Project Backyard Shop: Moving In and Organizing

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Story and Photos by Tom Suddard

Our goal was simple: Build ourselves a space we could dedicate to working on cars. And after many sweaty, difficult months, we hit our goal. The hard parts–planning, building, and finishing the shop–were over. Now it’s time for the fun part: Moving in.

Last issue’s story ended with us putting the final touches on a finished space that looked remarkably empty. We’d hung a few lights from the ceiling, but all of our tools, cars and benches were literally piled in our backyard, where they were covered with a tarp and a heavy layer of drywall dust. Time to turn our workspace into a workshop.

Conquering Clutter


We’ll admit it: We accumulated a lot of clutter during the year it took us to go from bare dirt to finished garage. Why? Three reasons.

First, we didn’t have proper tool storage or a consistent tool set. Once we were done roofing, for example, we didn’t need the nail gun anymore, but we couldn’t put it away since we were literally in the process of building and outfitting our storage space. So we dropped it into a bin with other roofing stuff–everything from nails to shingles to air hoses to the hex keys we needed to adjust the gun.

Repeat this process 100 times for every little step in the garage building process, and the result was a floor covered in random storage containers filled with random tools and materials. Need a claw hammer? Good luck deciding if you should dig through the electrical bin and see if it’s with the wire staples, or maybe dive into the drywall bin because you needed to hammer a hurricane brace in a little further before you could screw down that last sheet.

Compounding the mess was the random junk we had collected during our garage build, unsure if any of it would turn into a permanent fixture. That workbench sitting in the trash outside a local shop? We grabbed it. That cheap bench grinder on craigslist? We bought it. That old table saw the neighbors offered for free? We took it. We were as opportunistic as possible, figuring it’s much easier to get rid of extra tools than it is to buy them on short notice.

The third issue was the fact that we weren’t working consistent hours with consistent help. Workers on a jobsite may stop 20 minutes early to put tools away and sweep the floor, but our hectic lives and revolving-door roster of friends and family helping meant we never really took the time to organize our project. Things were a mess.

That brought us to an interesting chicken-or-the-egg problem: Should we plan our storage around our tools, or our tools around our storage? In other words, did we need extra cabinets–and the clutter that comes with them–or did we need to pare down and get rid of the extra tools?

After some soul-searching, we came up with what we thought was a reasonable plan: Throw everything that was in the garage out of the building. This meant stashing stuff in our shed, in our parts cars, in our enclosed trailer and, in a few cases, literally outside in the yard. Then we would work a few scenarios to see where we could place benches and cabinets in the space. Our goal was to fit as many as possible, because tool collections can only grow.

After an hour spent emptying the garage, we pulled in a few cars for our test fittings. We needed to have the cars in the space so we could see, for example, if we put a bench there, would we still be able to pull an engine from a vehicle sitting on our yet-to-be-delivered lift? Would a storage shelf on that wall interfere with the handle of a floor jack if we needed to quickly change a tire? If we put tall cabinets over there, would we be able to walk through the building and get to them when four cars were parked inside for storage?

After running through all of these scenarios using a mix of graph paper and real life, we came to a conclusion: nothing worked. There was simply no arrangement of tools, benches and storage that would accommodate our exceedingly flexible ideas of possible uses. It seemed like every time we optimized the layout for, say, roll cage fabrication, it became useless for changing an engine or storing four cars. We couldn’t figure out how to fit the bare minimum inside our 24-by-30-foot building, never mind all the extra stuff we’d accumulated over the past year.


Wheels Up


Then we had our eureka moment: Wheels. Lots and lots of wheels, placed on almost every item in our garage, so we could reconfigure the space on the fly. This was how we would make our multi-purpose shop accommodate every stage of a project car.

We ran through our scenarios again, this time assuming most items could be easily moved, and our path was much clearer. We were able to eliminate a few of the benches and shelves we’d accumulated, so we gave them to friends or repurposed them. (For example, our attached garage has a new shelf for camping stuff now.) We then cleaned and painted all our other trash and craigslist finds. We used the leftovers from the mixture of reject paint we used on the walls, figuring it didn’t cost us anything and would at least make everything match.

Once we’d made our choices and refreshed the rougher-looking pieces, it was wheel time. Some things, like our toolbox and engine stand, came with casters already attached. Others, like our hydraulic press and welding table, just needed some casters bolted or welded on. Our storage cabinets, however, which were recycled out of a neighbor’s trash, required special attention: Since their hollow sheet-metal bottoms wouldn’t support a full cabinet with wheels attached, we built a frame out of angle iron to spread the load and give us a solid point to attach some wheels.




Hold Tight


We did choose to leave three things in our garage without wheels: two workbenches and a shelving unit in the corner. Why? Because these items would need all the stability they could get, and putting everything else on wheels gave us the flexibility we needed. We devoted one of our fixed benches to tools, like our belt sander and bench grinder, that would vibrate and walk a bench away from the wall unless it’s bolted down. The other, our most solid bench, holds our vise and was left without wheels so we would have a solid surface to bang on. The fixed shelving unit holds heavy things like hub stands, our portable compressor and larger tools, so we didn’t want to destabilize it with wheels. Plus, it sits over in a corner where it’s not in our way.

Hit the Lights


Now that we had our garage’s larger items in place, we could focus on higher priorities–literally, the ones above us. We had moved in with only four fluorescent lights hung, knowing we needed more, but not wanting to spend the time installing them when all of our tools were still sitting in the yard. We had six more 8-foot T5 fluorescent lights available that had been given to us by a friend who converted his warehouse to LED fixtures. That left us with a question: What’s the best way to arrange them for bright, even light everywhere we’re working? For answers, we went to the internet.

After spending some time at reading about light output and arrangement, we had our plan together before we hung a single light. A ring of lights around the inside perimeter of our garage would evenly light our workbenches and our cars without anything casting shadows; additional lights would be positioned down the middle of the building, parallel with the cars, to light their opposite sides. Our goal was bright, even light, and we succeeded. Our carefully designed lighting even allows us to shoot photos inside without a flash, which was one of our main goals.

Sharp readers may catch one potential flaw: When the garage doors are open, don’t they block a few of the lights? Good question, and yes, they do. However, we weren’t particularly concerned because we usually work with the doors closed and the a/c on. For times when we do have to work with the doors open, we added an electrical outlet on the ceiling, right between the open doors. We’ll plug in portable 4-foot fluorescent fixtures and hang them from the doors when necessary.


Move In


Now that we had our benches, lights and cabinets in place, we could finally move into our new shop. We spent a day with a big trash can, a bunch of zip-top plastic bags, and our pile of plastic storage bins. We went through every bin, box and bag, and by the end of it we had a trash pile, a garage full of tools, and a “somewhere else” pile for things like extra weed-whacker string or the bike rack for our van. We found homes for that stuff in our attached garage and outside shed so we could keep our workshop dedicated to car stuff. We also designated one box for “extra tools” and threw every extra wrench, socket, screwdriver and ratchet into it. This way we don’t end up carrying redundant items in our main toolbox, but the next time we’re missing something or need to put together a travel tool kit, we won’t end up buying tools we already own. And speaking of buying tools, we’ve still got more to find. Look for a lift, a compressor and more in the next installment.




What an improvement: Although it took us more than a year to construct, our DIY garage build took us from the dark, cramped workspace shown to a light, roomy one.



Master Garage Builders:
garage kit
(352) 369-3033

garage flooring
866) 748-7940

Wire & Cable Your Way:
(855) 880-8010

Read the Whole Backyard Shop Series:

Project Backyard Shop: Planning the Building

Project Backyard Shop: Building The Building

Project Backyard Shop: Wiring and Interior

Project Backyard Shop: Moving In and Organizing (This Article)

Project Backyard Shop: Solving Our Storage Problem

Project Backyard Shop: Walls of Specialized Storage

Project Backyard Shop: Installing a Lift

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View comments on the GRM forums
CarKid1989 SuperDork
9/26/18 8:45 p.m.

What lights did you end up going with? Currently planning out the build for my garage and lighting is a top priority.


Thank you

te72 Reader
10/3/18 11:43 p.m.

In reply to CarKid1989 :

If nobody replies in here, I went with Feit C10000 LED "bulbs" in my garage. 10k lumens each, couple that with the gloss white paint on the walls and ceiling, and it's nearly as bright as daylight inside my garage when you flip the switch.


Could possibly disperse the light better, but for what I've grown up with and the work I do, it's pretty great as is. =)


Cost was reasonably for the light output, if you buy in 4-packs they're a bit over $50 each.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
10/4/18 6:57 a.m.

In reply to CarKid1989 :

I used a bunch of 8’ fluorescent fixtures from a warehouse that was converting to LEDs. $free!

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