Wood Shop Al Fresco Redux
Last year, I wrote a blog post about giving up the hunt for affordable workshop space in expensive San Franciso and using the only space I have: my back deck. This is an update on what worked and didn’t, for other woodworkers who might be thinking of trying the same thing.
Double-Up to Avoid Rust
I purchased a large (53″ W x 29″ D x 27 1/2″ H) Suncast storage box for tool storage, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Suncast boxes are manufactured in the U.S. It was a breeze to assemble and took us less than 10 minutes from “unpacking” to “sitting on it.” It has kept my tools easily accessible and dry: I haven’t seen a single drop of water or condensation inside the box. Because it is not (and never claimed to be) air tight, moist air crept in just as a few commenters predicted. Any tool that was not packaged in another container acquired some light rust. Fortunately, the rust was easy to remove with a wire brush and most of my tools were double boxed anyway. The Suncast deck box provides excellent outdoor tool storage if you double up on their packaging: Leaving tools exposed inside the deck box will create rust.
All I Really Need to Know About Wood and Moisture I Learned on my Back Deck
A wood bench top just isn’t going to make it for long in an outdoor workshop. The base of your bench (if coated with marine varnish) will be fine, but you will need to be willing to replace the top fairly frequently (at least once per year and possibly more, depending on weather and how well the bench is covered when not in use. I can confirm that wood science still stands: Moisture warps wood. I didn’t bother with a detachable bench top, but it may be a fun endeavor for others.
Invest in a Portable Workbench from the Blum Tool Company
Full disclosure: I did not receive any compensation from, nor am I or any family members employed by, the Blum Tool Co. of Walnut, IA. My ringing endorsement is based purely on unadulterated appreciation and gratitude for my portable workbench, the Bench Horse Original.
I’ll be forever grateful for the comment to my original post from jpierce, who alerted me to the existence of the Blum Tool Co. After exchanging a few email messages with Gary and Ruth, I decided to purchase the Bench Horse Original, which best suited my needs for height, stability, type of work (a lot of hand planing, for instance) and, obviously, portability.
In retrospect I can say that at $369, Blum Tool Co. isn’t charging enough for their benches. I can’t remember the last time I purchased such a cleverly designed, well made and functional product. The quality of workmanship is obvious as soon as you open the box in which it arrived. I can easily set the Bench Horse up and break it down myself, and bring it indoors for weather-free storage and indoor use when the weather outside is frightful (well, as frightful as it ever gets in California). This may not sound like much, but I don’t have much going on in the upper body strength department, so I appreciate the ease of bench mobility. The bench legs collapse to make storage easy, even in our 600ish sq. ft., one bedroom apartment: It can stand unobtrusively against a wall or in the closet, or slide under the bed.
The versatility of the Bench Horse is striking and forever revealing itself in some new and unexpected way. In addition to the holes for the bench dogs (spring for a few extra at $4.50 each and you won’t be sorry), for example, there are larger holes in the bench top that make it easy to stick a Jorgensen or similar clamp through to the other side for tightening. The size and position of these holes enables every conceivable configuration of clamping you could need for total flexibility and stability. Adjustable feet stop the bench from rocking no matter where you might end up working.
You might also purchase a workbench from Blum just to remind yourself that excellent customer service still exists somewhere in this world. My email queries were answered thoroughly and quickly, and I received helpful confirmation of successful PayPal payment. Gary even sent me an email recently just to check in and see how I liked my workbench. Value and service like this are too rare these days.
|More odd shop spaces:
• A Mobil Workshop
• Studio Apartment Workshop
• A Tokyo “Dungeon” Workshop
• 36-sq.-ft Shop
An outdoor-much-of-the-time workshop is possible, even in this land of coastal moisture and frequent fog. I still can’t work in the rain, but I don’t need to – and that’s what the living room (understanding husband included) is for! Good luck to all the other woodworkers in the struggle out there with unusual work spaces.
|More on bench design and construction:
• Matt’s Monster Bench
• A Workbench 30 Years in the Making
• New-Fangled Workbench
This is just a context shot to give you an idea of the size of this 53" W x 29" D x 27 1/2" H Suncast box on our deck. It doubles as excellent guest seating!
The interior dimensions of the box are 52" W x 26" D x 22 3/4" H. I fit all of my tools inside with room to spare. Make sure to double box all tools in order to avoid rust or other moisture damage.
Happiness is a Bench Horse Original. In the background, you can see what became of my first bench top attempt, with laminated pressboard: It is warped and serving as a plant shelf.