The Woodworking Life

The Woodworking Life

Wood Shop Al Fresco Redux

comments (14) May 2nd, 2010 in blogs

Stephany Stephany Filimon, contributor
thumbs up 38 users recommend

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.
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! - CLICK TO ENLARGE

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!

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 

In Sum...

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

posted in: blogs, workshop, WorkBench

Comments (14)

cpgriggs cpgriggs writes: Hey Stephany,

I know its been a while now since this was posted, but I'm hoping you can answer a question about the bench horse. Do you/have you used it for planning across the grain with heavy cuts as in with a scrub/jack/fore plane. I'm fed up with my current outdoor workbench. This weekend I found a giant bug laying eggs on it. GROSS! Anyway, I'm starting to contemplate one of the bench horses, but need something that can stand up to HEAVY planing. While they seem quite sturdy, I am skeptical about them being stable/heavy enough for cross grain roughing. Opinion???
Posted: 8:53 pm on July 26th

Stephany Stephany writes: Hello, neighbor nava1uni. Please let me know if you ever come across affordable shared space or a bulk wood order you'd like to share. PeteQuad, thanks for giving me a reason to buy ANOTHER Bench Horse! :)

Posted: 2:14 pm on May 13th

PeteQuad PeteQuad writes: I have two Benchhorses and typically leave one set up all the time and add the other to make an extra long or extra wide bench. Or sometimes I just bring the second one outside. I also have a couple of the Blum planes and the sharpening jig, all great items.
Posted: 10:31 pm on May 12th

nava1uni nava1uni writes: I also live in San Francisco and space is a premium priced thing. I like your set-up. I also use a box outside for storing wood. I siliconed the joints and put weather stripping on the lid and have much less moisture in the box now. Not possible to get rid of all of it, but it did decrease it.
Thanks for the link of the bench.
Posted: 1:24 pm on May 12th

garthkeel garthkeel writes: I also have the Blum Bench Horse and from the quality, service and usability, you can't beat it. Excellent service and mobility combined. No relationship just a very satisfied customer. g
Posted: 12:15 pm on May 12th

mwebb1234a mwebb1234a writes: Wow, I am impressed. I am not as space constrained as the author is, but I sure would like to get things smaller. What a great way to use the space. I bet that the wood work that comes off that back deck is equally impressive. Thank you very much for sharing your experience.

Mike in DC
Posted: 4:45 am on May 12th

kennethw kennethw writes: Irony! I'm just across the bay from you, in Berkeley, and face similar issues. We lived in SF for 8 years and your backyard looks so familiar. :)

It's great that you're making this work for you.

I've gone a different route and made a bunch of knockdown stuff that I can cram into various nooks and crannies:
Posted: 2:08 pm on May 6th

308defense 308defense writes: Hi:
Thanks for the tip about the Suncast storage boxes. I need a place to store chair cushions and also have seating on the deck at the same time. I am one of the luck ones to have a shop.
Posted: 12:43 pm on May 6th

Stephany Stephany writes: Chris, thanks for the link to your blog. I'm definitely going to check it out.

JP017, I don't currently keep any stock, I'm sad to say. As you well know, it can be more affordable and give you better use of more wood. We don't have a basement and almost no garage space. Lord how I miss having wood from around the house!
Posted: 5:13 pm on May 4th

DrHWO DrHWO writes: Very impressive. The weather here in the UK is even less clement. My garage space isn't enough to swing half a cat around in. Pets and power tools. I should have known better. Recently completed my outdoor bench (or picnic table as the wife knows it). She says that its overkill to have a table 8' X 3' X 5" and weighing in excess of 250lb for the cucumber sandwiches and the bone china. I admit to being an order of magnitude out on the design brief and spend a little longer in the confessional collecting my penance.
Posted: 10:20 am on May 4th

JP017 JP017 writes: Do any of you outdoor woodworkers have problems with storage of your stock? What do you for that? I'm just curious, since I have a rather cramped space myself, and for larger pieces I have to commandeer the garage, which my wife loves. ;-)

I store all my wood in the basement, since it's below grade, it provides good, natural climate control. And that's where most of my work gets done, like I said, unless it's big.

Thanks for the post, it gives me hope that even with a small space I can expand further if needed!
Posted: 3:36 pm on May 3rd

cpgriggs cpgriggs writes: I appreciate your post. I'm an outdoor woodworker in warm and wet New Orleans. My bench base is made of treated lumber and my top is an MDF core with a replaceable plywood top. I keep it covered, but let's just say that it hasn't exactly stayed flat. Overall, the setup works well, but I'm starting to worry about how much longer my neighbors will put up with the noise of my portable table saw. Oh well, if they start to complain I guess it will be an excuse to buy more hand tools:)

You can check out my blog post about my "workshop" at if you want to see my setup. Thanks for the inspiration and advice. - Chris
Posted: 2:00 pm on May 3rd

Stephany Stephany writes: Lund, you win! I hail from Michigan, and "near freezing temps" carries a lot of weight with me. :)
Posted: 12:10 pm on May 3rd

lund_fisher lund_fisher writes: I greatly admire you!
I can relate to having a minimum amount of workshop space...
My first project (an antique-looking cupboard) was built on our deck in near freezing temps!
Where there's a will there's a way.
Swing on! Swing on!
Posted: 12:01 pm on May 3rd

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