So how can I get away with having such a large garage and nice workshop? I bought the house as a single guy. I got to decide what the priorities were in the purchase:
1) Adequate workshop space
2) A place to sleep, shower, and eat
3) Adequate workshop space
I found a house with a 4 car garage that was perfect, oh and the house is pretty decent too. When I bought the house the garage was unfinished, and one continuous garage. I had spent a lot of time working in a friends workshop, the Taj Mahal of workshops, so I had some ideas of what a workshop should be. This space gave me the perfect opportunity to build the shop I wanted.
The Planning Stage
To be honest I didn’t spend too much time planning before I got started on construction, but I did keep a few things in mind. First, I wanted the workshop on the far side from the house to keep any workshop fumes and noise as far from the house as possible. In Minnesota, the winters can be long and brisk (9 months of the year), so I wanted to have the workshop insulated and heated. I thought about heating the entire garage, but I didn’t want to be throwing dollar bills out the overhead door every time I took a vehicle out. So I added a wall to separate the workshop and garage. This allows me to heat the workshop only. If it becomes necessary to heat the entire garage, all I need to do is open the door between the workshop and garage, the entire space is finished and insulated.
I wanted as large of a workshop as possible so I planned the garage side to the minimum size to allow 2 SUVs parked and both drivers and passengers easy entry/exit from the vehicles. I figured this would be good for resale. This left me knowing what space was left for the workshop.
The largest project I am currently working on is building a homebuilt airplane, a Rutan Long Ez. I wanted to be able to fully assemble the airplane in the workshop, including both wings. So I drew a scale drawing of the entire garage and workshop space as well as the assembled airplane. The workshop area would not allow complete assembly of the Long Ez in any orientation. So I added a large double door in the divider wall located so that when I need to fully assemble the ‘EZ’ all I have to do is open both doors and the airplane can be fully assembled. (Before I get frantic comments, the wings are easily removable once the aircraft is done, so I wont have to tear down the garage to get it out)
Some other things I knew I needed.
1) A shop air system plumbed into the wall to allow for shop air outlets around the shop.
2) Plenty of lighting. There is nothing worse than trying to exercise good craftsmanship in a poorly lit workshop.
3) Plenty of electrical outlets all around the workshop. Both 110V and 220V. Since 220V should be right sized for your equipment (compressor, milling machines, lathes, welders etc) I pre-installed empty conduits and boxes from the breaker box to the workshop so the wires can be run at a later date.
4) Internet, cable, and music system
5) Windows. It is nice to be able to look outside and to get natural light. Makes me feel like I am working in my living room and not shut away in the garage.
All of these things were designed to make working in the workshop more fun, thus keeping me motivated to spend more time in the workshop and get projects done.
Care was also taken to mount things in a way to keep the workshop space open as to allow configuration and layout changes for different projects or if it is needed as storage later or for a subsequent owner. (Turns out, this was not well thought out. I ended up without any wall space due to the fact that I spread cabinets around all walls. See the Reconfiguration of the workshop.)
I did most of the construction myself with the help of friends. The only exception was mudding and taping the drywall and installing the 45,000 BTU unit heater and gas line. I found the internet, you tube, friends, building supply store employees, and the building inspectors to be very useful in learning all the skills required for rough in, electrical, insulation, and drywalling. I developed a good relationship with the building inspectors in my city. I think they were just glad I pulled permits as a homeowner doing the work myself. They were more than willing to come out periodically to make sure I was on the right track and give suggestions. They didn’t even charge me for it.
Here is a full gallery of photos from the workshop build. I didn’t take too many detailed photos, but these show the overview of converting unfinished garage space into a comfortable and productive place to spend time.
Special thanks to, in no particular order, Dick Keyt, Scott Matzke, Michael Downey, Buddy Magura, Jake Schommer, Chris May, Mike Waltman, Reed Erickson, Kevin Vernon-Harris… I hope I didn’t forget anyone.