By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA

The New Shop

Well, happy New Year! For me it has been quite a year. 2009 saw my fourth anniversary with Duckworks and my first appearance in glossy print, presenting Michalak’s AF4 in Woodenboat’s “Small Boats”. I also moved. While not directly boat related, moving most certainly affects how boat projects get done.

It’s always a bittersweet moment, leaving the old shop where so much was accomplished. Here is the old shop being disemboweled to move.

Old Shop

It’s not very big, and there’s a narrow door and a step down to get in, which are both highly inconvenient. But it was nice having it in a walk-out basement so it is sort of heated. I’ll have to be more careful about changing lower unit oil after each season now.

And here’s the new shop. It’s not really a mess – I strategically placed all that junk for scale.

It’s a 29.5 x 23 foot, three car garage. The trick, of course, is how not to put any of the cars in it. Unplugging the remote door opener is a start, and I had an excuse because someone else’s remote kept opening it. Probably something I could deal with by changing the security code, but my tools are worth a lot more than my junky cars, so unplugging might be better. The motorboat would actually fit inside a bay, but I think we both know I’m not using up shop space for that. With those dimensions the light schooner or a similar-sized boat could be built inside if there were an overhead door on the end. Hmm…

Even without modification it is a nice improvement to have heavy things (like Hammond organs, foundry equipment and outboard motors) right near an overhead door.

Here’s the exterior view, and the really cool part.

Garage & barn

That barn is the original from the 19th century. The part with the overhead door is 11’6” x 17’9” and has a concrete floor. Above it is a loft. Here’s the door on the back for getting lumber in there for storage. How awesome is that?

Barn rear

Well, not quite awesome enough, since carrying lumber around the barn is a pain. I knew this would be a pain, so right away I added a smaller door on the side facing the garage. This is easy with board and batten construction. Drill holes from the inside to mark the corners, and screw on planks to hold the door together.


Then cut the battens away and cut the door free. It is a good idea to add some studs to reinforce the opening.

Then cut the battens away and cut the door free

Then final touches are cleats and rope to fasten the door both open and closed. You want to be able to hold it open if you are trying to put lumber in on a windy day. I might get around to putting the battens back on when it gets warmer.

The loft could still use some lumber racks, but that will be a while. I need to figure out how much weight I can even expect the walls to hold up, and it doesn’t look like much.

OK, back to the tour. Here’s the boat parking area behind the garage. Yes, I know it’s not mowed. I’m trying to set the neighbors’ expectations low.

And with the boats tucked in with their wheels removed for the winter. (It's a lot colder than it looks in that photo!)

Wheels removed.

Plenty of space for more boats, right? Indeed, it’s a double lot to fit all that, and yes that’s the original outhouse!

Between outhouse and barn is the old chicken coop. It is a veritable wasp haven with a dirt floor and no electricity, but it is a good place to store trailer wheels and camping gear in the winter. Finally my tires can stop taking a beating from the sunlight all year round.

Tires stored

And guess what? I hear there’s a house too!

Well, needless to say I have some setup to finish.

Setting up shop

This is probably one of the more satisfying things a handy person can do. It doesn’t really accomplish anything in itself, but it sure does feel good to set up a shop for all those future projects, without actually dealing with their complications and frustrations.

I knew right away that I wanted the table saw near a door. That way I can rip across the garage when it is too cold to open the door, but drag it outside and not deal with as much sawdust when it is warm enough.

I think I lost battle on keeping a car inside, but I think I have it limited to only one bay to keep oil leaks localized. I guess that is the place to work on outboards too. Perhaps an oil-absorbing mat.

The rest of the floor will be open for project layout and get messed up with paint and glue. I will never understand why some people go out of their way to keep their garage floors free of paint and glue. Of course I will also never understand the allure of the monoculture lawn. I’m trying to figure out how to quickly propagate violets, clover and gill over the ground (Glechoma hedera) so it looks better when I don’t mow it. If you happen to be one of these fastidious sorts and you’re moving to Mazomanie, let me know and I’ll point out where you probably don’t want to buy a house. Like next to me.

Yet you’ll notice I did care about the floor getting oily. This seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. If I want to lay out sails in the garage, oil is a problem. Dried paint is not.

That brings us to a bit of strategy.

Keeping space available

It is a real fight to keep space open for big projects like sailmaking. You always have more stuff trying to claim that space, and if you’re married you have four times as much stuff doing the same. This is where strategy comes in – put stuff there that makes the space look full, but that is really easy to move when you need to.

The first part of this strategy was backing down on putting a car in the garage. A car is easy to move and ensures one bay will stay free of junk. One down, two to go.

The far bay will contain the bicycles, sitting flat on pavement and spaced apart far enough to hop on and ride. This is nice because we will use them more often that way. Also it takes up a lot of space that is easily cleared. The bikes don’t quite convincingly fill the bay, so two lawnmowers and a wheel barrow round out the easily-moved stuff. The key to making this work is having hooks to hang the bikes on and space in the barn to move the mowers and wheelbarrow to. (She doesn’t ever seem to check the barn unless I ask her to pass lumber up to me in the loft.)

The middle bay is trickier. I had the table saw right at the door so I can move it outside to control sawdust, but I decided it looked fuller if I moved the saw to the middle of the bay and positioned sawhorses and outfeed rollers. It is also pretty convenient for anything that isn’t long enough to need to open the overhead door. I can also turn it sideways when needed, of course.

Still the middle bay looks a little bare, though the large trash cans and recycling bins help. I’m planning to always have parts of a project I’m doing for her taking up space there with paint or glue apparently curing. Moving into an older, bigger place dramatically increases the length of the honey-do list, which can be a powerful argument for unencumbered shop space, particularly when evidence of its use is strategically left in view. I really need to start setting up the props.

I passed lightly over the question of all my junk.

Efficiency and organization

As I said before, I kept all the shelves and cabinets around the perimeter, for the most part. Here’s how it is set up.

New shop layout

This is all well and good, but it doesn’t work without the barn. I was only able to keep this as bare as it is by having a loft for lumber and a barn for bulky and infrequently used equipment like the foundry. I’m also considering a lean-to on the back of the garage so things like grills and scrap/fire wood can move out of the barn. Maybe the foundry too.

Another big deal is shelves.

I don't know that they are perfectly thought out as they should be, but at least I can start getting junk off the floor.


This move is rapidly turning me into an expert on kerosene heaters. An unheated shop in Wisconsin is less useful than one might wish. I had an old Reddy Heater that had been sitting in a barn for years, half buried in dirt. Such a machine puts out a lot of heat, but they are finicky about dirt. This one looks like a project in itself, so it might have to wait a while.

Ready heater

A perusal of Craigslist netted me a kerosene convection heater for $15. This was a real find, since it was close to me and they normally for for $40-50. The wick was visibly dirty and it burned with a greasy, sooty flicker. It got a lot better when I rinsed the tank clean of what looked like rotten old diesel fuel, burned the wick dry and put in some clean fuel. (Burning it dry gets rid of all the gunk on the wick.) The striker doesn’t work, but lighting it with a torch is easy enough through the little side door.

Cconvection heater

(By the way, those combustible materials are nowhere as close to the heater as the photo makes them appear.)

The trouble with a convection heater is that it heats the air. There is a lot of air in that shop and it takes a long time to heat it, especially since it is constantly losing heat through its uninsulated walls and ceiling! This is fine on the weekend, but it doesn’t lend itself to going out there for an hour after work. In that case the better tool is a radiant heater. With these you get heat almost immediately.

I found a well-cared-for radiant heater (also on Craigslist) for $50, which is a bit under half the price of a new one. I didn’t bother putting in batteries and lit it with a lighter, which worked fine. However, it heated the chimney to red slowly and incompletely, and made quite a bit of smoke on start-up. Something wasn’t quite right. The first step was to empty the red-dyed kerosene and burn the wick dry. In the USA kerosene is dyed red so it will be obvious if anyone tries to use it in a diesel vehicle – the road tax has not been paid on this fuel. Unfortunately, some kerosene heaters don’t like the dye.

Radiant heater

I found “water clear” kerosene in the solvent section at the hardware store, and it is (hold onto your hat) $9/gal! The stuff from the pump at the farmer's co-op costs “only” $3.50/gallon. It is not quite “water-clear”, but it it pretty close.

I decided I'd better try it with the co-op kerosene, since I had the feeling that at $9/gal, electric would be more economical. When I did the math I found I was right. Let's look at an average small kerosene space heater that produces 1760 watts / 6000 btu/hr. At 12 cents per kw-h, it takes 21 cents to run an electric heater of this power for an hour. Kerosene contains around 135,000 btus per gallon, so a similar-sized kerosene heater will burn around 0.044 gallons per hour, assuming perfect combustion efficiency. (They are pretty efficient when tweaked.) Knowing the burn rate we can see that we'll spend 16 cents per hour using the cheaper kerosene and 40 cents per hour with the fancy clear stuff. This is a no-brainer, since electric is easier to use. If co-op kero doesn't work, my only use for kerosene is emergency heat in a power failure. Fortunately, it seems the co-op kerosene is up to the challenge. Both heaters now burn nice and clean. The chimney of the radiant heater still doesn’t turn red all the way to the bottom, but it burns clean, so I guess I won’t fuss about it.

Even though kerosene is cheaper than electric, it is not a lot cheaper. So I felt it would be useful to have an electric heater at table height so I could take gloves off when working on something fiddly. I happened to have what we call a milk house heater in these parts. I think I got it at an auction years ago for a few bucks. It does the job.

Electric heater

It is a shame to waste such a highly refined form of energy as electricity to make simple heat, but I don’t ever use it for a very long time. This heater is also nice after a shower in an old house.

Changing hardware stores

This is another important issue with changing shop location that is easy to overlook…until you need something. The True Value I used to go to is one of the best when it comes to odd fasteners. Unfortunately, my best shot to get there is right after work, and during rush hour my way is blocked by gridlock traffic worthy of Chicago. Worse, I have to travel the same route to get to Farm & Fleet, which is where I normally get larger hardware and welding supplies! This seems like a minor concern, but it isn’t if I need to waste an entire evening just to get supplies.

Fortunately, there is another True Value on my way home. It seems about the same as the one I left behind, which is nice.

Better yet, one block away from the new place is a Hardware Hank. This seems to cater a bit more to farmer, which is good for me. Their stock of welding supplies and things like barn hinges are a little cheaper and more extensive, which is an improvement except for when I need an odd fastener. This Hank is pretty good on the fasteners too. I have never seen so many subtly different sizes of screw eyes in one place, for example.

I also noticed another option. When I went to the farmer’s co-op for kerosene, I realized they have a Do-It Best. I had no idea. They are not surprisingly even more farm oriented, with better prices on barn hinges and welding supplies. This co-op will be my new source for a number of things I used to get at Farm & Fleet, I think.

I was sort of worried about leaving the True Value that had been home for four years, and the source of a great many projects. But it looks like I’ll be OK.

I’m hoping to get back to articles on building things by next month. Until then, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. If you can think of anything like that. In the meantime, I'll be unpacking. At least the kitchen is finally starting to look homey.

Flintlock kitchen

Now my mother can’t try to foist frilly curtains on my kitchen. She has a thing about curtains. The best part is she can't say much about it because her brother built the rifle! Yeah, I thought it was ingenious too.

Rob Rohde-Szudy
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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