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Jack Olsen 02-04-2010 04:26 PM

The 12-Gauge Garage
I first posted online about my garage back in 2007. I called it the ĎPoor Manís Retro Retreatí back then because my budget for it had been low ($500) and Iíd used a kind of old-fashioned color scheme when I painted it. Itís a garage Iíve liked a lot. Itís had everything Iíve needed. Iíve gotten a lot of work done in it.

So naturally, I had to go through and re-do pretty much every component in the place.

The garage canít really be called the ĎPoor Manís Retro Retreatí anymore because Iíve spent too much money on it. Itís still pretty modest, by the standards of many of the garages on this board. Itís pretty humble, still -- a suburban two-car garage tucked around behind the house on my tiny 1/8-acre lot.But by my own personal standards (Iím very cheap), itís now a pretty expensive operation. I would guess that Iíve now put another $2,000 into the place. (It kind of blows my mind that the cost of a place like ĎThe BunkerĒ -- which is awesome, donít get me wrong -- would pay for my re-do and 399 other garages just like mine. But you do what you can with whatever youíve got -- and this is what I did.)


During the 2007 Writers Guild strike, I went through my completely useless junk bin of a garage and tried to get a little organized for the first time in my then 43-year-old life. Both my wife and I write for a living, so we were both out of work for the duration -- I was understandably cautious with spending money. But on the other hand, I couldnít work -- so I had all the time in the world. I gave myself a $500 budget and attempted to re-use or re-purpose as much of the crap filling my garage as possible, while moving most of what was left to a dumpster. Every day, after a shift spent pounding the pavement on a picket line, Iíd work on it. The last touch was to paint it in sort-of-early-1960s shades of green, yellow and tan.

I was pretty happy with it.

I also built a shed for the stuff that would normally clutter up a garage as small as mine. Iíd never done much carpentry, but having a garage that I could actually move around in made it easier to get a little creative with the roof lines.

And then one day I saw a sale on ceramic tile at Home Depot and I jumped into a .68/sf scheme to both tile my garage and teach myself how to set tile. It worked out all right, considering how unlevel my 84-year-old garage floor was. I ended up with a nicer-to-use and nicer-to-look-at garage for another $400 invested. (I also ended up with bigger shoulders, since grouting that much tile is a pretty serious amount of work.)

So I thought I was done. But you know how that goes.

It didnít happen overnight, but -- slowly, steadily, you canít fight it forever -- I started to no longer see my finished garage as finished anymore.

It was just getting started.

Jack Olsen 02-04-2010 04:27 PM


Iím calling it ĎThe 12-Gauge Garageí because when I built a steel-topped bench for it, I discovered Strong Hold Cabinets, a Wisconsin company that makes ridiculously strong cabinets. They claim that theyíre the strongest metal cabinets you can buy. Theyíre rated to hold 1900 pounds per shelf. Thatís definitely stronger than I have any need for in my garage (and watch out, theyíre expensive, too). But the one that was holding up the steel plate for my bench -- well, it just felt good to open and close the thing. Is that crazy?

This is how it looked when I bought it.

Here it is painted and with a 510-pound bench on top of it.

I liked using that cabinet so much that I started keeping an eye out for other used Strong Hold cabinets on eBay.

With a lot of patience, and letting about 50 of the cabinets go to other buyers (Iím cheap, thereís no two ways about it), I finally lucked into a 4í wide model for $62. This is a 760-pound cabinet that lists for (I think) $2,300 new. I snapped it up, and even got a little less cheap when I sourced a second one for $148. Then I got a Lyon cabinet for a shallower space near my metal bench (itís made of 14-gauge steel, not 12-gauge). Including the short Strong Hold cabinet Iíd already bought, I had about $600 in the four steel cabinets for my garage. Itís about 2,300 pounds of cabinetry.

Getting them to my house and getting them installed into my garage is a very long story I wonít tell here. I did document one bad day when I basically knocked one of the 760-pounc cabinets onto my Porsche. Yeah, you read that right. I ended up not hurting the car too badly, but still -- a pretty bone-headed moment.

Did I mention that theyíre heavy? Each of the doors on the 4í wide cabinets weighs 85 pounds. They open and close easily, but it has the feel of opening a bank safe.


The garage is small -- 20íx22í. I store one car in it and use the rest as my home shop. In addition to the normal home and car repairs, I do some woodworking projects and some welding projects in it. Itís not lit like an operating room. I donít have beer signs, gas pumps or televisions in it. Itís built to remind me of working with my father in his shop in Chicago, where I grew up.

I'll take it wall by wall. In my initial clean-up of the garage, I added a fold-down table for wood projects. It had pre-drilled holes for my router table and was at the same height as the other bench in the garage so I could use it for cutting long pieces of lumber. I liked it so much that when I took up welding, I added a second, steel table for welding. Both of them fold up along the first wall of the garage so I can park my car there. But when I back the car out I can lower one or both of them for work. Itís a really handy thing to have when youíre working in such a small space.

Jack Olsen 02-04-2010 04:28 PM

In the latest update of the garage, I got rid of the yellow paint on this wall. Iíve decided the only two colors on the wall will be the tan and the green.

Hereís the old yellow:

The back wall is the one thatís changed the most this month. Hereís the way it used to look. I had bankerís boxes on shelves made of hollow-core doors and some crooked cabinets that had been put in sometime before Iíd owned the house.

The main bench I was using was pretty simple, too. A solid core door over a frame with three wooden drawers Iíd saved when weíd torn a closet out of the house.

I tore out everything and put in cabinets up above the line that had been formed by a piece of aluminum up above my bench. I extended that line across the whole garage, now, with wooden cabinets up above it, mostly with sliding doors. I can keep a lot of stuff up there that I donít need to access all the time.

Down below, I adapted both of the Strong Hold cabinets to store as much stuff as possible.

One of them now has seven wooden shelves, each holding six bins I sourced from (huh?) Ikea. I keep all kinds of different stuff -- everything from extension cords and trouble lights to hinges, casters, light switches, you name it -- in those bins. I got labels for them so I donít have to remember where I put what.

For the other cabinet, I wanted to have vertical storage so I could store a small ladder, a broom, and hang my overalls and welding jacket up. So thereís a small space for that, and then a set of normal shelves. On the doors of the cabinets, I put about a hundred bins for fasteners. Itís still not completely sorted out and organized, but Iím getting closer.

The doors can open with plenty of extra space when the car is parked in there.

Putting in the steel cabinets let me move my main bench 30 inches to the left, which allowed me to move my tool boxes to the back wall. They used to divide the garage, and I never liked the way it looked. I also got a Harbor Freight tool box to function as the base for the bench. I painted it to match the Sears boxes.

Jack Olsen 02-04-2010 04:29 PM

The next wall over has my ‘compliance station,’ which is a steel-topped bench on another Strong Hold cabinet. Next to that, I’ve got one last steel cabinet, a Lyon, which I belt cut and rewelded so it would be short enough to fit in this space.

I still have the sink and a small bench that I built to surround it. I’ve left the yellow paint on those walls -- mostly because I’m too lazy to re-paint it.

Those are the walls. But I also added an kitchen-island-type bench in the middle of the garage, and a new butcher-block-topped bench up front. The garage has eight work surfaces in it, now (three steel, five wood), and a ninth (a steel table) suspended from the ceiling above my car.

I stained the tops of the three main benches dark with an opaque stain and marine varnish on top of it. I’m still on the fence about this decision -- I don’t want benches that look so nice you’re afraid to use them, but I also was getting tired of all my benches being the same unfinished wood color.

We’ll see how they hold up.

I try to keep stuff off of the floor and out of plain sight.

When you’ve got a place to put everything, you can clean the whole place up really fast with something like this:

Well, that’s the basic rundown of the place. It’s not going to set the world on fire or re-invent the idea of a garage, but I’ve got to admit that I really enjoyed putting it together and I’m really enjoying getting stuff done in it. I got it all clean for the pictures, but it will get messy on a regular basis.

And, of course, I like having a place to keep the race car:

Any questions?

jlhaslip 02-04-2010 05:11 PM

Nice spot to hang out... Looks great!

Shamus 02-04-2010 06:16 PM

You have patience, vision and talent. And you missed your calling.

For me to see an inch of clean floor I have to move a cabinet. And my workshop is 1400 SF.

Very nice workspace.

monkeystomach 02-04-2010 06:58 PM

off topic... but, is your rsr a clone or was it a real 1972 racer?

Red Squirrel 02-04-2010 08:48 PM

Nice! I never even thought of using ceramic tile in a garage, I think that's a great idea. I will consider that when I decide to do my garage. The lighting looks good too and plenty of storage space.

jackie treehorn 02-05-2010 11:01 AM

Very nice, so neat and organized it reminds me o.c.d :)

Jack Olsen 02-05-2010 11:21 AM

Thanks, guys.


Originally Posted by monkeystomach (Post 394861)
off topic... but, is your rsr a clone or was it a real 1972 racer?

It's a clone of the 1973 race model. It's a 1972 body, but it's got a modern (1993) engine, a magnesium transaxle from the 1977 model, brakes from a 1986 Turbo, and a handful of suspension changes.


Originally Posted by jackie treehorn (Post 395211)
Very nice, so neat and organized it reminds me o.c.d :)

I'll grant you that it's kind of ridiculously clean in the pictures. But it gets messy when it's being used.

Making a fence for my front yard:

And building that bench for the front of the garage:

David911 02-05-2010 11:49 AM

Jack, awesome garage! Saw it over on Pelican too (I'm david914 there). I also belong to Garage Journal. Serious garage (and car) envy going on here!

sbmfj 02-05-2010 03:27 PM

nice job!!
I always forgot to look for used stuff. Looks like yo got some really nice bargains!!!
Thanks for sharing!!!

Jack Olsen 02-05-2010 07:34 PM

Thanks. Used stuff can clean up pretty good.

Here's another picture I took that shows the colors a little more accurately -- less of the yellow hue from the incandescent lights.

Mop in Hand 02-05-2010 11:47 PM

Looks way to organized, How do you get anything done? Nice Job

diykc 02-13-2010 10:03 PM

I need to borrow a C-Clamp, any idea where I might find one?

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