How to build a rocket workshop (part 10: the resurrection)

The much-anticipated finale to the workshop saga!

The last few posts covered the electrical work, from digging a trench to installing a sub-panel in the shed and running conduit out from the main panel in the house, and then the official inspection. I also briefly covered the similar process needed to run some ethernet cable out there.

With that work complete, it just left cleaning up and furnishing the inside to create a true workshop.

workshop interior view, with work benches and stool
welcome to the rocketry workshop!

Most of this work was mundane – sweeping up a cartoon-like cloud of dust around myself, using a shop vac to get up sawdust and debris, etc. I also set up a second workbench against the back wall, and a few houseplants just to lend some color to the shop. They get plenty of direct sunlight during the day through that window.

I installed a few shelves (see below) to hold bags and cases of tools and equipment, and got some circular holders to tidy up the multiple 100 ft extension cords. The fire extinguishers were already in the shed, but I decided to keep them around in case something catches on fire (extremely likely).

I also put up a second light fixture overhead (not pictured here), installed some additional pegboard for hanging tools, and a few other miscellaneous things.

workshop interior view, facing open door
shop vac helps tidy up

The primary reason I needed a workshop to begin with was just for more space – some workbench or table area to lay out parts, and measure, drill, cut, sand, glue, and generally build things. With that goal in mind, I can say: mission accomplished.

workshop interior view, with workbench and stoool
exit, stage right

Finally! Just a place to sit and assemble rockets. It’s only about 10×10 ft, but it’s a really practical space.

I may spruce up the inside or outside of this shop more over time, like adding some flooring, building a larger exterior deck/ porch, and so on. I have a few other ideas. But the core goal is complete, and I’ve already begun work on my next rocket, the Darkstar Extreme from Wildman Rocketry. Much more to come on that soon!

How to build a rocket workshop (part 9: tropical storm)

Since we had already done all the work involved in running copper wire and conduit outside to bring electricity to the shed, we figured we might as well run some cat 5 (ethernet) cable out there, too, for a wired ethernet connection. I mean, we’d already dug the trench – so why not? An excellent yet rhetorical question.

And as long as we’re running one cat 5 cable, might as well run two. Right?

white door on blue exterior wall, with grey pvc conduit above and to the right of the door
double the conduit

In view of the larger project of transforming the shed into a workshop, I have to concede that this step was really more along the lines of “what the hell” than anything else. I can’t say it was absolutely necessary. In fact, one might argue it was totally unnecessary. I can’t say that I have any immediate plans to use a wired internet connection out there. The wifi signal from the house certainly reaches the shed, if I needed it. I cannot imagine why I would need a wired connection.

And yet… we already dug the trench, which is the type of work that I’d never want to do again. It may be totally unforeseeable now, but in the unlikely event I suddenly need a wired internet connection in the workshop, it seems worthwhile to invest in just a small amount of extra time and effort now, instead of undertaking another huge (and avoidable) project later.

And to be honest, compared to running electricity out there, this was much easier.

open metal junction box with cat-5 cable and ethernet jacks
labeling the jacks for future reference

The PVC conduit (3/4″ this time, easily able to hold two ethernet cables) was laid in the trench about 8 inches above the other 1″ conduit with the electrical wires, still about 10 inches below ground level. Next to the house, the conduit runs up vertically along the wall and then over a door and off to the side, right next to the 1″ conduit. I’ll paint them both blue to match the house, eventually, as well. At that end of the conduit, we ran the ethernet cable through the floor and wall of the house, and installed a 4-jack outlet inside, next to the modem/router.

On the other end of the trench, the conduit came up inside the shed to a single junction box, pictured here. It was basically the same process as the electrical wiring, just much simpler inside the shed with a single piece of conduit and single box.

I labeled the jacks and ethernet cable on both ends for future reference and then slapped a metal box cover and 2-jack wall plate on top. Tested both jacks and they are perfectly functional. Success! I may not know why I did this, but I know that the objective was achieved.

two finished ethernet jacks with wall plate cover
ready to use

This means the wiring is complete and I’ve entered a new phase of this project: beautification. Basically, time to clean things up. Outside, there’s an enormous mountain of dirt and rocks that needs to go back into a deep trench and cover up the conduit. I also need to buy a few (hundred) bags of mulch to cover the bare soil, and make the building’s external appearance look at least marginally more presentable (not dissimilar to goals related to my own appearance).

Inside the shop, there’s some general cleanup to do and a few pieces to put back in place. I also need to spend a little time planning the design for the layout, and where tools and equipment should go. It may only be a small 10×10 ft space, but all the more reason that the layout matters: space is at a premium.

I’ll have a few more pictures and a final update once it’s complete. It’ll be ready for building rockets just in time for spring – a.k.a. rocket-building season.

How to build a rocket workshop (part 8: judgment day)

I alluded to the fact in the last two posts that there are some laws and regulations applicable to electrical work.

Among other things, your city or state will require you to obtain a permit (and pay a fee) before you can even begin the work. In Washington state, this is the Department of Labor & Industries. The work needs to be done in accordance with certain requirements, and then an inspection is required once it’s complete. At that point, you notify the Department and schedule a date, and an electrical inspector will come on site to review all of the work.

It’s not uncommon to fail an inspection and for remedial action to be required. An inspector can fail you no matter how small the violation, relative to the overall work done.

Judge not, lest ye be judged – amirite? Unfortunately, it’s literally the inspector’s job to judge – and he or she has significant power and discretion.

front of shed with door and new exterior light
purely cosmetic

What are the requirements governing electrical work? There are several, and they are no joke. I had to bring myself up to speed quickly.

First, there’s the National Electrical Code (“NEC”), which is published by the National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”), in NFPA 70. Interestingly, this is the same NFPA that publishes the Code for High Power Rocketry (“HPR”), in NFPA 1127. But that’s a whole separate topic, worthy of its own blog post.

The NEC is “national” but is not technically a federal law. However, it has been adopted in all 50 states, which can also modify it as they see fit – so the rules can and do slightly vary from one region to another.

In Washington, there are state-specific statutes and regulations further modifying the standard NEC rules.

view of electrical panel in shed
where the magic happens

So what are these rules, exactly? There are far too many for a comprehensive list, but here are a few examples:

  • Conduit minimum depth underground. Copper wire must generally be enclosed inside conduit (metal/rigid or PVC) and, if horizontal and running across the ground, must be buried so the top of the conduit is at least 18″ underground.
  • Securing conduit. Conduit that is vertical and runs along walls (indoor or outdoor) must be secured with straps (plastic or metal) at no greater than 36″ intervals.
  • Conduit bends. You can physically bend conduit – with heat, if it’s PVC, for example – or you can attach 90 degree (or 45 degree) PVC “elbows” for turns. But the total turns cannot exceed 360 degrees. That means, for example, you could have a maximum of four 90 degree “elbows” or PVC pipe bends.
  • Panel clearance. Installation of a new electrical panel or sub-panel must have a certain minimum amount of clearance in front of it. Specifically, a minimum width of 30″, depth of 36″, and height of 60″. Visualize a telephone booth-like invisible box in front of the panel that must be completely unobstructed to ensure access to the panel.
  • Tamper-proof outlets. Electrical outlets (or “receptacles”) inside a dwelling unit (e.g. a house) must be tamper-proof. Inside a shed, which is not a dwelling unit, they don’t need to be – until the 2020 version of the NEC takes effect this summer, at which point even the shed would need all outlets to be tamper-proof.
  • GFCI outlets. For safety reasons, a ground fault circuit interrupter (“GFCI”) is required. Either the electrical panel needs to have a GFCI circuit breaker, or at least one outlet needs to be a GFCI outlet.
  • Ground rods. The new electrical panel for the shed requires at least one copper ground rod, and depending on the soil quality (specifically, its electrical resistance), possibly requires two. A ground rod comes in a standard length of 8 feet and has to be driven completely down into the ground. A bare copper wire (not insulated or inside conduit) connects the ground rod to the electrical panel. This is again for safety reasons, to redirect excess current.
close up view of junction box with outlets
junction box/ outlets

The NEC and its state and local variations of the electrical code have many more rules that must be followed. The above list is just a small fraction of things I learned during the course of this project – all from my friend Darrin, noted electrical expert and lifelong student of the electrical code, among other titles.

Again, the reasons for these rules are often pretty self-explanatory. Clearance in front of a panel is important so that a person has unobstructed access to the panel. Copper wire should be inside conduit when buried, in order to protect it from future damage – and that conduit should be buried pretty deep, for the same reason. The rules are mostly about safety and common sense.

As soon as we completed all the work, I scheduled the inspection. This was on a Sunday afternoon, incidentally, and the inspector showed up first thing Monday morning – record response time.

Judgment day!

The inspector was friendly, and he seemed quite impressed with all the work and how thoroughly it was done. He agreed it met all the applicable requirements in the code, with just a couple of very minor issues to address. These were promptly fixed, and the project officially passed inspection.

All I need to do now is a bit of final cleanup work – fill in that huge trench; clean up the mess everywhere from sawing, drilling; get the landscaping back in order with about a hundred wheelbarrows of mulch; and so on.

I think at this point, the backyard garden shed can officially and rightfully be called a workshop.

How to build a rocket workshop (part 7: the burial)

Step #2,352: dig a trench.

In order to run electrical wire and conduit from the main electrical panel in the house out to the shed, the electrical code requires (more on this later) that the conduit be buried a minimum of 18 inches underground.

digging completed – view from above

This requirement is totally understandable, given the nature of electricity and the danger of someone accidentally digging into it. It is also burdensome. It fact, is much more burdensome than it seems. This is partly because 18 inches is deeper than it initially sounds, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you get further down. If you’ve ever done any digging in your yard, even just to replant a small plant or bush, I’m sure this will resonate with you.

The minimum depth applies to the top of the PVC conduit, and you need to err on the side of too deep rather than too shallow if you want to make sure it’s up to code and will pass an inspection, so the trench really needs to be about 20 inches deep.

But the most difficult problem you immediately run into – if you’re me – is the soil quality. This is soil that nobody has touched in many decades. It’s dense and compressed, like clay, and also rocky. I mean extraordinarily rocky. There were points during which I achieved maximum rock, i.e., there was no soil at all and just pure rock.

pile of large rocks and stones, with a Starbucks cup for scale
sample of large rocks I dug up, with cup for scale

I had nothing other than a simple garden shovel. I went out on a limb and halfway through the project bought something that is specifically made for digging trenches, which looks just like the shovel except it’s somewhat narrower. This was helpful, but the digging was still brutal.

I’d estimate digging this trench by hand took about 50 percent of the total time for this electrical project, with the other half being everything from drilling and cutting and bending conduit to actually running the copper wire inside it and installing outlets and light fixtures (for which, as mentioned in the last post, my friend Darrin was invaluable and did all the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively). In retrospect, maybe I should have brought in some kind of heavy machinery to dig this trench.

Did I mention the sheer quantity of rock?

another large pile of rocks
maximum rock

Anyway, the trench was simple enough, conceptually. And from the main electrical panel in the house to the shed, only about half had to be underground. The other half is above ground and runs along the outside of the house.

Below is a picture of the trench mid-project, when I was busy naively underestimating the 20 inch depth requirement. It’s getting there, but by no means complete yet. You can see where the conduit comes up out of the trench, above ground, in between the door and the gutter downspout. We also installed a new junction box with electrical outlets and weatherproof cover there, just because we could.

View of L-shaped trench dug in ground, surrounded by piles of dirt and stones
a straightforward trench

Below is the view underneath the front of the shed, where the 1″ diameter conduit goes up inside the shed to a sub-panel. The smaller 1/2″ conduit on the left here contains copper wire, running from the shed’s sub-panel to the copper ground rod that you can see here.

As an interesting aside: with any electrical panel, you need to have at least one copper ground rod, and this comes in a standard length of 8 feet. The metal rod must be buried underground and attached via copper wire to the panel. In other words, you have to drive the rod straight down into the ground.

If the soil quality is good and its resistance is low enough, you may be able to get away with just a single 8′ ground rod. In our case, the soil was abysmal, and we needed to drive two separate 8′ copper rods into the ground. You’ll never be required to use more than two rods.

Outside shed, close up view of pvc conduit in trench and copper grounding rod
pvc conduit and copper grounding rod

Here are two final pictures of the trench once it was dug further down to the required minimum depth, and we laid the conduit inside.

view of trench from house, with PVC pipe laid in trench
trench from house

As this project went on, we needed to leap across increasingly wide and deep trenches, countless times. Particularly awkward was the trench needed to pass directly in front of the shed door, which required Olympic-level gymnastics to vault across the ditch but also simultaneously duck your head to avoid hitting the top of the door frame.

Eventually we realized it would just be easier to throw together a few wooden bridges made from lumber (2x4s or 2x6s). This prevented more injuries and also was a good idea for the inspector who still needed to come on-site after all the work was complete.

view of trench continuing to shed, with PVC pipe
trench continues to shed

If you look closely (and maybe squint), you can also see in a few of these pictures that we came across some unexpected pipes and drain tiles. We called 811 before digging – required by law – and the various utility companies came out to ensure there was nothing buried underground in this area.

But there were drain tiles, which are not part of any utility but are just part of the property. These were loosely connected and immersed entirely in tons of rock, to facilitate water drainage from the house, and we hit them in two separate locations as they cut across the trench. We also encountered some other pipe (about the same size as the drain tiles, roughly 4 inches in diameter) whose origin and purpose were unclear. We just dug around and beneath it, without disturbing it, and continued on our way. That pipe remains shrouded in mystery.

The conclusion here is simple and painfully obvious: digging sucks. But it was a necessary step to bury the copper wire and conduit in order to comply with the electrical code. This was the most backbreaking part of the project but also allowed for the more fun electrical wiring to be completed in the shed (covered in the last post).

How to build a rocket workshop (part 6: the electrocution)

It’s taken a while to provide an update on the workshop because… this step was a significant amount of work.

I enlisted some serious help from my friend Darrin, who has a background in electrical engineering, prior experience doing electrical installations, and an immense collection of power tools and equipment.

Copper wire, in red, white, black, and green
copper wire

The short version is this: we ran some electrical wiring from the house’s main electrical panel to the shed, burying it underground, and put a new panel inside the shed. From there, we installed a bunch of junction boxes with outlets, two light switches, and even an exterior light (just for fun), all connected to the shed’s panel. It’s done, and the shed has indoor and outdoor lights, and a ton of working outlets (soon to be put to good use).

The long version, if you care to read it, is below.

First, a few preliminary thoughts (from someone who has no background in electrical work) and the basics.

Conceptually, this project required a couple of steps:

  • adding a few new circuit breakers to the house’s main electrical panel;
  • running copper wires inside conduit along the outside of the house and then underground;
  • digging a trench;
  • installing a smaller sub-panel inside the shed, and adding circuit breakers to it;
  • connecting the wire/ conduit to the sub-panel inside the shed;
  • installing copper wire inside conduit, inside the shed;
  • installing metal junction boxes and electrical outlets in various places; and
  • adding an outside light fixture and wiring it up.

Here’s a list of the major supplies we used:

  • roughly 80 feet of pvc conduit (1 inch diameter), connecting house main electrical panel to shed’s sub-panel; along with a few 90 degree “elbows”;
  • roughly 20 feet of metal conduit;
  • roughly 20 feet of metal clad (“MC”) cable;
  • plastic and metal straps to secure the conduit to the house wall or shed wall;
  • metal junction boxes;
  • electrical panel for the shed;
  • circuit breakers for main house panel;
  • copper wire (black, white, red, and green), to connect everything inside shed as well as connecting shed to main house panel;
  • outlets or “receptacles” for the junction boxes (3 GFCI outlets, plus other regular outlets);
  • wall plates;
  • two copper grounding rods (each 8 ft in length) and acorn nuts;
  • roughly 20 feet of bare copper wire to connect both grounding rods to shed’s panel; and
  • external light fixture and mounting hardware,

I am very possibly forgetting a few things. As I mentioned above, this was a big project.

It also required a lot of different tools, some of which I didn’t know existed. We used basic tools like drills and circular saws, screwdrivers and mallets, measuring tape and a level, etc., of course. There were also giant drills with giant drill bits to punch huge holes through concrete or cinderblock; and a giant hammer attachment for this drill to drive an 8 foot long metal rod straight down into very rocky soil. We also used tools to cut (and to bend) metal conduit, and to cut (and bend) PVC conduit. As with every part of this project, I have to give full credit to Darrin. My role was participatory at best.

I’m going to create a completely separate post for the outside work – i.e., digging the trench and laying the conduit running from the house. But below are some pictures of the work inside the shed. First, the electrical panel, light switch, and conduit during the installation:

Inside shed front wall - electrical panel, conduit, and light switch
inside the shed – electrical panel, conduit, and light switch

And after completion:

electrical panel inside shed
completed panel

Likewise, here’s a bit of a closer view of the panel and light switch, during and after the install:

Close-up view of electrical panel and box for future light switches
close-up view of panel and box for future light switches
electrical panel and light switch - closer view
panel and light switch complete

The side wall now has 4 junction boxes with outlets (2 above the bench and 2 below), with a 5th box on the ceiling for light fixtures. Below are pictures of the side wall during and after this work was completed.

View of side wall inside shed, with more conduit and junction boxes for future outlets
more conduit and junction boxes for future outlets
view of side wall in shed, with metal conduit and new outlets
conduit, outlets installed
corner view between side and front wall, with ceiling outlet for light fixture
corner with ceiling outlet for light fixture
new outlet, in metal box with metal conduit
new outlet

As mentioned above, I’ll create at least one separate post about the work done outside – digging the trench, and connecting the shed to the house panel with conduit – and probably several separate articles. What I learned about the local electrical code and its many requirements, for example, could easily fill volumes (though it would likely interest nobody). In any event, this post is long enough as it is, and I’ll wrap it up for now. Stay tuned!

How to build a rocket workshop (part 5: the butchering)

This shed-to-workshop project is coming along well. So far, I’ve cleaned it out, added two new windows, replaced the old plywood doors with a nice new door (with a glass panel for even more natural light), and given a fresh coat of paint to the door frame and exterior shed walls. Not bad.

The next step is a less dramatic transformation, perhaps, but arguably one of the most important things for a future workshop: a proper work bench.

One of the main reasons I needed some sort of workshop in the first place was just for the additional space and work surface. Sure, it’d be great to have some simple power tools (table saw and vacuum for sawdust, drills, and so on) and other equipment, and a place to efficiently store all those tools. But my single biggest need is just for some extra space – a large work bench for projects, primarily building rockets.

Butcher block work bench
butcher block work bench

I decided to go big with a butcher block countertop from Home Depot. In fact, they offer a few different sizes, and I went with the largest one they had, a full 96 inches (8 feet) in length. I found out two things about butcher block: it’s extremely heavy, and it’s expensive. But worth it!

After doing some initial research and arriving at a decision, I made the mistake of running up to the store myself and trying to purchase this alone. I could write a lengthy article just about the epic struggle of getting this thing off the shelf and hauling it to the front of the store, and loading it awkwardly into my small car (sticking partly out of an open trunk). I blocked many increasingly annoyed contractors in the store’s loading zone. I eventually managed to transport this thing home successfully, but at great cost to my pride, and my lower back.

The butcher block was unfinished wood, and this meant applying some sort of stain and/or seal to the wood, in order to protect it long-term. On a separate trip to the store, I picked up some simple clear wood stain, and also some clear polyurethane water based sealant, along with a couple of brushes.

As a side note, polyurethane can be either water based or oil based, and the difference is how they look after finishing the wood: water based is completely clear, while oil based will give the wood a soft amber look. It’s a purely aesthetic distinction and totally based on your own preference.

Applying wood stain to butcher block
wood stain

The staining and sealing process was nearly as epic as the journey from store to shed, though I didn’t realize this would be the case at first. Following the instructions provided on the can, at least two coats of the wood stain were necessary (to both the top and bottom of the butcher block, as well as all 4 sides), allowing ample time between coats to dry.

The polyurethane was even more demanding, requiring a minimum of three coats per surface. The fact that it took at least several hours for each coat to dry, and the sheer weight involved in trying to rotate this board, meant a multi-stage staining and sealing process that ultimately took more than a week.

This was also mid-winter and while Seattle winters are relatively mild, it was still cold enough to numb my hands halfway into the application of each new coat of stain and sealant. Several of those trips were done with light snow blowing into the shed, potentially ruining my otherwise perfect work.

Applying a polyurethane seal to the butcher block
polyurethane seal

Eventually, I finished preparing and protecting the board and mounted it along one wall inside the shed, centered under a window that provides plenty of natural light. Mission complete!

The only other major feature that a true workshop needs is electricity. And while digging a massive trench and running conduit and wire from my house out to the shed is an awful lot of work, it should also make a decent story, and a couple of good blog posts.

How to build a rocket workshop (part 4: painting)

I added a new step to my project that wasn’t in the original plan: painting. Gotta improvise sometimes.

Front and side view of shed, prior to painting

With the old plywood doors removed and the new door and frame installed, the shed was looking much classier. But that part of the project required framing the new door properly, filling in new gaps with plywood, and caulking between the plywood sheets to seal it up. Basically, this left a bit of a mess, as you can see above.

In addition, the new door frame was just bare wood, without any paint or stain to cover and protect it. This would need to be painted not just for cosmetic reasons, but for longer term protection.

Newly painted blue shed, front and side view
after – newly painted

As for the rest of the shed, a new coat of paint will always clean things up. Besides, it had been a few years and was probably due for a new coat anyway. With nearly constant rainfall in the Seattle area all year round, exterior surfaces really take a beating from the weather.

The most difficult part of this phase wasn’t the painting at all – that was simple enough, and fun. It was trying to come as close as possible to matching the exact shade of blue here. To be fair, it didn’t need to match precisely, especially if I were going to re-paint the entire shed anyway. But our house was painted with the same color blue as well, and ideally the shed should continue to match the house.

Front view of shed, prior to painting
pre-paint job

So after half a dozen trips back and forth to Home Depot and a ridiculous number of paint chips, I was finally able to match the color. Much to my surprise, it’s not blue at all, but actually called “Sheffield Gray,” at least according to the paint’s official label.

The white paint for the door frame/ trim was a lot easier, and it didn’t matter quite as much whether it matched. I’m actually still torn about this color even after painting the frame because the house uses more of a gray color for the trim around all of the doors and windows. But hey, white looks nice too.

Newly painted blue shed, front view
post paint job

As mentioned above, the painting work itself is straightforward and actually fairly enjoyable. The exterior of the shed is not a particularly large surface area, and it’s not difficult to reach any area, so I didn’t even need a ladder or any tools other than a simple brush (and a screwdriver to pry open the paint can lid, and a hammer to shut it again).

If only the entire shed-to-workshop transformation project were this easy.

How to build a rocket workshop (part 3: the emergency exit)

You know what they say: when god closes one door, he opens another. Right?

I was googling to find the exact phrase (and its original source) and apparently one of the most popular google searches along these lines is “when god closes all doors.” If that happens, you should be very concerned. It’s definitely a bad sign.

For example, the room can suddenly erupt in a fiery inferno, and if god has closed all doors, how are you going to escape? You need an emergency exit. And if one doesn’t exist, you may need to build it yourself.

This, then, is the story of me building my own emergency exit to escape the inevitable fire and billowing black smoke that is sure to occur in the near future: aka, installing a door.

Double doors on shed, made of plywood, with padlock
plywood doors + padlock. not super inviting

Our mundane garden shed came with what might generously be described as French doors. Generously would be the key word, here, because the doors are cheap, made of nothing other than thin plywood, and completely windowless. There’s no handle per se, but a nice metal padlock secures the structure from unwanted intrusion.

This phase of the shed-to-workshop project calls for the complete removal of these doors, and replacing them with a real door.

As with the windows, a lot of this is just measuring and planning. I considered putting in double doors (real non-plywood ones), but this is actually kind of a narrow space for that – the opening is only about 48 inches wide. On the other hand, that’s too wide for a single standard door, whose width is generally 36 inches. I decided to go with a single door and just put in a new wooden frame to accommodate it.

The height is also unusual here. A standard door would be approximately 78 to 80 inches in height, but the opening here with the plywood doors removed is only about 60 inches. Yes, that’s only five feet, meaning I have to duck to enter or exit, no matter what kind of door I use. It is a shed, after all.

In the end, I decided to get a fiberglass door, cut to a custom shorter height, with a large glass window to let in more natural light.

With the decisions made and planning complete, I placed an order for the door at a local shop, which includes the door jamb (i.e., the wooden part around the sides and top of the door). It arrived about a week later; in the meantime, I also picked up a heavy duty external locking door handle from Home Depot. As with the windows, I enlisted some help in removing the old plywood doors, framing and installing this new door.

Front view of shed, with a new white door with glass window panel
a legit door. much classier!

But it’s finally done! You can see where the old plywood doors had been, and where their hinges had been attached. We were able to repurpose some of the plywood from the old doors to fill in the gap (since the new door is narrower), caulking to fill in the spaces.

Of course, this still needs some additional work to finish and clean it up. I’ll need to paint the entire front wall blue again, which will first require matching the exact shade of blue and buying the paint. And I’ll also need to paint the wood trim around the door, something like white or grey.

View of shed from outside, with new front door and side windows
workshop starting to take shape, at least externally

But cleaning up and painting is no big deal. The hard part is over, and the place has a nice new door! A proper emergency exit, which you can be sure I’ll use during an upcoming welding mishap or rocket engine explosion.

The workshop is coming along nicely. I think the next step will be to get a butcher block countertop and install that inside so I have a nice large workbench for rocket projects.

How to build a rocket workshop (part 2: the defenestration)

Defenestration (n). The act of throwing someone or something out of a window.

Artwork of the Defenestration of Prague, circa 1618
a classic and memorable defenestration

In particular, the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 involved some angry folks tossing several government officials out of a window from Prague Castle. Generally, when you have unwanted guests and you’d like them to leave, the preferred approach is to drop subtle hints that you need to wake up early the next morning, or start cleaning up. Maybe turn on a vacuum if they don’t get the hint. A forcible ejection through the window can have the immediate desired effect but may ultimately lead to a long and terrible war (in that case, the Thirty Years’ War).

Speaking of forcible ejections through the window, many things can go wrong when building or using a workshop, and I named each phase of my shed-to-workshop project after a small sample of them. In this “defenestration” phase, I’ll add windows to the shed.

Shed with window added on side
taking this shed to the next level

First, I had to plan a bit: how many windows? And how large should they be? Of course, I want to maximize light, and my initial answers were more windows and bigger windows, respectively. But more windows cost more money and are significantly more work to install. And most importantly, there’s only so much room inside to actually use or store tools and equipment, and windows eat up some otherwise useful wall space.

Two windows seemed sufficient to really open up the space and provide ample natural light. I thought one on the side and one on the back wall made the most sense.

A shed would typically have pretty small windows, too, something like 12×24 inches or maybe 12×36. Larger would always be better, but then again, I didn’t want the windows to look ridiculously oversized on such a small structure. I ended up going with two windows that are each 24×48 inches.

The walls here are just simple plywood, so after the initial planning was done, this project required:

  • measuring and cutting away the plywood rectangles where windows would go;
  • cutting some wood and framing the window; and
  • installing the window itself, along with some flashing.

Overall nothing too crazy, but a decent amount of work. I did have someone help me with this project; I’m ambitious but only mildly handy, and certainly not an expert.

View of shed interior with new window in rear wall
let there be light!

And this is the finished product! It’s amazing how much a window or two can transform a room. It looks like a completely different space, flooded with light. It even feels bigger, and is the type of place I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon working on a rocket build or some other project, especially in the spring and summer once the weather gets nicer.

On to the next step: replacing the plywood shed doors with a real door. Something to help class it up, maybe with some glass to add even more natural light. And a handle, ideally, to open and close this door. Maybe I’m going too far? One can always dream.

5 simple ways to turn a garden shed into a workshop

As I get more into building larger rockets, I’ve been increasingly aware of the limitations of my work area. Specifically, I don’t have one. We have a fairly small house and there’s no dedicated space for gluing or drilling or doing anything with large parts. I’ve had to temporarily co-opt our dining table.

We do, however, have a mundane shed in the backyard. It’s in good shape, but it’s dark and dirty, with no windows or any natural light, no electricity, and is generally just full of old junk that came with the house. But it has potential.

Blue shed
Run of the mill shed

I decided one of my goals for 2020 is to convert this shed into a useful workshop, primarily for rocket-related projects. This is just the first of a series of posts documenting the process of transformation and the resulting workshop.

This is kind of a big project, so I’m breaking it down into a few major concepts or steps:

  1. Remove junk & clean.
  2. Install windows.
  3. Replace door.
  4. Install new countertop work surface.
  5. Add electrical wiring for light fixtures and outlets.

This isn’t necessarily a comprehensive list, but I think that once I complete each of these parts of the project, it’ll go a long way towards making this a practical (and really cool) workshop. And then I’ll give it a name to class it up, like the Rocketshop.

Okay, still working on the name.