Working in a cold shop?

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Forum topic by guitarchitect posted 10-28-2011 04:28 PM 3010 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View guitarchitect's profile


38 posts in 2430 days

10-28-2011 04:28 PM

Hi all,

I’m brand spankin’ new here, but have been lurking on and off for quite a while. I didn’t have a reason to join until I could set up a shop space, and now my new rental has one! It’s a small garage, probably 8’ wide by 16’ long, but I’m hoping to make the most out of it. It already has a workbench built on one end, there’s an upper shelf for wood storage, and there’s at least 6 outlets (HOPEFULLY two circuits but probably not). There are a couple of lights, too, and the walls are covered in chipboard and it seems insulated – I’m pretty sure the last guy to live here used it as a shop, because it’s pretty narrow for a car.

Since it’s a rental, I have limited options. I’d like to start working right away, but I live in Toronto Canada and it’s starting to get cold! Are there any simple or relatively inexpensive options for heating a small space like this? And how will the finishing of pieces (like staining/sealing) be affected by the cold? I probably can’t keep any small space heater going 24/7, so I’m going to be limited somewhat. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the cold won’t affect finishing too much, because I would hate to have to wait until the spring to get started. Will the cold affect the tools at all? I’ll probably start off with a planer, router and table saw and grow from there.

Looking forward to your feedback and searching around the forums for a while! :)

18 replies so far

View Dragonsrite's profile


136 posts in 3424 days

#1 posted 10-28-2011 04:39 PM

Regarding the finishing… there is an article on page 16 of the September 2011 issue #206 of “Wood” magazine you may be interested in.

-- Dragonsrite, Minnesota

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2998 days

#2 posted 10-28-2011 04:53 PM

Welcome, officially; by a non-official.

Could I assume from your title you are a luthier, or want to be one?

If so, given your small shop size, you might be better served by a band saw rather than a table saw.

In regards to heat and finishing, no waterbased finish wants to freeze, ever.
Drying times are usually extended for all finishes by cooler weather, but air circulation plays a very big role as well. Moving dry cool air might work faster than static warm humid air; for instance.
As Dragonsrite said, there are articles on this subject. Do a Google search as well.

Another product you have to consider temperature with is epoxy. Some formulas require warmth to even work at all.

Cool machinery; be careful of condensation on cast iron surfaces.
Radiant heat (or heat lamps) directed at the cast iron surfaces minimizes this problem and is the least expensive way to provide at least a little creature comfort in a cool shop.

View guitarchitect's profile


38 posts in 2430 days

#3 posted 10-28-2011 04:54 PM

thanks for the heads up! looks like it should be useful!

View guitarchitect's profile


38 posts in 2430 days

#4 posted 10-28-2011 04:56 PM

my name is slightly misleading :)

I’m a guitar-playing architect, though the name would certainly suit a luthier!
I’m interested in building modern/contemporary furniture, credenzas, tables, shelving, etc. I will need to get the hobby to pay for itself so I’m hoping to begin selling pieces after making a few prototypes. I’ve had a lot of experience in pro shops over the years, but this will be my first foray into a home shop :)

View crippledcarpenter's profile


26 posts in 2474 days

#5 posted 10-29-2011 07:06 PM

Don’t worry so much about the size for you shop, it actually gives you an advantage in the heating aspect. smaller room, less effort to heat. Tool layout becomes easyer as well on cost and efficency. smaller bench top models can give you more space for a variety of tools and work space. Bench top drill press, 3 wheel bandsaw(deeper throat than two wheel), good quality table top table saw or contractor saw or hybird. in short a good layout on paper along with a little research can give you a well layed out very efficent shop that can change with your needs. A good book to check out is, Setting up shop. helps you gear the way to think about the process.
To address you first question on heat, if your shop area is insulated you could think of electric radiant basboard heat. dose not cost much to operate.

-- haste makes firewood.

View guitarchitect's profile


38 posts in 2430 days

#6 posted 10-29-2011 09:05 PM

Hey, thanks for the book recommendation! I’m going to check it out. It’s by Sandor Nagyszalanczy right?

For heat it looks like a portable oil radiator is going to be my best bet – the oil stays warm after the electricity shuts off so it’s a bit more efficient – since it’s a rental I don’t want to invest in baseboards. I may get some thick felt to hang in front of the door if it leaks heat.

I should probably keep the small shop discussion to another thread… it’s going to be a challenge!

View popsshop's profile


42 posts in 3003 days

#7 posted 10-29-2011 09:49 PM

Welcome, hope you’ll enjoy your membership. Sounds like you’ve been around woodworking a good deal, but I just wanted to mention the aspect of protecting yourself from the dust hazard. All of us should be concerned about this problem, but living in a cold clime where it’s necessary to maintain a closed work area, it seems extra important. If dust collection isn’t an option for you, consideration of a good quality dusk mask would be my suggestion.

-- Drilling holes in wood is a boring job

View guitarchitect's profile


38 posts in 2430 days

#8 posted 10-29-2011 10:41 PM

the point is well taken – I have had lung issues in the past, and don’t need those to be reborne. I plan on doing both :)

if there’s a recommendation on a good entry-level dust collection system, I would love to hear it. I was assuming a shop vac would do the job

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5621 posts in 3740 days

#9 posted 11-12-2011 06:58 PM

I live in Brandon, Mb so I understand cold, and I have half of a two car garage so I understand constraints on space LOL! I use a 220 heater I bought from Canadian Tire. On days I plan to be in the shop I turn the heater on the night before (anything over 10 degrees C works for me). I do not do finishing in the garage in the winter as it is just too cold to get a satisfactory finish. I store anything that freezing will ruin in the house (glues, stain whatever).

I was really concerned about rust, especially considering that the van comes in melts off all the snow and crap from the streets. I’ve waxed every metal surface I can reach thoroughly and after 3 years there is no rust on any areas that I can see. I also use Boeshield T9 when I know I am not going to be using the tools for some time. The downside to T9 is cleaning it up and I feel I need to rewax before I use the tool. I am planning to work on insulating my ceiling (I’m on the one bundle of insulation a month purchase plan, or as the budget allows ;-) this will help enormously on the heating cost. I often have a couple of weeks vacation in heating season and I leave the heat on all the time then, and yeah it does affect the electric bill but it is cheaper than me going squirrely LOL!

If you don’t have a source of moisture like a van in your shop, I believe your shop may actually be too dry and dry your wood out too much (a very low relative humidity once you take cold outside air inside and heat it 30 or 40 degrees). I actually dried out some cherry logs much faster than I thought possible in about three years just by keeping them in my shop. When I brought them in they were dead heavy, now they are amazingly light (not an accurate moisture measure I know but an indication of just how much drying had occured). I understand that the humidity in TO is probably much higher but this is just something to consider.

I also use a radiant heater (another CT purchase) and really like it as it is positioned over my bandsaw and if I swing it around it points at my table saw. So I can be warm at both of those tools. It is a bit too far from my workbench because a fluke of how the wiring is in my shop. Generally if I am planing or something at the bench I don’t need the additional heat anyway. Once the garage has warmed up it is often t-shirt warm in there…I am often quickly reminded that it is indeed Mb in January when I dash into the house in a tshirt at -35… brisk to say the least LOL!

Enjoy your shop!

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2953 days

#10 posted 11-12-2011 07:55 PM

Mark beat me to it, and Manitoba is likely as cold or colder than Alberta at times, I would also recommend a radiant heater.

Welcome to Lumberjocks!

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3298 days

#11 posted 11-12-2011 08:18 PM

Radiant heat is by far the safest. I used to heat my shop with kerosene or propane during the colder months….it gets pretty cold here…but nothing like Canada. I used portable job site heaters….they are efficient and quite toasty…the propane one worked good as I have a propane bar-b-que so I could share the tank – in the summer bar-b-que….in the winter shop heater. These types of fuels can be dangerous if not treated correctly – and certainly you need good ventilation (my shop was uninsulated and had an open ceiling).

Currently, my shop heats with a small wood stove (I don’t have the issue of renting). It is the best option yet as it also provides me with a quick disposal of my faux pas….plus I get the benefit of heat from them. I also get the benefit of the drying properties of the fire…it keeps the shop quite dry….and the finishes seem to cure/dry quite well. If you ever get the chance to design your own shop….I would wholly recommend a wood heater and heating in the sub flooring. I am always redesigning parts of my shop…and I have a big list of changes I would like to do – with smaller shops you seem to always be changing something.

Sounds like you came to the right place. Enjoy this site….it is an excellent resource for all things woodworking.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4950 posts in 3988 days

#12 posted 11-12-2011 11:16 PM

I have a couple of oil-filled radiators (elec.) that are very adequate for my shop. Shop is insulated well. I’m in Mississippi and we don’t have the extreme lows that you encounter. Bought ‘em at the blue box store. They don’t have any exposed and glowing elements that might cause concern about flame, etc. I’m always thinkin’ about the possibility a fire when heating is used in conjunction with finishing.
Just my solution, and they keep the shop warmed to about 50 faren. at night. I turn ‘em up to about 60 during the day. EH?


View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3113 days

#13 posted 11-13-2011 05:24 AM

Check the cost of foam board insulation, a friend had a really long narrow garage and he separated the back
part for a shop using the 4’X8’ foam boards, he used cheap paneling to face it so it would not get chewed
up and it worked OK, this would beat the felt for the garage door.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3923 days

#14 posted 11-13-2011 05:44 AM

Welcome to Lumberjocks! You’ll find lots of good advice and talent here.

I vote for radiant heat also. I do think one thing that will make a small shop work for you is organization (of course, big shops could use that also). It’s amazing how fast your small shop will turn into a teeny tiny shop if you don’t stay organized.

Secondly, I do all my winter time finishing in my kitchen. I’ve even done a small cabinet in the bathtub. Of course, I’m not married and my housemate simply rolls her eyes at my insanity. You may not be able to get away with this.

Have fun making sawdust.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View cloakie1's profile


204 posts in 2582 days

#15 posted 11-13-2011 08:39 AM

a warm shop is also a safe one… is very important to be able to feel your finger tips..otherwise if you have an accident and nic a finger, you may not realise until you have blood all over your workpiece….and blood stains are hard to remove

-- just get stuck in and have a go!!!

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