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Building a Home Workshop, Part 8

Laying-out the workshop - and storage

by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Layout
  • Calculating space requirements
  • Space-efficient and cheap storage tricks
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Last week in Part 7 we finished installing the power and wiring. This week, it’s time to look at where the workshop equipment should go, and how to store stuff.


Laying out a workshop is one of the most important aspects to get right. A workshop with poor layout will be hard to work in, tiring, and result in worse outcomes. It might also be dangerous.

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With a workshop that is long and skinny, and has doors at one end, some layout decisions simply fall into place. For example, the ‘car storage’ and ‘car working’ areas in this design will be at the right-hand (east) end of the workshop. (Here the blue rectangle represents a parked car.) Another immediate outcome is that, at the east end of the workshop, intrusion into floor space by shelves and cupboards should be kept very low.

By default, the ‘workshop’ part of the shed then becomes the west end.

The next step was to think-through those workshop items that require the smallest space behind them. Why? Because they can be pushed up against a wall. For example, my workbench is an ‘island’ design – I want to be able to work at any side of it – so it cannot be against a wall. On the other hand, my lathe requires no rear access at all.

On this basis I decided that placed against a wall could be the lathe, mill and bandsaw. I also have small bench I constructed – it’s wide but shallow in depth. I had previously mounted on it a little anvil, bench grinder, drill press and hydraulic press. By replacing the anvil with a bench sander, I could add another collection of tools for which rear access is not required.

The grinder and sander should be distant from the lathe and mill, and the ‘throw’ of the grinding wheels and sanding belt should not be in line with the lathe and mill. (Why? Because you don’t want abrasive grit landing on the accurately ground surfaces of these tools.)

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Therefore, mounted in a line from left to right could be: bench with hydraulic press, bench grinder, drill press, belt sander; and then on their own stands: bandsaw, mill and lathe. I made some measurements and found that this collection nicely fitted across the rear (west) wall of the workshop. (Click on any pics to enlarge.)

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The next location decision was where to put my sheet metal bender. I bought this sight-unseen on eBay and it proved to be far bigger than the pic in the ad had suggested. That made it an even better bargain, but it also means it takes up a lot of space and is very hard to move. It’s also very heavy – perhaps 750kg or even a tonne – and so I decided that this should be placed in the workshop on the part of the concrete slab that is not on ‘fill’. By default, that put it against the southern wall. Note that space also needs to be left for the moving leaf to open, and a counter-weight to descend behind the folder.

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The next two decisions were where to put the two main working benches. As I said, I have a fairly small (1.5 x 1 metre) island workbench, and I also have an oxy acetylene bench. After chalking their shapes on the floor and walking around them many times, I decided on this layout.

This gives good access from the oxy bench to the workbench with the big vice, and also keeps the flame well away (in fact, 5 metres) from where paint and inflammables are stored. The location of the oxy bench is also distant from the spark-producing grinders.

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You might wonder why the oxy bench and island workbench aren’t further north – and here’s the reason. The brown object comprises storage cupboards and shelves, primarily for tools and fasteners. (More on storage in a moment.)

Room to Move

In any workshop, space will always be at a premium. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a home workshop that’s too big!

So what is enough space? Or, how should you arrange things so that you have enough room to move?

There’s a good parallel here with interior cabin space of cars. My car, a Honda Insight, is very small. But I never feel cramped, while in some cars with ostensibly larger cabins, I can often feel squeezed-in.

The trick is to arrange things so that you never bump into them while performing normal tasks.

In the Honda, my head doesn’t hit the roof when getting in and out, the top of my shoes don’t hit trim pieces when using the clutch pedal, and my fingers don’t brush the dash when changing gears.

In a workshop, you want to be able to operate machines without hitting things, and have room to move around a bench (if it’s an island type, all the way around) while carrying objects. When oxy welding, you don’t want your elbows (or welding rod) to be fouling other objects, and when using power saws, you want room for long material to be cut.

Sometimes, less space than first appears is actually needed. In my old workshop, there was just 80cm clearance behind the side of my workbench at which I most often worked. And I never bumped the shelves behind me. Conversely, behind my bench-mounted belt sander there was also 80cm – and that was a right pain in the butt - when using the sander, I often hit the equipment behind me.

So rather than just arbitrarily assign a certain clearance between all objects, actually measure how much space you need and then work to that. That said, a 1 metre clearance makes a good starting point.


It’s easy to spend mega-bucks on shelves and cupboards. However, it’s also pretty easy to spend very little. Let’s take a look at some key ideas.

  • Minimal Intrusion into Floor Space

Even in a large home workshop like the 14 x 6 metre design you’ve seen being built in this series, it’s very easy to encroach into floor space and reduce the utility of the workshop.

For example, this 6 metre wide shed will have a car parked semi-permanently on one side. Any other car being worked on will be positioned next to – or just past – the resident car.


Well, if you place shelves and cupboards down the walls of the shed, it’s very easy to lose over 1.5 metres of this width. And when there are two cars parked side by side, a width of only 4.5 metres makes it’s very squeezy to work on one of the cars!

Therefore, in the ‘car working area’ of a workshop, do your utmost to not encroach into the floor space. In general, standard bookshelf depth shelves (eg about 25cm) down each wall will be fine.

  • Use all the Height

If you have a tall shed, make sure you use every metre of height along the walls.

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That sounds rather obvious but as shelves and cupboards are typically only 1 metre or 1.8 metres tall, to use a full (say) 3 metres of wall height requires that you either custom build or modify existing designs. The pictured shelves comprise 100 and 180cm high pine bookshelves, stacked on top of each other and nailed together. In total, there’s about 18 metres of shelf space shown here!

When taking this approach, make sure that the shelves are very well connected together, and because the shelving will be much less stable that it was as individual items, attachment of the assembly to the frame of the shed is a must.

Because it doesn’t matter much what condition the shelves are in, wooden bookshelves like these can be picked up fairly cheaply secondhand.

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Here vertical timber battens have been screwed to the girts (longitudinal members) of the shed. Mounted on these battens are hooks on which the car ramps and traveller can be hung. The result is that at a height of up to 1.8 metres, these items don’t intrude into the shed space working area at all. (That is, they don’t project outwards of the wall by more than the depth of the columns.)

  • Hang from the Roof

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If you have the internal clearance, hang items from the roof. That can be as simple as chaining stuff high up that you need to store and use rarely – like this complete exhaust system.

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Or it can be hanging the actual shelf from the roof and then loading it up. That’s what’s been done with these old folding sofa bed frames – chains have been used to hang the bed frames that are then used to store plastic sheet offcuts .

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Here the same approach has been taken with an old gate. Six chains have been used to suspend the gate above the roller doors – the resulting storage platform can easily support my weight. This platform provides no less than 3 square metres of storage space, without subtracting at all from the normal useable shed space.

  • Use Standard Size Storage Modules

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Now the phrase ‘use standard size storage modules’ sounds very technical, but all I mean is that when you find a cheap, good-sized container, buy plenty of them. These milk crates – all 17 of them – were bought from the shop at a local rubbish tip for $2 each. They’re strong and durable.

By getting plenty, I was able to set the shelf spacing on this metal rack so that two fitted per shelf. That means that any container can be put into any location, and it makes for a neat and space-effective storage.

The metal racks were bought secondhand and repainted for the new workshop installation.

  • Tool Storage

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After many years of trying different approaches (including shadow boards, tool chests and so on), I’ve decided that this approach to storing tools best suits me. And what is it? Using open drawers salvaged from an old chest of drawers, divided into two, and filled with tools.

One space for screwdrivers, one for sockets and socket handles, one for files, one for pliers and vice-grips.

In many ways it is not the best way of storing these items (for example, files should not be stored so that they can knock teeth together) but it works really well for me. That’s primarily because tidying-up is so easy – you just chuck the tools in the open drawers.

  • Prioritise Access

Work out what you need to use the most and locate those items close. Conversely, items that you will want rarely, place further away.

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In my workshop that approach translates to the storage area near the workbenches containing tools, fasteners, abrasive paper and insulation tape – these items I’d expect to use almost every time I am doing a task in the workshop. Conversely, the more distant shelves carry salvaged intercoolers, bearings, wire and cable, pneumatic fittings, solenoids, convoluted tube, etc.

The same idea also applies to vertical access – positioned highest on the ‘distant’ shelves are items I expect to need only very rarely, for example - washer bottles and pumps, fluorescent light fittings, lead sheet and wax.

Painting the Shelves

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Often after sourcing secondhand metal shelves you’ll need to paint them. Rust-proofing paint designed for steel can be very expensive but I use an alternative – paving paint. This paint forms a very hard ‘epoxy-like’ layer and appears to stick to anything. It’s still not cheap but it will cost perhaps half as much as a dedicated paint for steel. When applying it, make sure there’s plenty of ventilation.


Layout and storage are two key areas to optimise when setting-out a workshop. Poor storage can turn a large home workshop into a tiny one, while a bad layout can make working in the workshop awkward and potentially dangerous.

Next week: getting machinery into the workshop and setting it up

Interested in home workshop projects and techniques? You’re sure then to be interested in the Home Workshop Sourcebook, available now.

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