Where the devil am I going to saw some wood?
July 30, 2007 8:05 AM   Subscribe

For my woodshop, is there an alternative to a house with a basement? Trying to find rentals in the DC area with unfinished basements I can use as a workshop is challenging. Finding affordable properties to purchase even more so. What else can I do?

My darling girlfriend and I are finally looking at taking the plunge so we're looking at places to co-habitate. For reasons that are none of your business but probably glean-able from my past answers here on credit experience, I can't be on a mortgage or deed for a few more years, putting several property purchases beyond our ability at the moment.

Consequently we're looking around at places to rent and are not thrilled with the options. The big stickler in the requirement is a place to put the woodshop. It's not just a nice-to-have: deciding to do without one would close off one of the big parts of our life that you can see linked in my profile. Few rental properties have unfinished basements, or at least they're not explicit in their advertisements.

My question to you all is: is there an alternative solution I am overlooking? Could we find a perfectly fine place without the basement and have my woodshop in some shared workspace somewhere? If such things exist with any frequency, how do you find them? Hell, do you know of one in the DC area?

Any and all suggestions are welcome here - I'm sort of at the end of my brainstorming on this and would welcome other suggestions.
posted by phearlez to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Around here, many places that rent storage lockers also have larger lockers that are equipped with electrical outlets, etc. so that they might be used as a small light industrial space (woodshop, welding, etc.)
posted by winston at 8:09 AM on July 30, 2007

Basements, particularly in DC itself often are converted into rental properties - they are an income source for the homeowner. So one that is NOT in use can be hard to find.
posted by jare2003 at 8:09 AM on July 30, 2007

I can't tell by your q - are you talking about renting an apartment or renting a house? If house, just rent one with a garage. We have a woodshop in our garage. Lots of ventilation and light and space and no dampness.
posted by iconomy at 8:10 AM on July 30, 2007

I'm not sure about the DC area, but something like ActivSpace on the West Coast would be perfect. With the additional bonus of not having to move your workspace when you change housing.
posted by cmonkey at 8:13 AM on July 30, 2007

Would you consider using a garage? I know some people who use theirs as a workshop, and that's without heated floors or built-in heating. Possibly rent an apartment with a carport and just modify it to your needs. The ones up here all come with outlets allowing you to do you business.
posted by jmd82 at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2007

Did you know that in addition to a vast selection of woodworking tools and classes, your Springfield Woodcraft store has a Woodworker's Club? You'll find a fully equipped do-it-yourself woodworking shop with memberships available.

Even if the "Woodworker's Club" isn't your cup of tea, they might have suggestions for you.

(full disclosure: my father works for Woodcraft, just not this store.)
posted by Lucinda at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2007

How far out in the 'DC area' are you willing to consider? Back when I lived in the area I encountered plenty of unfinished basements or basements set up as workshops in the Beltsville and Laurel area of Maryland. In the closer-in suburbs and the newer developments basements had all been set up as living space.
posted by needled at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2007

In a related vein I have a business idea that I've been wanting to start for years now!

I want to build in cities a large space and start a public shop, as in shop class shop. The shop would have all the large machines and tools, customers would buy a membership as one would buy a gym membership. Hand tools would be checked out like bowling shoes or you could bring your own. To use machine tools members would have to be "qualified" after taking a class or testing out on their use. Also available would be storage space for larger projects and personal materials and tools. Specialty woods and products would be on sale on site. Also, alternatively this could be done in a large garage for cars.

To answer your actual question though, Brookland in Northeast is mostly homes with basements and it happens to be one of the last remaining safe and affordable parts of DC! There are several rental properties available I see every day.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2007

On re-view, damnit Lucinda.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:30 AM on July 30, 2007

I ran a small screen printing shop out of various rental properties for a number of years. We don't have basements in the south, so that was never an option for me. I had a lot of very large, heavy, expensive, power-sucking equipment that successfully worked in various garages and even an attic. The attic was awesome, I had no idea it was even there when I rented the house. One day I went up there and discovered a room the size the entire house, with windows and everything. I don't even think the owner knew how much space was up there. Only downside was it got real hot in the summer.
posted by bradbane at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2007

I could use a garage, and that's one possibility. However that's just as problematic to find in a rental. As jare2003 says, conversion is the way most people aim to go. And I don't think any landlord really wants me coating their nicely drywalled, painted, and carpeted space with sawdust.

As far as how far out I'll consider, I'm currently living in the Sterling area and would like to be closer in. My darling girlfriend flat-out requires it - she practically gets hives from being in Fairfax too long and would prefer something akin to her current Pentagon City digs.

Really, I know what I need to look for in a rental or purchase property. I was more looking for possible unusual solutions someone might know about. I'd pay up to $500 a month for dedicated space if it meant I could save equivalently at home. I'll check in on that Woodcraft solution - I know a wood turner who works with them a goodly amount. I do need a solution with sufficient room and condition for my milled lumber, however.

Pollo, we should have a beer sometime and talk about your concept. I can tell you what I know about co-operatives who do such things (my father is in a flying club where people own shares in the corp, which has assets that include 2 planes) and some artists 'colony' kind of places some other crafters I know live in that provides low-cost apartments and shared workspace down below. I think the biggest impediment would be affordable space, which seems surprising when you look at all the run-down empty properties in the city sometimes, yes? Second would be insurance - I don't know you could just let anyone off the street in for rental, some sort of shares might be the way to go.
posted by phearlez at 9:17 AM on July 30, 2007

I left out one other restriction in my location possibilities - I'd like to stay in Virginia if at all possible as I'm still on the fence about what to do about getting more education, and I have now been here long enough to qualify for in-state tuition. Moving to MD would reset that clock. It's not a complete deal breaker but it's a motivator.
posted by phearlez at 9:25 AM on July 30, 2007

Maybe try something like this search on craigslist. Limiting it to 3 bedrooms will filter out most of the apartments. You can probably find a house with a garage or basement in Arlington, Alexandria, or Falls Church, hopefully in your price range.
posted by exogenous at 9:49 AM on July 30, 2007

Pollomacho, I actually asked a question once about doing something similar.

One thing you might want to try doing is searching alt-weeklies and local music boards for places that rent practice spaces/studio space. Where I live at least, old warehouses are often rented out to musicians and artists, and these spaces would usually make great places for doing woodworking.
posted by drezdn at 9:59 AM on July 30, 2007

For anyone interested, Chicago's Park District runs a kickass woodshop for city residents, complete with an old salt who maintains the equipment and gives advice. Like this one here. There is supposed to be one up in Rogers Park as well.
posted by jeanmari at 10:58 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

What I did for a number of years was pair up with someone else who wanted to engage in this hobby who owned a house with a garage. For a period of 5 years, I went and made sawdust once a week at someone else's house. I supplied the power tools, which he stored and we both used them. While not as convenient as the shop that I have now, it does have the added benefit that my hobby was scheduled and therefore not neglected.
posted by plinth at 5:31 PM on July 30, 2007

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