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Longtime reader and friend of the Toolmonger shop Beano-t took in this view in his shop and thought, “This looks like a project.” We couldn’t agree more. It’s pleasant here in the South when the days aren’t kicking up to triple digits, but for many it’s already freezing-ass cold in the work area (and we aren’t far behind). I’m curious what you guys in the North do to keep the cold at bay while out in the shop?

In Texas we more often than not just don’t go in the shop when it’s under 40 degrees out. Keeping cool in the summer is more our game. However, because I’d rather not lose the valuable time in the lull of late December when the work slows down and the shop stays empty, I wonder what the best strategy is, short of full heating. I look to the Toolmonger readers to set me straight.

So how about it? I’m guessing, “dress in layers and stop being a sissy” will rank up there, but what else have you got? Let us know in comments.

Toolmonger Photo Pool (Beano-t rocks) [Flickr]


24 Responses to Keeping Warm in The Shop

  1. DDT says:

    here in Toronto it can be as cold as minus 30C, and it’s not a dry cold. After it gets to be about 5 degrees Celsius, I find it unbearable infrared heater, spray foamed shop, keep the damn door close, and anti-fatigue mats wherever you stand – concrete is so brutal. I do know someone who’s put in the electric radiant floor heating in, but I cannot comment how useful (or expensive) he finds it.

    One guy in Montreal (I saw this in finehomebuilding or finewoodworking), attached his shop via his house, and built it underground as an extention to his basement, which is good because you have the benefits of a furnace.

  2. Kurt says:

    My shop is 1000 SF. First thing I did was insulate it, especially the metal garage doors. I use one 23000 BTU indoor rated Kerosene heater, with another as a backup if it gets really cold outside. I have a couple of 1500 watt space heaters, but try and use them as little as possible as they are expensive to run here in California. Oh, and I wear a hoodie too.

    If I was building a shop from scratch I would seriously consider radiant heating built into the slab. At some point I might bite the bullet and do it by building a wood floor on top of the slab, which takes care of a variety of problems with the concrete floor.

  3. minh says:

    I have one of these that i bought from home depot a few years back.


    I hardly ever use it though since I am lucky enough to live in southern california.

  4. JB says:

    First don’t be a wussy, because 40 degrees isn’t cold. Unless you’re wearing a speedo, wear some shop cloths, plus wear a hat at all times! Carhart/ other brand overalls (if you’re really cold), a a long sleeve thermal shirt, even long underwear or just an old sweat shirt. Plus if you’re actually working, your body will keep you warm. You don’t want it so hot you sweat in “cold” weather, you can get sick quickly. It doesn’t get as cold as Canada here in Michigan, but we get a decent amount of snow cover. I wear a hat that covers my ears and a t-shirt, and a zip up Carhart hoodie sweatshirt all winter. If it’s really cold I wear a long sleeve thermal and thermal socks. The one thing that may bother you depending on what you’re working on is your hands, since sometimes you can’t wear gloves.

  5. Jerry says:

    Sean said it and JB did it! However, JB has some good points. The hardest thing ever to teach people how important a hat is when trying to stay warm. None of the “experts” can agree on the percentage of heat loss through the head but I can say that I can work a lot warmer by just adding a hat or wearing a hoodie.
    I use a single head propane heater but it does not heat the shop and is really only good when I don’t have to move around the shop very much.

  6. Dean in Des Moines says:

    It gets as low as -20F here in central Iowa. During that time, my unheated, uninsulated garage shop is abandoned. I’ll work down to around 0 on some days, but haven’t figured out how to apply finish at any temp below 35F. Wood behaves completely different when it’s moisture content freezes.

    Having warm hands is essential. Cold hands are unsafe on power saws.

  7. rg says:

    At this very minute, it’s -36 deg C in Edmonton with the windchill. Yay, I win!

    To heat my shop, which is my detached garage, I use a 55,000 BTU kerosene/diesel torpedo heater. I supplement it with a 220V 4800W electric construction heater.

    I haven’t insulated my garage yet, so when it gets as bitterly cold as it is now, I avoid working in there. It just takes too long to warm up. Maybe next year, though.

  8. fred says:

    Our 2 commercial shops are both fully heated – one is even decently air conditionned for year-round comfort. Its jobsites that can be a problem – although we’ve been blessed with doing mostly interior work of late.

    My home shop is in a 2400 sq foot basement that was dug out fairly deep – so I have 9 feet of headroom in most spots – even with a raised wooden floor – and ground level access on one side via a big double doorway. The basement houses 2 heating plants – a gase fired hot air system for the older part of the house and a hot water system for the newer section. The basement suffices with heat from the hot air system only – so it can get a bit uneven.

  9. DoItRite says:

    I’ve had a shop in North Dakota and now in Western Montana. Temps (REAL temp, not sissy wind-chill) often goes below zero (Fahrenheit) and usually in the negative teens or -20’s for a few days a couple of times a year.

    The best thing to do is have a very well insulated shop. Heated buildings around here are always built with 2×6 exterior walls with R-19 to 25, attic insulation of R-40 to 60 and foam insulation below the slab or down the stem wall below grade for 3 feet of R-5 to 10. If you build like this to start, then half the heating problem is solved. Unfortunately, sometimes existing garages and old buildings are used for a shop, so the below-grade part is nearly impossible to retrofit. Insulation is an investment that pays and pays. Good windows will pay for themselves over time too, and don’t forget an insulated overhead door.

    I stay away from the torpedo heaters and the propane unvented radiant heaters since they quickly use up the oxygen (something that I like to have on hand when I’m working) and introduce a LOT of moisture into the space.

    I live in an area where electric and propane are currently close to the same price per BTU, so sometimes I’ll run an electric heater if it’s not too cold, but if I need a lot of heat fast, nothing beats a hanging unit heater. The newer types are efficient, low profile and have a fairly quiet fan that can reach the far corner of the shop quickly. Here’s an example:


    Not cheap, but safe, and well worth the investment. It will last a long time if you blow the dust out occasionally. Not too difficult to install and can be vented out the side wall instead of through the roof if you want.

    I’ve found that working in a shop that is in the 50’s is quite comfortable if I wear some wool socks and a light jacket. With a well insulated shop, It almost never gets below freezing inside. If I park the car inside if it’s been on the road for a while, the heat from the engine will actually make the inside temp increase.

    A friend has radiant heat piping in the slab of his shop, which makes a nice even heat from floor to ceiling, but it was expensive to install and he really can’t turn it down at night of if he’s out for a few days since it takes a long time to heat back up.

  10. Ted says:

    My old garage was detached, uninsulated and unheated but tiny, so was bearable with insulated coveralls and one of those little electric ceramic cube heaters. Current shop is fully insulated and has a ceiling mounted forced air gas unit — I keep the thermostat around 5C to keep the pipes from freezing and bump it up to 15 or so while I’m working, doesn’t seem to affect our heating bills by a noticeable amount.

  11. beano_t says:

    I fondly remember the day I decided to insulate and heat my shop.
    It makes it slightly easier to work year round.

    I don’t mind putting on a jacket, when it gets cold say 10-20 below… but it helps that I can keep liquids out there without turning them into molasses or freezing them solid.

    Plus my beer kept icing over.

  12. MikeT says:

    Wear wool and use hand tools.

  13. Cameron Watt says:

    I’ve been working in a lean-to of one sort or another for a few years now and light a fire outside when I get cold. I sometimes use an electric radiant heater but usually it’s used to warm my tools rather than my person.

    I’m on the Canadian Riviera and it doesn’t get too cold; it’s minus 6 right now and we call that a cold-snap. Temperature isn’t too big of a deal to me. Humidity and wind are what make me miserable. I watch the temperature but mainly to compare it to the dew point.

  14. rg says:


    Sissy windchill? If it makes you feel any better, it’s getting down to -31 deg C tonight (-24F to you) — without the windchill factored in. For God sakes man, I live in Edmonton. I don’t have much to brag about, so at least let me have that!

    Be thankful for the fact that you are 7-8 hours drive closer to a warm beach than us frozen Edmontonians. That sounds better than having set the record for being the coldest place in North America (including the Arctic), last December. We would have been the coldest place in the world, if it weren’t for those darn Siberians one-upping us.


    I agree with you about the torpedo heaters introducing a lot of moisture, which can be troublesome. When I’m done in my garage, I open the back door and the overhead door to blow out as much humid air as I can, before shutting it down for the night. I’d prefer to use all-electric heat, but I’d need 3-phase service, which is expensive to get installed in a residential area.

    Re: Oxygen – My garage gets more than enough ventillation through the soffits and roof vents. I run a digital carbon monoxide detector, and it doesn’t even register the torpedo heater. From that, I assume I’m getting plenty of oxygen. I’ve got 30′ of soffit down one wall, so you can imagine.

    On that note, it’s good to remind everyone who uses propane, gas or oil heat in their shop to have a functioning CO detector/alarm, particularly if the shop is well-insulated and air-tight.

    Also, beware of creating air-borne dust with power tools. An open-flame heater can cause a dust explosion. This goes for all types of gas, propane, or kerosene type heaters. Even electric heaters should be of the sealed explosion-proof type. At the very least, be very careful about controlling air-borne dust. And watch out for flammable solvent fumes, obviously.

  15. Brau says:

    I find what stops me is the sniffling, and ensuing general miserableness sapping my will to work, not so much the actual cold. In the past I have used a couple of heat lamps to warm the target area where I’m working most and found it works okay in an unheated workshop down to about -10C. Today my shop is in my fully heated basement, the weather outside is -6C, and I’m very happily working on electrically heated Hummingbird feeders so the little buggers don’t starve.

  16. aaron says:

    Dean in Des Moines said it. I dont mind the body getting cold, but once my hands freeze up it makes work difficult, tedious, and just not fun – not to mention very dangerous with power tools OR hand tools (i’ve been injured worse by sharp chisels than by my power tools).

  17. Tom says:

    I have a detached 50yo garage here in Michigan. When it gets to be winter time I will work until it gets down to single digits (F), but do hand tool work, gluing, and finishing in the basement mini-shop. Most of the liquids migrate to the basement to keep from freezing anyway. The nice thing is that the 1 car garage is usually kept pretty clean over the winter to fit my wife’s car in it.

    When it is cold I also do most of my knife making work in the garage. The steel gets warm and keeps my hands warm.

    Hats are the best thing ever. I find that with the right hat you can wear a lighter jacket.

  18. Dan says:

    Calgary here, so it was -29 this morning.

    When it’s cold, I use a propane heater, am careful care about carbon monoxide issues, and set a box fan pointing _down_ to pull the “warm” air back out of the roof. There’s now a lot more stuff stored on the bottom of the trusses than there used to, which also helps keep the warm air lower down, and I insulated (pink fiberglass) between the framing a few years ago.

    It doesn’t make it pleasant to be out there, and doing anything involving touching metal is really no fun, but it’s at least possible to do some basic stuff.

  19. DoItRite says:

    OK rg-
    I’ll admit that it can get a little cold in Edmonton, although we have some bragging rights here too:


    What I’ll give the most credit for is being able to handle darkness all winter long!

    You make some good points with dust and fumes, since the tendency would be to seal up things as much as possible when it gets this cold out, and avoid exhaust fans, etc when painting or using solvents since all of that expensive heat would be sucked out. I try to limit those types of activities to the times when it warms up a bit – at least above zero.
    Nobody would want to see all of those nice tools going up in flames! Especially since the water in the fire trucks would be turning solid by the time that they arrived at my house.

  20. ludwig says:

    what about a wood burning stove, sectioned off?

  21. Mac says:

    Not going in the shop under 40?!? I’m still motorbiking into work at those temps.

    Mmmm… radiant flooring… jealous. Maybe someday. That or move someplace where it’s warm… like Texas? 🙂

    I use various heating units depending on the degree of cold, the job, the urgency, etc. None are perfect, all have benefits as well as drawbacks.

  22. JKB says:

    Barring a well insulted shop/garage, I’d recommend some type of radiant heater (propane, wood stove, electric) and radiant heat barrier (go with the bubble wrap barrier for a bit of conduction insulation). If you can’t cover the walls and ceiling, you can create a frame that will reflect heat back to you at the bench or other location you spend the most time at. If the barrier, plastic, or something extends to the floor, you can inhibit convection moving cold air around your feet. Just look to bounce the radiant heat from your heater and yourself back to the area you’re working in. Not having a cold side of your body will go a long way to easing your comfort.

    Also, a hat and maybe those earmuffs you can pick up at the big box home store. I’d go with a felt hat that has space above your crown to form a tiny insulated space as a buffer from convection currents. A fedora or something.

  23. Gough says:

    I’m in the process of moving into a new shop and I made it a point to go with 2 x 6 walls with R-19 fiverglass and 1 1/2″ polyisocyanurate on the outside, along with R-60 attic insulation. Right now, the heat is a 10KW Fostoria portable electric salamander, but I’ll be adding a barrel stove to utilize the firewood from the surrounding woodlot. My electrician is putting together a timer so the salamander can be set to turm on about an hour before I start work. My plan is to then start the woodstove as soon as I get to work and let it take over.

  24. Dr Bob says:

    I don’t do much in the shop in the winter here in MN except keeping the garden tractor/snowblower running and doing things that I absolutely have to do, but can’t move into the basement where it is warmer.

    My shop is an old uninsulated and unheated granary – approximately 16 x 30. It has a stairway in the middle of the space to the loft. I’d like to remove the stairs, and build new ones outside to the loft for more space, install new windows and siding, then insulate it and put in a propane stove for heat when needed.

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