When you are a builder/fixer one of the difficulties of apartment living, or living in a small space in general is finding a place for a workshop. In my case, I have semi-public spaces I can work in, I just can’t leave anything lying out overnight to dry or set. I do have an actual shop space though. It’s about 7.5′ x 8.5′ but how much can you really do with a 65 square foot workshop?

The WorkshopFor all intents and purposes the shop is laid out as follows. The door is in the middle of one of the short sides. From the door, the bench is to the left, it is 8 feet long and 24 inches deep. Under the bench on the left side, closest to the door, is a small compressor, a 5 gallon waste bucket, a 5 gallon dirty rag bucket, a shop stool, and a bench-top drill press. Under the bench on the right side are large tools, mostly bench-top stuff. On top of the bench are 4 small-parts organizers and a 12 drawer tool chest. At the end of the bench is a 6 inch space between the bench and the back wall for storing small materials. There is a 4 foot wide center isle that runs the length of the space. A ladder and a rolling cart are up against the back wall. To the right of the door are two 6 foot tall storage shelves that are 3 feet wide and 18 inches deep each. On the shelve are tools, consumables, supplies, and shop miscellanea, all stowed and containerized. At the far end of the shelves is a rolling tool chest.

The space fills up rather quickly when you have a small shop. For my work needs, the space I have is adequate. For tool repair and small craft, electronic, jewelry, and other hobby projects the space works reasonably well. One of the things I am working on is putting in some ventilation. This is a must for any workshop that you will be sitting down and actually working on stuff. A small shop will heat up really fast without proper air flow, of course there is the removal of hazardous vapors and gases to consider as well. Soldering, working with adhesives, paints, or any other items in a long list of potentially dangerous substances necessitates good ventilation, and not just adequate ventilation.

A major consideration for my shop remodel this year was the new project I have been planning. A project like this normally requires more space, but by building the small sub-assemblies first and storing them until needed in the final assembly, I can complete a large project in a small workshop. The key is to be able to schedule your work around the available space. At least this all works in theory, putting it into practice is always the real test. In the past I have been able to complete a number of large projects with limited space, but this one is going to stretch my scheduling abilities to the max.

What’s the project? Building an airplane. Building an airplane is one of those projects a builder thinks about for a long time before jumping in and actually do it. A lot goes into a project like this. There are a lot of parts I can manufacture and small sub-assemblies that I can build before needing more space. I am prepared to build 80% of the airplane with the space available right now, and I do have some less-than-optimum fall backs in case I am not able to swing a larger space when the time comes. I wouldn’t start a project like this without having things planned out throughly including back-up plans. There has to be some flexibility built into the schedule of any large project. Regular re-evaluation of plans and back-up plans is also a really good idea.

The reason I bring this up is to remind you that you can take on big projects with a small workshop. I know boat builders who use a 10′ x 10′ Tuff-Shed in the back yard for tools and small materials, putting large lumber under a tarp while they build their boat. I’m not talking about a four-man row boat here ether. I know one guy who built a 32 foot sail boat that he had to lift over his house with a crane to get it onto the trailer when he was done. He sold the house and sailed his home-built boat around the world… twice.

Sure, that’s an extreme case, but with careful, detailed planing you can build motorcycles, cars, boats, airplanes, or just about anything you want in a small workshop. All you have to do is put your mind to it, and let your dreams take flight.