Whether you’re moving into a new home with your first garage or looking to kick things up a notch, there are a few basics to get before you deal with anything else. Equip your garage with 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 DIY workbench can be as simple as slapping an old solid-core door or plank of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) on top of two sawhorses. If you want something more sophisticated, though, there are hundreds of easy-to-build designs floating around the Web for workbenches constructed of 2 x 4s and 4 x 4s . To make things even simpler, companies like Simpson StrongTie and 2×4 Basics have kits that help you build a solid workbench quickly using store-cut 2 x 4s. You can find workbench material in unexpected places, too. IKEA’s Pronomen, Lagan and Numerar solid-wood countertops, though less durable than maple butcher-block tops, are great work surfaces at affordable prices. Store-bought workbenches are a good option as well. These range in price from about $100 for a starter version to $600 or more for a high-end bench. The cheapest options can be found at home centers and usually sport two tool storage drawers, a backboard with built-in lighting and a thin particleboard or MDF work surface. For a more rugged bench, many brands offer steel-frame workbenches with thick butcher-block work surfaces. The most useful might be Craftsman’s selection of modular workbenches that allow you to customize your workspace.
Inadequate lighting can hurt the quality of your work and lead to time-consuming or costly mistakes. Luckily, it’s not too difficult or costly to upgrade your lighting with ceiling-mounted fluorescent light fixtures. Start by looking at 4-foot instant-on T8 bulb fixtures with wide reflectors or diffusers. Hanging shop lights, such as a low-profile one by Lithonia, are single-, double- or four-bulb fixtures that drop down from above your workbench to provide illumination where you need it most. Sometimes just adding one of these lamps to an otherwise dimly lit garage can lead to noticeably better visibility. A portable worklight, such as the Might D Light is also a must-have, even if you don’t plan on peering into crevices or under your car. If you’re prone to dropping and losing small parts or hardware, a quick scan across the floor with a worklight can spare you a trip to the hardware store.
The slab of cement you call a garage floor is perfectly usable as-is. But an upgraded finish will be more forgiving to dropped objects, as well as make your floor more appealing and keep it that way by protecting it from spills. Some people prefer epoxy finishes, but I think modular tiles are a better way to go. Installation is far easier with tiles, and they offer numerous color and style options. RaceDeck is one of the best garage-floor tile manufacturers on the market, and we’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about their products and customer service. Their website has a tantalizing photo gallery and features an interactive floor designer and quote generator to help you get started. As a bonus, RaceDeck manufactures their tiles in the U.S. But, if you insist on keeping that boring and easily stained slab the way it is, at least consider placing an anti-fatigue mat in front of your workbench. Your feet and legs will thank you. You’ll find the best selection of anti-fatigue mats at industrial supply distributors, while retail mats like Craftsman’s are great for general use.
Vises and Work Holding
Once your workbench is ready, you’ll need a vise designed to handle years of holding your projects in place. Trust me, no one has ever said, “I regret buying a good bench vise.” So when looking for your first bench vise, resist the urge to buy the cheapest one you can find. Cheap vises are often poorly manufactured, clunky and prone to premature failure. After learning this lesson the hard way, I purchased a nice-size (imported) Craftsman Wilton-style vise and it hasn’t let me down. There are great American-made options, too, and you can also look for older vises at tool auctions, on Craigslist or in garage sales. The good ones last. If space is a concern, or you work with larger materials or require a portable solution, a folding clamp such as Triton’s Superjaws or Rockwell’s Jawhorse could fit your needs.
Saws and Cutting Tools
You have your workbench set, your vice in place to hold materials, and the lighting to see what you are doing, it’s now time to get yourself something to cut those boards, pipes, etc to size so you can be working on those DIY projects, 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 can steer you in the right direction!
The more tools you own, the more important organization becomes—few things are as frustrating 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–inch footprint doesn’t take up too much room on a workbench, and its shallow drawers make the chest more space-efficient. DIYers with a larger haul of tools should consider a roller-cabinet-and-chest combo that’s at least 16 inches deep and 26 inches wide. For a step above what you might find at big-box stores, try Strictly Toolboxes’ aptly named Extreme toolboxes. Finally, when you reach advanced DIYer status, it might be time for an advanced tool chest. Lista mobile tool cabinets are overkill for most garages, but these cabinets are the pinnacle of tool storage—and they’re built like tanks.
Pegboard, a garage staple, is by far the most economical way to store individual tools and pieces of equipment. There are different hooks available for hammers, extension cords and other tools, but you can also follow PM’s guide to making your own tool hangers. For an upgrade to something tougher, there are very nice steel panels available from Wall Control. Open shelving and enclosed cabinets such as those by Gorilla Rack and Gladiator offer greater flexibility for storing odds and ends. Some metal-frame shelving systems can be configured as either single free-standing shelving units or as shorter double-wide units that also serve as a quick and easy workbench. Wall organization systems, like Gladiator’s Geartrack 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 for such 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 ladders and U-hooks for hose and extension-cord bundles. The best I’ve seen are the E-Z Ancor Tornado hooks.
Power Strips and Extension Cords
If you find yourself hunting for free power outlets, it’s time to think about power strips and extension cords. A 4-foot, 10-outlet power strip is perfect for placement on a workbench and can handle corded tools and cordless-tool battery chargers with ease. Use smaller power strips to make difficult-to-reach outlets more accessible. For the garage, use metal-encased power strips 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-mounted retractable reel like the Bayco SL-800 is indispensable—it offers greater range and eliminates the need to drag power cords across the floor. For projects beyond the shop, grab a quality 50- to 100-foot extension cord that’s rated for outdoor use.
Don’t put yourself in a bind in which you can’t find your safety glasses but need to work on a project, so you proceed without eye protection. Set up your shop with a dedicated area for safety equipment. You’re much more likely to actually don safety gear if you’re able 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 face for chemical splash protection, leather and/or mechanics gloves like the Original Plus glove by Mechanix, disposable nitrile gloves, earplugs or earmuffs, a face shield (to be used with safety glasses) and a brand-name disposable respirator. You should also download and print out material safety and data sheets for any hazardous chemicals you use or store in your garage. Plus, keep a small first-aid kit handy.