A photo recently posted on social media showed what looked like a well-stocked workshop, with all the power tools and clamps we’d love to have in our own home garages. In that image, one aspect stood out uniquely: Rather than being set in a garage or basement, the shop occupied what appeared to be an oversized outdoor tent. We’d never seen anything like that before, and just had to learn more — so we reached out to find out who built it (Eirik Paye), how he did it, and why.
Make: We love this tented workshop. Is this something you conceived on your own, or was it inspired from elsewhere?
Eirik: It’s something I came up with out of necessity. Cliff’s Notes: As terrible timing would have it, we (myself, wife and 2 daughters) left the place we were renting late in 2019 after a dispute with a “typical” Goleta (Calif.) landlord. Shortly after, Covid-19 hit and the place we were planning on moving into fell through so we ended up staying at our family’s house in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, the ideal part of the house for a shop, the garage, was packed to the rafters with boxes and odds and ends from my mother’s former business and therefore a no-go.
Several years ago, I started getting serious about building and repair — not just out of a lifetime of being a design artist, wanting to expand my skills, but also out of anger and frustration in the lack of quality in home furnishings and the outlandish price points demanded by sub-par purveyors: Ikea, Urban Home etc. I was going to need a dedicated, level space to work, away from the house and in a setting where paint, solvents, metal shavings, and copious amounts of sawdust wouldn’t upset anyone — least of all, me. As finances were an issue, I started making a list of inexpensive options. Then I grew up and considered “less-expensive” concepts. I needed a level space, good air flow, enough room for stationary power tools, and most of all, something to protect the aforementioned tools from exposure to the elements.
I made some rough measurements and figured out that I would need a minimum of 200 sq. ft.. Local zoning wouldn’t allow for a shed that large, or even a covered deck (or so I was told), BUT a “floating” temporary deck wouldn’t be an issue. I would advise anyone doing this that they take the necessary time to research what’s legal and what’s not in their area as regards “secondary” structures. I chose to ride right up the edge with this one — if the county/city has a problem with it, it won’t break my back to take everything down and move it or to build something else, but to code. So far, the worst thing about it is that from above it looks like I might be doing something elicit, but I’ve given no one any reason to believe that and my neighbors on either side seem envious and have asked how I built it.
Circling back to the how — I finally settled on a “floating” deck. It would be 2×8 ground contact lumber framing with plywood sheeting held up braced by 15 pier blocks that sit individually on 1qtr gravel. For the top I went to Amazon and found a 10×20 carport with a pitched roof and flaps that went to the ground on all four sides.
I actually drew inspiration from my mechanic, who has a side garage where he does specific repair jobs. It was essentially an old carport with some tool carts. I saw that and thought “what if I got one and built ‘stations’ in it?” I also took into account where the sun would be from 9am to 6pm and chose a location in the yard where I wouldn’t parboil while I was working. As I have yet to die, I’ve clearly chosen well.
Tell us more about the mobility of this setup.
It can be [inconveniently] made temporary if necessary, as mentioned above. It is mobile, as the deck itself was built with 2 identical frames of 10’x10′ and the carport can be unbolted from the deck and pitched with stakes and anchoring lines. Wouldn’t be fun but it wouldn’t be hard which was ultimately how I needed to design given that we will likely be relocating in the next year or two.
What type of work is the shop focused on?
Woodworking mainly, but it all appeals to me. My father was a teacher and earned extra as a freelance carpenter and painter. When I got old enough he started bringing me along so I could earn as well. I was thirteen and really loved the sense of accomplishment that came with the completion of a house or apartment complex. This is to say nothing about the confidence that came from knowing you might be a little more self-reliant than others given a little skill in fixing, building, and making.
Lately, it’s been about making strong handles for throwing axes. Something I picked up years ago and got kinda good at during the pandemic. (Admittedly, I am Norwegian and Viking pastimes may be in the blood.)
What’s your day job?
I’m an animation/entertainment artist. I started my career as a concept artist on SEGA’s Dreamcast launch team. The next stop was Disney feature animation as a Character Artist and then finally to Nickelodeon where I would fill as many positions as I could: Character/Background/Development artist and finally, Art Director on the Global Creative Team in Viacom Nickelodeon’s consumer products division. (You can find my pedigree on IMDB).
I’d say in many ways I’m a generalist and I am very happy to have been so fortunate to ply my trade and talent gainfully in such an enjoyable medium. So much so that I began seeing possibilities in other areas, such as woodwork, metal, and general making. 99% of the work I have been doing for the last 20 years has been digital but I really love having something in my hands. I can’t tell you how many times I designed something for film or TV and thought “That’d be so cool to make IRL.” I love the idea of something I can make, can use or see put to use. It’s probably what drew me to FX, Handyman, Make: magazines.
Anything interesting you learned while putting it together? Anything you’d do differently next time?
Yes: Framing correctly is difficult for first-timers so if you’re flying solo it pays to measure, measure again, then measure some more and oh, did mention to measure? Squaring up large, heavy pressure-treated lumber wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.
Also most frustratingly, you have to account for the unexpected. I know that sounds idiotic, but allow me to clarify. It’s always drought-season where we live. We can count on fire and most recently, floods (if it rains after a fire). That’s the problem. Rain here is infrequent and when we do get some the unexpected happens. In my case, I should have expected that the predominantly loose, clay soil in this area would percolate and shift on the off-chance of rain. SO when we got hit with a week and half of intermittent storms last month, I was overjoyed that my tools were dry but a little ticked and frustrated when I noticed a dip in the middle of the deck floor. The pier-blocks had shifted a bit; two in one spot had shifted out of place and were no longer supporting the deck. Luckily, I had thrown out the idea of putting down a heavy floor of 2’x10′ boards with plywood on top, so instead, fixing the pier block issue is a simple matter of pulling up one sheet of plywood, using a car jack to lift the deck and move the blocks back into place.
I know some would suggest using buried post footings with metal supports but that wasn’t an option here as I need this to be semi-mobile and it wouldn’t have solved all the “moving earth” issues.
What I might’ve done differently? Probably more blocking between the floor joists next time. The helpful folks online at various forums said it wasn’t always necessary, but I might have forgotten to mention what I was going to be using this for. A few more blocks might have been a good way to prevent the aforementioned dip, but hardly a guarantee. Who knows? Maybe I’ll do it anyway.
Any general advice for someone else that’s assembling something like this for their own initial workshop?
Eirik: Think long and hard about the kind of work you will be doing in this space, NOT the kind of work you WANT to do. It’s easy to dream of multiple far-flung projects and builds but understand this is for all in-tents (haha!) and purposes a mobile shop ergo, you won’t have the required space for building massive cabinets etc. Further, It’s still outside so you’re likely to get a few 8-legged critters and Disney characters flying around your shop. I’m presently the grumpiest Disney princess because a family of rabbits has turned the space under the deck into a summer home and the babies poke up and around the shop, sometimes under foot. And the blue jays fly in and out and pester me for food on occasion, even when they see me sharpening throwing axes or using the router.
Also: In a wet climate, condensation will be an issue and therefore you’ll have rust, or corrosion. If that’s the case, consider making the tent “air tight” around the outside — not like a vacuum, but just make sure the sides are flush with the deck and relatively sealed. In a snowy/cold climate you would likely have a heavy-duty industrial event tent, seal everything tight and run a heater keeping everything toasty and dry. As a Norwegian I have seen this done in northern Norway and it does work as a stop-gap.
I’m not an expert on this, I can only relay what I’ve noticed might be potential pitfalls of a “mobile shop” built this way.
Last, you must come up with a “power-plan.” To quote John Aaron of NASA: “Power is everything.”
I’d love to tell you I planned this out expertly, but it’d be an ugly lie. I did it as I went out of necessity and arrogance. I really wish I’d taken more time on this early-on, it would have saved me a lot of time correcting my own mistakes. Power is something we take for granted so it’s an easy mistake to make.
First I would suggest figuring out if your residence can accommodate another breaker or even a subpanel. If not, then you’re stuck using the available outlets and that can be problematic. Use a minimum of 10 gauge extension cords and if possible, plug into different circuits. Then see if you can keep the high-amp tools on separate outlets/circuits. I’m mostly battery operated on the hand tools, but my router, chop, and table saw all need “real juice,” so I had to ditch the dunce cap and find my best “thinkages” to plan out a power schematic for the deck. I wound up placing long, shop surge strips attached to the tent’s vertical supports in the middle for convenience, and then I DIY’d my own 10-gauge multi-outlet extension cords, placed closest to the tools that would need them the most. It’s worked pretty well so far.
Again, electricity is something you might need permits for if you decide to install a subpanel or put conduit through the ground so check with local building and zoning laws.