Garage or basement, where’s your shop?

October 31, 201446 Comments

Congratulations to our t-shirt winners Aaron and Chris! Thank you for your comments and regardless of where your shop is, when you wear the t-shirt you’ll always look awesome!

Over the years a common question I get is in regards to shop location, specifically, garage versus basement. I know a lot of you have some very strong opinions on why you can’t or won’t have a shop in the basement. All of which are valid as far as I’m concerned.

bathroom cabinet construction

Probably the number one reason I hear is dust, quickly followed by noise, and then there’s the concerns about moving materials/tools down the stairs and into the shop. Then on the flipside, there’s the issue of moving large projects back out.

I can say without a doubt, I’ve struggled with each and every one of these concerns, so I’m not just brushing them off and suggesting they’re not that big of a problem. Because they can be! For most of these there’s ways around them, they’re not always easy, but there’s ways to handle them.

But perhaps the number one reason for me to find ways to make a basement workshop work is that I can woodwork year round! It’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I can more easily control the humidity in the basement than I can in a garage, which means my tools are a little less prone to rust issues and my lumber is more stable (not that I’m worried about wild fluctuations anyways.)

Perhaps another reason I like having a basement workshop is that my wife and I are a little crazy in liking the idea of having our cars safely tucked in the garage. Sure a limb can break off and spear a hole in the garage roof, almost taking out the driver’s side of the car (real story from a couple of years ago.)

But if you lived in a neighborhood filled with tall oak trees, one on either side of our driveway, you would be familiar with the sound of falling acorns like rain on the roof. Or the constant oak sap that covers your windshield, so much in just a few hours that you have to scrap it off in order to drive. To avoid dealing with these issues, I’ll gladly take the inconveniences of a set of stairs versus having to rearrange the garage floor to accommodate one or both vehicles.

At the heart of it, there is no right or wrong answer to Garage versus Basement for a workshop location. They both have their pros and cons and all that matters at the end of the day is that you’re in them enjoying this shared passion we have for woodworking.

Perhaps the happy medium in this debate is a detached shop? I know I’d love one, how about you?

Where is your shop? If you had to list the top reason why you chose it (other than because it was the only thing available) why did you? And what is the biggest complaint you have about it (other than wishing you had a larger version LOL?)

Leave your comments below, and in two weeks we’ll randomly select one to win a “Your Brain on Matt’s Basement Workshop” t-shirt.

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  1. Tom Iovino says:

    Well, Matt, here in Florida, basements are known as in-ground pools. 🙂 So, for me, the only option is the shop in the garage. Which means that yes – the cars stay on the driveway, getting a ton of UV exposure and rained on. But, for a decade plus, there has been very little in the way of complaining.

    The garage is awesome for access for bringing materials in – taking projects out. There are even days when I can open the garage door and expand the shop a bit onto the driveway if I’m working on something large.

    Security becomes an issue, though. A wide-open garage door with all those tools in plain sight can be tempting if someone drove by and I was ‘indesposed’ in the family reading room.

  2. Ted says:

    I have a teeny tiny little shed with no electricity. I live in greater new orleans so it doesn’t get too cold till late December or January. I chose the shed cause that is all I have. Plus I am renting so limited what I can do. I just wish it had a solid electrical circuit instead of running an extension cord to the outside outlet for light.

    • Matt says:

      I can see where that would be a big downer, but thankfully you don’t see it as too much of a burden and keep on woodworking. Good for you! Thanks for sharing.

  3. John Dengler says:

    Hi Matt, the question for me was pretty easy to answer since I don’t have a basement. Even if we did have a basement though I would probably be out in the garage (less likely to share space out there). One problem that we’ve started recently having is vehicle security though. We’ve had windows busted out and items stolen from inside of them a couple of times in the past few months. I will admit though that having that huge garage door to open it in the summer is really nice.

  4. chris says:

    T-SHIRT WINNER No. 2

    Not much of a choice for me – I live in California, and there are pretty much no basements here at all, so I am in the garage by default. It is warm enough year round to use without additional heating (attached to the house, so not too bad anyway). I do get concerned occasionally when it rains given humidity changes, but if you’ve seen the news from here recently we’re in the worst drought in like 30 years, so not too concerned!

    On the plus side for a garage for me is ease of access and natural light when opened – big garage door so it is super easy to bring large pieces in and out – like full plywood sheets, tools, etc.

  5. My woodworking partner Joe’s girlfriend Marcia was amazingly generous to let us have half of her big partly above-ground basement for a shop. There is a garage door so it is easy getting supplies and finished furniture in and out. There is a fireplace to take off the chill in the winter. And the basement is enough under the ground so that it stays relatively cool in the summer.

    The basement is spacious and there is enough natural light to make it non-cavelike. Joe’s computer is in the shop, and he has a decent set of speakers, so we can listen to whatever we like on Pandoro while we work (Joe likes outlaw country-rock and I like Al Cooper style blues). The only drawbacks are the cinderblock walls that are hard to nail to, and the concrete floor, for all the reasons that concrete floors are a problem.

    At the opposite end of the basement from the shop is a store room that we can use for finishing. That way we have less of a dust issue. Upstairs is a cooler full of beer, plus Marcia with her children and grandchildren to visit with after work is done. So I’d say our basement shop is darn near perfect.

  6. Brian Biggs says:

    Basement – unfinished half is the workshop. Year round woodworking, outside door from basement, power and an 8′ ceiling. Just don’t have windows. After 10 yrs in ohio working out of the garage, when we moved to northern virginia there was no questions about the shop in the basement. heated in the winter, cool in the summer (opposite of the garage!) and aside from some household storage – it’s all mine!

  7. RNorman33 says:

    I also use an outdoor shed (10×10) shared with lawn stuff, bikes and critters. A single 15amp circuit shared with the outside lights does what I need to: provide lots of light and a radio to listen to any game I can catch.
    I was never a huge baseball fan until I had it in the background using hand tools.

  8. Joe Forner says:

    I have a had a shop in the basement and in the garage The garage is far the best because I can work with out people complaning about noise dust and tools laying around.The biggest disadvantage of the garage is there is no heat so I cannot work in the winter Next year I plan on put in so type of heat have any ideals???

    • Matt says:

      Sadly Joe I don’t, but we did buy my dad a large gas space heater for his garage a few years ago. It definitely works, to bad he never uses it more than once a year LOL!

  9. John Resnick says:

    Howdy,
    Three houses ago I had a basement 25 X 35 feet with a 9 foot ceiling. It was the best shop that I ever had. The next two have been in the garage as neither house had a basement under their slab floors. Unless you build a shop from the ground up, you’ll be compromising making a non-shop into one. Right now my shop is so full of junk that I try to find what I need and work on the driveway, not a happy solution!
    John

  10. Michael Mathews says:

    I’ve had a shop in the basement and solved the noise issue with insulation. The dust will always be a problem if the heating and A/C is shared with the house. I’m currently in a detached workshop that is climate controlled. It’s great in the summer and winter when it’s nearly at working temp any time. The biggest advantage that I see to a detached workshop is the travel between. In rain, snow, etc, it’s miserable for a minute. Otherwise, I highly recommend saving then building it right!

    • Matt says:

      I’d love to build a shop, unfortunately we barely have room for a full-size shed in our backyard. I agree there can be an issue with dust, but if you take the right precautions it’s no worse than the usual amount that rolls in naturally.

      Of course, that’s assuming you plug all the holes and change the furnace filter a little more frequently LOL.

  11. Steven says:

    Machines in garage and hand tools in dining room. Single means you can eat dinner at your workbench or over the sink.

  12. BikerDad says:

    No choice for me as I live in a townhouse. Garage. No basement, no option for a shed or detached shop.

    What I dislike about it is it has no windows. I can open the garage door, but that’s it. The side walls are shared with other units in the building, the back wall opens to my unit. Were I building the units myself, I’d at least have done the windows in the garage door thing, but even that seems to be becoming ever more rare. Back in the day, it seems like almost all garages had some natural light, now builders want to button ’em up like sardine cans. (Don’t get me started on the disconnect between what builders call a 2 car garage, and what all the woodworking magazines and shop planning guides seem to think constitute a 2 car garage.)

    One upside to my garage is that it’s remarkably good at moderating the temperatures. If I come up with a heating solution, I expect I can work all through the winter out there as long as I don’t open the garage door. With a unit above it, and others on both sides, as well as mine behind, I only have one “wall” (the garage door, which is insulated) exposed to the elements. While it’s not quite as stable as a basement, I suspect that a small heater and keeping the garage door shut would allow me to work throughout the winter.

  13. Paul B says:

    I’m in downtown Toronto, where most garages are old wrecks because you can’t get a permit to replace them without shrinking them well away from the lot lines. Ours isn’t fit to be insulated, so I’m in a 9×9 room in the basement, which is fine because I’m only using hand tools, with no big sheet goods or machine dust to deal with. I like being able to pop into it for a couple of hours without having to worry about heating it up first. I feel pretty lucky. Natural light would be nice though.

  14. chad says:

    Best of both worlds walk out basement especially living in upstate New York

  15. Joe says:

    When my better half and I started woodworking as a hobby about a year ago, we were about to rent a workshop together with one or two other hobbyists. Somehow this workshop never happened and we are still stuck with our living room. Yes, living room. There was no other option because basement is under water regularly. Needless to say it’s all hand tools and always in fear of still too much noise for the neighbours. Looking forward to moving to some place with a workshop where we can work 24/7.

  16. Kevin McGarrahan says:

    Half (14′ x 30′) of two-car garage – supposedly – other half is 14′ x 24′. Have a full 38′-by-32′ basement that has been converted into living space for extended family. Garage is overwhelmed with storage that I have to move to use my shop. Most of the time, I spend an hour moving stuff to get use of my power tools.

  17. Jason Young says:

    My shop is in a 15 x 25 area of my walkout basement so I have two big windows and a door to my shop. I just built a 12 x 16 shed in the back yard and considered moving the shop out there but then I’d have to heat, insulate, go outside etc. Why would I do that when I can woodwork in the basement in my pajamas with a coffee on Saturday morning any time of the year? Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a big stand alone shop but for now my basement is my fortress of solitude.

  18. Mike says:

    My shop is the garage. When the weather is nice, I love having the garage door open watching the world go by as I work. Other than a kerosene heater, I have no climate control, so the shop is unusable during temperature extremes.

  19. Tim says:

    I was working in a too narrow, too short and too low basement shop that had the furnace at one end and the air handler in the middle! Five years ago, my wife and I decided to build an addition for an new garage and raise it 8′ to eliminate a very steep (15% grade) driveway slope which in New England winters was a minor disaster. So we built a 4-car garage with rooms above (looks like a barn), a metal roof and a floor made from 10″ thick, pre-cast slabs which provided me with a 24’x45′ shop below with an 8’4″ ceiling height. I also got 2 of the 3 bays of the old garage. It also has radiant heat in the slab and its own sub-panel. I have had no problems with moisture. The only downside of a basement for me is the lack of daylight.

    The shop has 12 4-bulb, 4′ T8 light fixtures which provide lots of light for my 67-year-old eyes. With all the add space I have a pretty well-equipped shop now. I added a SawStop about 1 1/2 years ago and love it. I also have a bunch of Grizzly stationary tools and Veritas hand tools. It is a real joy to work in and an escape for me.

  20. Mike Brogan says:

    I prefer the basement due to the consistent temperature and security, Plus your car has less exposure to the elements, because you can use your garage for its intended purpose.

  21. ArtPaltz says:

    I have a two car garage. When I first started I used one half and my wife used the other half for her car. She gave me a joiner as a birthday present one year and didn’t realize that she also gave up her half of the garage in the process. Her new car has never had the protection of a garage. I always make sure that at least one project a year is something that she wants. It keeps peace in the house. I only wish I had a three car garage because I have too many tools.

  22. Lee says:

    Moved into new house in September and I am still setting up the new shop. It is a 22×30 standalone shop. Materials are easy to move, just back up to the overhead door. I can bee as loud as I want and not bother the family. I do concede that if the building wasn’t pre-existing on the property I would be setting up in the attached garage. While the idea of heat in a basement shop is compelling, I hate stairs.

  23. Ray says:

    My shop is in the garage. It has two bays but my wife insists on parking on her side at all times. So I can put her car in the driveway during the day but it comes in at night. All my big tools are on mobile bases. In the North East it gets rather cold in the wintertime so I have a kerosene heater. Not ideal but better than nothing.

  24. John Fitz says:

    I have a basement shop, mostly because it was available space (here in New England, I wanted to make sure the cars could get into the garage on those cold winter mornings). It started small, but when we renovated and added on to the house we had a full foundation, and added the space to the existing basement. I can now keep the major machines all set up and connected to dust collection, instead of pulling them out one by one.

    I like a basement shop for a number of reasons:
    – it stays warm in the winter, and cool/air conditioned in the summer (central air in the house) **favorite reason**
    – it’s easy to just ‘pop in there’ to check something, clean up, or waste time (as opposed to a detached shop).
    – It’s isolated from most traffic in our household. If I was in the garage, more people (i.e. the kids and their friends) would be going through the shop to get in or out of the house.
    – it’s more secure.
    – easier access to power and easier to run new outlets.

    Now for the parts I don’t like but live with –
    – very little natural light.
    – very little natural light.
    – very little natural light.
    – carrying everything down a set of stairs. Thankfully, after a renovation, it’s now a straight shot and away from my main tool area so it is easier. I can easily carry a 4×8 sheet down by myself.
    – low ceilings – I’d love to have higher ceilings for better lighting and more vertical space ** most disliked *
    – any sort of finishing requires some sort of exhaust fan to keep fumes from getting into the house.

  25. Ned Bulken says:

    Matt,
    I’m in the third camp; a dedicated stand alone shop, though one that isn’t a garage. I suppose that qualifies as Garage in this discussion however. I have only 240 sf of floor space, but that’s plenty for me. I can make all the mess I want, year round, though I do have to thaw out in the winter months. Basement wasn’t an option here, a) we have a crawl space (high water table) and b) we don’t have a garage.

  26. Aaron Day says:

    T-SHIRT WINNER No. 1

    Being in west Michigan parking vehicles in the garage is a must, especially in the winter. Last winter I had 6′ snow banks along the driveway due to drifting each day. The extra 20′ of the garage was the only saving grace for getting out in the morning some days.

    The basement workshop has all of the above limitations mentioned in your posting. I do have a 4′ x ~2 1/2′ window into the basement (not shop) which allows me to get large sheet goods and larger projects in and out of the shop. But the window is screwy and takes an hour of fiddling with it to get it out and put it back in so I avoid it when possible.

    One of the limitations I recently fixed in a basement shop that you didn’t mention is lack of light. I luckily do have a single small window into the shop which provides a little natural light (as well as a window to throw smaller scraps out). But it was really installing 5 sets of 4′ shop lights which really helped out. Adding the additional lighting really makes a difference when it comes to working in the evening hours of the winter.

  27. Matt Hartley says:

    I have a very inefficient 2 car garage, this includes 4 kids worth of bikes and other crap, i used to have a basement shop that was 20 x 10, i do miss it as the space restrictions made it efficient, time for a remodel of the garage shop

  28. I have both a garage workshop and a detached workshop.

  29. Matt says:

    Well first shop was in a garage,moved to new house and the basement,next house shop was in the basement.Current house started in garage,now have dedicated shop that can be used as a garage if needed.

  30. I’ve got a portable building out back. A nice size but expensive to heat in the winter and unbearable in the summer. I’d gladly trade it for a basement shop for those reasons alone. I wouldn’t mind carting anything but sheet goods down stares. those could always be broken down to rough dementions in the garage so really noise would be my only remaining concern.

  31. Joshua Wixom says:

    Hey Matt:

    Until recently I lived in a house that had a basement that was open at the front of the house and had a garage door for parking a rather small car. But, of course you know that that space was better served as a shop. So you could say I had both a garage and basement workshop. It was great to work down there in the summer because it remained 5-10 degrees cooler, but in the winter it was just too cold to work.

    My finance (the one who accidentally hit you at Keystone the night of the WIA 2013 party) and I have moved to the DC area so my shop now is packed up in a small storage unit waiting for me to find space for it. Now my shop resembles one akin to Marc’s, at least in my head anyway. Cheers!

  32. Leocárdia Seifert says:

    Olá, povo do meu coração, minha oficina é na parte inferior(baixo)não é porão) da casa, como compramos algumas máquinas ficou pequena, a proposta é transformar a lavanderia que também fica na parte inferior da casa em oficina, assim terei mais espaço para instalar as máquinas. Amo trabalhar com madeira, Terei muito trabalho para terminar a oficina grande desafio para cumprir. Como o espaço é pequeno faço somente peças pequenas. Ainda pretendo comprar um torno, acho fantástico o trabalho com torno.
    Um abraço a todos.
    Léo

    Translated to English (roughly):
    Hello , people of my heart, my workshop is at the bottom ( low) is not basement) house , we buy some machines was small , the proposal is to transform the laundry room which is also the bottom of the house to shop , so I will have more space to install the machines . Love working with wood , I will be working to finish the workshop challenge to meet . Since the space is small only do small parts . I still plan to buy a vise , I think the fantastic work around .
    A hug to everyone .

    Léo

  33. John Verreault says:

    Oddly enough, owing to the design of the house (circa 1917 Arts & Crafts), my basement and my garage are the same area…more or less. So I have a “hybrid” workshop. The only thing I would love to have is a foot or two more head room. Some areas of my shop either polish my bald spot or cold clock visitors square in the forehead. Such is life.

  34. Similar to Ted, I don’t have either option open to me. The nice thing is the shed is attached to the house; the downside is that it was intended as a storage unit.

    I’ve had both a basement shoo and a garage shop. While I love the convenience of woodworking in my jammies, sometimes I need that separation of shop and home. Even just going to the garage can provide enough mental transition to woodworking mode.

    In the end, we do what we love where we can. Sometimes we make sacrifices to do that. Sometimes, the ones around us need to make those sacrifices.

    (But if anybody is willing to host others for shop time, I won’t complain. Think of it as a chance to let others try “the right side.”. They will feel the same way when they host you.)

  35. Rick Owen says:

    Garage for me. It was an easy decision since I don’t have a full basement. I do have a fan and a heater when necessary. Living in the Western North Carolina mountains we don’t get excessively hot or cold so I’m fortunate in that I can work in it most of the time. This year I did get a bug net I can hang over an open garage door entrance in the hotter months and help keep the room cooler without letting in mosquitoes or other pests. My biggest misgiving is I run a shop vac hooked up to my compound sliding miter saw both of which are rather loud. My next door neighbor goes to sleep early and in the spring/summer has their bedroom window open and that just happens to be only about 75 ft away so later night sawing is out of the question. They are very good neighbors and considerate of us so I’m glad to return the favor and keep it quiet. Still I’m very happy with my shop.

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