Others have listed the pros and cons. I will just add I have just
finished putting in a basement shop (my third one to date) and enjoy it
greatly. Closing the shop door keeps the sawdust in the shop and out of
the house. My children are grown, so I don't worry about waking up the
kids running power tools after bedtime. We insulated the basement
cinder block walls with 2 inch blue board foam insulation with sheetrock
on top which helped a lot in the home heating bill and made it warmer
Since you are planning new construction, allow for lots of light,
lots of wall sockets, a 220 volt circuit, and a sink for cleaning
brushes and stuff. And as much space as you can afford. Your table saw
wants 8-10 feet in front and in back, and at least 8 feet on one side if
you are gonna cut up 4*8 sheets of stuff.
Mine is in a walk-out basement, so it's dry and easy to access.
The Cons that still remain:
Little natural light
Noise, dust, and smell migrate into the living space
Little natural light
Lolly columns and a center staircase eat space
Little natural light
Little natural light
Little natural light
Little natural light
Little natural light
Sorry, I got stuck on little natural light and low ceiling. I'm getting
cabin fever. <G>
With a choice, I'd greatly prefer WINDOWS and some head space in a
detached building with no columns and wood floors.
In fact, I'd trade half my space to be above ground.
The shop in my old house had an interesting view. The lady that lived
behind me had two college aged daughters that would sunbathe in the
backyard in bikinis every afternoon.. made it hard to get work done.
But new construction can easily solve most of your basement problems.
You can build a new house with a walkout basement with plenty of
windows and sliding doors on the walkout side(s). You can put the
staircase and furnace off to one corner, along a wall, etc. And make
sure the water main does not come up in the middle of the basement.
These are free changes at time of construction. Lally columns can be
minimized by using deeper rafters or steel beams as the support beam.
Some extra cost here. But not a lot. Also the foundation shape will
affect whether the ends of beams can be born by the foundation walls
without any lally columns. Something to be considered in the planning
stage. Make the basement 1 foot or 2 feet deeper. A little extra cost
for concrete and digging. All of these things are relatively
cheap/free and easy to do if PLANNED for at time of construction. I
almost always work in the shop at night so natural light is meaningless.
I went from having a shop in the basement to building a separate building
for my woodworking and everything else that goes with it. I also added a
lean-to to the shop for storing a tractor. I enjoyed building the shop
myself, and thought of the carpentry as a distant cousin to woodworking.
Now I can easily back the truck with large sheets of MDF or plywood right
there at the door of the shop and put a rolling table there to catch them
and never lift a sheet by hand. That is really nice.
And it is useful to have the standalone shop as a catch-all place for doing
things other than woodworking including (but not limited to)
auto/mower/tractor & gardening tool maintenance & repair. I have all my
woodworking tools on mobile bases so I can slide them out of the way and
easily bring in (for example) a riding mower in the summer for a flat tire
or blade changing etc. The grinder is right there. My files for sharpening
are right there for touching up a chainsaw. Before I had this separate
shop, I had to do some of these things in the basement and some in the
garage (or even the driveway) which does not have space for a workbench or
cabinets, and it was a hassle having tools in two places. It is also nice
to not worry with making noise & dust. Of course it increases the value of
the house, but who cares anyway?...
Having said all that, when I sit and think about it, I believe I enjoyed the
woodworking shop in the basement more, and if it weren't for the thought of
hauling all those power tools down there (no large walk-out access
unfortunately), I might be tempted to move back. It was just cozier there,
and heating & cooling was not a problem at all.
I don't think anyone's told this particular story yet:
Years ago, I started my shop in the basement. One winter day I resawed
some cedar with the tablesaw, the dust collection wasn't all that good
yet, and I put a very teensy tiny little bitty light coat of sawdust
over everything in the basement including the washer and dryer. SWMBO
put me in the garage the first warm day of spring. She was not open to
When I was done with the wiring and had all the tools out there and put
everything on wheels to accommodate her car, she told me I could have
her side of the garage and she'd park outside.
I like the garage better. More room. No laundry. Heat is a problem but
I'm okay with the tradeoff. Everything's fine with the marriage.
Basement, hell. I'm taking over the entire house. Wood storage --
right next to the refrigerator. The people I live with couldn't give a
Biggest probs with a basement shop are noise (don't locate machines
under living room areas, agree to a cutoff time) and dust, meaning
dust onto your projects during finishing, not from them.
My wife wants me to build a detached shop, but I'm resisting. I'm now
in the 1400 SF basement. It is heated and air conditioned 24/7/365,
has telephone, cable, ethernet, hot and cold running water, a bathroom
with a shower, a walkout entrance, and is a 10 second walk from
anywhere in the house, in my underwear if I want.
Her main objections to the status quo:
Foot- and clothes-borne Dust & Shavings: Shavings and dust gets tracked
through the house and fall off my person. My solution: Try to keep
the shop floor swept. Brush myself off. Resolve to wear shoes in the
shop. Go upstairs only when summoned.
Airborne Dust: The 2 HP Grizzley gets most of it, but catching all the
fine dust from every machine is pretty tough. My solution: Do my best
to collect the dust. Try to limit long- duration dust-generating
activities, instead spreading them out to more frequent, smaller
dust-generating incidents. This reduces my culpability by making my
dust mostly disappear in the dust background noise floor.
Noise: Two or three horsepower's worth of abuse to a piece of wood can
create some pretty obxoxious noise levels. My solution: Insulate &
acoustically decouple the shop ceiling. Keep doors closed. Save the
noisest stuff for when no one else is home, or after my wife goes to
bed. Suggest the next day that maybe she dreamt it.
Odors: My wife actually says she likes the smell of some cut woods,
but it's some of the finishes, paints, and adhesives that are the
problem. My solution: Do these smelly operations outside when
possible. Otherwise, do them after she goes to bed. The odors will
normally be gone in the morning, and I can play dumb be especially
sympathetic about any headache complaints. Give waterborne finishes
and adhesives yet another chance.
On the other hand, my wife does acknowledge that accessibility (to me)
is pretty good the way it is, and she'd hate to give up the immediate
response she now enjoys in emergency situations like, say, a bug in the
Joe Roberts wrote:
I have a small window in the basement shop. I got one of those window
fans and use it to blow
air outside when finishing. I'll let it run until I go to bed (as the
finish dries). It makes a huge difference
in the amount of odor that gets in the house.
In fact, I've gotten to the point where I do almost no finishing in
cold weather because I don't like the odors of finishing all over the
house either.. So when spring comes, I usually have a backlog of things
to stain and poly.
Gives me an excuse to start new projects in the winter.. Darn it, it's
just too cold to go any further on this project, time to start another.
I happen to work in "my" half of the two-car garage, both bays of which
are below the living space. Pros: easy access, can expand into the
driveway during warm weather, excellent light with the garage door open,
sufficiently well insulated so as not to bother the folks upstairs.
Cons: it's dark in winter and a little cramped, had to wall off the shop
to keep dust/shavings from littering "her" half and the family station
wagon, the central vacuum scares the bejeezus out of me whenever someone
upstairs decides a carpet needs cleaning.
Without the garage bay door I think my woodworking would be limited to
quite small projects (and tooling) that would fit around tight corners
and through standard 3 foot doors. Staircases to the cellar are not
often well placed. (Mine aren't.)
Joe Roberts wrote:
Most of the issues I would add to have already been addressed, and
pretty much the way I would address them.
I worked in a basement shop for 21 years (in Northern Illinois). I
liked it in the main. However, I didn't have a full complement of
Delta tools then, and I shudder now to think of getting them down to
the basement if I were still there. Not so much size, but
overstressing what are essentially two half 2x12s holding things up. I
think I'd do some major reinforcing, were I in that position again.
Lighting. This goes for any shop. Your eyes are the best right now
that they will ever be. There is no such thing, in my mind, as too
much light. I was always happy with what I had in my shop.
Approximately 350 ft^2, with five or six 8' two tube fixtures, and a
couple of two tube 4'ers.
I didn't realize how good I had it until I took the shop apart. I went
down in the basement afterwards at midday on a sunny day, and even
with the puny single incandescant on, it was like being in a cave. I
Gawd, wiring was easy.
Can't over-agree on the low ceiling assessment. I've since been in
basements that had 9' foot ceilings, and my thought is, "oh, if I'd
only known." Of course even if I had, it probably would have wound up
being, "oh, if I only could afford it."
One problem no one has touched on, and it might have been slightly
unique to me. We had a two story colonial with essentially a full
attic. I had my ham radio room in a bedroom on the second floor. The
attic had lots of associated coaxial and control cable. The second
floor was also where many of my wreck pearls in the late '90s came
from, as it doubled as the computer room. Although I've long been
smart enough to have radio room tools, garage tools, kitchen tools, as
well as shop tools, that pertains mostly to screwdrivers, small
wrenches, and small socket sets. If I needed a saw or drill bits, it
was a two to three story hike down to the shop and a two or three
story hike back up. That was less a problem when I was 30 than it was
when I was 51.
In the main, I liked it.
That's actually not a concern. My basement stairs are even wimpier than
2 X 12s .. they are prehab crap.
I've gotten a 18" bandsaw down there (I think it was around 400 lbs),
as well as
other very heavy stuff. It's not fun, but it's doable. The loads as you
bring them down
the stairs are only temporary.
Of course, my basement stairway is straight, which helps a lot. If you
have a bend or landing
on your basement stairs, that makes things a lot more difficult. That
was the main requirement for
me buying any house.. either a walk out basement or woodworking
accessable stairs down there.
As far as dust control, I walled off half the basement for the shop. I
sealed it off from the rest of the house pretty good, but it could be
Semi climate controlled, easy access to wiring and plumbing. Sound is
almost entirely blocked so the neighbors can't complain.
Difficult to get things in/out (though that isn't true in my case, as
I have a 36" door to the garage in my basement.), finishing fumes will
raise up through the floor and stink up the house from time to time,
low ceiling (mine is 7") and the furnace will need filters and
regular cleaning more often.
Having had both a garage and a basement shop, it's been my experience
that the basement shop is far nicer for me. There's no additional
heating or cooling costs, and I never have to wade through snow to get
to the shop. It is also more secure, and nobody knows it's there
unless I tell them- which isn't necessarily true about a garage shop
if you work with the door open in the summer. The furnace is far less
of a problem than I was afraid it might be- I give it a good cleaning
every couple of months, and it usually doesn't even really seem to
I know a reasonably wealthy individual who built a nice, custom ranch
house with 3 or 4 car garage and had the builder use engineered
concrete floor panels or whatever to have a basement under the garage
itself. The part of the basement under the house was nicely finished
and I think the under garage part was work shop or something. I did
not look but I suspect there was also official engineered supports for
the engineered official floor panels used for the garage floor to hold
up the vehicles. I don't know how much it cost, but I would guess the
cost per square foot of space under the garage was far more than the
cost per square foot of the master bath or kitchen. Kitchens and baths
as you might know are high cost rooms. Unless real estate is extremely
dear, like San Francisco or New York City, or cost is of no concern,
its probably not practical to have usable space under the garage.
Never thought of it, but it would be neat- with a couple of
provisions. It'd still have to have a concrete floor, at least in my
area, and that floor would have to have some kind of drainage piping
run through it so that oil and other drips that come off the cars
doesn't fall on your tools.
Probably be too expensive for most budgets, as the floor of the garage
would have to be built like a parking garage (though I confess I
really don't know what that entails.) But if you've got the money, it
could be pretty cool- especially if you put some kind of industrial
lift in the corner for raising finished projects and lowering tools
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