Workshop: California edition

A few weeks ago, Facebook shared a memory in which I posted a blog and basically said “we did this project, but the workshop is up next.” It made me laugh because that seemed to be a mantra at the firehouse for many years. “We did this! Next up: Workshop.” When we finally made it to the workshop and finished it off, it inadvertently turned out to be the last space we finished under the assumption that firehouse was our forever home.

In our SoCal ranch, the workshop actually claimed the first spot on our renovation list. I’d like to say that we learned a lesson by waiting so long to tackle it at the firehouse, but the truth is that this house is much smaller. We couldn’t wait to get all the workshop stuff into the workshop (and out of our front living room).

So let’s take a closer look at the original space. We bought a slightly oversized two car garage with a lot of built-ins. The previous owner was a carpenter, which is evident in the work he did throughout the house and in the workshop he built for himself.

The garage has a window looking onto the front yard, which is great for light and ventilation. The loft space is also a perk as it’s a nice spot to store wood and other supplies.

The door in the back leads to the side of the house. There’s no direct access from the house to the garage, but that works for our needs. Heading out that door leads to a walkway that is bordered by three huge sheds. They offer a ton of additional storage, leaving plenty of floor space for tools.

We also love that it is a Dutch door. Leaving the top half open allows for extra ventilation while keeping an inquiring Great Dane safely out of the space. Hank is tall enough to see over the bottom half of the door, but can’t join in the fun. The louder and more dangerous the tool, the more interested Hank is in it.

The water heater is also in the garage (behind the white door in the photo below), but thankfully the laundry area is inside. Garage laundry is very popular in SoCal, but we knew that wouldn’t work for us. Besides the fact that I’m not keen on doing laundry in an active workshop, having those appliances in the space would take up valuable room for freestanding tools.

The first task for this space was one we couldn’t DIY: asbestos abatement. We snagged a bit of the popcorn ceiling to test when we did inspections, and it came back positive for asbestos. That’s not surprising considering the age of the home. Luckily the ceilings in the rest of the house have already been scraped, so we only needed to pay for this small section to be taken care of. Once we got the all clear, Aaron got to work. While we love that he is taking over a workshop from a fellow craftsman, Aaron didn’t need any of the existing cabinets.

The drywall was in pretty rough shape. Rather than expend the time and effort to replace the drywall, Aaron opted to cover the walls with 4″ pine shiplap.

We very briefly considered leaving the pine in its natural state, but our natural tendencies won out. The walls and ceiling got a coat of white paint.

Before/after comparisons are my fave. Here are a few

Boom! Seriously, white paint is the best.

From retro garage workspace…

to uber modern workshop.


to clean!

Next up, we tackled the floors. We used the same product as in the firehouse workshop: Rustoleum’s EPOXYSHIELD in gray gloss (minus the flecks included in the package, because simple floors > flecked floors). Two coats + the recommended cure time and we were ready to move in the big tools.

Aaron tackled hanging lights, installing dust collection (just likeĀ what he did in the original space), building tables for a few saws and organizing in between his trips back to St. Louis for fall weddings. I’ll share some final photos in the next post and then we need to bring you up to speed on ALL the changes going on in house. I’ve been sharing some sneak peeks on Instagram, but I’m excited to break down everything we’re tackling to transform our kitchen, living, dining and (NEW!) laundry rooms.

Workshop dust collection

As with any space that is being built from scratch, systems (electrical, HVAC, etc) are always the starting point. The workshop got an extra system: dust collection. It’s a series of PVC pipes that ring the space and connect to a heavy-duty suction machine.


It’s kind of hard to tell what’s what in the photo above, so here are some handy arrows.


Dust collection in a workshop is important in terms of cleanliness and health. This space has zero outside venting so it was critical.

Besides the vacuum itself, the system is mostly built from 6″ PVC DWV pipe and fittings (which are remarkably hard to find.) Aaron started by creating a trunk line with one run for each side of the workshop. He used 45 degree angles for better air flow.


PVC can be glued, but he opted to use the same brand of pipe to ensure things would sit snugly. The screws give a little extra security and can be removed if the system needs to be cleaned out.

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Here’s the trunk line in place.

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Blast gates section off the air flow. They keep the air running in one direction and to one tool to ensure maximum suction.


These parts don’t fit perfectly with the PVC pipe because they’re made for metal piping that costs twice as much as PVC. Obviously, PVC is much more economical for home workshops. The blast gates just need a bit of a hack. Aaron wrapped the fitting of the blast gate with electrical tape to give it a good seal.

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Once the blast gates were in place on the trunk line, he extended PVC around the left side of the room, adding a wye connector at each tool. These connectors offer better air flow than a T connector because of the softer angle.


Every tool comes with a different type of hose to attach to a dust collection system. Aaron created custom adapters to reduce the line so that each tool’s hose could connect.

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He continued the install by running PVC across the space and down the right side of the room. This required some funky angles thanks to all the things on the wall in this area.

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Here’s the full line installed, just waiting for tool attachments.


Here are some of the tool attachments in action.

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Everything gets sucked back to the machine and collects in the bottom bag for easy removal.


So far the system works great on most of the tools, except the miter saw, which is an older tool. We’re blaming the tool, not the dust collection and Aaron is working on an adjustment for that.

As with most systems, this one was super necessary… but not super glamorous. What’s on your summer reno list? Anything more exciting?








The workshop is DONE!

This post has only been THREE YEARS in the making. But first can we talk about foot injuries and one-man construction crews? That combo really sucks… like drinking wine after brushing your teeth. It doesn’t make anyone happy. So it’s been unintentionally quiet here (and literally quiet at the firehouse) as Aaron’s foot heeled. He’s back in motion again and chomping at the bit to get projects back in flight for the living room/dining room redo.

Just before the foot injury claimed two months of his life, he finished the workshop and put it instantly to use to build a pantry for the new trailer… because he (ok… we…) can’t leave well enough alone. Now it’s clean and ready for its’ debut on the interwebs!

We already told you about dropping more power into the space, framing & painting, adding a window and lighting the place up, but there was more work to be done before this space was finished, including a bit of building and installing the dust collection system. (More on that last bit in the next post.)

First Aaron built a wall in the back of the workshop that he covered in pegboard to provide much needed hanging storage.



Then he built a table for the miter saw.

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Finally he created an out-feed table for the table saw.

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Ok – are you ready for the grand tour? When you come down the stairs, now you see this:


The slated plastic door helps keep dust contained in the workshop (and is really fun to walk through).

Once Aaron started laying out the workshop he realized how small it was relative to the amount of tools he wanted to put it in. So instead of going in the workshop, the lockers we’ve been hoarding are just to the left after you come down the stairs. They’re full of materials like painting supplies and extension cords. (If you’re not familiar with the layout we’re after, check out this post and it will make more sense.) Eventually this walkway will get more finishing touches.


Once you stop into the space it looks like this!!


The finished miter saw table has storage and a charging station below. Overhead a reel and hose make it easy to connect and use air-powered tools in the workshop without moving the air compressor.


On the opposite wall, the router table is tucked to the left (and on wheels for easy relocation) and the table saw and out-feed table dominate the room. This was strategically placed under a floor drain that dips low enough for Aaron to smash his head into.


The out-feed table also has storage below.


Moving left to right: a workbench, air conditioner, the dust collector, the finished pegboard wall, disc/belt sanderĀ and jointer.


Here’s the view from the back.


It’s been a long time coming, but it I think it was worth the wait. This space is amazing! Aaron has already used it for a few projects, and it’s a revelation not to have sawdust in our living space or be required to scoot around pieces of wood that have been painted and are drying. But, really, what I love the most about the workshop is that everything has a home… that isn’t my (future) dining room floor. There are all these little moments that make my organization loving heart so, so happy.

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And because I’m sucker for a really good before and after. Here’s a look at 3+ years ago vs today.

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Converting fixtures for LED and lighting up the workshop

Simply adding a window to the workshop was not enough to up the brightness factor. We knew we needed a serious lighting upgrade. We’ve been hoarding some moisture-proof industrial fluorescent fixtures that we picked up just for this space with the intention of converting them to LEDs.


And now we’re going to breakdown the process for taking a fluorescent fixture to an LED-enabled one. (If you’re just here for the pictures, don’t leave until you see the dramatic before and after shots at the bottom of the post.)


Tools/supplies needed:

  • Wiring diagram for LED bulbs (this should come with the bulbs)
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire snips
  • Vice grips
  • Replacement plug
  • Wire caps
  • Shunted keystones
  • Pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Wire strippers


First remove the outer case and the bulbs.


A clip in the middle of the interior panel holds it in place. Twist that to remove the panel.


Inside you’ll find the wiring and ballast for the fluorescent lights. You can reuse the wires, but you’ll want to remove the ballast.


Just snip the wires


Then undo the screws and it should slide out.


Remove the existing keystones (the white pieces at each end of the fixture that hold the bulbs in place and provide power).


Snip the wires from the keystones to free them.


Slide two of the new keystones into one side. LEDs only need wired on one side, so these un-wired keystones are just here to hold the bulbs in place.

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For the other two keystones, consult the wiring diagram to determine which side of the keystone is the hot/load and which is neutral.


Strip 1/2″ from the end and slide the hot wire into the appropriate opening.


On the neutral side, use one keystone as the neutral in and out. It makes more sense in the pictures below.

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Slide the wired keystones into place.


Next you need to connect the wires in the fixture to the wires leading to the power cord. Hot goes with hot. Neutral with neutral. Ground to the fixture case.

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Now you can reinsert the interior panel to cover the wires.


When these fixtures were removed from their original home, the wire that provided power was snipped. We want to add a plug and power these through a receptacle, so this was not a big issue.



Loosen the screws to divide the plug into two pieces.


Run the wire through the base.


Strip the wire.


Connect it to the plug (follow your plug’s instructions)

  • Black (hot) to the gold screw
  • White (neutral) to the silver screw
  • Green (ground) to the stick part


Slide the two pieces together and tighten the screws.




When you add the bulbs, make sure you put the powered end (denoted here with an AC) with the wired keystone.




It seems like a lot of steps, but it goes pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. As always, we like to point out that we are not professionals. If you have any hesitation about doing electrical work it’s better to be safe than sorry. (Consult a pro.)

The change is dramatic! We took the workshop space from two single bulb incandescent fixtures that looked like this


to 8 double-LED fixtures. Now the space looks like this!!


There’s no photo trickery here. The space is THAT much brighter! The shadows are gone and this actually feels like a space where work can get done!

Obviously Aaron has also been busy assembling some of the tools we purchased for this space. We’ll give you a full run down whenever the space is done. Next up: dust collection & filtration.

Framing and painting the workshop

I feel like I can stop being a broken record. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “We’re going to start the workshop,” or “The workshop is next!” or some iteration of that, but if we’re talking over/under 100… I’d bet over. Yesh! When it comes to this renovation, it’s always funny to look back at what we thought would happen vs. what actually did happen. Well, most days it’s funny…

But I digress. Here’s a statement I’m loving: The workshop is underway!

I thought you might need a refresher on the layout of the basement. It’s basically a blank slate with columns running down the middle.


Although it normally looks more like this…


We decided to dedicate nearly half of the space to the workshop (after changing things up a little.) The “New” layout is still the plan.


That required constructing walls between the columns and at the front of the workshop to define the space.


That picture kind of sucks. Here’s a better view with the walls filled in. We used 3/4″ treated plywood to serve as walls and work as a good base for anything Aaron wants to hang.


The walls and ceiling got a coat of white primer and white paint. Instantly it feels so much brighter and much more fresh in here.


He also topped the floor with two coats of Rustoleum’s EPOXYSHIELD in gray gloss (minus the flecks, because why do epoxy floors need specks?)

Here’s the opposite view (looking toward the stairs) before and after paint.

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It feels GREAT to see progress on the workshop! Next up: moving some of the big tools in, running more electrical, and adding lights!

What’s your broken record project? The one you can’t stop talking about for good or bad reasons?