The Birth of a Woodshop

by Cian Perez

This is the progress of my woodshop construction in my basement...

1.4.03 My buddy Tullio and I went to Menards and went nutty on the 20%-off-everything-you-can-fit-into-a-bucket-sale. I attempted to purchase all that I needed for the shop's dedicated electrical circuit: sub-panel, breakers, 220 outlets, cable, etc. We couldn't avoid picking up a tool or two on the way out (biscuit joiner, jigsaw, etc.), so I had to have Tullio buy another bucket himself for all the "overflow" items. Loads of fun.

1.17.03 I purchased the 2x4s this weekend. Unfortunately, I haven't yet managed to convince my wife of the undeniable value of owning a pick-up truck, so I had to transport the material using my mother-in-law's minivan. The Honda Odyssey is a wonderful minivan. I've borrowed this minivan in the past to transport other unwieldy things, and if I was forced at gunpoint to own a minivan, it would most likely be this one. It can hold an 8' length of wood flat on the floor no problem. In fact, I used this minivan to bring home the crown moulding for my kitchen cabinets, and those were 10' long, but fit neatly up the middle of the two front captain's chairs.

For the 2x4s, I had only borrowed the minivan for one day, so I loaded up the minivan with all the studs on Sunday morning at Menards, and spent an additional hour unloading it into my garage, just so that I could return the minivan that afternoon. Moving the material into the basement required two additional phases on Monday: (1) slowly migrating the neat pile of 2x4s from the garage floor to another neat pile in my front foyer, and (2) taking the neat pile from the foyer and carrying the studs 2-at-a-time down the stairs to construct yet another neat pile in my basement. Actually, I moved only half the pile at a time, so multiply this cycle by two. Here's the resulting pile of 2x4s on my basement floor:

Needless to say, I felt like I just came off of a marathon session with a Stairmaster and squat thrusts after the above task!

3.8.03 I cleaned out all the boxes and items that were in the area of my basement designated for my woodshop. The woodshop area measures 30' long by nearly 12' wide. I debated framing up and using drywall on all the walls. However, in an effort to retain as much valuable floor space as possible, I ended up deciding to simply paint all the exterior walls and to frame and drywall only the walls which would be receiving cabinets which would be three of the four walls: the wall that you see below, the one opposite it (which would be behind me when I took the pic), andthe wall that will separate the shop from the rest of the basement (to the immediate right). This is the still bare basement space:

The white box on the floor is a commercial pack of 6-mil poly, which I intended on using for vapor barrier on the walls when I frame them up.

3.16.03 Painted the three exterior walls of the shop area with two liberal coats of white basement wall waterproofing latex paint. I currently don't have any water problems in my basement (I think). The walls are 9" thick steel-mesh-reinforced poured concrete (although I'm unsure as to how thick the floor is or whether they installed a moisture barrier beneath it). Also, I had sprayed down the entire basement with a clear waterproofing sealer when I initially moved into my house to minimize the dust. Considering the moisture sensitivity of the tools that will be occupying this space, the waterproofing paint was simply an added precaution, but it did brighten things up a bit. If anything, I do have concerns with the seemingly poorly insulated basement windows.

When I stand in the middle of this space and close my eyes, I can smell the sawdust...

Or is it the fumes from the paint simply getting to me?

12.11.03 A much needed update. I've been totally consumed by work this year. I've been so exhausted that I've ignored my basement, but with newly found vigor, the construction continues... My buddy Tullio helped me size and get the materials for the electrical system back in May (yeah, it's been a while) and I initially did some rough piping, but then quickly realized that I really need to get the framing up to be able to finish the electrical, so...


In the immediate photo above, you can see the newly mounted sub-panel that will be servicing the shop. It will receive a 60A feed from the main panel that's only five feet to the left of it. So why am I bothering with getting a sub-panel when there are available slots in the main panel? Well, I wanted to isolate the shop with a single breaker on the main panel. Additionally, I'm gonna be running a 220 circuit for the stationary equipment. That last point doesn't really decide anything, but ultimately, the real answer was . . . because I wanted to.

Also in the above pic is a decent shot of my miter-saw setup. It's the venerable Dewalt DW703 - the VERY FIRST (if you don't count my Dewalt 12V combo pack) serious woodworking tool I acquired thanks to my wonderful wife. It's currently bolted atop a Wolfcraft tool stand and hooked up to my Ridgid shop vacuum through a Craftsman auto-switch (great little device). I had it set up to handle the framing lumber for the shop build, but I also just recently finished the crown molding on my kitchen cabinets a few days earlier (a project that I waited 2 years to start and only took 2 days to finish, but that's another story.)

I had ordered a nice door for the shop from Home Depot a week ago, and just got word that it's in. I'll have to stop by there tomorrow. I also bought a set of bifold doors to enclose the power and media panel (the wall mounted boxes to the right above). The bifold doors are not only to hide the panels, but to also protect them (from me).

1.3.04 Found some time to work in the shop during my holiday vacation. I FINALLY got all the framing done, and I even got all the conduit installed for all the outlets. Next thing is to start pulling the electrical wire...

Not too shabby for a first-time framer, eh?

1.10.04 Today's electrical cable pulling day, and I quickly realized that I didn't have a proper way to hold the three 500' spools of solid core 12 gauge cable at junction box height. Cuz you see, since this space is gonna be a woodshop, but more importantly because it's in a basement, all my outlets are above bench height at roughly 40" or so, and lifting up these 500' spools of cable for any duration of time ain't a trivial thing. Plus, they wouldn't feed all that easily if they sat on the floor, so I made this cable spool stand wih some remaining 2x:

Purty. Ain't she?

You can barely make it out in the pic above, but there's a cap on one end of the uprights that covers the hole through which the 1/2" conduit goes through. The cap can be swiveled out of the way to expose the hole and the conduit pulled out to replace any of the spools whenever needed. Expect to see a multi-part how-to series and full size drawings in the upcoming issues of Fine Woodworking. (just kidding)

1.17.04 I get electrocuted! Well sorta. There was some voltage remaining on the line even with the breaker off. Luckily, I only measured 0.1A on the wire. Ouch. That was scary. And it hurts!

2.20.04 After getting my guts back up (and returning from a somewhat long vacation) I did an exhaustive search and came across some frayed wires, but I could not locate exactly where the cross-feed was occurring. With some testing, I found that tripping BOTH the basement lights cicuit as well as the house's smoke alarm circuit nullifies the voltage completely on my lights. Weird. I'll have to track this down later, but for the time being, I can proceed (without the lack of complete anxiety though).

3.7.04 Got the auxillary light circuit functional. I still need to run the conduit to the JB for the switches, but at least I can work with normal lights instead of the flood-lights on the stand. Unfortunately, the primary lighting circuit as well as the conduit runs to the switches follow the same path as the new sewer exit line for the new sink that will be located in the woodshop side. Since the sewer lines need a predetermined pitch, they'll have to run above the electrical conduits, which forces me to start (and finish) the sewer plumbing.

3.27.04 Finished the sewer drain plumbing. Had to install a new T into the 3" PVC sewer main. Fairly daunting task if you ask me. This is a if-you-start-this-now-you-finish-this-now type of job. Unfortunately, I came across a leak on the repair sleeve where I made the second cut on the 3" main (so I could fit the T upstream). Luckily, all the toilets and showers are downstream of where the leak has occurred. We can use the restrooms, but we can't wash the dishes. Hmm. Maybe I should leave it this way? And, oh yeah, that purple PVC primer stuff is nasty.

3.28.04 Did the repair on the leak. Essentially, I had to cut away the 3" main and repair sleeve where the leak was and replaced this section with another piece of 3" PVC plus two repair sleeves. It's a lot more simpler than it sounds. But now we can do the dishes and the laundry again, and my wife can water her orchids as she normally does in the kitchen sink. My manhood has been tested and I have passed this round. =P

7.10.04 Installed the R13 insulation. I also decided that I really want a sink in my shop, so I started soldering in the water lines.

Looking north.

Looking south.

DC closet.


11.18.05 When I had earlier brought down some 4'x8' sheet materials down the stairs, I banged up the stairwell wells pretty good. So to facilitate this process, I cut open the wall where the stairs to the basement does a u-turn. Why didn't I think of this before? (For the record, my wife thought I was crazy.)

1.06.07 Wow. Where have I been these past years? Well, I started my own company, did some photography, traveled somewhat, had a heart attack, started working out again, thought I wanted to move so I bought some land and had an architect make some drawings but ended up deciding to stay, and I also picked up cycling again. But now I guess I'll continue working on my shop once more...

Over the last couple years, I wasn't completely dormant as far as my shop goes. I did get all the electrical conduit installed for the outlets and pulled nearly all the required electrical cable. I still have to install the circuits and fixtures for the lighting. For the walls, I opted for a dual layer construction to minimize noise, so the walls will have insulation throughout as shown earlier, a layer of 3/8" OSB and then a layer of 1/2" drywall. The OSB not only minimizes noise transmission, but will allow me to tack up cabinets or tool hangers wherever I wish without having to really worry about finding a stud.

And, yes, I still have to connect the shop's sub-panel to the main panel. Electricity will forever freak me out!

7.14.07 Drywall is done.

2.09.08 The walls were painted semi-gloss white to better reflect the available lighting. Also makes for a bright and cheery workplace.

12.10.09 I've been away for a while (whatever needed building I simply made in the garage), and took whatever time needed to pursue my other seasonal hobbies (namely cycling and camping/fishing in the warmer months) but I guess it's time to get refocused.

The electrical for the lighting is also finished, and I even added an additional circuit for outlets above the windows should I choose to install/run circulating fans. My hands are all chafed and raw from bending conduit and pulling hundreds of feet of cable. My biggest reason for the delay is the fact that I'm learning as I go along and that I'm a perfectionist. I firmly believe in doing things the right way the first time. As far as my electrical plan goes, that means folling all the proper codes with rigid cunduit everywhere and appropriately sized wires and breakers. With the lighting, I also wanted it separated into three switched zones - even though it would've been simpler to just hang lights and use their pull cables to turn fixtures on and off, I desired having switches on the wall - this is supposed to be my one and only dream shop after all. Over the years, I've also become more confident with doing electrical work. The Lord knows how many hours I poured over electrical books and sites to make sure that 1) I was installing things correctly, and, more importantly, 2) I wasn't gonna kill myself. I still have a firm respect for electricity, certainly, but I'm no longer pale afraid when removing the cover to a live service panel.

1.5.10 I began the installation of the floor. A common feature of every shop I've seen in my many woodworking books/magazines or seen on TV which 'moved me' and that I wanted to mimic all had a common feature - a wood floor. However, my ceiling height is only a couple inches shy of 8 feeet. A real wood floor would require at least a 3/4" plywood subfloor. The actual wood floor itself would add another 3/4" minimum on top of the subfloor. So I would lose 1-1/2" of ceiling height, and this is if I chose to not use firring strips underneath the subfloor.

However, my real hesitation with installing a wood floor is that my shop is in the basement, and there are multiple warnings about installing wood floors below grade due to moisture problems. I have performed a moisture test in two areas of my basement over multiple seasons. In fact, I left the tests in place over multiple years since my shop progress has been so elongated. The moisture test consists of a 12"x12" piece of clear poly duct taped to the concrete floor surface, and if there was moisture seeping upwards, I would see it condensate underneath the clear poly. Fortunately, over the span of multiple years, there has been no evidence of moisture whatsoever. My basement's sump pump (with a battery powered backup pump) has kept the basement dry ever since we moved in during December 2001.

I found that laminate would be a perfect solution for my shop. It is durable, relatively thin, does well with spills, and, arguably one of the most important features - cheap. I've seen laminate go on sale in the $1 to $2 range at the local home impreovement centers, but about a year back, I found a deal on a classic oak-patterned laminate flooring. It was on closeout for less than $0.50/sqft at a local warehouse club! I was able to find enough of it across different stores to cover the 360 sqft of my shop.

Since I'm installing below grade, I took additional precautions and used a 6-mil poly moisture barrier first against the concrete. Then I installed a premium foam underlayment with taped seams, which itself provides another moisture barrier. The laminate itself is of the 'click' variety. I could opt to glue the boards together, but I felt that would be overkill (let alone time-consuming and messy). I will admit that this flooring install took a lot longer than I anticipated. I figure I could get it all installed in one evening, but the effort took me well into the following evening to finish.

1.6.10 The journey has ended. I would be lying if I said I didn't stand in the newly finished shop space ... and just stood there ... staring at it ... for who knows how long ... without a dry eye.

The next phase is when things start getting fun - moving in and assembling all the tools!


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