Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Pros And Cons Of Having A Basement Workshop

I have a small one-car garage that I was using as my workshop at one point in time, but it just proved to be too small to be of much use. Whenever I needed space, I'd have to roll the riding mower out the door, along with the bbq grill, and even then things were still crowded. And this was before I started purchasing bigger tools like my bandsaw and table saw. There is no insulation or utility services in the building, so if I needed electricity to run a tool, I had to run an extension cord to an outlet on the house about twenty feet away. It's brutally hot in the summer, and bone-freezing cold in the winter. Hardly an ideal situation for a woodworking shop. So, I tried thinking of a solution.

My first option was to build a smaller shed to house all the stuff for the lawn and garden equipment, move it all out, and then set up shop in the garage. The second option was to just build another garage-like building and set up shop in there. The third option was to abandon the idea of having a garage/out-building workshop and set everything up in the basement.

Lets go over the first option, building a garden shed. I seriously considered this, but realized that any shed would have to be big enough to house not only my garden/lawn tools, but also the large mower and bbq grill. So a simple shed wouldn't do it and, even if it would, I didn't have the foggiest idea on where to locate it on my property where it would be useful but out of the way at the same time.

Second option wasn't really an option at all. I have a large yard, yes, but as with the smaller shed idea, figuring out where to locate it was next to impossible. And then there was the expense. Since I don't make a living doing this, I couldn't justify spending several thousands of dollars to build something like that. And then I realized that there would be even more of an expense involved than the construction of any building. There would be the expense of running utility services to the building, insurance, permits, insulation, and so on.

So I decided to set up shop in the basement. It already had electrical outlets that I would need, it had running water, and so on. It's not insulated but it stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer, with minimal extra effort (it has heating and a/c, but I don't even have to open the vents most of the time). The main room is half-again as big as my garage, and there was nothing else down there that would be in my way (storage, the furnace, and water heater are in other rooms). All this sounds great, right? Well, it is, to a degree, but there are drawbacks. Thus the purpose of this article, to list the pros and cons of this arrangement.

First, the pros:
  • If I want to work in the shop, it's right there. I don't have to shovel snow or dress like an Eskimo to go to work. Just a walk to the kitchen, open the door, a few steps down, and I'm at my bench.
  • There was no extra expense in setting up shop. I had electrical, water, heat and a/c, etc., already set up, and there were no permits necessary.
  • More room than my garage, and I didn't have to build something that would impact the "curb appeal" of the house or maybe affect the property value.
  • I can work anytime of the day or night without disturbing my neighbors (my wife and kids, not so much). My basement is pretty sound-proof, and sounds from it are almost impossible to hear on the outside of the home at any real distance (and the closet neighbor is about eighty feet across the street).
  • If I need to use the restroom, connect to the internet, get something for lunch, etc., everything is right there. I don't have to put on a coat or whatever, go outside, and go back to the house for whatever I need, and then do it all over again to go back to the shop.
Now the cons:
  • Difficulty in getting any heavy or large equipment (or projects) up and down the stairs. There is plenty of room on the stairs (width and height) to technically move them up or down, it's just the factor of weight of the item in question. Imagine carrying a large cast iron table saw down a flight of ten steps. Not fun. So to get around this, whatever goes up or down has to be able to do so in parts and pieces (I had to take apart my bandsaw's cast iron table and stand to get it downstairs, for example).
  • Noise that disturbs the occupants of the house (my wife and kids). While technically I could go down to the shop at 3 a.m. and fire up the table saw and dust collector, the fact of the matter is the noise would wake the wife and kids. Neighbors might not be able to hear it from the outside, but on the inside? Yeah, definitely not a good idea.
  • Fumes from finishing will waft upstairs unless you have a good ventilation system. I currently don't, other than opening some windows and turning on a fan to blow the fumes outside. Plus, the water heater and furnace are down there, albeit in another section of the basement, and having a lot of flammable fumes just hanging about is not a good idea. Opening the windows isn't an option for some people, and doing so in the winter can cause problems with the finish curing, so I either have to be sure the fumes are carried away before closing everything back up and opening the heating vents, or use a no-fumes type of finish that, quite frankly, may not be what I'm wanting to use to get the look I'm going for.
  • Dust collection is a must, even more so than it would be in any other place, because sawdust gets everywhere. And if you don't have a system in place, it will find it's way upstairs and you don't want that. Plus, it's handy to have around to clean up the shop. I started out with a shop-vac at first, realized that although it was better than nothing, I needed something better. So I bought a large dust collector and put a long hose on it that could reach anything in the shop (I didn't want to start running ductwork all over the place). It made a world of difference, both for shop cleanliness and my lungs. So if you don't have a plan in place, sawdust is going to be a huge problem, both in the shop and in the rest of the house.
  • Space is still an issue, maybe even more so than a regular shop. Most basements have either concrete or block walls, so simply hanging shelves isn't really an option, unless you want to drill into said walls. And although you could buy free-standing shelves or build them yourself, those take up the valuable real estate that is the floorspace of your shop. For every shelf you erect, there could be a tool in that spot, or even lumber. You have to purposely think and decide what you need and what will be the best solution for you and your needs. Personally, I could use more shelves and storage space, but things are a little crowded as they are right now, so if I want more, it'll have to somehow go on the walls or under any benches or cabinets that I may build later on.
So there you have it. If you're fortunate enough to have a larger garage that can hold a decent sized workshop, great. But if you don't, you have other options, but you have to think of the pros and cons of those options. Hopefully this has given you some food for thought on the subject.


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