Good-Bye Sloppy Shop: A 10-Step Winter Workplace Guide

The winter is a great time to work on classic car projects. Before you take a screwdriver or wrench to any vehicle, your first winter project should be to  organize your workplace. You can’t work efficiently or safely in a sloppy shop.

Here are 10 rules for making your garage or classic car storage building a better workplace:

1. Protect Your Turf. No matter how small or large it is, the space you use for old-car projects should be devoted to the one purpose only. Clear out the toys, lawn furniture and garden tools. An inexpensive storage shed can give such clutter a nice home and you can get down to business on your car.

2. Playing the Bench. Every hobby repair shop needs a good, sturdy workbench. Commercial versions are hot items at swap meets and big classic car auctions, but your local Home Depot has inexpensive kits you can use to build a simple-but-sturdy wooden bench. It should be waist high and only about two feet deep.

3. Bottoms Up. The “bottom” of your shop is the floor and everything you can get off the floor counts. Stacking things on the floor, against a wall, or in a corner eventually leads to clutter. Not good! Hanging tools on the wall or storing spare parts in the rafters will help clear floor space.

4.Peg O’ My Heart. Cheap, easy-to-get, easy-to-cut, easy-to-hang pegboard is the car restorer’s friend. Hang it behind your workbench. Plaster the walls with it. Then simply insert hooks and hang up your tools and equipment. Tools arranged neatly on pegboard are handier than those dumped in a big toolbox drawer.

5. Can-Can. This isn’t a dance, but our term to recommend having plenty of waste containers and garbage cans in you garage or shop. As you work on different projects, you’ll be creating waste throughout your workspace. Having a trashcan nearby is the best way to make sure that waste gets properly recycled.

6. Shelf It. Like pegboard, shelves keep clutter off the floor and provide additional storage space for parts, tools, supplies and equipment. Sturdiness counts. If you’re mounting shelves on a wall, make sure they are anchored well. Relatively inexpensive steel shelving and plastic shelving always seems to be on sale at the discount stores. Tip: Don’t buy the cheapest they have.

7. Stuff It. Small auto parts and restoration supplies stored loosely on shelves tend to find their way back to the floor. Search for cheap containers that store neatly on your shelving. You may be lucky enough to find sturdy cardboard photocopy-paper boxes with lids available where you work. Liquidator stores can often provide various plastic bins left over from jobsites at a remarkably low cost. Containers like these work great in a shop. Cleaned-up old plastic peanut butter jars are great for storing nuts and bolts.

8. Used As Good As New. When it comes to equipment, long-lasting items like engine hoists, jack stands, engine stands, vises, grinders, catch cans, etc. can often be found at auctions, garage sales, liquidators or on eBay in “good used” or “remanufactured” condition. Several national tool catalogs also offer remanufactured wares. “Pre-owned” equipment in good shape can save you lots of money and winter is often the best time to shop for such things.

9. Safety. Shop safety is very important. As a minimum, you should equip your workplace with safety gloves, safety goggles, earplugs, shop aprons, coveralls, facemasks and sturdy work boots. Adequate ventilation is important. Plenty of windows to provide cross ventilation help. If you plan to do body and paint work, you’ll probably need a commercial air-circulation system. If you’ll be working with harsh chemicals, keep a box of rubber gloves handy.

10.Entertainment. Working long or late winter hours in a shop can leave you talking to yourself. An old radio or TV will humanize your workplace a bit. Many hobbyists keep one or the other turned on while work, just to break the monotony. They may not even know who’s winning the football game, but the sound of a human voice is still good company and keeps you more alert.

This article is by John “Gunner” Gunnell, automotive books editor at Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin, and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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