So far, I’ve detailed the construction of my all-purpose maker-style workshop, which I’ve nicknamed the Barrage Garage. It’s turned out beautifully, and as anticipated, it’s the envy of my maker friends.
Small? Sure, it’s a mere 20 feet by 14 feet, but it has all the space required to do serious creating. It’s loaded with features, including a way-cool vinyl tile floor, a high-tech wall storage system, fluorescent lighting, 240-volt power, and lots of electrical outlets.
After the infrastructure was completed, it was time to outfit the Barrage Garage. Choosing tools and supplies is a subjective question to be sure, and one that a dozen people would answer a dozen different ways. My goal was to make the Barrage Garage into the Platte River of workshops: a mile wide and three feet deep. Like the Platte, my workshop covers a lot of different areas but is not particularly deep in any single genre. Flexible as a yoga instructor, it provides an environment in which I can attempt projects in wood, metal, chemistry, home repair, electricity, even the odd bit of pyrotechnics (see MAKE Volume 13, page 54).
If you’re a maker with dreams of metalworking, woodworking, building electronics projects, customizing your rod, or simply keeping your house up and running, read on. In this installment, we’ll examine the must-have tools and equipment that make the Barrage Garage such a maker-enabling space.
Building a workbench was my first consideration, for it’s literally the foundation on which all subsequent work will be built. I considered the design carefully, evaluating possibilities ranging from a complex Scandinavian design with a beechwood frame mounted on self-leveling hydraulic cylinders, to an interior door nailed to two sawhorses. I chose something in the middle — a solid, heavy, counterbraced construction made from 2×6 fir lumber.
The work surface is two-thirds wood and one-third granite. From a local countertop maker I was able to inexpensively obtain a beautiful 2′×2′ piece of polished granite left over from a bigger job. The ultraflat, smooth granite is perfect for doing fine work or electrical projects. The plywood-covered 2×6s are great for everything else.
I finished the workbench by outfitting it with a wood vise with bench dogs (wooden inserts mounted opposite the vise to hold oversized work pieces), a portable machinist’s vise, and a pullout shelf.
The typical advice from experts to novices is to buy the best quality tools you can afford. And I believe it’s good advice. Cheap screwdrivers, for example, can be a big mistake; the soft metal edges of inferior blades can bend or even break under stress, and the plastic handles chip when dropped. For any tool you use frequently, it makes sense to go with quality.
On the other hand, when you’ve got a one-off job, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever have another application for piston-ring pliers or a gantry crane, then buying an inexpensive tool may make sense.
Besides raw materials and tools, I stocked up on general supplies: duct tape, electrical tape, transparent tape, powdered graphite, rope or cord, twine, light oil, white glue, super glue, quick-set epoxy, extended-set epoxy, sandpaper, heat-shrink tubing, zip ties, pencils, ink markers, rags, wipes, and towels. Now, on to the tools.
A. Electric drill, cordless or corded
A drill with a variety of screwdriver tips and drill bits may well be your most frequently used power tool. In the Barrage Garage, where I have power outlets everywhere, I appreciate the lightness and torque of a corded drill. But many people appreciate the flexibility of a cordless model. The higher the top voltage (e.g., 14.4 or 18 volts) of a cordless drill, the greater its torque and the more it weighs.
B. Files and brushes Flat and round bastard files and a wire brush. (A bastard file refers to one with an intermediate tooth size.)
C. Cutters You’ll want diagonal cutters, a utility knife, tinsnips, a wire cutter/crimper/stripper, and a good pair of scissors. You’ll find a self-healing cutting mat to be a great help; buy one at any fabric store.
D. Mixing and volume-measuring equipment Sturdy plastic bowls in different sizes, disposable spoons, measuring cups, and measuring spoons.
E. Hacksaw For those occasions that require cutting through something harder than wood.
F. Handsaw Most often, you’ll likely be cutting dimensional lumber (2×4s, 2×6s, etc.) to size, so choose a saw with crosscut teeth instead of ripping teeth.
G. Linear measuring gear Tape measure, protractor, and combination square.
H. Socket and wrench set If you work on things mechanical, you’ll appreciate the quality of a good socket set. Spend the money and get English and metric sockets, as well as Allen wrenches (hex keys).
I. Pliers come in a variety of shapes. At a minimum, you should have standard, needlenose, and vise-grips.
J. Hammers Start with a claw hammer for nailing and a rubber mallet for knocking things apart.
K. Digital multimeter If you do any electronics work, a volt-ohm meter with several types of probes and clips will be indispensable.
L. Screwdrivers Choose an assortment of high-quality Phillips and flat-headed (and possibly Torx) screwdrivers in a variety of sizes.
M. Scale A triple beam balance or electronic scale is a necessity for chemistry projects and mixing stuff.
N. Belt sander
O. Drill press I simply can’t live without my drill press, because it provides far more accuracy than a hand drill ever could.
P. Cut-off saw
Beyond these basics, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of tools available, all of which may be useful depending on the project. In regard to stationary power tools, it’s a tough call. Because they’re expensive and require a lot of shop real estate, it really depends on what you’re going to do most. I use my table saw all the time. But I know people who consider a band saw an absolute necessity and others who say a scroll saw is their number one power saw priority.
Soldering iron Choose a variable-temperature model with changeable tips.
Magnifying lens You’ll find a swing-arm magnifier with a light a very helpful addition to your shop. It mounts directly to your workbench and swings out of the way when not in use. It’s great for everything from threading needles to examining surface finishes.
Safety equipment Safety glasses, hearing protection, a fire extinguisher, goggles, a dust mask, and gloves are very important.
All safety glasses, even inexpensive ones, must conform to government regulations, so they all provide adequate protection. However, more expensive ones are more comfortable and look better, making you more inclined to always use them.
(See “The Safe Workshop,” page 35.)