Canadian Woodworking

A One-Car Garage & Shop

Author: Michael Mitchell
Photos: Keith Barker; Lead Photo by Michael Mitchell
Published: June July 2012
Garage & Shop
Garage & Shop

We moved into our town house just over ten years ago. It was not until the moving van left that I realized I had nowhere to store any of my workshop tools and equipment, let alone anywhere to use them.


  • Akfix

At the time I had a table saw, a mitre saw and an assortment of hand and power tools, as well as an assortment of screws, nails, nuts and bolts and spare bits and pieces. I do a bit of home renovation and decorating so also have painting, plumbing, electrical and drywalling tools, plus extendable ladders and eight foot and six foot step ladders. I also have two bicycles.

I always had a dedicated space for a workshop in all my previous homes, but with all the excitement of moving had not given any thought to the new place, just assumed that, as in the past, I could arrange something once we were settled in. It soon became clear this was not going to be as straightforward as I had thought, and was quite disheartening. What I could do? I considered the options, which were few and very clear:

A spare room – there isn’t one, so that was out of the question.

A basement room – there is no basement as such; the lower level comprises a finished family room, bathroom, etc. with a walk out to the back yard … the only access from the back of the house to the yard.

The garage – I have a single-car garage and parking on a driveway for only one vehicle. Street parking is not permitted.

Rent space – I did not want to move all my stuff off the premises and I wanted space that was easily accessible and convenient when I needed it.

But I was not going to give up on having a shop!

Being realistic, I knew I did not really need a dedicated workspace, although that would have been ideal. The choice was obvious: it had to be the garage, but I also need to keep the car in it in order to keep the one parking place on the driveway for visitors.

Double Function
Adding casters to the table saw provided two functions; to allow the saw to be easily moved around the space (above), and to raise the top just enough to fit over the workbench when stored away (below). Notice the drill press and router table stored on top of the table saw.

Good Place to Start
Mitchell’s first task was to make sure his SUV would have enough room to park inside the garage with the shop disassembled. With just inches to spare, the vehicle fits in the space nicely.

A Place for Everything
In order to use every inch of space wisely, Mitchell made use of the area beneath his workbench to store his mitre saw and many miscellaneous power and hand tools.

High Storage
With lots of free space up high, Mitchell added shelves, drawers and hooks to keep things away from his vehicle, yet easily accessible.

Homemade Router Table
A router table is secured to a Workmate bench when in use, adding versatility to the shop. It’s also lightweight, and easy to put away.

Add Some Heat
When the weather turns cold a simple infrared heater takes the chill out of the air.

Simple and Effective
This workbench, made of 2 x 4s and plywood, is hinged to the wall and can easily be swung out of the way to allow the vehicle to enter the garage.

What Vehicle?
Once set up, there’s more than enough space to move around and work on projects, even though the garage was completely monopolized by a vehicle just 20 minutes previous. (Photo by Michael Mitchell)

Start with the vehicle

So what did I have to work with? The garage is 19′ long and 9’6″ wide. My car is a mid-size SUV, so after allowing a safe clearance between it and the garage door, I have 3′ of space at the back of the garage between the front bumper and the wall. That wall at the back is only 7′ wide because of the access door to the house. I have walking space along the driver’s side just wide enough to open the car door and get out.

The garage is in the house under the kitchen and the ceiling height is 7′ for the back half and about 8′ at the front. That reduces to about 7′ when the door is open (it rolls up). There is a storage closet at the side of the garage under some stairs. Better than nothing but not easily accessible and with only a small part full ceiling height. All the walls and ceiling are finished with drywall and insulation so there is no available storage space between the framing 2 x 4s or the joists. However, the electrics were okay, with power outlets and a lighting circuit. The floor is good smooth concrete.

Start with the table saw

The biggest single workshop item was the table saw, so that’s where I started laying out my machinery. I figured if I could not find a place for that then the whole project was doomed, unless of course I bought a mini car. That expense was not in the budget and I needed the larger vehicle. As it turned out, there was just enough space to “store” the table saw if I turned it back to front and pushed it in the corner at the back of the garage. The electric motor is high enough not to hit the car bumper, but close!

I bolted casters to the table saw legs so it could be easily moved anywhere I needed it. First problem solved. I felt encouraged and knew I could work something out for the rest.

Next I tried to figure out the best way of fitting in a simple workbench. It could only be at the back, next to the table saw. Initially it looked like it could only be 32″ wide, not really practical or worth the effort, I thought. However, when I fitted the casters to the table saw legs, it raised the bed a couple of inches, enough to tuck the bench under the saw table extension on one side. That way I was able to make it 44″ wide, right up to the door frame. Since I could not afford to lose an inch of space, instead of a simple workbench I built a small workbench/cabinet. This became the storage area for a bunch of hand and smaller power tools. I even found space to bolt on a vise. Above the bench I built a simple wall cabinet and some shelving for more tools. I had made a start.

Up off the floor

The next challenge was to get stuff off the floor so I installed some very simple shelves along the passenger-side wall. The length of shelving was limited because of the space needed to allow the garage door to open. I also had to make sure I did not make them too wide or the car would hit them! Under the shelves I have an assortment of hooks to store my clamps and other hand tools. The extendable ladders were mounted on brackets on one wall and the longer pair of step ladders actually lies happily on the floor under the car.

The side closet contains the house central vacuum unit, which takes away a good bit of space and of course must be accessible for servicing. However, I was able to install some shelving on part of one wall for my mechanical tools storage (wrenches, drill bits, etc.) and other “essential” bits and pieces. This closet is also where I keep the bicycles and the car winter/summer tires.

I bought a foldable/portable mitre saw stand, which I store in the side closet. I made a router table, which sits on top of the table saw, with the bench drill press when not in use. I have a portable workbench which I take with me when working on an off-site renovation/decorating project. This works perfectly with the router table when I set up the workshop. This is stored under the table saw next to the table saw sled.

The first time I used my new workshop, it took quite a while to set everything up but now I can get it all ready to go in about 20 minutes. Dust control is still a challenge. I do not have the room to set up any permanent arrangement so I have a portable shop vac (stored in the closet when not in use), which I attach to each power tool when I use it. Not ideal but it works reasonably well. Whenever possible I keep the garage door open and this also helps.

Working in the winter

The first project in my new shop was probably in early summer and the weather was fine and warm. All was well. With the garage door open I had lots of natural light and an added bonus was being able to chat with my neighbours as they walked by. If I was lucky, my wife would keep me supplied with tea and coffee, and lunch breaks were only a few steps away. At the end of each project I swept up and put everything back in its place, and put the car back in the garage.

Then the weather inevitably turned colder and the days shorter. With the door shut, I had no natural light so I fitted four thin fluorescent light fixtures to supplement the single bulb lights already in place. I also suspended an infra red heater for use when it gets really cold.

A workshop is a great set-up for winter projects when outdoor activities are restricted. However, in the dead of winter, even though it can get quite comfortable with the heater on, when the temperature drops it is no place to keep work in progress, nor is it possible to glue or do any finishing. The door is not a perfect fit so the drafts are pretty bad when it gets really cold. I still have to address that issue. I tend to take a break in the winter and attend to indoor projects.

What more could I wish for?

The answer was a decent size workbench, of course! It was my wife who suggested I hang one from the side wall, which could be stored against the wall when not in use. So I built a very simple six-foot by two-foot bench out of 2 x 4s and plywood and attached it securely to the wall with three large hinges. When in use the front is supported by two folding legs. When not in use it only protrudes from the wall the width of the 2 x 4s and the plywood. My plan this spring is to install some track lighting over this workbench area.

Another serious constraint, which I cannot really overcome, is storage space for wood. I can only buy enough material for each project, and have to throw out the not very useful off-cuts periodically. Off-cuts of plywood and other sheeting I store flat against the wall in the adjoining closet, but space is limited. I have created space for some longer (lightweight) pieces of wood on shelving brackets attached to one wall.

Nothing fancy

When I first started the workshop project, I was not sure how successful it would be so really did not want to invest too much money in it. All the cabinets and shelving are made out of 2 x 4s and inexpensive construction grade plywood. I am not a perfectionist at all when it comes to workshop “cabinetry,” but everything works and there is a space for everything. Utility is probably how I would best describe it. Now that I know the set up does work, my plan is to one day replace the cabinetry and storage facilities with something a little more elegant. However, I strongly believe that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I have built many pieces of furniture and other projects in this space, and even though the arrangement is temporary, when the garage is in workshop mode and I get into a project, it feels like a permanent set up, and the car still has a home.

Michael Mitchell - [email protected]

The time-consuming sanding/finishing tasks at the end stages of a workshop project, give Mike the opportunity to dream of that elusive perfect round of golf, or a good pint of English beer.

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