Building a Monster Shop

/ August 15, 2017

This story is one I have been excited to chronicle as it, to this day, is one of my proudest accomplishments. When I bought my house 6 years ago it was a matchbox built on a little over an acre of land, most of which is level and cleared.

To say I appreciate a private lifestyle is the understatement of the century. My lot is studded by trees wrapping the entire way around and even though I have neighbors butting up to me on all sides, the trees are mature and in the spring and summer my little slice of this Earth is a sanctuary.

The other random fact about my particular lot, is that the utilities(i.e. power, water, septic) all comes and,goes from the front of the house. That means that every bit of my back yard was wide open to be improved upon. This is why I am able to have a wrap-around driveway that passes through the back of the house and back out to the road.

Growing up at my mom’s house was a dream for an introvert like me. Her house sites at the front of almost 5 acres. All of which is down off the road enough to not really be seen from the road. Around the time I was 10 years old or so, my step dad and mom decided to build a detached garage about 50 feet forward of the house in the lot. I had no idea then but it would become my home “away” from home as I got older. It was just the place that my step dad would hang out even if we weren’t working on anything. He had a microwave and a TV hooked up with cable and we would just sit out there and BS for hours practically every day.

As I got older it became the place I would work on my own cars and install stereos and huge, outlandish speaker systems. It is the sole reason that I became so interested in electronics and cars in general. My step dad is the type of person that knows how to fix just about anything on Earth. Of course that led to me learning how to do all my own maintenance on my cars along with just about anyone that needed it. It was a serious passion of mine during my teens and turned into a dream of my own that one day if I had my own place, I would build my own shop to tinker around in and be able to continue the tradition of learning/teaching/working on anything and everything that came my way.

Fast forward 10 years and here I was sitting in my office with a pencil, some graph paper, and a straight-edge plotting out the design myself. Originally I was going to make it an exact replica of the shop I grew up with. The dimensions were 28’x30′ which was plenty of room for tons of tools, benches, wood stove for the cold months, and of course a car to sit with tons of room to work around it. But of course I work in a place full of middle-aged or older men full of regret. So all I heard was “build it as big as possible” and “you’ll never regret having more space.” So what did I end up designing? I designed a behemoth 32’x40′ shop complete with a 16’x10′ roll up door. So I went from an 840sqft space to a 1280sqft space by the time I was done. And they were right after all was said and done. I. Regret. Nothing. Haha

As a 22 year old with an 1150sqft house, I have been called every kind of “dumbass” nickname you could think of for totally ignoring the house updates and diving straight into this massive shop after moving in. But I’m not the one with 3 sheds in my yard to hold all my things, or complaining about not having the space to work on my own vehicles, or better yet, complain about having a tiny house that I can’t entertain in. It was never going to be just a garage. The whole point in building it was to have more usable space to do any and everything in. Just like it was for me growing up.

So after countless edits, smashed up drawings, endless quotes, and finally a small mountain of paperwork, it was finally time to break ground on the new shop! I got a few trees taken down prior to starting in on the footer and off to the races I went. I basically acted as a general contractor for the majority of the hard work and did what I could do without any equipment or special tools. So first up was the footer and the block work for the foundation. Took a few days to dig the holes and get the block up but it was the first real taste of what this shop was going to look like.

I started on this project late in the year around August or September and I lined just about everything up that I needed as close together as one person should ever do. I had a guy for the footer, a guy for the block, another guy for the concrete slab, a crack team of Amish brothers to build the thing, and of course my own work wherever I could(including hauling about 30 ton of rock for the foundation). I will take zero credit for the structure itself though. I did most of my work post final inspection.

Just about finished up! The Amish guys work so fast, it was hard to keep up with pictures, because everyday I would come home to leaps and bounds of progress. Other than the top cap on the cinderblock, those guys built the entire shop including the siding and the roof. Only big thing to do when they were done was to install the garage door myself. I seriously wouldn’t recommend anyone who doesn’t know how to torsion garage door springs ever loosen the first bolt on one of those things. I seriously thought I broke my forearm once while adjusting the springs. The power on a torsion spring is real.

This was the point that the electrician in me took over. I designed the garage to have it’s own sub panel fed from the house but I had 0 wires ran when it was time to get  this stuff going. I basically have 3 – 32ft long runs of florescent ran in the ceiling(the center section is on a separate switch for lighting options) and another 2 – 4ft florescent lights hanging over my two 8ft work benches. The picture above was taken before I had even tied the house electrical into the garage. I just disconnected the grounding pole from the shop and wired the main breaker of the sub panel to an extension cord to the house in order to light up the garage enough to keep working. It is a point of pride to me that I was able to do the entire wiring of this garage myself without any physical help from anyone(albeit tons of moral support from those around me).

After I got the rigged up lights working, I wanted to immediately get my wood stove built before the winter set in and the cold made it annoying to work on the rest of the wiring. So with a couple free empty drums from work and a couple hundred bucks of stove parts, I got this baby installed and believe it or not, even without insulation anywhere in the shop(at the time) it was still enough to knock the chill off and let me continue working.

This last picture was a panoramic shot I took soon after finishing up my temporary work benches and finally tied in all the outlets, fans, lights, and the garage door opener into the main panel in my house.

After this picture was taken, I ran a 220V circuit to the center of the back wall for my 60gal air compressor, I insulated  the ceiling to help keep that precious heat in, and I added a couple storage solutions. When I dug the trench for the conduit from the house to the garage, I added a second conduit run for data cables and ended up running 2 CAT5e cables and a coax cable for TV. I waited about 3 months and ended up buying and mounting a 60″ TV above the front window at the front of the shop. It serves as a TV for when we’re just hanging out in the garage but also as a secondary monitor for my laptop when I am working on something and need to search/reference some info.

As far as future plans for the shop, it is an ongoing project and my next big project is going to be designing and building actual base cabinets and benches along with getting the walls insulated before this coming winter. I have just been debating on what to use to cover the walls. I don’t think I will go with drywall both because of the humidity where I live and the cost of covering up all that wall space before I’m truly done figuring out what else needs to be wired in and ran inside the walls.


If you made it this far thanks for coming along while I told this story. If you have any questions just comment below and I will try to answer anything I can. Look forward to writing the next chapter soon.