Shop Visit: Jack Olsen

This is a standard-issue two-car garage that I went through and set up to work for carpentry, metal fabrication and service on my 1972 Porsche 911. Everything you see is homemade, secondhand or repurposed–and I did all the work myself, from setting the floor tiles to curving the steel crossmember for that front bench to digging the pit and pouring the concrete for the hydraulic lift.

The total budget for the project was only $3500–including the lift–which meant buying up damaged industrial cabinets, cutting, welding and reinventing them so they would work as well as possible in such a limited space.

A 20x20-foot garage will turn into a junk box in a hurry, so the emphasis with this place was to provide a lot of storage, a lot of working surface (there are 10– yes, 10–workbenches), and also to make the whole deal easy to clean up when a job is finished. Everything has a place and every square foot is maximized. Workbenches swing down from the walls, and the lift lowers flush with the floor when it’s not in use.

The lift makes dropping the 911’s engine quick and simple. At the same time, the wheels, suspension, exhaust and transaxle are all easy to access. The workbenches were all built to a uniform height, which meant I could span them with a fixture for the long sections of the wroughtiron fence I welded together for my front yard. It took some work to put this place together, but it’s worth it every time I don’t have to run out to the store because another tool or piece of hardware somehow managed to get lost in the back of a drawer or buried under a pile of junk.–Jack Olsen

Do More With Less

How much to duplicate this home shop? About $3500– plus lots of hard work. And Jack has some tips for other small garage owners. His motto: The floor is not a shelf. As a result, everything has a home.

Make a Plan

Just as an exercise, think about a place where you would want to work. Think about what it would look like. Scale that idea to the size of your shop, but don’t think about the physical limitations of your shop as it is right now. Then sketch it out on a piece of paper–try to get an “ideal version” of the place in your head before you go back to your practical starting point.

This sketch will help you a lot later on. It’ll be like a compass when you get lost in the forest of pragmatic decisions.

Stay Out of Tool Stores and Off Those Trucks

If your budget is limited, don’t get caught up in the thrill of buying the absolute best there is. Think about low-cost paths to getting the workspace you need so you can get up and running without having to stop and save more money.

I couldn’t afford sets of shiny matching cabinets, so I bought a bunch of damaged ones, fixed them up, and painted them all the same color. Now they match. I’m proud of the fact that just about everything in my shop is secondhand, repurposed or homemade.

Build a Shed

Time changes most garages into storage closets– whether it’s for rakes and lawnmowers, kids’ toys, holiday ornaments or spare car parts. My motto from early on was: The floor is not a shelf.

Cluttering the place up with boxes or spares makes it harder to clean up, and it eats into the space where you could be doing work. I built an inexpensive wooden shed for storage. I want every square foot of my small garage to be available for actual work.

The More Benches, the Better

I prioritized working space in the garage. I have 10 benches in my 20x20-foot garage. Two fold down from the wall. One actually lowers from the ceiling. I used that one for 8-foot sections for my front yard’s wrought-iron fence.

I think guys imagine only working under their cars and forget how much of even that work is going to be done at a bench. And if that bench fills up, we end up crouching down on the floor–which slows everything down and accelerates a project’s tendency for entropy.

Be Realistic About How You Work

I wrench on my old Porsche. But I also do carpentry and different metal fab projects.

In a perfect world, I’d have several different shops. But since that’s not an option, I made different work zones in the garage. Mixing sawdust, metal shavings and a vintage car is something you have to be careful about.

I move the car outside for many jobs, which means I can have benches fold down into that space for the really messy work. I’ve also made a simple enough layout so that I can quickly blow the place clean with a leaf blower before the old car comes back in for the night.

Use All of Your Space

I put in as many cabinets as I could fit. I put storage for pipe clamps and cheater bars underneath one of my longer benches. I took my air hose reel and turned it sideways inside of a bench I built so it wouldn’t be out in the open.

You can store a lot of stuff up above where the garage door rolls. And the place where the walls meet the ceiling is a great place for so-called soffit cabinets. If you find a place for everything, your cleanup time will get so fast that it won’t feel like work.

Learn New Skills

Tallying up the cost of hiring pros to do the job can make any change seem prohibitive. When I started my shop, I didn’t know how to weld, or set tile, or cut and pour concrete.

I broke the job up into manageable pieces and took a patient and humble approach to Internet research and listening to the advice of guys who knew more than me. I didn’t decide I had to have the project finished right now.



Build Something With Your Kids

The love of cars and our make-ityourself ethos is always just one generation away from extinction. When my son was 5, he got his own bench in my garage.

I’m trying to involve him in a way that’s fun for him, never just convenient for me. Building a robot out of wood blocks and metal scraps might not help to get my car ready for its next track day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

I hope to instill in both my children an appreciation for creating things out of thin air and constantly transforming the world they live in, not just picking things out of catalogs.

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Comments
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sirrichardpumpaloaf
sirrichardpumpaloaf Reader
2/3/16 2:50 a.m.

One picture shows lights that appear to be hanging from the overhead door. Am I seeing that correctly or is that an optical illusion? If they're mounted to the door, how does that work?

gjz30075
gjz30075 HalfDork
2/3/16 6:28 a.m.

A great exercise in efficiency! I've 'taken' many ideas from his writings over on the GJ forums.
Thanks David for posting it here.

petegossett
petegossett PowerDork
2/3/16 10:03 a.m.

My biggest problem is every horizontal surface ends up filled with clutter - stuff I may need, but not things I know I want to keep permanently enough to have a dedicated place for them. It also always seems like a rush to finish a project by a certain deadline: bedtime/end of the weekend/end of vacation/etc. which tends to push cleanup to "later"...which invariably never happens.

Any tips on how to avoid that perpetual cycle? I'm starting with a clean slate - an empty 22'x30' garage and separate 12'x24' workshop. I think I can do a decent job setting it up for working efficiently, but I know my downfall will be the clutter and cleanup - and when I don't know what to do with an item the piles will start climbing.

4cylndrfury
4cylndrfury MegaDork
2/3/16 10:32 a.m.
petegossett wrote: My biggest problem is every horizontal surface ends up filled with clutter... Any tips on how to avoid that perpetual cycle? I

Stations: A station for brake tools, a station for woodworking tools, a station for fabrication tools, and a station for all-purpose tools. If youre not dragging tools across the workshop, its easier to put them back since theyre more likely to be at arms length.

That, and discipline (which was the hardest for me to grasp and put into practice)...plain and simple. Even if I only put half the tools back, its better than none. It will only take 2 minutes to put half of what I used back where it goes, and then thats half the clutter. Everyone can spare 2 minutes...

Stefan (Not Bruce)
Stefan (Not Bruce) MegaDork
2/3/16 10:38 a.m.
sirrichardpumpaloaf wrote: One picture shows lights that appear to be hanging from the overhead door. Am I seeing that correctly or is that an optical illusion? If they're mounted to the door, how does that work?

They appear to be mounted on steel supports, anchored to the walls to allow the door to open/close.

petegossett
petegossett PowerDork
2/3/16 12:28 p.m.
4cylndrfury wrote:
petegossett wrote: My biggest problem is every horizontal surface ends up filled with clutter... Any tips on how to avoid that perpetual cycle? I

Stations: A station for brake tools, a station for woodworking tools, a station for fabrication tools, and a station for all-purpose tools. If youre not dragging tools across the workshop, its easier to put them back since theyre more likely to be at arms length.

That, and discipline (which was the hardest for me to grasp and put into practice)...plain and simple. Even if I only put half the tools back, its better than none. It will only take 2 minutes to put half of what I used back where it goes, and then thats half the clutter. Everyone can spare 2 minutes...

It's not usually tools, in fact it's typically the other crap...the 2 turnbuckles I bought for a project but didn't use, the broken gas door from the Vitara that I may(eventually) get around to repairing, the seat cushion I had reupholstered 2-years ago but haven't got around to putting back together, some components I scavenged from an old PC...that kind of crap. Stuff I can't bring myself to throw away at that moment and/or have plans for, yet still lingers months/years later. That's the bane of my workshop.

ultraclyde
ultraclyde UltraDork
2/3/16 12:35 p.m.
Stefan (Not Bruce) wrote:
sirrichardpumpaloaf wrote: One picture shows lights that appear to be hanging from the overhead door. Am I seeing that correctly or is that an optical illusion? If they're mounted to the door, how does that work?

They appear to be mounted on steel supports, anchored to the walls to allow the door to open/close.

I remember reading a discussion of some kind of wall mount over on Garage Journal for those, but I don't recall the specifics.

That's an amazing garage. His discipline to simply put stuff away is incredible. I spent some time cleaning and rearranging my shop based on some of his ideas, and they work well. My problem was my shop turned into the project instead of facilitating other projects. Hard to autocross a garage.

Stefan (Not Bruce)
Stefan (Not Bruce) MegaDork
2/3/16 12:54 p.m.
ultraclyde wrote:
Stefan (Not Bruce) wrote:
sirrichardpumpaloaf wrote: One picture shows lights that appear to be hanging from the overhead door. Am I seeing that correctly or is that an optical illusion? If they're mounted to the door, how does that work?

They appear to be mounted on steel supports, anchored to the walls to allow the door to open/close.

I remember reading a discussion of some kind of wall mount over on Garage Journal for those, but I don't recall the specifics.

That's an amazing garage. His discipline to simply put stuff away is incredible. I spent some time cleaning and rearranging my shop based on some of his ideas, and they work well. My problem was my shop turned into the project instead of facilitating other projects. Hard to autocross a garage.

Yeah, looking at the pictures, I realize I'd have to completely empty my garage and take a summer or two off to rebuild it to even come close. As crazy as that sounds, its not outside the realm of possibility given the sorry state it is in now.

Stefan (Not Bruce)
Stefan (Not Bruce) MegaDork
2/3/16 12:56 p.m.
petegossett wrote:
4cylndrfury wrote:
petegossett wrote: My biggest problem is every horizontal surface ends up filled with clutter... Any tips on how to avoid that perpetual cycle? I

Stations: A station for brake tools, a station for woodworking tools, a station for fabrication tools, and a station for all-purpose tools. If youre not dragging tools across the workshop, its easier to put them back since theyre more likely to be at arms length.

That, and discipline (which was the hardest for me to grasp and put into practice)...plain and simple. Even if I only put half the tools back, its better than none. It will only take 2 minutes to put half of what I used back where it goes, and then thats half the clutter. Everyone can spare 2 minutes...

It's not usually tools, in fact it's typically the other crap...the 2 turnbuckles I bought for a project but didn't use, the broken gas door from the Vitara that I may(eventually) get around to repairing, the seat cushion I had reupholstered 2-years ago but haven't got around to putting back together, some components I scavenged from an old PC...that kind of crap. Stuff I can't bring myself to throw away at that moment and/or have plans for, yet still lingers months/years later. That's the bane of my workshop.

Clear plastic bins with lids, put all of the parts for a specific project in the bin, label it with a sheet of paper and a marker and put the bin away on a shelf, etc.

petegossett
petegossett PowerDork
2/3/16 2:58 p.m.

In reply to Stefan (Not Bruce):

You know labels would make a world of difference...

It's funny, in packing for the move I made sure to write either the contents of the box - particularly mixed boxes of SWMBO's crap - or at least the room it belonged in. Yet I've never once labeled anything in my shop/garage except ziplock baggies of parts I intended to use upon reassembly.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn UltimaDork
2/4/16 9:25 a.m.

Jack's original discussion thread on the Garage Journal board: http://www.garagejournal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=55006 It's 228 pages long so it will take a while to read it all but there's a lot of good stuff in there - not just about his garage but other projects. He's a great writer too, so his posts are fun and educational to read.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/24/16 12:03 p.m.

Yeah, Jack built a killer shop. Hope that you guys are enjoying the magazine series showing the different shops. There's a lot to be learned (and enjoyed).

bmwpc
bmwpc New Reader
3/3/16 2:56 p.m.

Nice job and kudos for your effort. I'm interested in the lift. What kind is it, what prep did you have to do and where did you find and cost. Thanks.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/8/16 1:14 p.m.
bmwpc wrote: Nice job and kudos for your effort. I'm interested in the lift. What kind is it, what prep did you have to do and where did you find and cost. Thanks.

You can learn more about Jack's lift here: http://www.12-gaugegarage.com/blog-14/index.html

stuart in mn
stuart in mn UltimaDork
3/8/16 6:21 p.m.

Jack was recently selected by Porsche to go to Germany to participate in a challenge that involves driving a new 991 911R; 400hp, a 6 speed manual transmission, and it's lighter than the GT3RS. He and one other civilian work with Patrick Long, building up to getting to drive one stage of the Tour de France Automobile hillclimb.

More details and links to videos here: http://www.garagejournal.com/forum/showpost.php?p=5565324&postcount=4591

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