If you’ve ever walked into a dealership garage or other repair facility and wished you had something like it on the farm, you’re not alone. Fullyequipped professional workshops can make the average backyard mechanic green with envy. So, what if you could start from scratch and build a dream workshop on your farm? What would it look like, and where would you start?
With help from the pros at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Man., who really know their way around a shop, we’ve put together some recommendations on how to create your own top-notch workspace. Three instructors from the college’s School of Trades and Technology, Dennis White, Marty Zuzens and Dietrich Schellenberg, sat down for a discussion and offered their advice.
When it comes to overall size, the consensus was 50 by 100 feet would be ideal and provide ample floor space. If that’s out of your budget, though, the instructors think you could get away with the equivalent floor space available with something in the range of 50 x 75 feet, but you shouldn’t consider going with much less than that.
Today’s modern farm equipment is big and getting bigger. Fitting a class eight or nine combine into a shop, having room to work around it and providing space for other requirements calls for some respectable size. Trying to save money on building dimensions may prove to be false economy in the long run.
And the instructors emphasize that the ceiling needs to be pretty high. “You should never build a shop with less than 18-foot walls,” says White. All three agreed that 20 feet is better.
Many of you will remember that the average all-weather farm shop was just a single car garage a few decades ago. To you, a shop as big as the one recommended by the instructor panel may seem enormous, but the panel isn’t alone in recommending producers go big.
Trevor Hicks, a partner at Goodon Industries, a building contractor, says most orders currently coming from farm customers are for shops in the range of 60 x 60 feet. That comes in pretty close to the instructors’ minimum size recommendation.
“A 60 x 60 would be a nice size shop these days,” Hicks says. A building with those dimensions offers 3,600 square feet of floor space.
DOOR 20 FEET OR MORE
There is also door size to consider. Squeezing machinery in and out through the smallest possible opening increases the risk of damage to both the machine and the building. So, the instructors would install at least a 20-foot door with rapid opening and closing. That’s big enough to bring in a combine or four-wheel drive tractor with triple wheels. And a door that opens and closes quickly minimizes heat loss during cold weather.
You have several options when it comes to doors. Overhead doors are now available in widths up to 40 feet. Some models allow for a smaller 24-or 16-foot section to open when the full width isn’t needed, but a door with that feature may cost twice as much as a regular overhead model.
Using post frame construction can save producers a few dollars, Hicks says. On a 3,600-square-foot building, that could amount to about a $5,000 price reduction over stud frame designs because it eliminates the need for laying a grade-beam foundation. When it comes to overall costs, he estimates, a completed 3,600-square-foot building will run about $120,000.
Should you try and cut that cost down by rounding up a few friends and neighbours to help you raise the roof on one yourself? Hicks advises against it, citing the death of producer last year in a roof collapse. As farm buildings increase in size, proper engineering becomes critical, so hiring the pros to handle construction may be well worth it. “To give you peace of mind that you’re getting a good product built by guys that do it every day is the biggest thing,” Hicks says.
A good concrete floor with a drain is essential in providing a stable and smooth work surface. Hicks says the pad should be at least six inches thick to prevent cracking. The drain will avoid water accumulations from melting snow when a machine is brought inside during cold weather. And speaking of drains, the instructors would insist on a washing facility in any workshop. They say being able to clean machines is a must in order to work on them effectively and keep them in good condition.
Aside from having enough space to comfortably work on large equipment, the instructors point out there also has to be open space for workbenches and large tools. If you scrimp on shop size, this is where you’ll likely notice it the most. They also recommend allotting some space to parts storage. Keeping a stock of common parts like bolts, filters and lubricants is essential for an efficient workshop.
Finally, how should the shop be heated? Selecting a heating system depends on how you intend to use the building, Hicks says. If you want the shop to stay at a constant temperature, Hicks recommends in-floor radiant heating. That system, he says, is ideal for shops. And the instructor panel agrees. If you’ll be spending much time lying underneath machines, you’ll appreciate it.
But if you want to heat a shop only when you’re working inside it, forced air heating is the best bet. That system has a quick recovery time when it comes to raising temperatures. And keeping temperatures down during inactive periods could also save a few dollars in annual energy costs.
The main thing to remember is pre-planning is important. Thinking about every aspect of the shop’s use will ensure you end up with something that does the job well. And it won’t leave you saying, “I wish I had….”
Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.