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What to Do When Your Garage Is Too Small

Posted in Features on July 9, 2015
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Sooner or later you will encounter the same problem we did. Your garage will be too small for all your projects (or your only project). We dreamed of moving out of town to a house with lots of land and a big shop or barn to house all of our projects. After years of dreaming though, it is still just a dream. It might have something to do with our buying another project vehicle every time we have spare money in our pocket, which makes the issue of space worse rather than better.

This space looked so big when it was only holding our truck, but it filled up quickly as we added tools, equipment, and the spare parts from all of our projects. While we suggest that you look for deals on tools, have a plan for what you intend to use your space for so it doesn’t get filled with items you will never use.

While we still hold on o our dream of the house in the country with the giant shop, in the meantime we have settled for a much more realistic solution: renting shop space in town with a friend. The shop we rented is a modest 900 square feet, but it has a lot going for it. The rent is reasonable and the location is in the industrial part of town close to auto parts and welding supply shops, where they don’t mind the sounds of cutting and grinding or a little oil leak here or there. As a bonus, now that the yard art has disappeared at home, our neighbors have even started to wave at us instead of scowling.

The difference between expensive air tools and inexpensive air tools is often the volume of air necessary to run them. If you buy a high-volume compressor like this upright Husky two-stage compressor, it will put out enough air to run any tools. We thought about building a “dog house” around the compressor to cut down on noise, but it has not been loud enough for us to bother.

10 Must-Have Shop Tools
Air compressor
Angle grinder, 4 1/2-inch
Electric drill
Floor jack, 2- to 3-ton rated
Handtool set
Reciprocating saw
Torque wrench
Welder (and auto- darkening helmet)

Whether you are building a bumper, fixing a cracked frame, or turning your open differential into a locker, a welder is essential. If you have the budget, consider purchasing a 220-volt welder like this Millermatic190, which will provide more power than a 110-volt one. The Auto-Set function makes the Millermatic 190 quick and easy to use for a variety of projects.

11 Items We Use Most Often
Electric nut driver
Gear wrenches
Pick set
Rolling carts
Sharpie permanent marker
Sink or hose for cleanup
Tape measure
Wobble sockets

If you are shuffling projects like we always seem to be doing, you cannot have too many carts. The Harbor service cart in the background seems to be loaded with tools and parts for projects so often that we are considering buying a second cart. The folding cart in the foreground with the KMC wheels on it hardly takes up any room when not in use.

Top Tools for Fabrication
Band saw
Chop saw
Lots of clamps and/or a good vise
Plasma cutter
Sheetmetal brake
Shop press or brake for bending metal
Tube Benderbender
Welding table

A chop saw is a valuable tool for fabrication projects and doesn’t take up much room. Our Dewalt chop saw has cut through heavy-wall tubing without issue, but it is loud, so we recommend hearing protection. A cold saw would be cleaner and faster, but they are significantly more expensive than a traditional chop saw.

Top Tools for Gear Work
Dial indicator
Bearing puller
Parts washer
Case spreader
Hydraulic press

PhotosView Slideshow

Must-Haves for Your Man Cave
Mini fridge Off-road posters

PhotosView Slideshow

Our first stop was to the local salvage store to buy used pallet racking. Since they have different racking in stock at any given time, we wanted to ensure that we bought enough for our shop the first time. It wasn’t cheap, but the racking is strong and freed up a lot of storage space.

We bought these metal cabinets used; you can find them on Craigslist fairly regularly. They are great for storing and organizing all of your paint and fluids. Having consumables like gear oil and grease on hand means that you will spend less time running to the parts store.

You can get most jobs done with a floor jack and jackstands, but adding a two-post lift makes nearly every task easier. We scored a deal on this Ammco lift from a local mechanic that was closing up shop. Four-post lifts are great for exhaust work, but you cannot easily remove axles or wheels like you can with a two-post lift. We situated the lift towards the back of the shop and spaced it wide enough to fit fullsize trucks but still narrow enough that we can move equipment around each side of the lift.

If you like ice cream as much as we do, now you have an excuse. These Talenti containers make excellent hardware storage with their clear plastic construction and threaded lids. We never throw any hardware away, whether it is screws, nuts, bolts, or washers. You never know what you might need for a future project.

Keeping your tools organized is a big time saver. We bought this 44-inch, 13-drawer U.S. General toolbox from Harbor Freight Tools when it was on sale. It was bigger than we thought we needed, but we filled it up quickly with tools, so we added an eight-drawer chest to the top of the toolbox. Although it is on wheels, we rarely move it around the shop.

Lighting is one of the most overlooked aspects of a shop. You can never have too many lights, too many electrical outlets (110 or 220 volts), or too many air hose attachments. Our only complaint about lighting in the shop is that the rollup door covers half the lights when open. A coiling door would not have this issue.

Have you caught on yet how much we like organization? These plastic storage totes are inexpensive and easy to stack. We label them for each project vehicle and keep everything in case we need it in the future.


Miller Electric
Appleton, WI 54912
Baltimore, MD 21286
Harbor Freight Tools

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