I’ve always been a DIY-er on a modest scale, tackling home repairs and small projects within the limits of my ability. No workshop other than sawhorses and a WorkMate, and basic tools to match—a no-frills circular saw, Sawzall, handheld electric drills, levels, wrenches, files, C-clamps. My Ryobi 10” job site table saw is only thing resembling a “wood shop tool”—I bought it to reconstruct the rotted-out tapered drain floor of a small outside window well.
Late last year I set my sights on a bigger task to grow my skills—reconstructing the exterior stairs and landings that connect the main floor and deck/garage/backyard levels of our 100+ year old SF Victorian. Though do-able with just a circular saw and table saw, this seemed a good reason to add a bench tool that I’d been researching while dreaming of a wood shop in the garage: a first-rate SCMS. Enter the Bosch GCM12SD “glider”, an early Christmas present to myself. Way more chop-saw and precision than I’d need for the stairs, but I considered it a “forever” purchase and a gateway to bigger and higher-caliber home remodeling projects and woodworking.
But the saw languished in its big blue box in the garage for a month. Sitting crooked, on the seriously-unlevel cold concrete floor of the workshop of my dreams. It’s basically half of a 2-car garage—the half that’s un-parkable due to the house being set into a hill. The space is 12’ wide x 28’ long, with a hard-to-ignore compound slope—12”-15” of fall along both the short and long axes, and lots of height variation within that crooked plane. A ball will roll downhill; the table saw on a cart will try hard. The back 12’ or so of the long dimension is my partner’s ceramic studio (potter’s wheel, electric kiln, wedging table, etc.). I’d whitewashed the walls and added shelves in her area, but not addressed the floor. Its un-level-ness was frustrating when I mounted her lazy-susan corner base cabinet—another free find on Craigslist. I knew every incremental improvement would become a custom leveling job. She’s dealt with the angled floor for 20+ years, but had dreamed of one that was level and warm. I knew that for a real workshop I needed a level floor from the get-go because in a small shop most tools would be on rolling carts—sometimes needing to migrate into the adjacent “car space”, and I’d go batty re-leveling mobile tools every time I moved them.
So the first project became… a level floor for our combined workshop space. Ah, but how to level it? We ruled out a professionally-installed fresh concrete pour—too expensive, too much down-time while the new pad cured, and too “final” in case we wanted to radically re-think the space in the future. Ditto “self-leveling concrete”—neat stuff, but waaay expensive in all but small quantities. I zeroed in on “subfloor over tapered sleeper” construction, having done rip-tapers on a micro-scale when I re-did the 2’ x 4’ window well. But with 12” or more of cross slope I’d be ripping 2×12s—and the compound floor plane was uneven. I realized that “deck-style” construction would work, with 2×4 x 12-foot floor joists supported by a band-joist outer frame, and intermediate supports (beams or uprights over PT sole plates) at the 4’ and 8’ one-third points. The two high edges of the perimeter would be PT 2x planks anchor-screwed to the foundation walls. The long, low edge along the garage mid-line would be a cripple wall supporting a ledger. Along the far short wall I could lag-bolt a ledger onto the wall studs. The finish floor height would be 2 steps up.
Enter Craigslist—a huge resource here in the populous Bay Area, with email search-alerts so I could jump on deals. A pickup truckload of reclaimed T&G 3/4” subfloor an hour’s drive south, with side stops to score a basic Craftsman router+table, a basic Delta 9” BS100 bandsaw, and a free 8’ bare bones OSB-and-2×4 farmer’s workbench. Another drive for 20 reclaimed 2×4x12” joists-to-be from Firewood Farms in Half Moon Bay, whose new owners are expanding into salvaged construction lumber (and amazing sawn log blanks—but that’s for future woodworking). Two more forays for a Delta 11-990 drill press—low-end for sure, but an OK starting point, and well-used Delta 50-850 Dust Collector, whose seller threw in a basic Ryobi RE180PL1 plunge router for $20 more. Lastly, a DIY-grade Johnson manual-leveling rotary laser level for $50 to see where the joist-top line would intersect the 3 walls.
And so I began, by evicting the car and moving my stuff into its place (leaving the ceramic studio intact for now). Here’s the temporary move in progress (subfloor ply leaning against the column that supports the glu-lam beam that divides workshop space from car space).
The northwest (uphill) end of the future workshop, rolling out the poly. The “high corner” is at upper right.
The little rotary laser that could—I can’t imagine having tackled the floor build without it.
Much more to come…
-- Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts. (Tao Te Ching / Lao Tzu)