by Bill Wilson
Part One: Planning
You’ve decided it’s time you had a proper shop to do your automotive work in. Congratulations! Having a space or entire building devoted entirely to working on cars or trucks is a wise move, even if your mechanical ambitions are driven more by passion than by profit. While there’s a great tradition in being a “shade tree” auto technician, there’s only so much you can do in the driveway or backyard.
Having a dedicated workshop offers several advantages. The first is climate control. If you’ve ever changed oil or replaced brake pads in the dead of winter or the stifling heat of August then you know what I mean. A properly designed shop will allow you to do essential tasks even when there are three feet of snow on the ground. And when the summer temperatures climb into the 90s you’ll be glad for a space where you can install air conditioning, or at least have a fan blowing cool air on you at all times. Rain, sleet, hail and other precipitation won’t stand in your way either.
You’ll also be able to work safer. Back in the day, I worked on vehicles parked on gravel or just plain dirt. Looking back on that, I wonder how I survived. Even on hard packed surfaces, the weight of vehicles will make jack stands and ramps sink into the ground, compromising your safety. In contrast, a shop offers the solid support of concrete, or at the very least wood.
Having your own shop also allows you to have your tools out of the elements and within easy reach. Even if you only perform routine maintenance, such as oil changes and tune-ups, having a roof over your head and a sturdy floor beneath your feet will enable you to work faster and safer, with more satisfying results. Plus, you’ll be able to keep not only tools but parts and supplies neatly stored and easily accessible, as opposed to trotting across the yard every five minutes to your house or to a storage building for a bolt or for a bottle of transmission fluid.
Of course, like any project, creating your own shop requires planning in order to be a success. Here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind during the process.
This comes first. After all, you can’t work on cars when you’re dead. Yet every year people are tragically killed in their own shops, due to vehicles falling, electrocution, or tool-related accidents. Don’t become one of them. Plan for safety.
One thing you’ll want to have on hand is a five or ten pound fire extinguisher.
Make certain it can put out flames caused by chemicals such as gasoline. Look for the ABC designation on the casing. If it’s within your budget, look at getting a fire suppression system, such as overhead sprinklers. They start for under a thousand bucks.
You’ll also need a smoke detector. Battery ones are fine so long as you keep fresh cells in it. If you can afford one, a hard wired detector offers more convenience.
A carbon monoxide detector is also essential. Both auto exhausts as well as flame-based heaters give off fumes that can kill you
Gas, paint and cleaning solutions can affect your judgment or simply poison your lungs. Guard against this by making sure that your shop has good air flow. A ventilation fan built into the structure itself is a great solution, but simply having industrial fans plugged into outlets and blowing constantly works fine as well.
In an ideal world, every automotive enthusiast would have a giant building with tons of space for the latest tools, as well as multiple vehicles, three or four lifts, and an office/break room equipped with comfortable chairs, a TV and a fridge stocked with snacks.
But, as you well know, the world is far from ideal. You may find that the only area available to you does double or triple duty, as a spot to keep the lawnmower or weed eater out of the rain, to store Christmas decorations, or to house the family washer and dryer. So be it; in most cases you can still make do. The key is careful planning.
The first thing you’ll need is a measuring tape. Don’t rely on an eyeball estimate of the dimensions; measure them carefully. Be sure to include the space from floor to ceiling, especially if you plan to include a lift, which will require at least 12 feet of clearance, preferably 16 or more. Keep in mind as well that a lift requires a concrete floor that is at least 5 or 6 inches thick and is reinforced with steel.
Once you have accurate measurements, you’ll need to figure out how much room you’ll need for your tools, as well as parts and supplies and of course a vehicle or two. That gets into the subject of planning your shop’s layout, which we’ll look at next time. In the meantime, consider buying a copy of the best-selling book “How to Design, Build and Equip Your Automotive Workshop on a Budget.” Order it from our website by going here.