Tiny Workspaces - where does it all go?
September 29, 2010 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Talk to me about small workshops/workspaces.

I have a small workspace which is woefully set up (here). It's in the basement of our rented apartment and has a lot of large, immovable objects - empty oil tank in the corner, furnace right smack in the middle of everything. The area shown in the photo is maybe 20' by 10'.

I need to solve a couple of problems. I need a workbench - the little B&D folding model is great to bring outside, but it's too lightweight to do any heavy filing or other work on it. I also need too storage, since everything's just sitting a tool bag and a couple of buckets right now. A pegboard would probably be best, but this being a rental I feel leery about punching holes in the masonry.

So what's the best way to organize this space? Do you have any examples of other small workspaces that I could model this after? There's maybe another 10' of linear space "behind" the photograph where I can move most of the stuff stored against the wall, but finding other space for the bicycles is going to be a problem (and there's a tandem on the way...).
posted by backseatpilot to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't tell what the ceiling is like--it looks unfinished. Could you hang the bikes from there? We have our bikes hanging from a ceiling mount in our garage and they tuck in quite tidily and take up surprisingly little space.
posted by misha at 6:30 AM on September 29, 2010

Can you anchor some shelving into the beam that runs just above the concrete? If so, get all that luggage off the valuable floorspace. A small shelving unit could also fit above the oil tank. They make heavier-duty pegboard out of 1/4" (or so) thick plastic; this might be better if you have to hang it instead of anchoring into the concrete.

As for a quick, cheap, removable workbench: how about a door bolted to two heavy duty waist-high filing cabinets? Unfortunately, the spare door in the photo has decorative trim. Maybe that can be pried off and the whole door re-sanded?
posted by fatllama at 6:43 AM on September 29, 2010

I have a Gorilla Workbench that would solve the bench and some pegboard part of your problem. I like it a lot. If only I could keep from piling so much crap on it...
posted by advicepig at 6:47 AM on September 29, 2010

What kind of budget do you have?

It's actually not such a small space. Do you have an unbroken 8' area to play with? I would build a workbench out of 2x4s with a plywood top, screwed/bolted together so you could take it apart if you ever move.

I would also make a frame between the ceiling joists and the floor. Use a PT 2x4 sitting on the floor (perhaps secured with construction adhesive) and a (non-PT) 2x4 frame (similar to how you would frame a wall, though you'd only need the framing members maybe 2' on center) and cover it with pegboard. You don't want the pegboard attached to the bench because the whole thing will rattle and shake if you ever do any heavy banging on the bench. In addition I'd get some cheap drawers or shelves (check freecycle for old desks or file cabinets and tear out only what you need) for under the bench to keep other tools in.

Speaking of desks, for years in a rental place I used an old cold war era metal office desk as a workbench. It was solid as hell and I bought it from a hospital "yard sale" for $50.00. Look around on Craigslist or Freecycle.

I filled a 16' area with two home-built 8' benches (self-link, note the Fake-inspired wall-o-tape) bolted together with carriage bolts and deck screws. Nothing permanet. I can send you a Sketchup file if you like, though it's a pretty simply 30"x8' frame with a plywood and hardboard top and it can be modified to just about any size. The pegboard is attached to the wall (the joy of owning a home) but you could easily just attach it to the bench or joists.

Don't forget lighting. An 8' florescent strip is easy enough to install and if you get one with a plug it's even easier.

For inspiration, I searched around on Flickr for "workbench." The Toolmonger feed had some good stuff and occasionally there'd be something on the Unclutter Workspaces feed.
posted by bondcliff at 6:53 AM on September 29, 2010

I set up a workshop in the small utility room of the house we rented until a couple of years ago... I threw together a couple of small, free-standing workbenches out of 2x4s and plywood (In progress, finished.) They served me very well, and although that room already had pegboard it wouldn't be hard to add a frame to the back of the benches and attach pegboard to that.

Good luck! I miss my workshop, I haven't been able to set up one in our new place yet.
posted by usonian at 6:55 AM on September 29, 2010

Simpson/Strongtie makes a connector kit for building a custom workbench with attached pegboard. Plans (pdf link)
posted by electroboy at 6:55 AM on September 29, 2010

Wire rack shelving can clear more floorspace quickly and permanently. You don't have to order from a magabusiness site; often a local restaurant supply store will have some in-stock. Get some tall ones that have shelves up to 6 feet and almost all of what's on the floor can go on them. If there's any chance of water in the basement, even for a short time, put the shelving feet up on bricks.

If it were me I'd keep the Workmate as it's good for clamping things and can be easily positioned. Then I'd add a solid folding table for the workspace; something at least 2 1/2 feet deep and 5 feet wide. This would accommodate even 8' pieces if the space beside the table is clear. And of course the Workmate can be positioned beside it as necessary.

As for storing the tools in bags and buckets, the lesser-used items can stay in their container(s) and be stored on the wire shelving. More frequently used things could be in one of those narrow plastic-drawer shelf things sold in many dept. stores (see further down the link for a tip on making them look better). Different stores sell different sizes. I stack a smaller-size one on top of a larger unit, and install the caster wheels only on the bottom one. Then it's quickly portable to another work area. Label each drawer in large print and finding tools and parts stays easy.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:57 AM on September 29, 2010

This is a great plan for work benches. I've built two and they're solid and come together very quickly+cheaply. Easily scaled to whatever size you need, too.

Pegboards have their place, but for organizing most smaller stuff I'm a huge fan of 5 gallon buckets with various types of dividers in them. They stack easily, cost very little, pack stuff densely and can be organized in lots of different ways. I've got a big rolling toolbox, but I find it a lot easier to keep my non-automotive tools portable and organized into kits (electrical supplies, drills, woodworking, fasteners, etc) in buckets. You wouldn't believe how much crap you can store this way.
posted by pjaust at 7:04 AM on September 29, 2010

This sounds like a job for ShelfLinks, which would let you build shelves/bench/etc. to the space available (especially handy if you already have 2x4s sitting around).

(Although I'm proud that they come from Pennsylvania, I have no link to the company. My husband built a great, and very stable, wood rick from these for a tricky space and we've been pleased with it.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:08 AM on September 29, 2010

I don't have any specific suggestions, but it might be worth leafing through the latest issue of ReadyMade, which is devoted to small spaces, and includes a few workshops (one with an awesome pegboard).
posted by dizziest at 8:07 AM on September 29, 2010

(self-link, note the Fake-inspired wall-o-tape)


Since my last answer on shops, I've left my lovely midwest workshop and moved into a smaller apartment in LA, which is not unlike your place in space terms. I've basically converted as much space as possible into workbenches by building simple plywood-topped tables, and recommend you do the same. If there is an architectural salvage where you are, get solid doors to make the benchtops.

Consider your rafters to be an ideal form of storage. They're up, out of the way, and already divided neatly. Just nail a long, wide board to them (say, 18"x8') and you get insta-shelving. You can hang tools from the ceiling, too, not to mention cords, cables, etc. Clamps attach directly to the rafters.

Don't neglect lighting; it's the most important thing. Fluorescents all around.
posted by fake at 8:13 AM on September 29, 2010

I would build a work bench like this one (plans are linked to from that page) with drawers underneath to start. Then, once those were done, I'd wait to add anything else until I needed it.

But to echo fake, lighting is top priority. Take care of that first.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:45 AM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: These are some great resources. A follow up question - if you have limited bench space, what do you do with your bench-mounted tools? I'd like to get a bench grinder, drill press, and chop saw (plus a couple of vises); are there any slick ways of storing larger power tools like that?
posted by backseatpilot at 10:15 AM on September 29, 2010

if you have limited bench space, what do you do with your bench-mounted tools?

I would mount all the tools on their own plywood base, all bases the same size, and have an area of the bench (or two areas) with some holes in it that match up to thumbscrews on the tool bases. Have a shelf/rack sized for the tool bases for storage.

Take the tools down as you need them and clamp/screw them into your handy screw holes on the bench.
posted by bondcliff at 10:43 AM on September 29, 2010

I second Unclutterer. They feature workspaces that are in small areas but also show a lot of different ways that people organize things like office supplies, tools, tiny pieces of hardware, beads, et cetera. Perhaps one of these methods will inspire you?
posted by amicamentis at 2:13 PM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Awesome - I'm going to look through all these and try to find something that fits the available space. It's sort of becoming a high priority since every time I buy more parts for my projects they just end up scattered over the floor in boxes and I'm running out of space to put my feet.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:22 AM on September 30, 2010

The EAA workbench is supposed to be nice and sturdy and easy to build. There are lots of mods/changes for the bench around on the net.
posted by exogenous at 11:20 AM on September 30, 2010

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