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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Building the NEW Down To Earth Workshop, Part 2 – Insulation, Skinning the Walls, Finish Wiring

Once the rough wiring is run (and in the case of remodeling, any cleaning, reconstruction, or repair work is done), insulation is the usual next step. Kraft paper backed insulation is being used in the Down To Earth Woodworking Shop, along with strategically placed bits of expanding foam and Styrofoam insulation.

Fiberglass insulation is inexpensive, works pretty well, and is easy to install. But maximum effectiveness depends on proper installation. Insulation is intended to reduce, or slow, conductive heat transfer. Like double-pane window glass, the air spaces between strands of fiberglass provide conductive breaks, further slowing the conduction of heat. Large air spaces, though, can allow air movement, actually speeding heat transfer. Therefore it is important that the fiberglass fill large air pockets. It is also important that the fiberglass not be overly compressed as the compacted glass fibers can actually speed up heat transfer.

Figure 11 - Without a relief slit in the fiberglass, the insulation will compress
and not fill the space behind wires, pipes, etc.

Figure 12 - cut a slit in the fiberglass, and it will "nestle" around and
surround wires, pipes, etc.

For the walls, the story pole used to guide the rough electrical runs is also used to cut the insulation (see the video: "Garage Shop Conversion, Part 2 - Insulation"). The story pole was cut to fit between the top and bottom wall plates, so the length is perfect for cutting the insulation to size. I also used the marked locations of wires on the story pole to cut through about half the layer of insulation making a relief notch. These relief slits allow the insulation to go around and envelop each wire. The pictures demonstrate how the relief notches prevent compression of the fiberglass and the resultant large empty air pockets.

For me it is easier to place each insulation batt (short for batting) into place and trim for electrical outlets and switch boxes in situ. A small bit of scrap insulation was also shoved in behind each electrical box between the box and the outer wall sheathing.

After carefully fitting each batt of insulation to the wall cavity, I used staples every foot or so to attach the Kraft flaps over the studs. Overlapping the Kraft flaps helps to assure a seamless vapor barrier.

The accompanying video shows more detail, but just a couple of words about safety and comfort when working with fiberglass insulation. First, wear a mask. An N95 rated dust mask is sufficient. Gloves should also be worn. Some people are more susceptible to "itchiness" and I fall into that group. Long sleeves help, and the tube sections of an old pair of tube socks are great to cover the open section of your arms between sleeve and glove. Some folks wear a hat to keep fiberglass out of their hair, but I'm not a "hat person." When finished I use my shop vacuum to capture stray strands of fiberglass on my clothing, and yes, from my hair. Eye protection is a good idea, too, particularly if you are insulating overhead.

Figure 13 - The first quadrant, nearly finished

After insulating, the walls are ready to be covered. As in my previous shop, I am using Louisiana Pacific's (LP) 4 X 8 foot SmartSide® sheet siding for the interior walls. The material is made from wood fibers that are impregnated with zinc borate to protect against fungal decay and termites and then bound together with exterior grade resins. According to LP, the product withstands extreme heat and cold, humidity, and rainfall. It looks a bit like Masonite board from the back, but the front is molded with a wood grain texture and is primed. The panel I chose has grooves on 4-inch centers and the edges are shiplapped. It is actually pretty nice looking. The product is 0.438" thick (7/16 inch). I am using color-matched paneling nails to attach the sheets. I like this product for the shop because it will take significantly more abuse than drywall. You can purchase LP SmartSide® products at big box stores and lumberyards.

The only challenge in hanging the SmartSide sheets is accurately cutting out for switch and outlet boxes. Unlike Sheetrock, where a big "whoops" can be repaired with joint compound, a big "whoops" with SmartSide will probably mean cutting a new panel. If your box cutout is too small, drywall allows you to trim while holding the sheet in place...not this product. You will be taking it down and carrying it back to the workbench. Measure three times and cut once!

Because the big sheets have shiplap edges, it is important that the corners, wall/floor junction, and ceiling/wall junction be square. If not, use shims at the bottom and hang the sheets square. Pay particular attention to the first sheet, otherwise the out-of-square condition will get harder and harder to correct the further you move down the wall.

It is also important to plan ahead. Start in one corner and move progressively so that there are not two cut (non-shiplapped) edges that meet. Place the cut edges only in/on corners.

As mentioned previously, the product comes primed. The one I picked is a light tan color. It should be painted, and if I was using the product outside, I would paint it immediately, including any cut edges and any edges that may be exposed to water. But since I am using the product as an interior wall covering, I can wait. In my last shop, I never painted it, and it looked as good the day I moved out as the day I put it up.

The new shop space will have electric baseboard heat for what I call "idler" heat – that heat necessary to keep the shop above freezing in winter – and direct infrared heat for work (play) time. The baseboard heaters I ordered are rated for direct-to-drywall contact and direct-to-floor contact, even over carpet. Still, I am a careful sort, so I contacted LP's customer service. They were quick, efficient, friendly, and helpful. They advised that installing the baseboard heaters directly to their siding product would be fine.

The video ("Garage Shop Conversion, Part 3 – Wall Covering") shows me cutting, wrestling, and attaching some of the siding. With just one corner of the shop (half the length of two adjoining walls) finished, I can already tell a difference. The shop is brighter, tighter, and quieter...can't wait to get the rest done!

After the interior siding was installed, I could finish the electrical for each finished section of the walls by installing outlets, switches and cover plates. Since for space reasons I am working on one corner, or quadrant, of the garage at a time, installing switches and outlets at this point is more an aesthetic than practical matter. Most of the circuits continue on to the next quadrant of the shop, so most wiring runs are not complete and it would be premature and maybe even unsafe to tie these partial runs into the breaker box. Still, wiring up the outlets and switches gives me something to do when I have only a few minutes or just feel a need to move the ball forward on a day when I really can't do any extended work in the shop.

The video ("Garage Shop Conversion, Part 4 – Finish Wiring") shows me wiring an outlet that is part of a larger circuit and a switch that will control (future) lights upstairs in the shop. Make sure you follow your local code recommendations, make sure everything is properly grounded, and if you have any doubts, call an electrician.

I'm definitely overdoing the electrical in the Down To Earth Woodworking Shop. In Hollywood they say you can never be too rich, too thin, or too tanned. In my shop, there can never be too many outlets, lights, or electrical capacity. When finished, I hope to never need an extension cord or plug strip again. I hope to never again pop a circuit breaker, and hope that there is never again a need for supplemental work lights or flashlights.

Figure 14 - After cutting one stair stringer, a scrap wood brace
holds it in place to double-check the design and measurements.

With the initial quadrant, or corner, done, I can finally build the stairs to the upper level. Once that is done, the upper level reinforcement and decking can be done, and a lot of the "stuff" cluttering my shop can be moved up and out of the way. Just that will speed up the rest of the conversion project.

Be sure to get up to date next month when we cover a flurry of progress in the new Down To Earth Woodworking Shop. The shop gets its new door, the stairs are finished, the upper level gets reinforced and partly decked. A couple of new windows are installed (ah, come on sunshine and warm weather!...please!) and at least one electrical circuit gets finished and connected to the breaker box. Watch for new videos outlining each step and see some of the tips and tricks I learned. The shop is shaping up and I am anxious to get my machines out of the storage pod. Stay tuned!

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Steven Johnson is recently retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson13@mac.com.

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