Whether you’re moving into a new home with your first garage orlooking to kick things up a notch, there are a few basics to get before you deal with anything else. Equip your garagewith these essentials to make it a happier and more productive place.
A workbench is the first thing you should build or buy since it will be central to most of your projects. A DIYworkbench can be as simple as slapping an old solid-core door or plank of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) on top of twosawhorses. If you want something more sophisticated, though, there are hundreds of easy-to-build designs floating aroundthe Web for workbenches constructed of 2 x 4s and 4 x 4s . To make things even simpler, companies like Simpson StrongTieand 2×4 Basics have kits that help you build a solid workbench quickly using store-cut 2 x 4s. You can find workbenchmaterial in unexpected places, too. IKEA’s Pronomen, Lagan and Numerar solid-wood countertops, though less durable thanmaple butcher-block tops, are great work surfaces at affordable prices. Store-bought workbenches are a good option aswell. These range in price from about $100 for a starter version to $600 or more for a high-end bench. The cheapestoptions can be found at home centers and usually sport two tool storage drawers, a backboard with built-in lighting anda thin particleboard or MDF work surface. For a more rugged bench, many brands offer steel-frame workbenches with thickbutcher-block work surfaces. The most useful might be Craftsman’s selection of modular workbenches that allow you tocustomize your workspace.
Inadequate lighting can hurt the quality of your work and lead to time-consuming orcostly mistakes. Luckily, it’s not too difficult or costly to upgrade your lighting with ceiling-mounted fluorescentlight fixtures. Start by looking at 4-foot instant-on T8 bulb fixtures with wide reflectors or diffusers. Hangingshop lights, such as a low-profile one by Lithonia, are single-, double- or four-bulb fixtures that drop down fromabove your workbench to provide illumination where you need it most. Sometimes just adding one of these lamps to anotherwise dimly lit garage can lead to noticeably better visibility. A portable worklight, such as the Might DLight is also a must-have, even if you don’t plan on peering into crevices or under your car. If you’re prone todropping and losing small parts or hardware, a quick scan across the floor with a worklight can spare you a trip tothe hardware store.
The slab of cement you call a garage floor is perfectly usable as-is. But anupgraded finish will be more forgiving to dropped objects, as well as make your floor more appealing and keep itthat way by protecting it from spills. Some people prefer epoxy finishes, but I think modular tiles are a betterway to go. Installation is far easier with tiles, and they offer numerous color and style options. RaceDeck isone of the best garage-floor tile manufacturers on the market, and we’ve heard nothing but positive feedbackabout their products and customer service. Their website has a tantalizing photo gallery and features aninteractive floor designer and quote generator to help you get started. As a bonus, RaceDeck manufactures theirtiles in the U.S. But, if you insist on keeping that boring and easily stained slab the way it is, at leastconsider placing an anti-fatigue mat in front of your workbench. Your feet and legs will thank you. You’ll findthe best selection of anti-fatigue mats at industrial supply distributors, while retail matslike Craftsman’s are great for general use.
Once your workbench is ready, you’ll need a vise designed to handle years ofholding your projects in place. Trust me, no one has ever said, “I regret buying a good bench vise.” So whenlooking for your first bench vise, resist the urge to buy the cheapest one you can find. Cheap vises are oftenpoorly manufactured, clunky and prone to premature failure. After learning this lesson the hard way, I purchaseda nice-size (imported) Craftsman Wilton-style vise and it hasn’t let me down. There are great American-madeoptions, too, and you can also look for older vises at tool auctions, on Craigslist or in garage sales. The goodones last. If space is a concern, or you work with larger materials or require a portable solution, a foldingclamp such as Triton’s Superjaws or Rockwell’s Jawhorse could fit your needs.
You have your workbench set, your vice in place to hold materials, and the lighting to see what you are doing, it’snow time to get yourself something to cut those boards, pipes, etc to size so you can be working on those DIYprojects, home improvements, or just flat-out creating! It’s time to get yourself a few essential saws for the jobs in your future! Be it a stalwart miter saw, a versatile jigsaw or standalone band saw, you want to give yourself options. Fortunately,our friends over at SawingPros.com have a great rundown of what the latest in cutting tools has to offer and cansteer you in the right direction!
The more tools you own, the more important organization becomes—few things are asfrustrating as spending an hour looking for a tool you need for a 15-minute project. For new homeowners,this six-drawer Craftsman ball-bearing chest holds plenty of tools and offers room to grow. Its 26 x 12–inchfootprint doesn’t take up too much room on a workbench, and its shallow drawers make the chest morespace-efficient. DIYers with a larger haul of tools should consider a roller-cabinet-and-chest combo that’s atleast 16 inches deep and 26 inches wide. For a step above what you might find at big-box stores, try StrictlyToolboxes’ aptly named Extreme toolboxes. Finally, when you reach advanced DIYer status, it might be time for anadvanced tool chest. Lista mobile tool cabinets are overkill for most garages, but these cabinets are thepinnacle of tool storage—and they’re built like tanks.
Pegboard, a garage staple, is by far the most economical way to storeindividual tools and pieces of equipment. There are different hooks available for hammers, extension cordsand other tools, but you can also follow PM’s guide to making your own tool hangers. For an upgrade to somethingtougher, there are very nice steel panels available from Wall Control. Open shelving and enclosed cabinetssuch as those by Gorilla Rack and Gladiator offer greater flexibility for storing odds and ends. Somemetal-frame shelving systems can be configured as either single free-standing shelving units or as shorterdouble-wide units that also serve as a quick and easy workbench. Wall organization systems, like Gladiator’sGeartrack and Rubbermaid’s Fast Track, are perfect for keeping larger items, such as lawn and garden tools,out of the way. However, wall-mounted organizational systems are costly. If you’re not ready to splurge forsuch a setup, opt for individual tool hangers, which are cheap and readily available at hardware stores.These vinyl-coated hooks come in a variety of shapes: J-hooks to hold bikes overhead, L-hooks for laddersand U-hooks for hose and extension-cord bundles. The best I’ve seen are the E-Z Ancor Tornado hooks.
If you find yourself hunting for free power outlets, it’s time to thinkabout power strips and extension cords. A 4-foot, 10-outlet power strip is perfect for placement on aworkbench and can handle corded tools and cordless-tool battery chargers with ease. Use smaller powerstrips to make difficult-to-reach outlets more accessible. For the garage, use metal-encased powerstrips like the Yellow Jacket surge protector; they typically come with generous 15-foot cords. Still,longer extension cords are a garage necessity. For in-garage use such as car repair, a ceiling-mountedretractable reel like the Bayco SL-800 is indispensable—it offers greater range and eliminates the needto drag power cords across the floor. For projects beyond the shop, grab a quality 50- to 100-footextension cord that’s rated for outdoor use.
Don’t put yourself in a bind in which you can’t find your safetyglasses but need to work on a project, so you proceed without eye protection. Set up your shop witha dedicated area for safety equipment. You’re much more likely to actually don safety gear if you’reable to find it easily. At the very least, you should keep two pairs of impact-rated safety glasses(one for yourself, one for an onlooker or a partner), safety goggles that wrap tight to your facefor chemical splash protection, leather and/or mechanics gloves like the Original Plus glove byMechanix, disposable nitrile gloves, earplugs or earmuffs, a face shield (to be used with safetyglasses) and a brand-name disposable respirator. You should also download and print out materialsafety and data sheets for any hazardous chemicals you use or store in your garage. Plus, keep asmall first-aid kit handy.
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