Project Backyard Shop: Walls of Specialized Storage

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Story and Photos by Tom Suddard

After devoting a year to planning, building and setting up our backyard shop, we finally took a break. Why? Because in our minds, it was done–a finished haven ready to host our automotive projects.

But actually working on a few cars in our new space made us realize that owning a shop is like owning a home: The work is never really finished. Our walls were calling out for storage, so we set down our tools, pulled the cars outside, and went back to work on the building.

Be a Pal, Would You?


It’s no secret that finding enough storage space has been a constant challenge for us, especially for the things we use during every work session. Though we’d done a good job of outfitting our garage with cabinets, drawers and benches, we lacked one very necessary form of storage.

We call it Tier One storage, and it’s that nebulous zone between leaving a can of Brakleen out on the bench all the time and hiding it away in a cabinet. An example: We knew it was wrong to leave cutting lubricant on the bench next to our drill press–putting it right in the way of our bench grinder–but no reasonable person would be willing to dig through a drawer each and every time they turned on the drill.

We needed a way to keep items close at hand but also out of our way. And we wanted them to be organized, too.

Fortunately, there’s a company devoted to meeting this very need: Pit Pal Products. They’re better known for their fancy aluminum trailer accessories, but what keeps oil jugs organized in a trailer works just as well in a shop.

Pit Pal’s catalog is phonebook-thick, but we scanned it with a specific goal in mind: using our walls. Mounting things on the wall keeps them out of your way and off your benches, yet still within easy reach. Like most garages, ours had hundreds of square feet of prime wall space just waiting to be used.

And yes, we could have cut up some two-by-six boards to make our own shelves, but Pit Pal stuff is better because it’s sized to perfectly hold specific items. Plus, the welded aluminum construction allows for much more complex designs than even the best carpenter could make. It’s fairly affordable, too: Total bill for everything we installed came in at less than the cost of a set of Miata wheels.

We started by addressing a pet peeve: cleaning our hands. When designing our shop, we decided not to take up floor space with a sink. Instead we made do with long walks to the kitchen, and later with a random smattering of waterless hand cleaner, paper towels and disposable gloves. Apparently the Pit Pal people had the same issue, because their hand-cleaning station holds a gallon of hand cleaner, a roll of paper towels, and a box of disposable gloves. It was the first thing we ordered.


We placed our next order after tripping over our broom for the thousandth time. Pit Pal makes a very, very fancy broom holder. Does a broom holder need to be this nice? Nope, but we decided to splurge on the $25 item.


By this point we were on a cleaning kick, so we turned to the assortment of CRC chemicals crowding up our bench. Sure, the cans were easy to reach, but we kept knocking them over. We also lack the necessary discipline to return each one to the same spot. Cans were spread across the shop. Chaos ensued.

Again, it’s pretty obvious that Pit Pal has a bunch of car nuts at the helm, as they make a bunch of different can racks of all shapes and sizes. We chose one that holds six aerosol cans and mounted it right above our toolbox. Now we can instantly tell when one has gone walkabout.


Most people are quite familiar with hanging cords on the wall; we screwed a nice big Pit Pal cord hanger right next to our favorite wall outlet. We also hung one of their coolest products, called the Air Tool Station, right next to our compressor. For $39.99, this classy hunk of aluminum holds a good-sized air hose and keeps all of our frequently used air tools on a rack above it.



Remember that bottle of cutting lubricant we mentioned? Yeah, Pit Pal makes a shelf for that, too. We mounted one above the workbench we affectionately call “the cutty grindy loud bench.” It holds the wrenches and fluids we need to keep our spinning tools happy, along with the oils and squirt bottles we’re constantly reaching for.


We’d installed a bunch of goodies, but now it was time for the pièce de résistance: Pit Pal’s deluxe Wall Organizer. It’s basically the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier of the catalog, retailing for nearly $200 and boasting every trick in the book.

Why’d we order it? Simple: We needed a bench and storage right near our lift that wouldn’t take up too much space or get in our way when pulling engines. This puppy can hold a bunch of aerosol cans, tools, oils and two rolls of paper towels. Then there’s its sweet party trick: The front door swings down into a workbench, meaning we have immediate access to a fold-out bench.

This Is Getting Compressing

After we spent a few hours mounting and organizing our new racks, our shop was looking much better. But it was still missing a major feature of any finished garage: the compressor.

Doing without one would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but we had survived a few different car builds with nothing more than a cheap 3-gallon pancake compressor. Times have changed, and lithium-powered cordless tools have gotten so good that we didn’t really miss our air tools.

Until we needed a die-grinder, that is. Some tools just perform better when hooked up to a big tank of air. Like good GRMers, we started scouring Craigslist–and came up with, well, nothing. Even after six months of near-daily searches, we just couldn’t find that dirt-cheap, 60-year-old compressor we were looking for.

Compressors can basically be separated into three categories: new, old and oilless. Let’s start with the worst: oilless compressors. These rely on grease or some other non-oil lubricant to run smoothly. Your engine wouldn’t run as well if it just had some grease packed in the rod bearings, and the same is true for compressors: Most oilless models are noisy, short-lived and slow to recharge. They’re usually cheaply made, too. We crossed them off our list immediately.

Old, professional-level compressors are normally considered the holy grail, as they’re quiet, fast, built like anvils, and easy to maintain. The only part you should really worry about is the tank itself, which can be rusty if it hasn’t been regularly drained. Inspect an older compressor’s tank carefully, as an explosion can very easily kill someone.

Otherwise, though, these things can last decades. The electric motors are easily replaced with modern pieces when necessary, while the piston rings, head gaskets, bearings and other service items don’t cost much.

We expected to pay real money–up to $500–for a nice old compressor, but just couldn’t find anything. Then again, we’re not exactly located in a manufacturing mecca; if you live in Southern California, you’ll probably have better luck finding one.

We had one option left: a new compressor. That meant we’d have our pick of quality, size and style, so we did some soul searching. Would it be nice to have a pro-level, 80-gallon compressor outside the shop, churning away on that sweet 30-amp, 220-volt circuit we installed? Yep, it sure would–but we didn’t want to spend the $2000 required to fulfill those dreams.

“Your engine wouldn’t run as well if it just had some grease packed in the rod bearings, and the same is true for compressors.”

What would we actually use? We don’t have a sandblasting cabinet in this shop, and we don’t do much painting. In other words, we didn’t need that 80-gallon behemoth–at least, not at this point in our lives. Plus, we really are happy with our cordless tools.

Our wishlist of air-powered equipment contained pretty much just rotary air tools and an air ratchet. Most of our current tools are rated at just under 5 standard cubic feet per minute at 90 psi. Yes, a few of our bigger ones–like our spray gun–require more air, but we’re okay being a little patient while the compressor recharges.

With 5 SCFM at 90 psi in mind, we went shopping. All roads led to Harbor Freight, and for just $149.99 we walked out of the store with a 21-gallon, oil-filled air compressor. Its rating: 4.7 SCFM at 90 psi, the bare minimum for our needs. Is it the ideal compressor solution? Nope, but it does what we need it to do, and it cost less than a decent winter coat.

After a weekend of tinkering, we’d fixed our workshop’s organization problem and finally brought a real compressor to the table. There’s still more to do, though–we’ll tackle a Craigslist parts washer rebuild and finally install our lift in a future installment.


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

Pit Pal Products:
(888) 748-7257
wall organizers

866) 748-7940
garage flooring

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

Project Backyard Shop: Solving Our Storage Problem

Project Backyard Shop: Walls of Specialized Storage (This Article)

Project Backyard Shop: Installing a Lift

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View comments on the GRM forums
te72 Reader
10/4/18 11:41 p.m.

Tooling up a garage... the eternally difficult decision. When you finally get to work in a garage that you wisely outfitted with stuff like this, you'll wonder how you ever did it without such a setup.


However... this stuff isn't cheap, and the sky is the limit on what you install. Whatever you spend on outfitting the garage takes away from project car budgets.


Tough call.

AnthonyGS Reader
10/5/18 12:16 a.m.

I really appreciate this series of articles.  The wife and I just finished building a new  house.  First thing I did was coat the garage floor.  By Christmas I want to have cabinets and storage resolved and possibly a lift.  I need to do all of this and leave room for the wife to park too.

te72 Reader
10/8/18 11:24 p.m.

In reply to AnthonyGS :

Think vertically my friend. I have a rule in general for the garage: if it doesn't have wheels, it doesn't belong on the floor. Even some things that do have wheels (wheel dollies, for example) get stored off the ground when not in use.


Good call on the floor coating, if done well, you won't regret it.

AnthonyGS Reader
10/9/18 12:05 a.m.
te72 said:

In reply to AnthonyGS :

Think vertically my friend. I have a rule in general for the garage: if it doesn't have wheels, it doesn't belong on the floor. Even some things that do have wheels (wheel dollies, for example) get stored off the ground when not in use.


Good call on the floor coating, if done well, you won't regret it.

I’m going with cabinets on one wall with two small rolling carts, modular shelves on the opposite wall and slat wall in the front wall.  A two car garage isn’t huge but if organized well it should work well.  

One of the best ideas I’ve read here was to use hose reels and electric cord reels.  I’m thinking one hose reel and two electric cord reels would work well for me.  

I did have extra lighting installed when we built the house thank goodness.  

I’m going to need to raise my garage track and change to a sidemount garage door opener to install a lift, but it shouod be worth it.  I’m getting too old to enjoy jackstand work anymore.

te72 Reader
10/9/18 10:07 p.m.

In reply to AnthonyGS :

Sounds like you'll have an excellent layout for working on a project car. I made the mistake of making sure the garage fit all the cars we have indoors, but didn't really account for the idea that we'd be working on these cars occasionally... oops! So, yeah, figure if you want to park indoors, give yourself about 400 sq-ft of space to dedicate to maintenance / project work, and try to resist the temptation to stuff another car in there haha.


Anthony, we're all too old for jack stand work, we just don't know it yet. Jackstands are great for the pits, the home garage / shop... not so much, in the long run. Especially for small guys like me.

irish44j UltimaDork
10/9/18 10:33 p.m.

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