diy workshop

When I was a kid, every year around late November, I’d get excited for the Sears “Wish List” catalog to come out. When it finally arrived, I’d nab it, duck in my room and study each page carefully, like a monk poring over parchment, circling each treasure I really, really wanted (the BB gun and mini bike were picked every year… I finally got the BB gun).

bb gun

That magic feeling slowly dissolved over the years, (which is just as well, ’cause Sears stopped putting out the “Wish List”) and now that I’m an adult, I tend to maintain a more pragmatic view of what I can and can’t have. For example, despite my inner child’s loudest protests, I just can’t justify spending $600 on the adult-sized Big Wheel.

high rider

But, there are still some realistic things to dream about, and for a lot of us big ol’ gray-haired kids, that would include a fully-functioning workshop in the garage. If just thinking about what it would take to get there makes you tired– if you think it’ll take too much time, work and money– let’s just take a few minutes and break it down. What would it take to at least start a nicely-equipped, operational workshop where you could do all the projects you’ve been chomping at the bit for?

Clean Out the Garage

Honestly, how much longer were you planning on tripping over bikes, ladders and luggage?

  • Have a Yard Sale

yard sale

What exactly is in all those stacked bins you’re clinging onto, anyway, Nazi gold? More like Happy Meal toys and paperbacks you will never, ever pull out, again. Sell it– sell it all!– with extreme prejudice. Making money’s a great excuse to get rid of junk, AND you’ll be giving to the charity of your choice, Maximus Garagus.

  • Thrift Stores

thrift store

Whatever survives the sale-a-thon, take to Goodwill. There may be certain members of your family (who shall remain unnamed) that say, “They’re worth something! Put them on eBay, put them on Craigslist!” Be strong, lad, and stick to your guns. Tell them you’re going to the market to fetch some milk and dump the stuff on the way. Like they’re going to miss it?

  • Alternative Storage

overhead storage

Depending on how much there’s left that you just can’t part with, you might want to consider that it’s time to migrate your storage to other climes. There’s a number of  sites and videos that show how to build your own DIY overhead garage storage, as well as ladder racks, bike racks and the like. So, if there’s space around the ceiling and walls to redistribute, there are very doable ways to make that happen. Other solutions include getting (or building) a backyard shed, finding reasonable offsite self-storage, or parking the stuff in your retired parents’ garage  should that prime real estate be available.

Your primary goal for a clear work space is safety. Clear paths prevent tripping and make it easier to zero in on stuff you’re looking for if it’s clearly “its place.”

The Workbench

workbench work station

This is where you’ll be spending most of your time in the workshop. Whether you build your workbench or buy it, you’ll want it to be solid and able to withstand all the pounding, wrestling, tightening, loosening, pressing, yanking and sheer weight you can throw at it throughout your projects. It also needs to be comfortable, functional and in a good spot in relation to your tools, supplies, power sources and whatever else you’re using your garage for. Feng shui, Tim Taylor-style. If it’s a question of space– namely, you don’t have it– you might also consider building a fold-down workbench.

Tool Storage

tool cabinet with tools

The principal investment for your workshop will be your tools. Now, OK, they’re tough, but they’re not impervious to the elements, misplacement or theft. You need to protect this investment with one or more high-quality tool cabinets that are nicely organized and, preferably, lockable. You also want them to have smooth rolling ball-bearing drawers and, also preferably, drawer mats that keep the tools n’ pieces from sliding around, nestled in a soft cushion.

tool cabinet combo

The cool thing with most of these tool cabinets is they usually come in modular pieces, so if you need more storage, a little or a lot, or a different type– bam!– you got it. The main components also usually come on heavy-duty wheels, so if you’ve got a tough project that would be difficult to migrate to the tool chest, the chest can go to it.

Integrate and Modify

tool cabinet workbench mod 1

If making room for both a workbench AND a tool storage area is a problem, then why can’t they be one and the same? Go to‘s forum or Google “harbor freight tool cabinet mod” and you’ll see dozens of examples where two or more tool cabinets + some wood + some creative framing… can turn two good ideas into one stroke of genius.

tool cabinet workbench mod 3

As with the modularity of different tool cabinets assembled together to form one big storage unit, here you can see how the formation of a workbench– however you like it– can come together to take an area, a corner, or a whole wall– with very little sacrifice in overall workshop space!

tool cabinet workbench mod 4

Obviously this is something you’ll want to work up to. To formulate an aspiration like this for down the road is a good thing. You’ll be prepared with space and a plan. And no one will be surprised when you bring home another 44″ 13-Drawer Glossy Red Roller Cabinet.



Take a good look at the picture three photos up. See all of those electric outlets? Yeah, you’re saying, that’s pretty overkillowatt… (just giving you a moment to absorb that one) but the last thing you want, now that you’ve got the area looking so clean, is a bunch of schleppy extension cords strung across your garage floor. Make sure that wherever you set up your work area(s),  you’ve got enough power outlets to charge your batteries and juice your corded tools– with plugs to spare for entertainment, phone, heaters, lighting, etc. Simply put, there’s no such thing as having too many plugs– and it’s much safer than not having enough. If need be, get an electrician to help plan and install these outlets. You’ll be so glad you did down the road.


flourescent lighting

When your house was built, garage lighting was a low priority, so if you’re turning the room into your personal workshop, you’ll need to upgrade the lights. It’d be great to get florescent fixtures up there (maybe you’ll have to employ that electrician after all), or at least track lighting. Plus, get a couple of table work lights (with dimmers) to operate on the delicate, miniscule stuff. Also, for projects away from the workbench, such as painting or plumbing, pick up a couple halogen shop lights, preferably with stands. They’re great substitutes for daylight.


shop fan

As lighting in the garage was a low priority for your home’s builder, so was insulation, making the winters uncomfortably cold and summers stifingly hot. No one likes doing DIY in their winter coat or in a sauna, right? Have space heaters and/or floor AC units available. And just to keep the air circulating year ’round, invest in a pedestal shop fan. These things blow so well, you’ll save on power in the warmer months not using the AC.

Workshop Flooring

anti fatigue floor pads

Concrete floors are fine to work on, but over time they’ll accumulate oil and solvent, paint splatters, dust and grime, causing deterioration and track-able gunk. Most of the well-equipped workshops employ some kind of durable flooring, like glue-on, industrial-strength floor tile, peel n’ stick garage tile or epoxy paint-on coating. None of these solutions is particularly cheap, so in the meantime, may I suggest covering your work area with lightweight, easy-to-clean and very reasonable anti-fatigue foam matting or roll mats. They’ll take the brunt of your work area’s messes and save your knees, to boot.


diy workshop

Yeah, those. Be you an armchair DIY-er or professional contractor, your choice of tools is very personal and customized. That said, there are a handful of tools every workshop would be left wanting without:

It goes without saying that you’ll find gaping holes in this list when it comes to your needs and passions. I’m sure whatever it is, Harbor Freight has the tools for you.

Entertainment, Creature Comforts and the Rest

mini fridge

If you’re going to make your ultimate workshop ULTIMATE, you’ve got to add those little extras that totally make it yours. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Radio/stereo/ipod dock (’cause you’ve gotta have tunes!)
  • Mini-fridge
  • Flat-screen TV (and we’ve got just the mount!)
  • Laptop (for quick lookups, ordering, communicating and YouTube “how-to” vids)
  • Portable weight set (for reps after you’ve been stationary too long)
  • Decor (license plates, car calendars, old muscle car pistons)
  • A dog