Mark A. DeCou's Workshop

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Workshop by Mark A. DeCou posted 08-17-2006 05:39 PM 11914 reads 4 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

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Mark A. DeCou's Workshop Mark A. DeCou's Workshop Mark A. DeCou's Workshop
Mark A. DeCou's Workshop Mark A. DeCou's Workshop  

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Welcome to a short tour of my workshop. I spend a lot of hours, from 40-80 per week, in this small building, and the insides are in too much of a mess to photograph today, so I will add that at a later time if anyone is really interested.

Here are some aerial photos of the place, taken during a Hot Air Balloon trip:
A New Perspective on my Business; A Hot Air Balloon Tour of the Kansas Flinthill's

The building in which I work is a 22ft x 32ft old detached garage. When we bought the old farmhouse, this garage was starting to fall down due to neglect and termite damage. I replaced the front wall, adding the walk-in door and the windows.

The floor space is about 1/3 of what I need to walk and work in, with it’s ever growing collection of tools and fixtures and work centers. The concrete floor is cracked and shifting which makes moving tools with mobile bases a chore, as well as walking. One day, I met the a man in town that helped pour the concrete for my shop building in 1962, and I almost strangled him (just kidding about the strangling). He said, he could not remember whether they added any metal screen or rebar to the floor when they poured it. I assured him that he hadn’t put any rebar in the floor then.

I’ve worked in this space for 6 years now, and I go several weeks without twisting my ankle anymore on the uneven spaces of the floor (knock on wood). Whenever I see a photograph of a woodworker from Indonesia or Japan that is sitting on a dirt floor carving wonderful figures in wood with hand tools, I am reminded that I am very grateful for the shop space and tools that I have.

Last Fall I took off the metal roof and installed a vapor barrier sheeting and fiberglass insulation and put the old tin back down. The insulation was given to me, and reusing the old sheet metal saved me about $1000. The insulation was a huge help for storing heat, and allowing me to comfortably work in the winter months. Also, the insulation keeps the building cooler during the summer.

I installed a power roof vent that runs on a thermostat, and once the cool mornings give way to heat in the summer months, the vent turns on, and eventhough I am working in a tight space, the temperature inside never gets warmer than it is outside. Before I added the roof vent, it was not uncommon for me to work in 120 Degree F temperatures in the summer. The insulation I was given has really been a blessing. A neighbor has offered to give me a window A/C unit that they are no longer using, so as soon as I get it installed, I will enjoy a much cooler environment in which to work.

During the winter months, I heat with an air-tight wood stove that I was given a few years ago. Last winter, I was given the solar panel, so now if the sun is shining, at about 10 am, I will get 120 degree F. air from the solar panel blower. Once the solar panel fan kicks on, I quit stoking the woodstove with wood. At about 4:30pm the solar panel blower shuts off, and if I still need to work for a few hours, I will throw a couple of small logs back in the stove and stir up the hot coals. A side joy of the solar panel is that I run the intake fan air through a filter, which means it also doubles as an air-cleaning fan. I have to knock the dust out of the filter about once a week, and I am always amazed at how much dust it catches.

The old limestone and wood barn which is shown in the 3rd and 4th photos, has approx. a 2400 sqft main floor, with a high roof where a second floor loft could be added with some new floor joists for storage. Also, there is the stone basement which would be great for additional storage if I need it.

The main problem to start working in the old barn, actually the only problem, is a lack of funds. To use the old barn I need to do some structural repair to the rock wall foundation, and then I need to pull electrical service to it, and wire the barn for power tools. Then there is new siding and doors. The roof stays dry, but does need some repair also. I have plenty of salvaged windows, so I could make a lovely work space location with about $25,000 USD in repairs. Then, there is the heating of that much space. I was given a 235,000 BTU wood fired furnace with a big blower, so I have that much covered, and I was given some metal louvers to go in the gable peaks, but short of that, all I need is a bunch of money.

I’m hoping for a future someday in the barn. I think I would have enough space then I would have room for a guest reception area and showroom, which right now is the living room of my house.

Anyone visiting the shop eventually comes around to two questions: 1) How do you do so much work in such a tight space? 2) Why don’t you use the old barn for your shop?

Well, here are the answers: 1) I try to be content with whatever space I have to work in. This is the best shop I have ever had, and so I use it to the best of my ability. 2) I don’t borrow money, so when I have the money saved, I will remodel the barn into a shop. Right now the old barn stores my wood and things that don’t fit into the shop or house.

When a woodworker visits me they will always ask how my explosion-proof spray booth works. The short answer is “great.” Last January I sprayed lacquer in the closed up shop with the spray booth going on one end, and my woodstove stoked as hot as it would go on the other end of the shop. I opened windows on the woodstove end, so that the fan make-up air would be drawn from the opposite end of the shop. Since I am still here to tell you about it, you know it worked well.

The last photo is a view out the South end of my shop, a beautiful Kansas Flinthills view. Unfortunately for the nature lovers, the cost of crude oil has brought oil drilling back into the area, so now the top of each hill is capped with an ugly oil-pumper, and my nice quiet days are broken with the chorus of “pop-pop-pop” of all the rig engines running the pumps. Another reason to hope for lower crude oil prices, or alternative energy sources. Another reason I enjoy using my donated solar panel.

I’ll post more photos if there is interest, but I just wanted to get this started.

Mark DeCou – Elmdale, KS

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

21 comments so far

View Joe Cumbo's profile

Joe Cumbo

26 posts in 4245 days

#1 posted 10-13-2006 12:15 AM


I’d be interested in the pics of the inside.


View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4175 days

#2 posted 12-26-2006 03:46 AM

Hey, Mark, enjoyed looking at the outside of you shop; hope to get a peek inside some day. Perhaps they will discover oil on your property – then your money worries will be over.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#3 posted 12-26-2006 08:52 PM

Inside photos are coming. I am cleaning up now so that the photos show a better looking place than what I actually work in, ha. I’ll be back with the photos, thanks for asking.


-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4172 days

#4 posted 01-24-2007 04:50 AM

Have you considered tackling the barn in smaller sections, Mark? It looks fabulous… I imagine it is hard to look out of your small shop at that large, inviting structure, just waiting for you to move in and call it “home”...

I’m jealous; even if you can’t yet use it. :)

-- Ethan,

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#5 posted 01-24-2007 04:29 PM

Hey Ethan: The Barn. At this point, the old barn is a long way off for me from a financial standpoint. I use it for storage which is very helpful, because I don’t have to keep any wood outside, and extra tools and fixtures and such can sit until I need them in the little shop.

To do anything in the barn as a shop, I first need the electrical service run, and then all of the wiring I can do myself inside the building. I need to put up lights, switches, and such. If it isn’t going to be closed in and rat proof for awhile, all of the electrical needs to be run in conduit to keep it packrat proof while I am closing in the building. Those little stinkers can strip insulation off of wiring in one night. I dealt with them when I first started remodeling the old dilapidated garage into the little shop. Finally, I discovered poison, and that stopped the problem, but lost a couple of cats at the same time. I tell my wife that there isn’t any connection between those events.
I need some foundation repair with mortar in between some of the old rocks.
There are some structural repairs needed, not much, just a few days of patching boards, tightening nails, adding bolts to some of the beam joints, etc.
I need new siding.
I have already scavenged windows and walk-in doors and a nice garage door. If I could put in all of the windows I have, it would be gorgeous, with lots of light and great views in all four directions. To view out the south side of the building, I would need to modify the roof by adding dormer windows.
The roof needs a little help, but it is so steep it scares me, so that would need to be contracted to someone.
There is no insulation. At one point, a guy gave me all the insulation I needed, but he moved, and so I don’t know if it is still available. Goes along with my old adage, take whatever someone offers as soon as they offer. I hesitated to go get it, as I knew it would be sitting for awhile in the barn with rats using it for bedding. I have some barn owls, a couple of nighthawks, and once in a while I see a bobcat, as well as my farm cats, but there are still rats around.
I have scavenged a 230,000 BTU wood fired furnace. I could hook it up outside, or inside of the structure and use forced air to heat it, but I need to contain the heat some how, so the siding, windows, and insulation have to come first.
There is still a bunch of old hay and manure that needs to be scooped out. It is not a fun job and hits my allergies pretty quick, but I work on it a little at a time when the wind is in the right direction and speed to take the dust up and out of the building.
I have scavenged a large ventilation fan for the gable peak, and two large louvers to open and close.
I need to lay down plywood on the floor boards.
I would move the spray booth, most of my electrical service runs, and the solar panel out of the small shop.
As you can see, I keep collecting items that I can use someday, and dream of the day when the money is available. At times, it seems an impossible dream. I did get the barn in a book on the Barns of Kansas, which is cool. I sure want to preserve it for historical purposes, but finding spare money is the challenge.
I have a small house, so the money has to be split between saving for a third bedroom someday, and improving my shop space. Too many needs, too little money.

thanks for asking,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View rentman's profile


230 posts in 4093 days

#6 posted 03-20-2007 05:17 AM

mark is that a big slab of cherry behind you shop,or am I seeing things

-- Phil, Chattanooga,TN

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#7 posted 05-13-2007 02:55 PM

here is a recent photo of the insides of the shop, taken the day of the delivery of the Church Side Altars

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View woodspar's profile


710 posts in 4098 days

#8 posted 05-13-2007 06:58 PM

Nice shop. Looks like you get some natural light in there. I had viewed the shop earlier this year, nice to see the inside of a pro shop. Thanks for posting. I loved the altars, they were beautiful.

-- John

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#9 posted 05-14-2007 05:59 PM

Thanks woodspar. If I had time to do it, I would replace all of the side walls with windows. I love natural light, and the view in all 4 directions is peaceful and beautiful here in the middle of nowhere. My closest neighbor is a mile away to the North. There is a house about a half mile away to the South, but it is only used during hunting season when the owner flies in to shoot a defenseless little deer, or turkey. So, it is quiet and peaceful, and I like it that way. I used to work in a housing development in a covenant protected neighborhood in Wichita, living at the end of the cul-de-sac. After arguing, and taking threats of lawsuits, from my neighbors about my doing woodworking in my attached garage, I headed for greener pastures, literally.

I don’t have a video camera to do the workshop video challenge, but maybe I can participate someday.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View woodspar's profile


710 posts in 4098 days

#10 posted 05-14-2007 07:07 PM

I work in my garage, but fortunately no one has complained – I have about an acre. My next door neighbor joked that it sounded like I was building an ARK, (maybe it had been raining a lot that week, I cannot remember…) I usually open the doors if the weather is good, and shut them if I am working late to somewhat dampen the noise. Of course, it is hard to get me out into that uninsulated garage in the winter time… :-) Your location seems ideal from here!

I also wanted to comment that I have been following your posts and appreciate the amount of detail you put in, especially in that you paint a picture of what it can be like to be an independent pro woodworker. Thanks.

-- John

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4404 days

#11 posted 05-27-2007 06:32 AM

Hey Woodspar: my neighbors didn’t have much complaint, and no grounds for any, until I quit my day job, and made the shop my primary income source. Then, the problems began. I’m glad that I left that place, and will never submit myself to living in a community with covenants again. Just too confining for my tastes. I’m too redneck and eccentric to fit well into a cul-de-sac again. I sometimes wonder if my yard will show up on the “red neck yard of the week” on Jeff Foxworthy’s Blue Collar TV show. Seriously.

It is nice to worry about other things than whether I have dandelions growing in my yard, and whether my grass is cut into perfect diagonal stripes. Things that I used to have to worry over. Now, I just try to keep it cut so that it is safe to walk in, that’s enough.


-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View restowood's profile


22 posts in 3713 days

#12 posted 04-01-2008 06:35 AM

As much as I hate the weather here in Ks. there is nothing like a drive in the country. Nice view and that barn will make you a very nice workshop one of these days. keep up the good work

-- "Nature provides us with the most beautiful things in this world"

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3987 days

#13 posted 04-01-2008 04:17 PM

Looks nice and cozy!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3820 days

#14 posted 04-08-2008 04:31 AM

Hi Mark,

I am just now getting around to touring your shop. I apologize for taking so long to get to it. But you have really nice shop space and I enjoy seeing sawdust on the floor. Pristine shops look as if they are not being used and that is not what a shop is for. You have a nice collection of tools to work with and I envy your heating systems. I have to use a space heater in the winter and hope I don’t trip a breaker (I do have my lights on another circuit).

Your shop looks something like mine when I am in the middle of a project (of course mine is a quite a bit worse). In fact my assembly bench gets so crowded with tools that I can’t assemble anything on it.

Thanks for the shop tour. I really enjoyed it.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View BTKS's profile


1986 posts in 3463 days

#15 posted 04-02-2009 07:38 AM

Mark, I wish I had found this site and your homepage about 11/2 to 2 years ago. I was mobilized to Fort Riley in 2006 and 2007. Used to love to bicycle and drive the countryside in your neck of the woods. I was just telling someone today about the flinthills and how neat they are. Spent time over in Abilene and still have some friends there I would like to see soon. I’d love to see your set up. Sounds and looks beautiful, I need to figure out how to use my space effeciently for my new shop. I don’t plan on going fulltime but don’t want waste space and resources for no good reason. Sounds like your making a lot with a little, something I’d like to get much better at. I’m currently in north Missouri and would consider it a privelidge to meet someday, your work is admirable and your lifestyle to envy.

-- "Man's ingenuity has outrun his intelligence" (Joseph Wood Krutch)

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