Putting Together a Workshop

It’s been a very busy six weeks. I will try to catch up in the coming days.

Luke, the college student who has worked for me since he was fifteen, was due to be home for three days in April on spring break. Two months ago we made plans to build during that short window. Last spring he and I had started an addition to my barn and worked only two days before a family crisis intervened and we’d had to quit. That lumber has been sitting stickered and waiting in the garage for a year.

My dream was that in these three days we might finish the addition’s frame and get the rafters up. This would mark a huge jump forward and would mean that I could continue with next steps on my own.

Because our time would be so tight I decided to skip my usual hand tools, and borrowed a nail gun and compressor from my friend D. Lucy and I stopped on our way home from a dentist trip to Vermont and bought the very expensive galvanized nails to fit the gun. I gathered my plans and drawings and printed out detailed instructions from Len, the designer, in New Hampshire.  I ran D’s heavy-duty lead cord, thick as a snake, out the barn window. Everything was set.

And then it started to snow and sleet. The wind howled, blowing stinging ice at 35 mph. Working outside would be miserable. Arrrgh!

I’ve been so busy on other fronts that, faced with this setback, part of me wanted to abandon the work plan altogether. I could always use time to regroup and reorganize. However Luke is such a wonderful worker that I could not pass up the opportunity to have his help. I told myself firmly that any progress made on anything on my list would be a step forward.

And so it has proved. We put together my new garage workshop, for which I have been slowly assembling materials for the past three years.

*   *   *

Back in the summer of 2010 Lucy and I had picked up a truck-load of kitchen cabinets I’d found on Freecycle. They were from the 1970s and only pressboard, but I thought they would be fine for shop storage. The cabinets have sat in an untidy heap in the garage ever since.

At 5 AM Wednesday, I googled “how to install kitchen cabinets” on the internet over my morning coffee. At 8 AM Luke and I started work.


Boxed-in plumbing on the east wall of the garage dictated the mandatory height of the upper cabinets.


Neither Luke nor I had ever hung cabinets before, and we shared a childish glee as each one went up. Gee, they look just like… real cabinets!


Last fall I’d traded with my friend Larry for an old, heavy-duty Delta table saw. Before Larry, this saw had belonged to my dear friends Sue and JPM. I told Larry I would think of him, Sue, and JPM whenever I used it. (Larry said with a quick grin, “And that makes it priceless!”)

The big saw, too, had sat waiting in the jumble of the garage. It was so big, actually, that it threatened to take over all the available space — possibly crowding out future cars. I decided I wanted it to be able to slide it under the work counter out of the way when not in use.

To achieve this, Luke and I had to raise the base cabinets 3.5 inches from the floor and pull them 5 inches from the wall. We set the frames on blocks of treated 4×4. These scraps of 4×4 were left over from stacking materials for building the garage back in 2009. Luke had been part of that project, too.


Next, the counter-top. This past August the school renovated its computer room, discarding an extremely heavy counter that was 18 feet long and 3 feet wide. I’d asked the maintenance boys to cut it down to 11 feet long. In the midst of other chores, one day last fall Alex and I had manhandled the behemoth down to the farm and slid it, puffing mightily, into the garage, where it too had waited.

Now Luke and I set it with great difficulty on top of the base cabinets.

“This will be tough,” I’d warned Luke. “This thing weighs a hundred million thousand tons.”

Luke, who is a math/science major, looked at me quizzically. He smiled and waggled his hand in a see-saw gesture. “More or less!”

In the end we used a battered metal table stand on wheels that I’d snagged back in 2009 when the school cleaned out its maintenance building. I’d figured one day I’d use it as a support for long material feeding from a table saw. Now it was perfect for trundling the monster counter-top across the garage.

At three feet wide, the counter was so deep that the cabinet drawers were inaccessible. We decided to trim it down to 32 inches. We snapped a chalk line, cut it with my Skil-saw, and then reversed it. It fit perfectly.


Six months ago, when I’d had a little spare change, I’d bought some pegboard and added it to the FUTURE WORKSHOP stockpile. Now I put in a call to Larry, whose beautiful workshop lined with pegboard I’ve admired, and left a message, asking him how best to install it. Larry called me back from Harry Potter World in Florida. He told me to rip thin strips of wood and hang them behind the pegboard every couple of feet for support. Thank you, Larry!

I had some furring strips left over from roofing DH’s woodshed in 2011; I drove out to the cabin, dug them out from under tarps and snow, and we set them to dry overnight. To rip them in half, we needed to use the new table saw. Unfortunately the blade was missing a crucial bolt. My friend D came out after work and fixed it temporarily. Thank you, D!


Luke and I ripped all the strips and while I worked on other jobs, he attached the narrow furring strips to each stud.


He measured around the cabinets and we trimmed the pegboard to fit. Then he measured openings for the electrical sockets and cut them out with a jigsaw.


At last it was all done.


The cabinets are ready for storage. The saw, the rolling table, and the work stool all fit neatly under the counter. My gift from Lucy last Christmas was two big boxes of pegboard hooks — I’ll soon be able to hang up all the tools currently rattling around my truck, my office, my barn, and various corners of my kitchen.


It will be great to put everything away. Thank you, Luke!


10 Responses to Putting Together a Workshop

  1. Jane Wellker says:

    Wow!! I am thoroughly impressed!! Great job!! 🙂

  2. Elaine Murphy says:

    Kudos to you both! Great job….This Old House has nothing on you!!!!

  3. Fabulous work and so neat and tidy WHILE you worked. And the best part is that it is mostly recycled!!!

  4. Brenda says:

    Great job! I am envious.

  5. Fred Wilbur says:

    You did a great job! I have hung kitchen cabinets before and you both did a fine job. Anytime Luke wants to work in Western PA for a while, let me know. I have many home projects he would help with.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Thanks, Fred! Isn’t Luke wonderful? We have had a lot of fun figuring things out together over the years as we’ve both gained experience. I’ll tell him about the job opportunity!

  6. viki barney says:

    Great job! My brother-in-law drew an outline around each tool, so everyone would know where to re-hang it . It kept things very neat.

  7. Susanna says:

    Wow! This is really impressive – from collecting to planning to execution. I love how it turned out!!!

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