My Outbuilding 

For years I had put off getting a dedicated structure for my woodworking, in spite of my wife's insistence--yes, you read that right.  Finally, after a few years of sharing an increasingly crowded garage, I finally succumbed to the obvious: I need an outbuilding. (OK, who of us really needs such's an American thing.)

a short video of the construction process can be found here.

How big?  Well our zoning ( the lesser of 10% of the property acreage or the primary residence footprint) would have been a prohibitively large building, in either case, on our 1.5-acre plot.  So I decided to see if a typical 24'x24' garage structure would be adequate:  With Visio I did a number of conceptual layouts for the placement of tools, benches, outlets, lights, etc.  I finally settled on a working floor plan, and decided that 24'x24' is sufficient. (Sufficient does not adequate make.)

Where to build?  With a large backyard you'd think the possibilities are endless.  Unfortunately, we have a row of pine trees at the rear of our lot, and obscuring the scenic view would have been unacceptable.  Also, by placing the building close to the house, a number of factors are immediately addressed: Trenching for electrical and communications lines is easier, the cost of the electrical feed is reduced (run 50ft. of line versus 200ft.), getting construction material (lumber, shingles, concrete, etc.) to and from the site is easier, and access once complete is easier.  So the building would be placed at the end of our driveway and 15ft. from our residence.

Next I had to describe to my wife how it would look there. To this end I created a 3-D model, using Punch! Home Builder Pro, of our property with the outbuilding.  Having gotten her approval, I drew plans for the pole building.  These would be used by lumberyards to provide a bill of materials and cost estimate.  Here were my initial specifications without the associated sketch:

I wanted to have only the structure built, and I would do all of the electrical and interior finish.

The process of getting an estimate for the materials began in early April 2005 but was hindered by a lack of responses from lumber yards.  (84-lumber and James Lumber never replied to my inquiries, and Carter Lumber called back once to request a clarification.)  Calls were not returned and visits to the lumber yards were met with excuses.  Then the whole process was put on indefinite hold when a significant rainfall, combined with a power outage, resulted in a flooded basement on May 11, 2004.  This was actually not too bad: just enough water to cover the carpeting and advance the wife's much sought-after remodeling of the basement.  We had all of the carpet and padding removed and the basement dried out by the professionals.  After 8 days of tornado fans and large dehumidifiers running round-the-clock, it was my turn to attack the basement.

I cut off the bottom three-inches of drywall and installed 4" composite baseboard. All of the wallpaper came down and the walls were spackled and repaired where needed.  The walls and ceiling got a fresh coat of paint, and new wallpaper and border were applied.  Oh, did I mention that I replaced the probably-original sump pump with a new one AND installed a battery back-up sump pump?  Well, I did!  And next year, I'll install a 17kW backup generator.....but I digress.  Back to the pole building.

I completed the basement in mid-July and it was time to attack the pole building issue again.

I again approached the aforementioned lumber yards and two others.  I also requested for an estimate from a company which builds garages.  (They would do all of the work: monolithic slab, stick construction, drywall, electrical, etc.  Their estimate was for nearly $25k!  And this would have been for a single light, three 110V outlets.  My electrical requirements would have added nearly $2.5k in materials and electrician's labor.)  The round of estimates was again met with less-than stellar responses.  But I did have a builder lined up, and he was available in the mid-October time frame.  The weeks dragged on and on.

I finally got tired of the run-around from these lumberyards and got an estimate from a place which supplied the materials for a pole-building and labor.  They provided an estimate within 2-days.  It was now early September, and they could not start construction until mid-December!

I requested a set of drawings, which I could submit to the county.  They don't supply drawings.  Not a problem, I said.  Just describe to me how you construct these pole buildings. Did you catch that? Pole building, not pole barn. Here is what a pole building is:

A pole building is simply a set of poles set in-ground (as with a pole barn); however, they only extend upwards of 2-feet above final grade.  These a topped with a top plate, and the remainder of the building is built as a standard stick construction.

I went home with information in hand and drew-up a set of plans for the township and county.  The drawings, as submitted, are here.  The major mark-ups by the county engineer was that the 4"x6" posts would have to be on 4' (not 8') centers and in 18" (not 12") diameter holes.  Overkill according to the builder, but it would not affect my cost. (double the posts, and double the pre-cast footer blocks.)

I staked the building location and, once approved by the township zoning, I began to trench for the electrical.  Because the trench I would run would cross over the house's primary feed, I hand dug in the area marked by the utility company.  Once I dug down to 36" and had not hit dig-tape, I rented a 8" trencher and trenched down to 30" depth (18" is the minimum required) along the route which I de-sodded.  It was snowing, but not accumulating; however, wet and muddy ground do not help matters with a few-hundred pound trencher.  I installed the schedule-80 PVC lines for the electrical and communication lines, installed a 5/8" ground rod, and had them approved by the county engineer.  I now eagerly awaited the start of construction.

Winters in North-Eastern Ohio are unpredictable.  Compound that with the fact that my house is in a valley, and dramatic climatic changes can and do occur from November through February.

Auguring the 24 holes for the posts began on 16 December 2004.  Although there was some snow on the ground, it was in the lower 40s and sunny.  Of the 24 holes, 14 were augured out on Thursday, and the builder called the county inspector to let him know that he had 14 done and that the holes are ready for inspection the following morning.  The inspector wondered how he would be ready first thing in the morning.  The builder just assumed that if all of the holes are not complete, it would be signed off on based on the completed ones.  No, said the inspector, he must inspect each one: they best be done because he will not sign off on an incomplete site and simply will not return later in the day.  It didn't matter, since the inspector didn't show up 'till nearly noon and the holes were done by 10a.m. Friday.  He only measured a few and tapped the bottom of the rest.

Once passed, construction proceeded in a hurry.  The posts were installed, plumbed, and cut to size.  By early afternoon Saturday, the lower portion of the building (i.e., the "pole" part of the building) was done, and construction of the walls began.  Unfortunately weather can vary greatly here: Saturday was sunny and in the upper-40s, but that night we got 18" of snow!  (Did I mention the wild fluctuation in weather we have to deal with?)

With some Sunday and Monday barely getting out of the single digits for a high (air tools useless, and these guys "arms don't do hammers"), work didn't resume until the 21st.  Because of weather and the Christmas holiday, no work was done from the 22 through the 27th.  In spite of all this time off, it took just about two calendar-weeks to complete the structure.  (See a sequence of video clips here.)

It was now my turn to do some trenching inside the building for the in-floor outlets (for the table saw and shaper) and underground dust collection.  So, on 2 January 2005, I attacked that.  (Oh, did I mention the wild fluctuations in weather? What happens when warm moist air meets cold hard steel? Well, it was in the upper upper 60s, the snow was melting--could have been sublimating for all I know!--and my garage door was open all day.  I didn't bother to even look at my tools....we'll come back to that later.)  It took a couple of days of trenching in mud with 50lbs of mud on my boots, but I installed the PVC dust collection piping and the conduit for the outlets.  I was hoping that the weather forecast would be for mild weather for a few days to a week, so that my concrete contractor could come out and pour the slab.  Did I mention......In the interim, I pulled the #2 wires from the house main panel, through the conduit, and into the building:  Let the salivation begin.  It may have been cold, but I did not mind.

After a few days of extremely cold conditions, we got another break in the weather.  Because the highs would be about 60, with lows in the mid-40s, the concrete contractor came out on 12 January 2005.  He poured only the slab inside, because it began to rain and he didn't want to risk the driveway extension (which would eventually be done in April).  After a couple of days of curing and precipitously dropping temperatures I entered the outbuilding.

Thank you, Torpedo-heater Inventor Guy! You made it bearable for me to work in the outbuilding during the winter!  I began by running the 220V for my ceiling-mounted forced air heater (using #8) and two 110V (#8) circuits for two ceiling mounted radiant heaters.  At this point I had the luxury of working with electric heat, after getting the temperature up with the torpedo.  After that I ran #10 for all of my 110V outlets (wall and ceiling).  The 5HP Unisaw and 2HP Grizzly shaper share a single 220V circuit ( #6), which runs under the slab.  The wall-outlets have outdoor, spring-loaded covers on them to keep sawdust out.  Other electrical work done, prior to drywalling was for the outdoor light fixtures and the lighting/outlets in the attic.

Oh, one other thing I had to do.  Remember the ground rod?  When I staked out the location for the electrical, I didn't survey the area. It looked flat.  It felt flat.  It wasn't flat!  But I did not know that.  I determined the depth to which I had to pound the ground rod: 4" above the slab is the goal. Site prep requires 2" of vegetation removal, 4" of gravel, and 4" of concrete.  So I proceeded to pound the ground rod in until 14" showed.  Murphy struck, after the site was prepped and the lower half of the building was done, I realized something.  The site was nowhere near as flat as it seemed.  Diagonally there was a 13"+ drop, and a 5" drop along the incident wall.  So, what did this mean?  That my ground rod, after the cement was poured, would be roughly 2" or 3" inches below the surface.  Not a problem, just pull it up, right?  WRONG!  No matter what I tried, it wouldn't budge.  Even the concrete contractor couldn't budge it with the back-hoe attachment on the bobcat.

When the gravel and the mesh reinforcement was installed for the cement, I connected a #4 copper wire from the ground rod to the mesh and interconnected all of the mesh.  After the cement had cured, I rectified the mistake by drilling a hole in the slab and installed a new ground rod.  At least the entire slab now has a grounding grid under it.

It's late September 2005 and I'm about to drywall the ceiling.  (Yes, I did the walls first, but I left a 1/2" lip to install the ceiling drywall.

Things I'd do differently:

  1. 2 ft. kickwall in the attic with a 6/12 pitch roof. Overall height of the building would be the same; however, access and usability of the outer reaches of the attic would be better.
  2. 28' x 24' footprint, which would accommodate a separate finishing room. but 24' x 24' is definitely a good size.
November 2007

It's been a long time since I've touched these pages.  So I won't even begin to re-cap what I've done, while I had time.  The shop is not quite set-up completely, but it's been usable for over a year.  I'll place some snapshots with a few descriptions.

Cyclone installation.  I did write up a quick overview of my clearview cyclone installation.  That can be found here.  And the Producer Slideshow.

Questions, comments, or concerns?  e-mail me.