Shop Contest Winner Profile: David Kirk

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story by david kirk

My shop is a blue-collar workingman’s shop. It’s not a man-cave. It doesn’t have a 72-inch TV, or a wet bar, or a keg-or-ator. It doesn’t have a leather couch or Italian marble floors. It’s not a Garage Majal.

What it is is a warm, well-lit garage in a sleepy suburban neighborhood just outside Bozeman, Montana, where I work on my autocross car and make my living building custom bicycle frames. I’ve worked as a professional framebuilder for 28 years, and in this shop space since 2003.

Half of the shop is framebuilding workspace, and the other half is set aside for my autocross car. Over the years I’ve had a 1966 Lotus Cortina, 1976 Mazda RX-3, 1999 Birkin S3, 2005 Lotus Elise Supercharged and, finally, the 2014 Westfield Mega S2000 in this space.

All of the cars I’ve worked on in this shop have been lightweights, but the last one, the Westfield, is the first that I’ve built from the ground up. I assembled the Westie three years ago and have been tweaking and modifying it ever since. It’s been developed into a real race car and, with lots of time in the shop, become very quick and reliable. The Westfield weighs 1275 pounds, and the Honda F20C engine puts 220-plus horsepower to the ground with the help of Omex ITBs and a stainless tubular exhaust. It’s a D Mod FTD machine.

My shop isn’t fancy. It’s a practical, efficient, enjoyable and safe place to get real work done. The portrait of my father, John Kirk, hangs in the shop, and he keeps an eye on my work and motivates me to do my best work. He was a professional race car mechanic, and I hope he would approve. In short, my place is a grassroots workshop designed to work on grassroots cars.–David Kirk

Enjoy Your Workplace: David Kirk’s Shop Tips

Over the past 30 years of working as a bicycle frame-builder, I’ve had the chance to set up many workshops in both factories and small, one-man shops like my own 450-square-foot place. In this time I’ve learned that there are a few simple things that make for an efficient, productive and rewarding workspace, and it seems these translate from bikes to cars well.

1. Workspace Layout: When setting up a workspace, do what you can to keep your walking around to a minimum. If you design a workspace like a fine kitchen–with just a step or two between your most used work areas and then the less used stations farther away–you’ll find that you get more done in less time. In most cases this will form a triangle with you in the middle and the stations arranged around you. This seems like common sense, I know, but this setup is less common than one might expect.

2. Lighting: I know it’s more fun to buy cool tools and parts than lighting, but if you can’t read the calipers or see the workpiece, then it’s all for naught. I have eight LED shop lights hanging from my ceiling, and this fills the shop with light even on the darkest days. Having a brightly lit shop makes everything easier and keeps you happier, even when you’re pulling that trans to fix that rear main seal–again. If you rent space, buy the lights anyway and take them with you when you go, just like the rest of your tools. I got mine from Costco for $25 each. They cost nothing to power and work just fine in the cold while I’m waiting for the shop to heat up.

3. Storage: You need enough storage to give everything–tools, parts, fluids, cleaners, etc.–a proper place to live. It doesn’t need to be fancy–no need for smoked-glass sliding doors on a stainless cabinet. Milk crates and cardboard boxes are fine. Just get the stuff into labeled containers and up off the floor, onto shelves or into cabinets. One can usually find secondhand kitchen cabinets for dirt cheap on Craigslist that work very well for storage and workspace.

4. Paint: I highly recommend that people paint the whole place, floors included, with bright paint. The bright color on the walls and ceiling will reflect your new LED shop lights, making them even more effective. Paint the floor with a good industrial floor paint that is high-gloss. A glossy floor has a few advantages: It reflects more light, making it easier to see what’s going on under your car; it helps you slide around the floor on your back; and, of course, it makes it simple to keep the place swept. Yes, I know it will get scratched and scuffed over time, but even then it’s so much better than raw, dark, gritty concrete that there’s no comparison.

5. Cleaning: This is less shop setup and more shop practice, but you need to keep the place clean. Not that it needs to be “your mom is coming to visit” clean, but swept and organized is good. If at the end of each work session you take 5 minutes to put your tools away, wipe down anything spilled on the floor (also easier to do with your floor paint!) and clean your work bench, you will do better work and get more done. If you don’t clean, you’ll spend much more than that same 5 minutes looking for the 12mm, 12-point socket that rolled under the car, and you’ll get frustrated looking for stuff when you should be building a winning racer.

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View comments on the GRM forums
dxman92 Reader
7/14/18 6:39 a.m.

Nice layout! Do you have a website for your custom bikes?

LopRacer Dork
7/14/18 6:59 a.m.

He has both a Facebook and a website.  His bikes are really impressive.

te72 Reader
7/16/18 10:13 p.m.

I can fully support painted floors and LED lighting. Cleanup is generally simple and after the lighting upgrade, I only need flash lights for spot work. No need to rent shop space if you're willing to set up the place you have for the work you want to do!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/17/18 11:42 a.m.
LopRacer said:

He has both a Facebook and a website.  His bikes are really impressive.

Liked. smiley

duke906 New Reader
7/19/18 9:40 a.m.

Great garage, I think it is the "garage majal" for simplicity and getting work done.....I would love to  paint my floors, but weather (near the arctic circle) and age have ravaged the floor and a SUV hasn't helped either.



7/19/18 9:49 a.m.

Hello - thank you for the kind words. Yes you can see my bike work on my website -

Thanks again and have fun inn your garage.


te72 Reader
7/22/18 4:09 p.m.

In reply to duke906 :

Consider a self leveling concrete repair. I've never used it, and can't speak to how effective it is or isn't, but it seems like it would be better than salt and water damaged concrete? Once it's nice and level, treat it with an epoxy top coat (like all things, prep work is the most important work here), and you'll have a fresh garage floor to work with.


I would recommend a grit texture if you're finding your floors wet from snow and the like. Wet epoxy is about as slick as a greased up dog turd.

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