Adding Cheap And Classy Storage To Your Shop

If your garage is like mine, it’s a mess.

Periodically you spend a weekend cleaning up; cramming your tools and scraps each into their respective spots (or wherever they will fit), and sweeping up the sawdust and shavings, leaving your shop spotless… until you start your next project.

At that point you dislodge a tool and the materials necessary to complete your project, and you may has well have just pulled the pin on a grenade.

A short time later your garage explodes in a flurry of tools and shrapnel, that leaves your garage as bad as it has ever been, and quite possibly worse, while it waits for another free weekend to be cleaned up.

Making matters worse, I have many times promised to get the garage clean enough for my wife to park her car, but I have thus far been unable to maintain the upper hand for long enough to actually pull the car into its place.

After extensive study of this phenomenon, I started to study the root cause. Surely this is not merely a symptom of being a lazy slob. Surely this is not merely my own fault….


Thus, having ruled out personal flaws, I decided that the heart of the problem was simple: Storage.

I had some wire shelves, a rolling toolbox, a workbench, a hanging shelf, and a pegboard, but every tool I owned and used was living in increasingly cramped quarters, and there were some obvious opportunities to add enough space to get a little more capacity and flexibility in the storage system.

The first and largest opportunity: my metal working station.


When I designed my metal working station, I left large openings with the intention of someday building drawers and shelves.

About a week ago I realized I was never going to find it worthwhile to spend a day building a bunch of drawers while I had a backlog of so many more important/interesting projects (swingset, porch lights, shed, small truck for my daughter, speargun, radius cutter for my lathe… and whatever else comes up between now and the finish of those).

What if I just bought some drawers?

At first I thought I thought I’d use a coupon to buy a couple Harbor Freight toolboxes, since they are so much cheaper than anything equivalent from Sears or Home Depot, but I’ would have still ended up spending a few hundred dollars.

What should I do?

Begin theme music! …Possibly after advertisement!

<Note: Please leave this playing while reading the remainder of this article>

Enter the Swedes, stage left!


$40 KULLEN 3 Drawer Chest

$59 - Oh MICKE You're so fine!






Granted, there’s still a lot of cleanup to do, but I have now added more than enough storage for all of my metal working tools and work pieces.

And at a total of $100, it costed me less than I would have spent on the plywood and drawer slides to make the drawers that I would have never taken the time to build.

Those clever Swedes.

Mobile Metalworking Station

Aside installing sprinklers and a new lawn in my front and back yard, one of the major obstacles to getting a lot of use out of my metal lathe has been the fact that it’s sitting on the floor in my garage, rather than being kept at a reasonable height on a workbench or stand.
Metal Lathe Belts - Installed

My intention was to build a rolling workstation that held both my milling machine and the metal lathe together.

There were a few problems to solve with this idea:

  1. How would I make a rolling platform stable enough to be very top-heavy without risk of tipping over?
  2. With a 32″ wide lathe and a 30″ wide milling table that moves 18″ left and right, how could I create a shared space that wouldn’t be too big for my garage?
  3. How should I construct a platform strong enough to support 600+ pounds of equipment?

My initial thought was to build a long, narrow, freestanding workstation that would have the milling machine on one end and the lathe on the other; both aligned so that they could be used from the same of the workstation.

The problem with this is that the milling table when moved towards the lathe, would hit the tailstock on the lathe, and if I made the workbench long enough to accommodate the length of the lathe combined with the full movement of the milling table, the overall construction would be around 6 feet long.

Another problem is that the workbench would have to be fairly deep (at least 24 inches) to make sure it would not tip over during use or movement. So the overall footprint would be 6 feet by 2 feet, which is really just too big for the space I have

After a few mental gymnastics routines (one floor and two balance beam), I had an idea:

Since the workstation will be freestanding and I can access both sides, I may as well take advantage of that fact.

I decided to place the lathe on the back of the workbench and put the milling machine on the front.

So I took some measurements and figured that a 3 foot by 3 foot platform, about 30 inches tall, would fit both machines very well, be wide enough to eliminate the risk of tipping, and provide some good opportunity for storage.

The design was simple: plywood case and a bottom frame of 2x4s, held together with screws, and supported on four casters. I was confident that the structure would be strong enough to support the heavy tools, and the casters had a combined capacity rating of over 1000 pounds.
Platform Frame

I cut all the pieces out roughly on the floor with a circular saw and then trimmed them to their final dimensions on the table saw.

I ordered casters from; one pair of fixed casters and one pair of locking swivel casters. Both of these had a listed mount height of 3 1/2 inches, but when they arrived there was about an inch of difference in height that I would have to account for in order for the platform to sit flat.
Different Caster Heights

After building the bottom frame and platform, I started working on mounting the casters. I traced the casters on paper to compare the sizes, and found the difference in height was pretty close to 1 inch. Since my daughter was already asleep for the night, I had to find a quiet way to make a 1 inch spacer.
Different Caster Heights - Quantified

My solution was to put a 2×4 in the milling machine (which runs very quietly), and run it at a high speed to remove about half of an inch off the top of the board. This ended up working perfectly.
Making a spacer to extend the smaller caster
Making a spacer to extend the smaller caster
Making a spacer to extend the smaller caster
Casters... close enough
Small Caster installed

After installing the casters on the base I started working on the walls. Since I had already attached the 2×4 frame to the bottom, I could not run screws from the bottom into the edge of the plywood, so I had to figure out a different way to attached the walls to the base.

I briefly experimented with pocket holes, but quickly abandoned the idea, since I don’t have any of the bits or jigs to do this properly.

Instead I decided to make brackets out of short sections of angle iron that I quickly cut to length with my hacksaw and punched holes in on the drill press.
Attaching walls to the base

Once I attached the wall pieces to the base and each other, I attached the top, using Clamp-Its from Rockler and F-Clamps from Harbor Freight to hold everything square while I pre-drilled and attached the top with 1 1/4 inch deck screws.
Keeping it square during assembly
Keeping it square during assembly

I probably should have also used glue… but I didn’t, and everything seems very sturdy without it.

To answer your question: No I will not be using these pictures as part of my portfolio if I ever apply to work at a cabinet shop.

One corner of the work station has a 17 inch by 17 inch alcove in it, designed to house the base of my milling machine.
Installing the milling machine

Since one side of the installed milling machine would be up against a plywood wall, I needed a way to install and tighten bolts without being able to reach the top of them.

To get around this, I used relatively long bolts and taped washers to the top of them (to keep the washer from falling to the bottom of the bolt). I placed the bolts halfway into the pre-measured and pre-drilled holes so that I could slide the machine into place with the slots properly aligned with the bolts (if you look closely you can see the bolts in the back of the alcove in the above picture).

I got the machine most of the way up the ramp when things shifted a bit I was stuck needing an extra hand while balancing the machine. So I called my wife with my cellphone

  • first call: no answer
  • second call:
    • Me: “Hi, can you give me a hand?”
    • Wife: “Right now?”
    • Me: “Yes.”
    • Wife: “I’m trying to send a text, just a minute.”
    • Me: “I’m holding up a 300-pound milling machine, and I really need a hand right now, can the text wait?”

…and she helped re-position the ramp and keep the newly constructed workstation from rolling away while I scooted the milling machine into position.

Fortunately, the bolts I placed in the pre-drill mounting holes lined up properly with the slots in the base of the machine, and I was able to use a pair of Vice-Grips on the end of the relatively long bolt to hold it in place while I tightened down the nut (laying on the ground and working blindly to tighten these bolts reminded me I really need to do some maintenance work on my truck…).
Milling machine installed

It was then a simple matter to put bolts in the other pair of mounting holes and make everything nice and secure.
Milling machine secured

One milling machine done, one lathe to go.
Surface for the lathe

Although my lathe is not very big, it is heavy, about 250 pounds. And since my wife presents less of an obstacle to gravity than myself, I had to move it without her help (sure I could have called a friend, but I wanted to install it now).

I started by working back and forth between the two ends of the lathe, moving each side onto and incrementally taller stack of materials.

  1. Cinder block
  2. Cinder block on end
  3. Cinder block + a piece of wood
  4. Cinder block +  a bucket
  5. Little decorative end table + cinder block + 2 pieces of wood

…and then finally lifting the heavy end into place on the workstation.

bringing the lathe close to the height of the work surface

Almost there...

I was concerned that the stack of items supporting the opposite end would shift while I moved the heavy end onto the work station, so I had propped it up with a 2×4 clamped to the wall cabinet.
keeping the lathe from falling while one side is lifted into place

And it’s a good thing I did. You can see in this picture where the lathe shifted off the top of its pile and was resting against the propped up 2×4 rather than the pile I had built.
dents in the rig that prevented the lathe from falling while the other end was lifted

But all’s well that ends well, I supposed, and I now have a metal working station on wheels that houses my milling machine and metal lathe in a relatively compact space with lots of extra room to add shelves and drawers… someday.
Lathe and milling machine installed

How To Shop At Harbor Freight

If you are unfamiliar with the Harbor Freight retail chain, hopefully you know of a similar concept near you with unbelievably cheap tools that are frequently dismissed as “Chinese Junk”. If this is the case, substitute each reference to “Harbor Freight” with the retailer of your choice, because the basic assumptions and principles will likely hold true.

If the concept of such a retailer is completely foreign to you, you should still read this post, because I am sensitive to rejection.

If you are extremely familiar with Harbor Freight, you can skip the next two paragraphs, and save yourself a few seconds.


Harbor Freight is a remarkable store. All manner of tools can be purchased for absurdly low prices, and there are always sales and coupons for even bigger discounts.

It’s a wonderland for the budget-conscious Do-It-Yourself-er in pursuit of a well-stocked garage. I have clamps, angle grinder blades, earmuffs, safety goggles, a vice, a bench grinder, magnetic tool holders, air hoses, a small hydraulic shop press, a tap and die set, bi-metal holesaws, a gas motor, and a flux/mig welder, all from Harbor Freight, and each is serving its purpose admirably.

<those of you already familiar with Harbor Freight, resume reading here>

However, my relationship with the company has not always been so symbiotic.

My first experience there was terrible.

This was several years ago (seven, I think), during a  trip to visit my family in Washington. My dad was looking for a certain type of wrench, and I was looking for parts to make a potato cannon.

I was immediately struck by the amount of JUNK merchandise on the shelves.

“There’s no way a $10 angle grinder will last more than a week…”

“For a tool store, I sure am seeing a lot of plastic…”

I didn’t end up finding what I was looking for, and vowed never to darken the door of a Harbor Freight store again, or a Walmart (same family visit, different story).

I held this view and kept my vow for four more years before my heart started to soften. This thaw was precipitated by a change in circumstance followed by a sudden realization:

Circumstance: I bought a house with a garage

Realization: Harbor Freight sold a welder… at a price I could justify to my wife


I had been looking at welders and wandering through cyberspace reading rants and reviews, and my initial dismissal of all references to Harbor Freight gave way to a remarkable fact, people were buying these welders and were giving them good reviews.

This fact deeply disturbed my worldview.

No longer could I make character judgments upon hearing the statement “I bought it at Harbor Freight”.

No longer was the term “Happy owner of a Harbor Freight tool” a laughable oxymoron.

Up was down, down was up… what was left that I could know was true?

I bought the welder.

Once I got used to the basic principles of welding and worked through a few projects (such as my router table), I could confirm that this was a very usable welder that turned out good-quality welds that looked clean and were plenty strong for my purposes.

After buying an auto-darkening welding mask from Harbor Freight which also worked without any issues, I began to wonder if  my initial assessment, and the widely-held sentiment, of the retailer’s inferiority was completely erroneous.

I found some coupons and went back to the store and bought some F-clamps and a bastard file. The F-clamps worked great. The bastard file was useless.

So I started forming a more accurate picture of Harbor Freight’s merchandise: some of it’s great, some of it’s junk.

I continued to make selective purchases, and slowly developed a series of guidelines and bits of wisdom to keep in mind while shopping at Harbor Freight:

  1. If you need precision, buy elsewhere, and don’t be stingy, tools with tight tolerances are NEVER cheap
  2. If the cheapest version of a tool at Home Depot is unreliable, the Harbor Freight tool will be just as bad, but not worse
    • A cheap air tool or rotary tool will probably die young, wherever you buy it
  3. Don’t buy anything with a lot of moving parts
  4. Don’t buy power saws (Circular saws, reciprocating saws, compound miter saws), the motors and the bearings they use tend to burn out prematurely
  5. If the tool is simple, blunt, and made of metal, the Harbor Freight version should be okay
  6. Subscribe to Popular Mechanics
      • Aside the fact that they often review Harbor Freight tools, they, like many magazines, contain a regular Harbor Freight ad, with a “20% off anything” coupon


This is not a foolproof system, or universally correct, so if you are considering a particular Harbor Freight tool that you cannot afford to have fail, check reviews online and consider buying the extended warranty.

Even after taking the above guidelines into consideration, some of you (as I once did) may have a bit of an ego to swallow before you enter Harbor Freight, let me help you with that:

Of course, that being said,  your first choice for the majority of your tool purchases should be Craigslist… and I’ll still never shop at Walmart.

Coming Soon: Something.

While I doubt there are many people out there on the internet compulsively clicking “refresh” on, wondering when the latest content will arrive, I thought it might be a good idea to let everyone known why I haven’t posted anything lately, and when I will start posting again.

First excuse: I’m busy, leave me alone.

I have been busy with work, being a dad to my nearly 1-year old little girl, and a husband to my beautiful wife.
But that’s nothing out of the ordinary. In addition to this, I have been helping a friend weld together a new bumper for his jeep, and I had been planning a camping trip with some friends that took place last weekend.

That’s where this happened:

Second excuse: … actually, I think the first excuse pretty much covers it.

I do plan to start generating some content again very soon, but I may not be regularly updating until I get through July, due to the nature and quantity of calendar entries between now and then.

Some of the things I will be working on when I get back into the garage are:

  1. completing the cyclone dust collector
  2. figuring out a workbench layout that will hold my tools AND allow me to use them without them interfering with each other
  3. taking apart and re-purposing this thing I bought on craigslist (yes, I fell off the wagon)

So please be patient, and if you don’t want to be stuck clicking “refresh” for the next 2 months, just click “follow” and you’ll be notified when I’m able to do something interesting in my garage.

Making a Bench Top Drill Press Into a Floor Model Drill Press

When I bought my drill press, a couple years ago, I had three criteria:

  1. I wanted it to be sturdy
  2. I wanted a depth-stop that wouldn’t wander or slip
  3. I wanted it to be cheap

I was not looking to buy the best tool I could afford, simply because I had very basic needs.  I didn’t want lasers, bellows, work lights, digital readouts, mini fridges, or anything else manufacturers find necessary to attach to a drill press.  All I really wanted to do was drill repeatable holes. So I ended up buying a Skil drill press from Lowes for about $90 (it has a laser, but as far as I can tell, the laser was free).

When I was building my dining room table, I designed the top to be held together with doweling, and so I had to drill straight holes into the ends of 4-foot long pieces of wood to receive the dowels.

Since I could not fit a 4-foot piece of wood in my drill press, I loosened the top of my drill press and swung it out over the edge of my workbench so that I had as much clearance as the space between the drill press chuck and the floor.

Today, I was working on re-arranging my shop a little bit, and in the process of moving my drill press, I decided to solve the problem in a more permanent way.

The first thing I did was remove the base of the drill press. I set it on its side to make this easier.

Drill Press - Removing the base

I then started to install the base in the new location, but deliberately installed it backwards to bring the mounting circle closer to the front of the workbench. Since my drill press only had two mounting holes, and would be hanging over the edge of my workbench, I made a small metal plate to span the slots in the base so that I could add additional screws near what was now the back of the base.

Drill Press - Base Partially Installed 2

I then also bolted the base down through the normal mounting holes.

Drill Press - Base fully installed

The last step was to re-attach the press to the base, backwards relative to how it was initially mounted.

Now it looks a little funny, but as you can see, the chuck is hanging over the edge of the bench, and so if I need to work with a piece that is too long for the standard bench-top capacity, I can swing the drill press table out of the way and work with the floor as my lower limit.

Drill Press - Side

Another benefit of this arrangement is that the shavings from my drilling fall onto the floor, instead of onto my workbench.

Drill Press - Front

Hide-Away Router Table

One of the first projects I took on after buying a welder was making a router table.

I made it 36″ tall, 18″ deep, and 32″ wide with a 10-gauge steel top and an aluminum insert/adapter plate. Shortly after completing it, I realized that it was too big for my garage.

Even though it is a lot smaller than my table saw, I will not be using it nearly as much as the saw, so I am not willing to dedicate as much floor space to it.

I considered making the table short enough to slide under the workbench, but this would have made it too short to work on comfortably.

Another idea I had was to use drawer slides mounted on the bottom of the workbench, but again, this made the table surface too low once it was set at a height that would accommodate the workbench frame and the router table fence.

And so I came up with a solution: Hang the table from the bottom of my workbench and swing it out when I want to use it. This would allow me to store it away when not in use, and bring it up to a usable height for use.

Here’s the concept in sketchup:

To accomplish this in reality, I basically cut up the legs on the router table, and bolted them back on upside down, and then hung the whole thing from the bottom of the bench.

Since the table is made of metal, it’s heavy, so I added two 30lb gas springs to the back to help lift the table into position.

Once the table is raised, I have two pivoting legs that I drop into position to hold the table up at a comfortable working height.

Here is the finished product:

Table Saw: Support and Storage

My table saw is huge… but unstable.

I noted near the end of my previous post on the topic, that I would need to revisit the saw, since it is top-heavy and in danger of tipping to the right due to a lack of support under the expanded table top. So that is how I spent my free time this weekend.

I wanted to continue using my table saw’s mobile base, so I needed to find a way to extend it to support the far-right end of my table. I decided the best way to do this would be to install a plywood floor in the mobile base and then install a support from this floor to hold up the right end of the saw.

For some reason I thought 1/2″ plywood would be sufficient, so I measured out and cut the necessary pieces with my circular saw (I used an offset straight-edge to guide the saw).

I was planning to use some angle iron to extend the mobile base frame, but was having trouble figuring out how to attach it to the existing frame without having to redesign the whole thing.

I was also starting to realize that the 1/2″ plywood was far too thin to make a stable floor for the saw, as it would bow significantly in the middle (the mobile base only supports the corners).

To solve both of these problems I figured I needed a rigid floor that I could simply attach the ends of the mobile base to, instead of trying to make the mobile base itself support the length of the floor.

I happened to have a piece of 3/4″ plywood on hand that was about the right size, and I screwed it to the bottom of the 1/2″ piece I had already prepared. This alone was pretty sturdy, but I decided to further reinforce it by attaching the angle iron to the sides.

This made for a very solid floor that did not bend at all when I attached the mobile base ends to it and tested it by standing in the middle.

After wrestling the saw onto the base, I secured it by clamping it down with pieces of plywood screwed to the main floor.

In order to support the right end of the table, I built a box out of the 1/2″ plywood to act as a single leg.

I glued and brad-nailed the box together and installed it with a combination of glue and brad nails on the bottom and an angle iron bracket on the top.

The table saw is now fully supported and the extra space on the right side is perfect for housing my compound miter saw (I had considered putting my shop vac here, but then I bought the compound miter…). I’ll probably put a shelf above the miter saw to keep other miscellaneous tools and scraps, but that can wait. For now I am happy that I have sturdy table saw with enough surface area and fence capacity to do anything I need to (and plenty of things I don’t).

Note: In the pictures the saw appears to be leaning to the right, but this is mostly an optical illusion, and partially because I should adjust the feet of the mobile base, but a slight tilt toward the fence won’t impact performance or stability, in fact, it might help both.

Bicycle Storage Solution

My garage is too small.

To be fair, most garages are too small, but I have a lot of tools and toys that take up a lot of space that I use regularly, and so I am particularly keen to figure out ways to keep big things out of the way, and yet within reach.

Things like my bicycle, wheelbarrow, and lawn mower.

My first priority is the bicycle. The wheelbarrow and lawn mower can be pushed against the wall and blocked by a parked car without too much inconvenience, since I only use them every couple weeks or so (although I should use the mower more frequently). But I frequently ride my bike to work, and it is a real hassle if my wife’s car has it pinned into a corner when I’m trying to leave for work.

I’ve seen hooks for hanging bikes from the wall, and these are good if you have a lot of unused wall space, but I want to put shelving and other storage options on my walls, so I decided this wouldn’t work

In my hunt for a solution, I also came across bicycle lifts, that would pull a bike up to the ceiling.

These are neat, but my ceilings are only 8 feet, and my bike is nearly 4 feet tall, so I wouldn’t even be able to walk under a bike hung from one of these.

After a little more thinking, I came up with an idea: I could use hooks to hold the bike near the ceiling, and then use the bike lift, or something like it, to pull the bike parallel to the ceiling, effectively laying the bike on the ceiling instead of letting it hang down.

I sketched out my idea.

I came up with this idea on a Wedesday, and I wouldn’t have time to do anything about it until Saturday, but I had to do something with all the plans running around in my head, so I made a mockup in Sketchup…

Saturday morning finally came and I went to buy my supplies and came home ready to build my new hybrid bike lift (catchy name, no?).

I basically followed my shopping list, but instead of buy long hooks and eye bolts, I just decided to lag-screw some 2x4s onto the ceiling and use normal hooks and eye bolts to screw into that. My total cost was about $30, because I bought a nicer rope than I had on hand (would have been about $20 if I had practiced restraint).

I started by picking a spot on my ceiling where it would be accessible even with a car in the garage.

Next I measured the distance between the center of my front and back wheels, this was the distance I would space the hooks from eachother. It was about 42 inches which was nice because I had a scrap 2×4 that was about 48 inches long.

I measured out the location of a couple ceiling joists, and then transferred those measurements onto my 2×4 to drill holes for the lag screws to go through.

I attached this to the ceiling with 5″ lag screws (to get through the layers of fire-rated sheet rock and into the joist), and test-fitted the bike.

You can see in the top right, that I also lag-screwed a board that will serve as the anchor for the pulley, which I attached to an eye bolt by prying the bolt loop open and pinching it shut around the pulley.

I screwed this into the board on the wall and strung my rope through it and down to a cleat that I screwed into a wall stud at a convenient height for hooking and unhooking the rope.

On the bicycle end of the rope I tied a loop and then attached the carabiner to make a quick way to hook onto the bike frame to hoist it onto the ceiling.

The final product:


I’m more than satisfied with this system. It only took a couple hours to complete and keeps my bike completely out of the way. I can freely walk under it (assuming I keep the floor clear) and can quickly take it down when I want to use it.