Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Perfect Workshop



Above, the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison's workshops.

What do you need to set up a perfect workshop? I make a lot of stuff, but I don't really have the kind of workshop I'd like. So, maybe it's time to bite the bullet and get one built.

I am currently designing (mentally at least) a new workshop, to be set out in the backyard. It will be a second garage because the big door makes it easy to move larger stuff in and out. The architectural requirements are:
  • 1. the aforementioned large door for easy movement of items in and out of the workshop
  • 2. gas heater (my contractor friend says to install in floor heating, but I don't want to spring for that, plus I think it would take too long to heat up in winter. )
  • 3. skylights to supplement the florescent lights
  • 4. wireless ethernet connection to my home network
  • 5. Three phase power at 240 v



As far as the equipment goes, here's my opinion what a great home workshop needs:

  • 1. A milling machine - the question is do I get a large used, Bridgeport-like Asian knock-off mill on say, ebay, or go for something like a new Sherline. Most of the stuff I cut isn't that big. Budget: $1200 US
  • 2. A metal cutting lathe - Same question as above. Do I get a used a big one or a small one? $1000
  • 3. A drill press. Drill presses are relatively cheap. budget: $300
  • 4. A bench grinder- $75
  • 5. An oxy-acetylene torch and metal cutter head - $300
  • 6. MIG welder. If I was better at gas welding I wouldn't need this maybe. But I'm not and MIG welding is soooo much easier. I'm thinking, what, about $600 for this?
  • 7. Air compressor. I bought a little one, mostly for pressurizing air cannons, but these things are really handy. I'm not yet using pneumatically powered tools, but I imagine that will happen. $400
Add a few handtools (plus stuff like an angle grinder, cordless drill, and so forth) , and I think I could build almost anything.

Readers are invited to weigh in on suggestions for inclusions to the list of items in the perfect home workshop (and info on your workshop is appreciated)

9 comments:

Fred said...

Don't forget to add water supply, and a heat exchanger unit for closed-circuit cooling of some larger projects.

Gunner said...

A couple of things.... are you going to spring for the 3 phase power or use a more "jury rigged" type setup?

I have a machinist friend that WAS using a simple circuit to create 3 phase but had to jump up to a large 3 phase motor with a starting circuit run off of the 2 phase power. Once it is started, he pulls off of the 3 leads to the motor and adds a couple of large caps to filter the power a little. It acts as a generator for the 3rd leg and converts 2 phase into the much more expensive to get 3 phase.

As far as the mills go... if you want to get technical, I would spend the the most money on the lathe. As my buddy put it... "it's the only machine that can build a copy of itself" and if you are unfamilliar with the idea, you can use a lathe like a mill by mounting a cutting head in the spindle.

Another thing to consider. How heavy can you build the floor pads? My friend has a couple of bridgeports in his garage that have managed to sink his concrete slabs lower than the ones they are not resting on.

As far as getting them, check ebay for an old bridgeport, relitivly speaking you can find them fairly cheap if you are willing to pick it up (rent trailor and forklift?) or you can check for local connections. Same buddy as has been mentioned before (I lived with him for a while and spent a lot of time tinkering) bought a large horizontal mill, a tracing mill, and a large motor when he just paid a good price for the tracer. The guy wanted to get them outa his garage, and my buddy had heard about the items through a friend.

A vertical mill will do what a drill press can... but I'd buy the drill press, because changing bits can be a pain.

The oxy torch is nice for cutting (and i use them to weld most things) but it is actually a weaker joint than a mig welder, so the MIG is deffinatly a good thing.

If you feel adventureous, try getting a small cheap vertical mill to attempt a CNC setup with. My buddy is refitting an old one to replace the huge control unit with a PC.

One thing you may VERY much like... a cutoff saw of some sort. My friends seem to like the "Very large motorized hacksaw" type of machine. They make you're life MUCH easier. I've seen an old WW2 erra machine used more than almost any other machine in my buddies shop.

Another thing, depending upon how large the pieces you will be working on are, another friend installed an overhead crane. It works very nice, and has allowed him to make a little money doing contracted jobs.

Final word of advice. Check at the local trade school(s) to see if they are getting rid of any of thier machines any time soon. I've seen that work out well, and try to talk to some machinists or student machinists. There always seems to be a few good guys at least (more than likly there are a couple of outcasts and the rest are all good guys) that are willing to help, especially if you can sit and bs with them.


Good luck!

Charles said...

I built "garagemahal" 8 years back when I was living on 3+ Acres outside Austin Texas. The main ingredients differ for every shop, you need to consider what you will be doing there.

Car guys/gals need different stuff than explosion guys, who need different stuff from airplane guys.....

I cannot recommend enough a laser levelled concrete floor, which is then epoxy sealed. Smooth, level, and sealed. very important.

If you can make it "free span" with no internal support posts, that will help. Otherwise you will run into the support post constantly. (depends how big the shop is)

In additon to electical, you should consider an air-compressor. Build a noise-reducing high airflow box to house the compressor. don't 'save' money on an oil-less one, they are crzy loud, a good oiled compressor is good stuff. Air tools rock. I am a luddite at heart, but once I started using air tools, I was sold.

Water. A large wash basin/laundry size sink is very helpful

As far as tools, my dear old dad's advice stands. Buy the best tools, keep them clean, they will last you a lifetime. Buy cheap tools, save money? Buy them over and over. If you can find used american made tools, even large mills and lathes, you will be happier. I've found amazing older american made power hand tools at garage sales, be on the lookout.

Welder - mig is nice, you also mentionan oxy-acet rig. the heat from the torch is nice for many jobs. Plus it makes fire. Cutting metal with fire is cool.

I cannot recommend reading Andrew Weyger's "Making of Tools" and "Modern Blacksmith" before you design and build. True, it is slanted to blacksmithy, but his notes on workshop space, lighting and work surfaces are amazing. I promise it will change the plans in your head in a positive way.


Best of luck

Anonymous said...

I too suggest you op for the in floor heating. At least run the tubes before you pour the concrete and hook it up later to a water heater or boiler. Your energy savings will more than make up for the initial cost, and it is soooo nice not to have a freezing cold concrete floor all of the time.

Anonymous said...

Lathe: A nice size is 12" x 36". Buy a quick change tool post (wait for them to go on sale for around $150--the wedge type, not piston type)--they make a huge difference over the lantern style tool post. I prefer old good quality lathes over new import. An Atlas (Craftsman) of this size is reasonable for a lot of work--not a heavy duty machine, but you can take lighter cuts and save some money. Smaller stuff like a Sherline is for Very Tiny Stuff, and you'll wish you had the larger capacity (unless you work exclusively on small stuff--then you'd be fine).

Mill: A Bridgeport is a wonderful machine. Given a choice, go for something other than the "M-head"--you want an R8 taper, which is what a lot of mill tooling is. You can get chucks to use with it (you don't *have* to use collets for drill bits), and you can do a lot more with a mill than drill press. But, drill presses are 1/10th the price. Once again, a Sherline is too small for anything other than very small stuff. Very useful for that, but it's not for removing lots of metal from large objects.

Import mills or mill-drills--well, given a choice I'd still rather go with old US than new import. Find your local amateur machinist club--they'll know where to get older machines.

There are a few used machinery dealers that seem to target hobbiest machinists--they tend to advertise in "Home Shop Machinist" for example. There's a nice forum: http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net/ubbs/Ultimate.cgi.

These same questions are answered many times over in the rec.crafts.metalworking newsgroup (accessible through Google Groups, I believe).

Tooling can be expensive--all things equal, go for the deal with more tooling thrown in. Collets, 3 and 4-jaw chucks, etc.--all these are expensive, so give some weight to a deal that sets you up with at least the minimum.

Quick note about 3-phase: Don't ignore 3-phase equipment. If that's the only issue, mentally add $150-$200 (or more for larger motors) to the price and then go get a variable frequency drive. You'll end up with a nice, smooth, variable speed drive machine that you can run off of a single phase 240 V circuit.

A Caution: Be very careful moving heavy things. Use extreme caution when anything is in the air. Keep the center of gravity low. Use plenty of heavy duty straps. Heavy machinery in the air or moving is very dangerous. Get some advice before transporting machinery--riggers make it look easy, but you really don't want to be looking at the base of your mill sticking out of the ground when you go around a turn but it doesn't.

Use pipes as rollers and you can easily dance a Bridgeport anywhere you like (if you are on a reasonably flat and hard surface).

I'd like to add "angle grinder" to your list. And a decent vise.

Anonymous said...

Lathe: A nice size is 12" x 36". Buy a quick change tool post (wait for them to go on sale for around $150--the wedge type, not piston type)--they make a huge difference over the lantern style tool post. I prefer old good quality lathes over new import. An Atlas (Craftsman) of this size is reasonable for a lot of work--not a heavy duty machine, but you can take lighter cuts and save some money. Smaller stuff like a Sherline is for Very Tiny Stuff, and you'll wish you had the larger capacity (unless you work exclusively on small stuff--then you'd be fine).

Mill: A Bridgeport is a wonderful machine. Given a choice, go for something other than the "M-head"--you want an R8 taper, which is what a lot of mill tooling is. You can get chucks to use with it (you don't *have* to use collets for drill bits), and you can do a lot more with a mill than drill press. But, drill presses are 1/10th the price. Once again, a Sherline is too small for anything other than very small stuff. Very useful for that, but it's not for removing lots of metal from large objects.

Import mills or mill-drills--well, given a choice I'd still rather go with old US than new import. Find your local amateur machinist club--they'll know where to get older machines.

There are a few used machinery dealers that seem to target hobbiest machinists--they tend to advertise in "Home Shop Machinist" for example. There's a nice forum: http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net/ubbs/Ultimate.cgi.

These same questions are answered many times over in the rec.crafts.metalworking newsgroup (accessible through Google Groups, I believe).

Tooling can be expensive--all things equal, go for the deal with more tooling thrown in. Collets, 3 and 4-jaw chucks, etc.--all these are expensive, so give some weight to a deal that sets you up with at least the minimum.

Quick note about 3-phase: Don't ignore 3-phase equipment. If that's the only issue, mentally add $150-$200 (or more for larger motors) to the price and then go get a variable frequency drive. You'll end up with a nice, smooth, variable speed drive machine that you can run off of a single phase 240 V circuit.

A Caution: Be very careful moving heavy things. Use extreme caution when anything is in the air. Keep the center of gravity low. Use plenty of heavy duty straps. Heavy machinery in the air or moving is very dangerous. Get some advice before transporting machinery--riggers make it look easy, but you really don't want to be looking at the base of your mill sticking out of the ground when you go around a turn but it doesn't.

Use pipes as rollers and you can easily dance a Bridgeport anywhere you like (if you are on a reasonably flat and hard surface).

I'd like to add "angle grinder" to your list. And a decent vise.

Anonymous said...

Add a metal-cutting bandsaw (under $200) and a good ($20) blade for it. Sawing a length of 1" aluminum into 2" pieces gets old very quickly.

The 7x10 or 7x12 lathe is a great starter machine that might be worth considering. Buy one for $300, use it for a while, buy a bigger lathe and sell the starter machine. Or keep the starter machine for the little jobs. I have a Taig that's still very useful.

I have an old South Bend 13x40, and finding parts is an issue. Wear on an older machine is also an issue (how badly is it worn? Got to look at it to tell). I won't go so far as to recommend an import lathe....but neither would I toss the idea out the window.

Three phase is rather expensive to bring to a home shop. A converter is a much-less-expensive alternative. A static converter coupled with a 3-phase "idler" motor generates darn good 3-phase for home shop use.

JimBo said...

For shearing sheet metal, hand or foot operated shears take up a lot of space so I recommend a 6" x 6" corner notcher like this one: http://www.northwaysmachinery.com/productdisplay.asp?cat=50#16-18R

They are very compact and very versatile at around $600. You can mount it on a banch or buy a stand. They take up a little over one square foot.

Vision Tool and Machine Design said...

Interesting Blog. Thanks.

Sincerely,

Pat
Vision Tool and Machine Design