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Beginner setting up a garage studio

Hi everyone,

I’m new here and also new to making jewelry, although I attended a bench comprehensive class at the New Approach School in 2019. I’ve been picking up equipment for the last year and a half and I’m finally ready to put together a little studio, I just had a question before I get settled into a garage.

The garage is made of cinder block, it’s small, not insulated, and has no heat or air conditioning. I’m located in Michigan so it gets pretty cold. The answer might be obvious but I just don’t know and I don’t wanna ruin anything. Could the cold cause damage to any of your normal jeweler tools/equipment if the temperature gets in the single digits? Could the air outside being too dry or humid be a problem? I’m mostly worried about my new workbench but also like a rolling mill, flex shaft, and just about anything else you would find in a studio.

Just seeing if anyone else has any experience or tips on being in this situation if there were any issues or if everything was fine.

Thank you!
Joshua

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My first shop was a back porch that I enclosed 46 years ago. It had no heat, one window and two doors. I heated it with an electric heater and later added a small AC unit to the window. When I knew that I would be working in it, I would turn on the heater, knock the ice out of my pickle rinse, add new water and in a while I was good to go. If the garage is unattached, this whole process may take longer. Sounds like you need to add a heat source and definitely some ventilation, especially around where you polish and solder. Once your tools are warmed up a bit you should have no problem other than for liquids that might have frozen. My guess is that if you can take it, your tools can. Your workbench should be fine. Good luck and feel free to ask for more advise…Rob

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I’ve had frozen pickle too. I use a space heater that looks like a radiator, it has oil in it and works reallly well. I’ve spent many days working in a cold studio, it keeps you awake and alert. :slight_smile:

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I have had the luxury of heated shops right along. But Rob will bear out stories of he and I and our father polishing silver bracelets in snow storms on the porch at Dad’s house. I can recall as well having to wait until the snow melted to find a bracelet in the driveway.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Flower+pot+heaters&docid=608055549925001116&mid=04D57E1770DC624B87A304D57E1770DC624B87A3&view=detail&FORM=VIRE

These heaters are easy to make and work almost OK in a smallish space as long as the air is still. Far from perfect but quick and pretty easy. There are variations on this theme that work better.

And as long as you have electricity a good space heater is best.

Good luck and enjoy yourself.

Don

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You should probably consider running a dehumidifier when needed so your steel tools do not rust. Dehumidifiers also generate a small bit of warmth, which will help supplement a more effective heat source.

For that I use a propane heater:

https://www.amazon.com/heat-buddy-propane-heater/s?k=heat+buddy+propane+heater

to get a very cold shop up to a livable temperature, and then switch to an electric heater to hold the raised temperature. When it is really cold I just heat the space immediately around me with the electric heater rather than try to heat the entire shop.

A thick rubber mat under your bench will help keep your feet warmer on a concrete floor.

Good luck and enjoy your shop!

Neil A

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Congrats, Joshua, on your work at New Approach and your new studio! I agree with Neil that humidity in the mild seasons is likely to be your biggest problem. Keep the rolling mill rollers and your tools oiled and keep a cover on the rolling mill and also, as Neil suggests, run a dehumidifier. I have one in my basement workshop and you would not believe how quickly it fills up with water. You won’t be able to keep on top of emptying a reservoir if the humidity is high, so plan on plumbing a line to the outdoors for the water. Make sure you get a model that allows this easily. The line in for the water to drip into the tank will be at the top of the reservoir, so you have plenty of fall, at least 18 inches, to run it outside. I get my reservoir full in less than a day at 75% humidity in a 25x15 space. Ideal humidity is somewhere between 40 and 60% and below 60% will probably prevent rust formation. You can use ventilation when the weather is mild enough, esp. if the humidity is low, and that will lower the bill on your dehumidifying. Be aware that water condenses onto cold surfaces when they are at a lower temperature than the air, a frequent occurrence in unheated buildings. This is one reason you might want to consider insulating. At least consider making the space pretty air tight to keep out humid air. IDK what your climate is like, and humidity may only be a problem for part of the year. Also be aware that when it is very cold, condensation can occur at 30-40% humidity. I’m sure you will figure it out eventually. If you keep watch on tools, a little beginning rust is easy to wipe off before it gets going. Good Luck! -royjohn

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I’ve always been in a coastal marine environment that gets alot off humidity (+/_80% all the time) and condensation, even imho indoors. And you might not even see it.

What I’ve taken to doing is keeping clear plastic bags bags (-that nice sheet sets come in) & cigar boxes closed with paper towel covers on top of my more valuable steel hand tools inside (files, nips, clippers, pliers etc). I also have plastic trays with terry cloth towels laid over them. All of these go into a shallow drawer metal cabinet like an architectural flat file. I keep it closed at the end of the day, everything tucked away. I pull out what I need to work on for the day or task and then put everything back. Project tools might go in a clear plastic zipper bag with a towel wrap and remain on my bench overnight.

For myself, leaving tools on a convenient rack is destructive. Just putting tools inside a closed cabinet doors not work. An additional soft thick fabric cover inside did. It’s like tucking babies securely into bed in a cold’s damp night. I learned. However, because I was also teaching privately, it was really impossible to get students to do the same consistently.

The dry towels over all metal tools inside plastic containers has nipped the rust problem in the bud. I also keep a soft set of wire brushes (steel and brass) to occasionally detail my larger 100+ yo files.

I cover and protect my vacuum/ investment table, vulcanizer, polishing station, welder and rolling mills. My kilns, the same when not in use. The heating elements can slowly rust inside a kiln.

The saying that rust never sleeps is so true. It’s kind of a pain, but I have that giant cabinet right next to my bench for hand tools so it’s not so inconvenient. It’s alot better than discovering creeping rust. When I had to refurbish and then re- polish a year old planishing hammer, that’s when I started getting really diligent. I developed good habits with my tools.

The dehumidifier would be a losing war because the studio was almost 900sf and a half subterranean basement with ground level windows on two sides. Ocean on the sides within 2 blocks and a perpetual brisk wind that peels paint in the afternoon. You live in the land of inland oceans.

My new studio is in alot cooler and similar damp environment in western washington and not currently set up, but I have lots of small exam rooms (it was built as veterinary clinic in 1933). The daytime temperature sits at 38F for 5 months and the dewpoint at 43F. Everything is damp. The first thing after the new roof was getting the older propane furnace in perfect working order, which helps immensely. I can’t wait to finish the glamping phase of our life in (architectural) rehab… LOL

A good small quartz heater or electric oil radiator, those are both good space heaters. I would suggest those over any baseboard heater set up.

Rigid 3+inch roofing foam or R19 + insulation firred in is nice for a more constant temperature. You might get good rubber insulation mats for your floors as well.

And you might want to come up with a service sink set up some sort. When you’re not running water thru it into a bucket… you can make a cover for it and it’s an extra counter/ work space.

Warm, comfortable and dry… you and your tools in winter… nice fans in a reostat for ventilation in summer when humid air is so thick you can cut it with a butter knife and frost a cake. I spent about of time visiting family in MI “thumb” when I was a kid. The humidity is comparable but alot more uncomfortable.

You’re going to have alot of fun! Best of luck.

Eileen

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I am also setting up an uninsulated workshop so I looked up the propane heater you use and it says that it is not to be used indoors (including garages). Looks like Kerosene would be a better option.

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There are a lot of vent free propane heaters available that stand alone and don’t require electricity. Look at Northern Tool, they have a large selection. If I were heating long term with propane, I would install a vented unit that vents and takes in combustion air through a combined double wall vent. If you have the room, you might consider enclosing a portion of the garage for your bench area heating, cooling and ventilating it and then do your polishing in an open area. As my brother Don mentioned, we did a lot of polishing in Central NY snowstorms on our father’s open porch. Always take into account the need to ventilate your soldering and polishing areas as much as you can. A simple fan and a window over your bench is a start. A homemade wooden hood and shop vac exhausted to the outdoors for polishing worked for me for a long time. I still use the hood that I built 46 years ago. It has gone thru many modifications. My first bench was a repurposed picnic table that a tree had fallen on and collapsed one end. Don’t let the need for space get in the way of making jewelry, just be careful and safe about it and know that you will likely make changes as the need and opportunity arrive. Good luck…Rob

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Thank you for the thorough advice. Lots of challenges besides the metalsmithing itself.

A hot/cold running water system is important. Don’t want to be going back and forth to the house to rinse pieces. I once had a studio (Santa Fe, New Mexico) in my garage with only cold water. Winter came and cleaning work was nigh on impossible. (a toilet would have been really great) That problem never got solved, but after the first winter I installed a ceiling mounted propane heater. Made winter work a lot nicer,

A great collection of problems and solutions as well as encouragement. I have no clue where we all are geographically but I see common basic problems. Warmth, space, light…

In my shop now I have forced air heat and A/C but I used an electric space heater for years. My current shop is about 10’ x 12’ in working space with a bit more in dead storage. “Not much space” I can hear in mutters from across the globe. But for about 20 years my shop was a 6’x6’ work space with a polisher in the cellar. I produced a lot of inventory then and even more now. Limited space is not a big deal unless you make it one.

Rob says ventilation is critical but pretty easy and he is correct. You can get a range hood from Lowe’s for less than $50.00. A Broan bathroom vent in a compact space will evacuate air. Harbor Freight has some solid inline vent fans. Look at the Cubic Feet Per Minute if moves.

There are ductless NG heaters available but I would call a specialist. Unless one or two of this forum are HVAC professionals a bunch of silversmiths and stone setters are not heating and cooling experts. They can also advise you on the humidity issue.

Don

For my studio I settled on a hard-wired electric convection baseboard heater that’s oil-filled (‘hydronic”). Relatively energy-efficient, safer than electric baseboard heaters that get very hot and suck in air. But slower to heat up. (Think of the oil-filled portables that look like a radiator.) It will need its own 20-amp circuit, and an electrician to install. Brand is TPI, made in USA or Canada—I forget. Avoid their portable version as it appears to be much flimsier. Available at electrical supply houses.

A quick fix I’ve used elsewhere is a 500-watt wall- or ceiling-mounted plug-in infrared heater by Warmly Yours (Canada). Love them! Can plug into a thermostat. Takes at least several hours to heat a room, but very safe if mounted correctly. $499 on amazon. These are much more common in Europe than the US, I have found. Warmly Yours is glass; do strenuously avoid the cheaper plastic versions.

If you use an oil-filled portable electric radiator-style heater, you can make it safer by upending a metal wire dog crate over it as a cage. Most now have auto-shut-offs if they tip over, but that doesn’t help if something flammable lands on it. And you can put 1-foot by 2-foot ceramic tiles on the top of the dog crate for a warm surface.

  • Lorraine

“A nation of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.”

  • Bertrand de Jouvenal

… I looked up the propane heater you use and it says that it is not to be used indoors (including garages).

Actually, the one I use is certified for indoor use.

However, just as with a natural gas kitchen stove there will be combustion byproducts left in the room air and oxygen will be depleted if you don’t have enough fresh air coming in. You would not use a gas kitchen stove as your sole source of heat for those reasons, and you should not use a non-vented propane heater (or non-vented kerosene heater) too long.

As I posted, my propane heater is used to get the shop up to a comfortable temperature and then I switch to electric heat. That works and is reasonable. Rob Meixner’s suggestion to install a vented heater is definitely a better way to go, if you can do it.

Neil A

Thank you everyone for the replies and the advice! I really appreciate it. All really good ideas to help and I’m going to do everything I can. I’m a little less worried now, so thank you. I look forward to learning and spending as much time as I possibly can at the bench, once I receive it from Otto Frei. It’s exciting to be this excited about something! -Joshua

Heat, light, ventilation have all been covered here by the rest of the posse but nobody has said a thing about keeping your fingers warm. My studio was not heated for about 10 years and in the winter here in Seattle, there were days when I could see my breath. A heater/ventilations system has been installed for awhile now, however, my studio partner and I both used and still use fingerless cotton gloves. Also, keep a bottle of lavender oil for if and when you singe a finger tip. Works wonders on burns! Congratulations on your new studio.

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What about a small wood stove - you might be able to simply put the pipe through the garage door or wall. I’m one for inexpensive heat. Wood is the best bank for the buck up north & it’s dry heat which is better for your tools. AND it keeps radiating heat for a long time.

Patty, in Florida, who doesn’t need it anymore, but used to rely on it.

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Just finished ( 5days ago) building a new studio from the ground up. This is perhaps the 7th studio I’ve put together, the first from the ground up, the 2nd if you include a remodel

  • insulated (I am in Denver Colorado), 4000 watt 220 volt electric heater
  • two exhaust fans
  • 10’ high ceiling (makes heating more difficult, but reduces concentration of airborne hazards)
  • 4 ceiling mounted LED shop lights (shop size is 600 sq feet)
  • epoxy coated floors over concrete
  • garage door (so I can move large equipment in and out easily)
  • walk in door
  • lots of industrial style shelving

I am installing two lapidary slab saws later today, an 18" and a 24", so the epoxy should make oil spills easier to contain I also use trays and oil absorbent (cat litter) under the saws

In previous studios I always seemed to not have enough power outlets, and in the wrong place. So now I have power outlets every 4’ or so along the wall. And of course, they are in the wrong place. Also wired in 220 volts for a CNC milling machine, which I use for aluminum and steel work (Sterling too, but not very often)

I do not have running water in that space, which is a problem, I will have it add that eventually, or use a “portable sink” or a ‘parts washer’

In all of my studios, I expect a 3 year life span; that is, as I get better at one technique, or add a new medium to work in, it is an average of about 3 years before I completely rearrange everything.

So, even though I have now been at it over 50 years, building a studio is still a process, and one that will never actually be finished. So build what you can now, and modify it continuously over the coming months and years.

Good luck!

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recent move to garage
have boosted nat gas and oxy concentrator, infred heating panels on ceiling. BUT no ventilation for soldering station.
No exterior windows at all, only garage door. the only bit of available exterior wall is filled will electrical panel. can i vent into the attic? use a bathroom fan?

You can aftermarket an exhaust vent for a garage door. Install that. Run a hose from a vent hood and that should be a help. I think you can also aftermarket windows for the door panels.

Don