A garage is a natural place to store tools and equipment, but that doesn't mean it's the ideal place to build your next project. Here's how to transform your garage into a safe and productive DIY workspace you can be proud of.
First, Clean Out Your Garage
First, try to remove all the extraneous household items that don't facilitate making stuff. In a perfect world, you wouldn't have to dig past kids bikes or empty luggage to get to your paint supplies. In the real world though, storage is hard to come by, so you'll have to give a little to get a little. Consider a line of demarcation in your garage to separate "household" from "workshop." If you don't have enough room, consider a smaller-space workbench, or rent off-site storage. You could even build a shed for more covered storage.
Beyond that, workshop safety is your number one concern. Getting things off the floor and out of the way will prevent you from tripping, and makes it easier for you to see and access your tools and equipment.
Keep your work table clear. This gives you the most room to operate and you won't misplace nuts and bolts under paper or trash. It also gives you piece of mind to start a project with a clean slate instead of having to clear out old and unfinished work before starting new.
Design Your Workbench
Whether you build or buy your workbench, it must be designed and constructed to withstand the rigors and pounding you'll put it through. The base and legs should be sturdy and the table should not easily be knocked over. The top should be durable and not easily dinged or dented. Make sure your workbench is made of a material appropriate for your types of projects, too.
If you're short on space you can build a fold-down workbench that is only down when you need it.
Choose (or Build) Tool Storage
The primary investment of any garage workshop are the tools. Protect your investment with a high quality tool chest that is neatly organised and (if needed) lockable. Look for smooth rolling ball-bearing drawers, and if you're buying used, beware of rust and dirt that could corrode your tools. We recommend installing drawer mats to keep your tools from sliding around. They also give your tools a softer cushion to rest in.
Use a pegboard to organise your wall space and store the tools that require quick access. If a pegboard doesn't work for you or you can't hang items on the walls of your garage, consider these tool storage alternatives that work equally well.
Make Sure Electrical Outlets Are in Reach
Stop schlepping extensions cords across your garage floor. Make sure your workshop has enough power outlets to charge your tool batteries as well as power your corded shop tools. Your drill press or band saw shouldn't compete for outlets with a charging drill battery, and you shouldn't risk tripping over a cable that's laid across your garage floor.
Power outlets are also needed for lighting, heaters, AC units, radios, televisions, CNC machines, 3D printers, and computers — all of which you'll find in many workshops (although maybe not together, and maybe not all in your garage.) You simply can never have too many outlets and it's much safer to have too many than not enough. Bring in an electrician to help install your outlets and setup 220v power if needed for larger shop tools.
Make Sure You Have Adequate Task Lighting
Garages are usually dark, which makes setting up task lighting a priority for a productive workspace. Track lighting is an easy option to install and gives your some directional overhead lighting, but it can cast shadows (especially if the light source is behind you while you work) and you'll need another lighting source for task and overall room illumination. A simple, adjustable work lamp is helpful for soldering or when you need bright focused lighting.
For overall room light, overhead fluorescent lights are tough to beat. They're economical and bright.
Don't Forget Heating and Cooling in Your Garage
Garage spaces are usually not insulated, and garage doors on most homes have very poor insulation. That means it will inevitably be super hot and stuffy in the summer, and freezing cold in the winter. To be comfortable in your workshop you'll need to take the extra step to insulate your garage and set up some space heaters, and some portable floor or window AC units. Having to wear a heavy coat while you work will impede your DIY efforts and nobody likes working in a sauna.
A natural gas heater (shown above) is a good heat solution for areas that don't have ductwork, and propane heaters are a viable option but be careful when using them in semi-enclosed spaces.
Choose Durable, Easy-Clean Flooring
Concrete garage floors can work as a workshop surface, but over time they stain and you'll end up tracking a lot of dust and dirt into your home. An epoxy floor finish is easier to clean and can also provide extra grip. For a softer surface that will help your joints when standing a long time, check out those restaurant grade rubber floor mats or some durable options that include garage floor tile.
Don't Forget Your Tools
Beyond your standard set of hand tools and power tools, the ultimate DIY workshop wouldn't be "ultimate" without the right tools. Start building up your stand alone shop tool collection starting with these:
- Drill Press
- Table Saw
- Band Saw
- Compound Miter Saw
- Belt Sander
Opinions and needs vary but these tools will get you far in just about every project. Remember, if you run into a need you can't fill, you can also rent tools from your local hardware store, or find a local hackerspace or maker community that has the tools on-hand you can use for your project.
Entertainment Is Important, Too
Portable Bluetooth speakers will provide enough sound in your garage, but they can be fragile and sensitive to dust. Jobsite radios from Milwaukee and DeWALT provide great sound, are durable, and can even charge cordless batteries. Plus, they are also bluetooth compatible, so you can connect them to your phone for streaming music.
Mount a flat panel TV or computer monitor to any wall to watch sports or stream movies and music through a digital device such as Apple TV or Roku.
Pay Special Attention to Ventilation & Monitor Your Air Quality
Most workshop tasks require good ventilation, and that's something garages are generally poor at. Plus, passive ventilation (like opening a window) usually isn't enough. A ceiling exhaust fan is a good start but if you are serious about keeping things clean then your ultimate workshop should also include a dust collection system, central vacuum and air ventilation system. All three of these systems will keep the dust, dirt, and other heavy particles off your clothes and out of your lungs which makes for a safer work environment.
Did we leave out any must-haves for your ultimate garage workshop? Let us know in the comments.