sink should have been in the planning from day #1.
Because the Colourbond wall sheets wrap over the
edge of the concrete slab, there are gaps all around the base of the walls,
formed by the ‘peaks’ in the sheets. Nothing is supplied in the shed kit to
cover these openings. I’ve decided to leave them open, as they provide excellent
intake ventilation airflow, even when the shed doors are shut. (Air is
continually exiting through the wind-driven whirligig ventilators.) However,
these openings are also large enough to allow entry of small vermin, so I’ll
need to keep an eye on that aspect.
OK, so how much did the workshop cost to build,
and how was that cost spread? Here are all the individual costs (all in
Council planning permission: $650
Widening of gate (required for concrete truck and
normal vehicle access to site): $600
Levelling of site, construction of two rock
retaining walls: $4422
Concrete slab (supply and laying): $6500
Shed kit: $6850
Drains, landscaping, stormwater (doesn’t include
rainwater tank): $380
Electrical components (including power points,
fluorescent lights, metal halide fittings, metal halide bulbs, circuit breakers,
main switchboard, safety switches): $1272
Electrical work (includes supply of cable and
How to Equip It?
If you’ve looked at the tools and machines shown
in the workshop covered in this series and thought: “How to the hell do I get
all that stuff?”, here are some answers.
My sheet metal folder, bandsaw, metal shears,
power hacksaw, saw bench and many other items were bought secondhand. Scour eBay
ads (especially in ‘Business and Industrial’), and attend local auction houses
and secondhand machinery sellers. Before spending the cash, make sure you’re
aware of new prices - in most (but not all!) cases, secondhand items will be
about half new price. Often a coat of paint and some grease will bring up used
items to near-new condition.
Machinery sellers like Hare and Forbes have annual
sales where there are significant discounts. My first lathe was bought
secondhand, my current lathe was bought new but on special.
When someone asks you want you want for birthday
or Christmas, don’t say “Dunno”. Instead say: “A really good set of metal
snips.” Or: “A screwdriver set.” Or: “A high-lift trolley jack.” My bi-metal
hole-saws were a gift: I didn’t ever consider it worthwhile shelling-out their
purchase price – but since receiving them, I have used them literally hundreds
When I built my workbench in about 1988 I would
have been staggered if someone had told me that 20 years later, I’d still be
using it. (And that it would follow me across two states and five houses!) But
machinery and benches don’t really wear out – not in home workshop use, anyway.
So a lathe might cost $2500, but if you use it for the next 20 or 30 years, the
overall cost per year is trivial.
Especially if you’re young, it’s kinda hard to
think that way, but when weighing-up the costs and benefits of buying machines
and equipment, remember that some items are effectively forever.
(And if you’re thinking: “Jeez, I might not even
be interested in cars in 15 years’ time!”, consider that, if you like working
with your hands, you’ll probably still want to do so - whether your interests
change to model aircraft, solar energy or keeping guinea pigs!)
Having never built a shed before - let alone a
large one – the construction of my workshop has certainly been a learning
experience. However, it’s been achievable – even for a person working alone.
(I’ve stressed the single-handed aspect because while many people – myself
included - can call on mates to help for a day or two, few of us will have
friends who will be prepared to help in the whole construction process!)
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises is in how
much money is able to be saved by getting lots of quotes from different
tradespeople and suppliers, sourcing your own new and secondhand parts, and
doing as much as possible yourself. I saved about $10,000 by doing these things.
Talking to the local planning authority is also
important – on the basis of the current planning procedures, my workshop would
not have been given planning permission. However, in phone discussion with the
planners, it arose that I could apply under a superseded planning act – and then
the shed size was fine.
And finally, as I have stressed in this story,
thinking-through the workshop layout and organisation so that it suits you - and
what you will be doing in the workshop - is the main key to success.
After all, literally everything else flows from
Interested in home workshop projects and techniques? You’re sure then to be interested in the Home Workshop Sourcebook, available now.