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Creating a functional workshop space in your garage

A workshop in the garage can be used for many things: a car work centre, a woodworking shop, a crafting area or simply as a place to store home and garden tools. Here are some tips to ensure your workshop space truly meets your needs.

First things first, a little planning

The first step is to decide what the workshop will be used for and determine what items will need to be stored.

Organizational planning tips

  • Visualize the space.
  • Write down what items need to be stored and accessible for use.
  • Gather the size requirements of specific tools and materials.
  • Decide whether the new space needs to be larger, more efficient, or stay the same but with newer materials.
  • Storage options include:
    • Cabinetry
    • Drawers
    • Pegboards
    • Black board
    • Marker board
    • Storage under a worktable or counter
    • Room for one or multiple chairs
    • Bins
    • Toolboxes
    • Portable tool supply units
    • Special purpose shelving for bulky items such as lumber
  • If the workshop plan exceeds your budget, the implementation can be stepped to make it more affordable at the outset. Once the different areas and systems are set in place, tools, equipment, and facilities to support the overall design can be added at a later date.
Looking for ideas? Consult our page on garage storage solutions.

Lighting

Consider ambient as well as task lighting. Lighting should be designed as specifically as possible to exact areas of the space. There should not be any dark, hidden areas. Make sure both the fixtures and the bulbs, other than a lamp turned on occasionally, are rated for outdoor use.

Task lighting

  • Great areas for task lighting are under the cabinets or on top of the workbench.
  • Light fixtures could be attached to the workbench structure, or hung from the rafters or ceiling.
  • Some garages may benefit from track lighting with adjustable spotlights.

Ambient lighting

  • If the garage is to be used for more than just parking the car, then it might need more powerful lighting.
  • An electrician can help you calculate how many fixtures are needed to achieve a lighting level similar to that of interior home spaces. They can also help to add in wiring for new light fixture locations.
  • Always consider energy efficiency when selecting the fixtures and bulbs.

Choosing the right heating system

The installation of heating in the garage should be considered carefully. Several systems exist:
  • Sealed-combustion space heaters (sometimes called direct-vent units) that are fuelled with either natural gas or propane. Install the units next to an exterior wall. Calculate the number of Btus needed for the space in order to select the right-sized heater.
  • Electric radiant ceiling panels that can be mounted directly to a ceiling structure, the wall, or inserted into a ceiling grid. They are commonly 1" thick and 2' x 8' in size. These units heat up quickly.
  • Sealed-combustion space heaters may be combined with electric radiant ceiling panels so that the heaters provide ambient heat while the radiant panels provide spot heating.

Some systems should however be avoided:
  • Do not extend ductwork from the house into the garage; as it could bring in noxious fumes.
  • Portable heaters are not powerful enough and could also be hazardous around wood shavings or dangerous liquids.
  • Avoid wood and pellet stoves, as well as kerosene, oil, and propane heaters.

The best cabinets for the garage

Choose cabinets that can resist garage humidity and temperature conditions. They are available in a wide range of styles, sizes, and durability factors.
  • Garage cabinets are made of metal, plastic, or wood.
  • They can be sold separately or as part of a module system.
  • Some cabinets are part of a module system designed specifically for a garage, which can include a variety of storage space options, pegboards, lighting, and a workbench.
  • Most cabinet systems have lockable doors available if needed.
  • Consider attaching all the cabinetry onto the walls in order to leave some space at the bottom for easier cleaning.

The most important part of the workshop: the workbench

The workbench can be part of a storage system for the garage in addition to a work surface. In fact, the workbench may be designed to have multiple work surfaces.

Materials and Planning Tips

The workshop/workbench needs to match the space available. Size and build the workbench to suit the types of uses both current and future for the space.

With pre-manufactured workbenches, there are:
  • Several different types of materials for both the structure and the work surface.
  • A variety of organizational spaces that can be purchased and fit above the work surface.
  • A variety of durability levels for materials.
  • Several cost options.
If you build it yourself:
  • Build it with dimensional lumber, plywood or MDF.
  • Consider combining recycled doors and dimensional lumber for the supports and the work surface.
  • Customize the workbench for your needs: foldable work surface, workbench on caster wheels, etc.
It is possible to assemble purchased workbench parts with parts that you have built yourself.

Pro tip

Install a rosin paper roll at one end of the workbench work surface. It can then be rolled out to protect the surface and allow easier cleaning.

Workbench Sizes

Most workbenches are 28" to 36" deep; 96" wide; and 28" to 38" tall. The size should allow for the materials to be brought easily to the workbench and taken away, and so that people can walk around freely. The workbench also needs to be constructed at a height comfortable to those who will be using it most often.

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