A One-Car Garage Dream Shop
Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by James ProvostSo you don’t have a double car garage, a huge basement or an airplane hangar in your backyard for shop space and you’re really thinking it’s not feasible to get a decent shop set up in anything smaller. Well, with some planning and some extra work, you’d be surprised what you can accommodate in a dedicated smaller area.
I’ll emphasize dedicated smaller area, as in my case I don’t share any of my single-car garage space with the family chariot. Although it took a while for my wife to appreciate that the car should be kept outside in the winter to lessen the effects of rust, it’s been worth the exercise to get the most use of space for my shop.
Phase 1 – The Floor
The most important element of my shop is the floor construction. Concrete is cold and hard on the body and the pour of my floor had a significant slope both side to side and lengthwise that was unacceptable for having some of the heavy machinery on mobile bases.
My garage had a standard height ceiling and I had issues running ducting for dust collection overhead interfering with overhead storage access. I also wanted to run electrical without having to run surface mounted conduit everywhere and I wasn’t going to remove existing drywall to have it otherwise buried. The solution was to create two modules that covered most of the floor area and fix them in place. This gave me a level floor and an area below where I could bury my ducting and my electrical, solving the other issues I faced.
My garage walls had heavily dinged drywall and I wanted to be able to affix anything anywhere so I covered them in T1-11 plywood with Reflectofoil® underneath where there were exterior walls to also aid in keeping the shop warm. I also ran the belt sander over them to soften the rough burred surface a bit before installing it. The T1-11 was sturdy and ideal for affixing a level ledger board all around the shop perimeter using 2" by whatever width was needed to arrive an inch or so away from the actual concrete floor. This acts as a ledger in the non-traditional sense, in that it is what will be for most of the perimeter an actual ledge to have panels laid over top of to two “modules” that would cover the majority of the floor area that I would walk on and have my machinery on. The modules themselves are made of vertical 2" by Xs of varying lengths and widths assembled with 3/4 ply overtop, but the edge of each module extends ¾" beyond the edge of the ply to create the second ledge that panels could be laid over top of. Below these panels is where I would run my ducting and BX wiring throughout the shop.
Before fastening the modules to the floor using Tapcon screws, I wanted to help keep as much coldness away as possible and avoid any major problems should I ever have a leak or water spillage in the future from the sink I installed, so I first laid Dimplex® on the floor and also covered it with Reflectofoil tucking the edges of both under the perimeter ledger but not tucking it up completely against the wall per manufacturer’s instructions. I recall that -20C cold January evening where I had laid down and butt-taped that last piece of the Reflectofoil over top of the Dimplex. Exhausted, I lay down on my floor to rest and unintentionally fell asleep only to wake up a while later, sweating profusely in my winter coat. That Reflectofoil and Dimplex combo really works!
All the joists of each module are level with the perimeter ledger but the fact that my floor slopes five inches from one end and varies two to four inches side to side posed a challenge. I had to cut a lot of bevelled and angled joists to ensure my floor would be level and that the tops of each joist would lay flat against the plywood as well. I did this by using my bandsaw, which I must say was the trickiest and maybe most critical part of getting good results overall. Basically, I would lay a joist on the floor where I wanted it, propping it up vertically to level it, chalk line both sides of the joist using the perimeter ledger as reference, then went to the bandsaw and free-hand cut along the lines as best as I could. After the first few, I got pretty good at it, although there were a few that had to be restarted or skimmed off using a belt sander.
Each module has a fastened plywood top to walk on, and a bottom sheet that would be tapconned to the floor. I also made sure each module had removable lids in the center that I can use to store scraps of lumber in. With heavy machinery rolling over top, I felt these access areas needed reinforcing, so I notched out the joist tops and installed 3/4 x 3/4 square hollow steel under the edge of the 3/4 ply to avoid deflection. Because I would be walking on top of these access lids, I was reluctant to affix any kind of pull hardware that would trip me. The lack of hardware also helps while I’m sweeping and rolling any machinery around. Instead of pulls I use a glass suction device to remove the storage access lids and the other perimeter covers. Works like a charm!
Retain Warmth – Dubé installed a number of layers to keep the cold weather out. First Dimplex then Reflectofoil. Level the Ground – In order to create a level floor, each 2x6 had to be precisely cut before being attached to the base layer of plywood.Run Your Wires – Instead of running wires, dust collection, etc. above head Dubé put it all under the plywood floor.A Solid Floor – Plywood was placed on top after each module was fastened to the concrete floor. Plywood strips would partially overlap the 2x6s and be removable if required. Photos (above) by Kevin Dubé Consistent Height – Most of the small to medium sized machinery is located along one wall. Surface heights were kept consistent, and each machine can be moved forward a few inches if necessary.
Phase 2 – Machinery Layout
The floor was no longer just a floor but was now part of the system of efficiency and space saving foundation for my shop. The next phase was placement of all the equipment, which was no easy task with the amount of equipment I wanted to use in my 11.5' x 21' space. Sadly, I am no good at CAD software and have limited drawing skills. Trying to figure out how to place everything was a struggle working with such tight tolerances. I ended up using graph paper and scaled cut-outs of the equipment and went through different configurations, keeping in mind what material infeed and outfeed requirements were needed, until I found a configuration that worked for me. I think each situation has its best solution based on what type of work you want to do primarily. In my case, I knew I wanted to make my own cabinetry and built-ins for our home, so the handling, cutting and storing of plywood was my primary focus. The lathe (which I have yet to use but will one day) and some other items that are not used regularly had to be located carefully so they would not interfere with the main function of the shop.
Some of the unique solutions I implemented were to raise all the equipment along one wall to be able to gain space below for the storage of my jointer, as well as ease of access to the panels in the floor below along the perimeter where the ducting and electrical were located. I wanted to be able to have the router table, radial arm saw and the mitre saw surfaces all at the same height for outfeed and infeed support. I also set these machines up so I could move some of them closer or further away from the wall if required. Most shop equipment is designed or built on stands around 34" high. For the router table, I fastened two triangular 2x6 brackets through the T1-11 wall siding into the studs to support my router table. The table’s outer edges are laid on the brackets without fastening, allowing me to slide the table forward and back as needed. I also built a sled for my mitre saw, which slides back and forward from the wall. Below the mitre saw is my jointer on a mobile base, which I can slide out for use. On the far side of the router table, I made a foldaway for my lathe, which doubles as an outfeed surface for that row of equipment, and a desk area.
Another important storage consideration was full-sheet plywood storage. On the opposite long wall I built an above ground plywood storage rack 37" off the floor, which is also integrated into an overhead storage rack for regular lumber. A lot of lag bolts and metal angle brackets went into this and it was worth the effort to be able to enjoy more side to side space when using the table saw. Rather than use 2x4s vertically placed, as is traditionally done for storage space above our heads in the garage, I used 2x6s laid horizontally and secured them using metal fasteners to maximize the available space. I was really trying to squeeze every inch I could out of the space available and was treating the space as if it was a boat where every nook has a use and needs to be used in the best possible way.
Brace for It – The router table top rests on shop made braces, allowing Dubé to reposition it with ease then clamp it in place before making a cut.Easy Access – To have the option of running his air filter while it’s located centrally, Dubé fastened it to heavy-duty drawer slides. It also makes getting at lumber stored behind the filter much easier.Sheet Storage – Because Dubé uses mainly sheet stock, he made sure storage wasn’t a problem. He raised it off the ground in order to gain easily accessible space below. A Place for Everything – From hardware and push sticks to clamps and glue, virtually everything has a home in this well organized shop.
Phase 3 – Use Every Last Bit Of Space
It was important to look beyond the conventional setup for my dust collector. I removed the standard mobile base and mounted the motor unit directly to my wall. Here it was reconfigured for better dust collection via a shorter conduit from the impeller to the collector. The collection bag was placed on a mobile base where its location can be fine-tuned. The extra work was worth it; I now had a base unit that would conveniently fit in a smaller location.
My overhead wood storage is located at both upper ends of the shop and required the central ceiling area to be clear to remove the material. This presented a dilemma while placing my JDS air filtration unit, as these units are traditionally simply hung from the ceiling with supplied hook screws and essentially stay put. Instead, I placed the unit on heavy duty drawer slides, which enabled me to temporarily push it out of the way so long boards can be handled with ease. Some of these customizations on their own may seem minimal but collectively they make the shop much more space efficient and functional. I often hear of people in similar sized shops lament about how they can’t do a lot of things because of space limitations, or simply they need to move a bunch of equipment around just to use one machine. This doesn’t need to happen. With proper planning and some outside-of-the-box thinking you can enjoy working in your shop with more equipment and efficiency than you would otherwise expect.
Multi-Purpose Table – This rolling cabinet/surface has a lot going for it. An infeed table, tool storage and assembly area are just a few of its jobs.Bits and Pieces – Dubé hates searching for his tools. A great example is at his drill press, where he can easily access anything he could need without having to go anywhere.