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Baby it's cold outside!

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I live in New England and it’s that time of year most of us hate – winter. Temperatures are falling, heating bills are rising, and if you are like me shop time becomes quite difficult. My shop is an unheated, un-insulated detached garage. That makes woodworking a big challenge 5 months out of the year. I have a lot to do and can’t afford to take 5 months off, so I have to get creative if I want to get it done.  In order to prep my shop and my projects for winter work, I like to do the following:

1 – Bring all the glue and finish inside before freezing weather takes its grip. The first time your freeze your glue or your cans of finish, they need to go to the trash. That can be costly.

2 – Get your shop clean and organized. It’s going to be cold out and you are going to be cold. Optimize your time working instead of avoiding clutter and searching for tools.

3- Be prepared to glue inside. I set up a table in my basement where I can do my glue-ups. Glue just isn’t going to bond adequately in cold weather.  Additionally, make sure you allow your pieces to acclimate from the cold before you start smearing glue on them.

4 – Be safe. Long sleeves and power tools do not mix. Bulky jackets, gloves, and power tools spell a quick trip to the ER. I try to plan the bulk of my power tool operation around the weather. There are a few days a week where I can bare being in short sleeves long enough to get the bulk of the job done, and throw on some layers when I am doing other tasks such as layout, measuring and hand tool work.  In addition, be careful using tools that create a lot of vibration (sanding, jigsaws etc.). The colder it gets the more prone to repetitive stress injuries you can become.

5 – Plan accordingly. Because my basement isn’t well ventilated, I don’t have a great place to apply finishes. I try to focus on small pieces where the amount of finish applied isn’t going to create a lot of fumes, or I focus on shop fixtures. My plans for this winter are to create a workbench, some shop cabinetry, and maybe a veneer/marquetry press. Since I am worried more about protection than appearance, I will apply a natural oil finish outside. If any touch-up is needed, I can do so in the warmer months.

Don’t let old man winter get you down! Sure, spending a solid weekend out in the shop is still a few months out, but there is plenty one can do. The constant parade of pieces and clamps from the shop to the basement and vice versa is a hassle, but it sure is better than covering the cast iron, locking the doors, and calling it a season.


If you have any other tips, feel free to leave them in the comments!



  • Ron Mason
    Ron Mason Friday, 21 December 2012

    Why not put a heater in your shop?

  • Lance Granum
    http://Lance Granum Friday, 21 December 2012

    Ron, that is something I plan on doing, but I have a long way to go. We just moved here about a year ago and the garage is a very old. drafty, dingy place. Once I put up walls, replace the doors and drafty windows, and put in a ceiling I will get a natural gas heater. I have tried using both electric and propane heaters now, but I can barely keep it at 50 degrees because it is so drafty and the roof-line is so high.

  • Ron Mason
    Ron Mason Friday, 21 December 2012

    I know what you are talking about. I went through the same routine for a couple of years, working in the cold and then bringing everything inside for gluing in the basement. I put a heater in last winter and it has made a world of difference. The one thing we all have too little of is, time. Five months w/o good shop time is too long, plus it is really hard on machinery to run it in icy conditions, not to mention cold fingers. Insulation is your friend.

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