Kevin Brady - My Informational and Personal Interest Pages

A Brief Tour of My Wood Shop Construction Project

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I finally finished my shop - that six-month free time diversion into which I poured countless hours and dollars. What has been referred by me as "Woodshop II," "Shedzilla," "outbuilding," "barn," "eyesore," or just plain "shed," is now standing in my back yard. It's the biggest yard shed in my neighborhood -- the maximum dimensions allowable by city code in my community. Sure, it would have been nice to have built a huge 24' by 40' monstrosity, but my 10' by 20' structure is the largest I can pull off here in suburbia. What I have is very compact and efficient as a woodworking shop. It has been a fun (and sometimes frustrating) project, one that has provided an immeasurable learning experience for me. I even managed to lose a few pounds from all of the physical effort involved. Moreover, I was able to move my woodworking tools and equipment out of the 2-car garage and into an environment dedicated solely to my pastime. No more of the constant moving of cars in and out, no more dust and woodchips finding their way into the house, no more heating a poorly-insulated garage in the winter.

I have decided to highlight the construction process in a logical sequence, step by step, in the hope that it may inspire others who have similar aspirations. I want to demonstrate that it is indeed possible for urban and suburban denizens to enjoy a dedicated woodshop while taking up a modicum of real estate. Yes, it can be done, and you can do it too. Below is my story in pictures and words. What a long, strange trip it's been.

I have scanned and made available a few of my sketches for the shed project. These are downloadable here in PDF format, and you are free to use them for your personal, non-commercial applications. Keep in mind that these drawings won't provide anything close to a how-to for building sheds. The drawings are rather rudimentary, and probably have more meaning to me than to anyone else. Besides, there are plenty of good books and online articles that delve into the workings of utility building construction. Rather, my sketches may give you a basic insight to what I had constructed. Use them as an impetus to design your own shop to your own specifications and needs.

1. Site preparation.

This was my previous shop, in my 2-stall attached garage. I shared this "shop" with two cars and the sundry assortment of other items that were stored there. Most of my tools were mounted on mobile bases to roll out of the way to make room for the cars, lawnmower, snowthrower, etc. While this arrangement had served me well for the past 10-plus years, one can easily see its drawbacks. It was hot in there in the summer, cold in the winter, and the poor insulation made it difficult to adequately heat. In addition, wood dust invariably found its way indoors, and the noise of power tools did not create a pleasant experience for anyone inside the house.

The old shed. Although in good condition, it had to come down to make room for Shedzilla. Kind of sad to see it go, as I had built this one only 9 years earlier. It would've been nice to give it to someone, but alas, no takers willing to move the 1000+ pound structure.

One minor task in preparation of the site was to remove the Buckthorn bush that was in front of the old shed. Buckthorn, by many measures, is considered an invasive plant, and damn near impossible to eradicate. This required cutting it down, and killing the roots with full-strength Roundup, lest the resilient plant re-emerge. I drilled 1/2" diameter holes in the tops of the stumps and poured in the herbicide. I didn't want to see this hardy shrub coming back and pushing its way up through my new concrete pad.

Next step was removing part of the box garden adjacent to the old shed. Looks like our vegetable harvest will be quite a bit smaller in coming years.

The rubble of the old shed on "demolition day." I had removed the siding, notched the studs and pulled it down using ropes. The collapse was flawless. No one was hurt, and we didn't create a neighborhood nuisance. Lots of friends and neighbors were on hand to help cut up the debris and chuck it in the dumpster.

The site is now clear and ready for grading. A Bobcat would have been useful at this point, but instead I got my exercise digging and grading the site using shovels and rakes.

Debris from the old shed (and a few other items) filled up a 20 cubic yard dumpster I had rented. I initially thought I would need only a ten yard bin, but fortunately I had the presence of mind to double that when ordering it.

2. Layout and setting the forms for the foundation, and pouring/finishing the concrete.

Batterboards and mason lines outline the footprint of the foundation. Local ordinances allow yard sheds of up to 200 square feet in foundation area, so I chose a 10' by 20' size.

After grading and with the addition of three cubic yards of class 5 gravel, I set up forms for the foundation using 2 x 8 lumber. The front step is in the foreground.

Rebar in place. I used pieces of old concrete paver blocks to raise the rebar 2 inches above the base. The monolithic slab will be 4 inches thick, 12 inches thick around the perimeter.

Rebar connections tied with steel wire.

PVC pipes for the electric and phone line service entries, along with a #4 solid copper wire bonded to the rebar lattice to create a Ufer ground plane. The Ufer ground will be used in parallel to augment the 8 foot metal rod I will drive in the ground for the electrical system later.

The foundation pour, just after it had been floated. Pouring the slab required 4.5 cubic yards of delivered concrete. A friend had loaned me his concrete tools for the job. Doing the concrete pour was rather fun, but you have to move fast, and it's good to have a few friends to help.

Installation of 1/2" L-bolts, which will anchor the sill plates of the walls to the slab.

I made a groove across the center of the concrete to allow for the inevitable cracking.

3. Framing the walls.

I set up a miter saw station in the yard using a couple sawhorses and scrap lumber.

Now that the foundation slab has cured for a week, I layed out the green-treated sill plates and drilled corresponding holes to accommodate the L-bolts.

I drilled holes in the sill plate for the PVC service entrance conduit pipes. Due to the size of the holes, I needed to reinforce the sill plate with galvanized steel straps.

I framed the 2x4 walls in sections on the ground, and erected them on the pad. First I would place a layer of 3-1/2" wide foam "sill seal" along the edges of the slab to provide a gasket between the sill and the slab. Then I would lift a wall section and lower it onto the L-bolts. It's good to have a helper for this. Using a cordless impact driver, I tightened the nuts on the L-bolts, then braced each wall with 2x4 supports. I nailed on temporary cross braces as well, to keep the wall sections square and to prevent racking.

Another view of the first two wall sections.

I constructed the long (east and west) walls in two sections each, so that they wouldn't be so unwieldy to erect.

North, east, and half of the west wall done.

Now all 4 walls are up. This process didn't take long, and having a good pneumatic framing nailer really paid off.

Another view of the wall framing.

Double 2x8 header and cripple studs for the doorway. I have a big, home-built set of double doors to hang in here later.

Framing for the windows in the east and west walls. I had picked up three nice double-hung windows from a nearby Cragslister for free. I'll install two of those and store the third one in case I ever need to replace one later.

I framed a double top plate along the top of each wall, overlapping them at the corners for added strength.

4. Framing the roof.

A load of 10 foot, 4/12 trusses. These are off-the-shelf items I picked up at Menard's. In fact, all building materials used for the shed were standard items from local home center stores. Nothing was special ordered for this project.

I installed the trusses at 16 inch O.C. spacing, using vertical braces to support the gable end trusses at each end. Although the trusses are relatively small and lightweight, it is wise to have a friend helping. One person to hand them up, the other to set them across the walls, inverted. Then it's just a matter of swinging the apex of each upward, and nailing them in place.

I nailed in 2x4s across the bottom chord of the trusses to maintain spacing and to add support.

Cross-bracing is important to add lateral support and to prevent the trusses from tilting.

5. Constructing the exterior.

With the walls and trusses up, I installed 1/2" OSB sheathing on the exterior walls. Since the sheets are 4' x 8', and the walls are 10 feet high, I needed to add another 2 foot section to the height. I staggered the 4x8 sheets for more rigidity.

Sheathing installation complete.

I added fly rafters for gable overhang.

Gable overhang framed.

Inside view of wall with sheathing.

The shed is now fully framed and wall sheathing in place. I'll be ready to move on to the roof soon.

Before I installed the roof decking, I needed to nail in cleats onto the tops of the walls, between the trusses. These cleats would provide edge support for nailing on the ceiling later.

Most of the 1/2" OSB roof decking in place. This is another task best done with the help of a friend, as carrying sheets of OSB up a ladder is an unwieldy task alone. One person on the roof and one on the ground to hand up the sheets.

View from the inside after the roof decking was installed.

Before I installed the windows and doors, it was time to apply Tyvek or similar housewrap to the exterior walls. This material is impervious to liquid water, yet is sufficiently porous to allow vapor to pass.

Special cap nails were used to prevent tearing of the housewrap.

All seams needed to be sealed with housewrap tape. This is not a place to skimp -- make sure the housewrap is buttoned up tight with no holes or gaps. It is reasonably certain that water will eventually find its way under the siding, and the housewrap system is the layer of protection to keep water out of the walls.

I wrapped the window openings with 30# roofing felt, then installed the windows. After centering and leveling the window, I nailed it in place with galvanized casing nails.

I sealed the gaps around the window frames with spray expanding foam. Be sure to use the type of foam that is designed for sealing windows, as this type has moderate expansion. Other spray foams expand too much, which can distort or even damage the window frames. Ditto for door frames.

A view of the shed with the door and windows in place.

The next fun chore was to install the roofing materials. Naturally, the weather was sunny, humid and in the 90s at the time, with not a breeze to be had. Nevertheless, I needed to forge ahead. I attached 30# roofing felt to the roof deck, and added drip edges.

View with the shingles installed.

Roof vents are a good idea. They dissipate excess hot air from the attic space, saving on energy costs. And, yes, I will install a small window air conditioning unit next summer. I didn't go to the trouble of building this nice wood shop, only to languish inside in the summer heat.

"Aerial" view of the roof. Actually taken from the peak of my house. I seem to have no aversion to heights.

Framing of the cornices. Later I will install plywood soffits to the undersides.

6. Electrical wiring and fixtures.

IMPORTANT: If you are considering doing your own electrical wiring, make sure you are fully prepared to do that type of work before you begin. While many electrical projects are fairly straightforward, you can quickly get over your head if you don't have adequate knowledge, abilities or preparation. Shoddy electrical wiring can present a shock or fire hazard. Buy or check out a good book on basic home wiring to acquaint yourself with the fundamentals. Learn the proper techniques, code requirements, and safety considerations of do-it-yourself elecrical wiring. Contact your local electrical inspector to find out what permits you will need. In some jurisdictions, DIY electrical wiring is not allowed at all.

Doing some basic electrical wiring can be rewarding and interesting--if you take the time to do it right. Know the applicable codes, apply the proper procedures, have the right tools, and use the correct materials and fixtures. Don't cut corners. Obtain the necessary permits and have your work inspected. Do not ever try to hide anything from the inspector. Above all, if you have any doubts at all about your ability to tackle the electrical project at hand, do the right thing and hire a qualified electrician to perform the work. It will cost you some money, but it's far safer than risking electrocution or fires.

Note: I am not an electrician and nothing in this article shall be construed as the dispensing of electrical wiring advice.

I do have a background in electrical engineering, and am comfortable performing many types of electrical design and wiring. Even with my technical background, I have nevertheless found myself learning a lot about the ever-changing electrical codes and procedures prior to delving in to those wiring projects. In my state (Minnesota), occupant homeowners are allowed to perform certain electrical work on their property. I have competently wired numerous circuits around my home, with all the work passing inspection. However, I must emphasize that this kind of DIY work isn't for everyone. Be safe.


This is where the really fun part begins: the electrical work. I knew that electrical engineering degree would still come in handy once in a while. I installed this 100 amp main breaker panel in the shed to serve as a sub panel. Though rated for 100 amp service, I will only be feeding this with 60 amps. The feeder to this panel will be connected back at the main panel, with a 60A double-pole circuit breaker. The reason that I used a "main breaker" panel instead of a "main lug only" panel for the sub was to have a disconnecting means available here.

A view of the incoming PVC for the subpanel.

Since this sub panel is located in a separate building from the main panel that feeds it, the ground and neutral must be separate. Thus, I needed to install a grounding bus bar and copper grounding electrode conductor. The latter is bonded to an 8 foot copper-clad rod driven into the ground and the Ufer ground system.

Here is the grounding electrode conductor (coming in from the right), bonded to the grounding electrode (left) and the lead to the Ufer ground in the concrete slab.

Outlet boxes nailed to the studs for the various 120V and 240V outlets.

I drilled 5/8" diameter holes in the studs to pull the non-metallic (NM) cable through. I installed "nail plates" over the edges of the studs to protect the wiring from nails and screws.

Some of the wiring installed.

The branch circuits are connected to their respective overcurrent devices (breakers) at the sub panel. There is no power connected to any of this at this time. A rough-in inspection is required before I can power it up.

Outlets are installed now. You can never have too many of them. All 120V outlets are wired on 20 amp branch circuits, as I have many tools rated at 15 amps and I want to avoid nuisance trips. I also installed several 20 amp 240 volt outlets on two circuits for my larger tools, like the band saw, dust collector and jointer.

Here is a 30 amp 240 volt dedicated outlet that will supply power to the 5000 watt heater I will install.

Switches for the lighting -- one switch for the outside porch light and the other two for the overhead fluorescents. Each switch supplies two 8-foot double fluorescent lamp fixtures. I installed cold-weather high-output (HO) fixtures, with electronic ballasts (less flickering).

Overhead wiring for the fluorescent lamps with junction boxes. All of the lighting is connected to a dedicated 15 amp branch circuit and circuit breaker. That way, if I trip a breaker while using a power tool, I won't be standing in the dark with a spinning blade somewhere.

I thought that having an outdoor outlet on the west wall would be a good idea for all those yard work applications like weed trimmers, etc. Here is the back side of the outlet box, seen from inside the shed.

A view of the outdoor outlet box roughed in.

The outdoor outlet with outlet and cover installed. Electrical codes now require outdoor outlets to have weatherproof covers that can close while cords are plugged in. The old outlets with the little flip covers won't pass inspection anymore. This box has a robust, hinged plastic cover that accommodates plugged in cords while closed.

An outlet on the ceiling. This will prove useful for plugging in the room dust filter unit that hangs from the ceiling.

The back side of the weatherproof box for the porch light to be installed on the front gable above the doorway.

Gable-side view of the roughed-in box for the porch light.

The #2 AWG aluminum-alloy feeder cable that will connect the shed's sub panel with the main panel back in the garage. The feeder is comprised of four conductors: 2 "hots," neutral and ground. Since the cable I needed comes with 3 conductors wrapped together, I needed to buy a single conductor cable for the fourth. The entire cable assembly would be 65 feet in length -- enough to span the length of the buried conduit and feed inside to the panels at each end.

...And since I now had two cable sets (the 3-conductor and the single), I could not bury them directly (code violation). You can only directly bury a single cable assembly, not separate, parallel cables or assemblies. Thus, I needed to enclose them in a conduit raceway. I picked up some 2" Schedule 80 PVC.

Here is a view of the service entrance to the main panel in the garage. I would run a trench from that point, to the shed. The little bush had to be relocated, and it now happily resides near the other side of the house.

Excavation near the garage. I had called Gopher State One Call to have the buried cable locations marked. Hitting a 150 amp 240 volt underground cable with a shovel would not be enjoyable.

I strung a mason line to mark the path of the trench.

First part of the digging -- removing the sod. This became rather pointless, as the sod was basically trashed already and not worth keeping. But I still needed to separate it from the soil I would remove, and later replace as backfill.

Here is the PVC extending from the main panel and into the trench.

Next step was to feed the four feeder conductors into 10 foot sections of PVC outside the trench.

I glued together the straight sections of PVC -- about 40 feet in length, and lowered it all into the trench. I fed each end of the cables into the PVC connections at the main panel and at the shed.

View of the completed conduit run in the trench. Electrical codes required a trench at least 18 inches deep for conduit-encased feeders.

View at the main panel showing the feeder cable pulled through the conduit, ready to be connected to the feeder circuit breaker.

Incoming feeder cables at the other end, connected to their respective lugs in the sub panel.

The ground cable connection in the sub panel. The cable with the green tape is the aluminum feeder conductor, the fat bare copper wire is the grounding electrode conductor.

The 60 amp double pole circuit breaker used for overcurrent protection to the feeder.

The 60 amp breaker installed in the main service panel with the two current-carrying (hot) feeder conductors connected. This operation is best done with the main panel's power shut off. Looks like I'll be resetting all the clocks in the house now.

With the rough-in inspection passed and everything properly connected, it's time to power up the feeder circuit to the shed...

Checking for proper polarity on the shed's outlets. Good to go.

Put the cover on the sub panel.

After partially backfilling the trench, I next ran the phone cable inside 1/2" PVC conduit.

Phone cable at the shed end.

Low-voltage box installed for the phone jack.

Finished backfilling the trench and tossed some grass seed on it. I later called for the final electrical inspection. It passed.

You want more? What's wrong with you? If you insist...the story continues on the next page...

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