Lack of space – a perennial problem

Many of us must have a packrat gene hardwired into our DNA because no matter how much space we create, we have too much stuff to fit in it. In my case, I moved out of a 400 square foot workshop into a 768 square foot workshop and still found myself literally buried in "stuff"!

I could not stop and sort things out at first because I was committed to getting the house ready for occupancy. My workshop was so full of stuff that I was literally climbing over equipment and "dumpster diving" to find the tools and equipment that I needed for these critical projects.

Even though I bought and installed extra shelves along the back wall of the workshop, I was not making enough headway. This is how the workshop looked yesterday morning, even after days spent cleaning and organizing.

There is not enough room to walk through the workshop, let alone do any work in it. This was such a setback after spending all our time and effort creating a vast open shop with lots of space. Some of you may remember how the shop looked when it was being constructed.


Somehow, all of that pristine open space had been gobbled up by equipment that once fit into a space half this size.

I decided my only solution was to do something really drastic. I would empty the garage and start from scratch again.

I would apply the acid test and see what I had to do in order to make this a fully functional and self-supporting workshop. Anything that would not help me produce income would be given to charity.

When I opened the big workshop door yesterday morning this was the view from outside, almost a solid wall of stuff.

I pulled almost everything outside and cleaned the floor of mud which had been tracked in during the months of construction. In the process, I moved three quarters of a ton of wood pellets to an outside storage area and did the same for 600 pounds of shingles which will be needed for future construction. I also built a rack for sheet goods like plywood and doors and large shipping cartons.

By late afternoon, things started to get easier. I had space to move equipment around freely. Everything was on casters, so it was like choreographing a machine shop ballet. The table saw moved here, the jointer moved there, the compressor moved to the front wall and everything started to make sense again.

I still had a huge stack of bins full of sub-assemblies and several barrels of wood parts to deal with, but these can be handled with more shelves and some storage carts. I had finally broken through the barrier of not-enough space. I could now create a hundred square feet of open workspace almost anywhere I needed it.

This is what the workshop looked like when I ended off last night. You can actually see open floor space! It is amazing what desperation can do!

Having enough space is only the first step. To work efficiently, tools need to be stored in racks where they are used, fasteners need to be stored in organized arrays, and a dust collection system needs to be working effectively.

This kind of preparation can take days but it gets easier as it goes and is actually very satisfying. The trick is to organize things so they can stay organized even with constant use. This is where most organizing schemes break down.

I will begin organizing for production today with Gretchen’s help. My target is to be fully operational by Monday morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for the suggestion to go vertical. That was the only way left to go. πŸ™‚

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0 Responses to Lack of space – a perennial problem

  1. lauragayle says:

    Holy cow. Can I get Gretchen to come to Kansas City for a weekend to help me with my sewing room?

  2. Jim Brodhead says:

    It looks great…Bob Vila, Norm Abrams…eat your hearts out….

  3. so says:

    Wonderful progress! I’m jealous. I wanted a workshop, but through the decision process, my husband and I decided to just do a storage area. We built an 8×16 area under an existing roof used by the previous home owners as a boat port. Eight feet wide seems like a lot until you start putting lawnmower, chipper, saws, couple of wheelbarrows, etc into it. The solution was vertical shelves on half of one side and the back, hooks on the walls and from the ceiling. There’s just enough room to walk from the door at one end to the storage at the other with access to everything. It certainly helped the storage and accessiblity problems but doesn’t hold everything. So, when I want to be creative or need to repair, I have several places to go to get the appropriate tools. Again, I’m green with envy! πŸ™‚

  4. vikk says:

    Okay, who let you into my house? Aren’t there laws about illegally posting photoraphs and pretending their your own? πŸ™‚

    Your fellow pack rat–who is desperately in need of a cleaner-upper,


  5. Karen says:

    David, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head (no pun intended), when you say the trick is staying organised even through constant use. This is where even the tidiest of work spaces falls down, and we find ourselves back to desperation stage once again.. Seeing as how you recognise that at the outset, I think you’re miles ahead. Will you let us know how it works when you’re working?

    I am so enthused by your photos of what you accomplished in one day, with huge heavy looking gear – you’ve motivated me to get into my home office! Not only to tidy, but to have well designed routines and systems and suitable storage so that it stays (relatively) organised, even in the busiest of times.

  6. Sean Pecor says:

    I may be wrong, because I can’t quite tell the width of those back wall shelves but I think you’d make better use of space if those shelves were moved flat against the wall. If they’re 4′ wide and you have six racks then all you’d need would be 24′ of wall. And then you’d regain 2′ of floor area. An additional benefit is that you can secure the shelves to the back wall and aren’t at risk of a catastrophic domino effect should one of those shelves tip over. Or worse, tip over on you.

    I’ve got 9′ 6″ ceilings in my basement and am using Lowes heavy duty steel shelves. Each shelf unit is $75 and builds a rack 4′ wide and 6′ high. I bought several units and, by combining three units together, I was able to build shelf units 9′ high and 4′ wide.

    Your shop looks fantastic! In a recent woodworking magazine a woodworker laid out plans for a centralized work bench that was massive and placed in the center of the room. I think it was 10×10′ if memory serves. Each shop tool normally on casters was built into and around the 100 square foot work area. Dust system was dead in the middle. Lots of drawers for storage. Ultimately it created a useful work surface, it reduced dust control complexity, and created production friendly work zones. If you want that article let me know, I can mail the magazine to you.

  7. Sean,

    I considered putting the shelves flat against the back wall, but my experience in the last shop was that it actually didn’t save space because you need that 24″ clear space in front of the shelves or you can’t get at them.

    What happens is that things get put in front of the shelves and this blocks access to the shelves. The aisles between the shelves stay open and I can roll equipment back into an aisle if I need to get it out of the way for a little while. I still have access to the shelves from adjacent aisles.

    I am also planning to secure the shelves to the back wall and to each other so they will be less likely to sway when I climb up on them (just kidding!) πŸ™‚

    As for the floor layout, I studied that magazine article and opted for a more flexible system. Every piece of equipment, except for the drill press, is on casters.

    I set the workshop floor up for the project I will be working on. All of the necessary power tools and their dust collection systems are arranged for maximum workflow. Temporary worktables are situated to hold raw materials and finished assemblies.

    When that phase of manufacturing is done, I rearrange the equipment for the next phase. I would not have to do this if my workshop had another 500 square feet of space, but this works out to keep production time and setup time at an 80/20 ratio. I can live with that for now.

  8. Sean Pecor says:

    Ah ha, now that layout makes more sense to me πŸ™‚ It’s funny, but every shop I visit is completely different from the last, and seems to match the work style of the craftsman.

    My dream shop has yet to be built on the farm. For now my massive basement works fine but ultimately I want a separate no-compromises shop closer to the other barns. I’m thinking of a bank barn setup where I can utilize the lower level for long term lumber storage. Or I may convert our 78×36 storage barn into a workshop and use the future bank barn for hay, grain and sundry storage. I have to chew on that one for a little while. In the meantime I’ve got other farm projects that take precedence πŸ™‚

    Great shop! Next time you have a get together don’t forget to invite the feller from Franklin County.


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