Installing Electrical Receptacles in Your MiniMax Workshop

Outlets installed in wall
Receptacles installed in wall above workbench
Installing receptacles above worksurfaces in your MiniMax Workshop makes them easier to access.

As a follow-up to this previous post, once you have electricity supplying your workspace, it’s time to consider the placement of receptacles. There are a few considerations here. First, receptacles should be spaced close enough together to avoid using extension cords where possible. Secondly, consider the height above the floor for locating them. In your home, the standard height above the finished floor (AFF) for receptacles in the U.S. is 12″ (30cm). However, in your shop, figure that the average height of workbenches, table saws, and other worksurfaces averages out around 36″ (92cm). Most of the benchtop or portable hand tools that would be used in your shop will be on a workbench. Plus, floor space can quickly get crowded, often blocking lower receptacles.

For my MiniMax Workshop, I chose to install a two-gang receptacle box on every other stud in the walls. Since the stud spacing is 16″ (40cm) on-center, that makes a total of four receptacles located roughly every 32″ (81cm). For my way of thinking, it’s better to plan for more receptacles than you think you’ll need because you’ll, at some point, wish there was one closer to where you need it. Yes, I tend to go overboard on the number of receptacles, but I’ve never been sorry.

As for the height, I mounted all of the boxes 48″ (123cm) above the floor. This way, they would be easily accessible above worksurfaces and stationary power tools.

Here is my usual disclaimer. With anything involving electrical work, please consult with or hire a licensed electrician. If you’re running the cables yourself, they can advise on how the wire should be installed and fastened, what size wire to use, and how to make the connections. Also, cooperate with your local code officials and obtain the proper permits and inspections. It’s for your safety.

2-gang plastic electrical box with receptacles
Plastic electrical boxes will save you money but metal boxes are more durable.

I used inexpensive 2-gang electrical boxes that have a nailing flange on the front. I regret this decision. I found that the boxes can distort, making it difficult to fasten the receptacles and install the cover plate after the wall board is installed. And there’s always the possiblity that the plastic threads will strip. In the future, I’ll spend a little extra to buy metal boxes.

When it comes to running the wiring, I made another decision I sort of regret. Remember from this previous post that I ran two 20-amp circuits to the shop. My original thinking, and the way I wired it, was to dedicate one circuit to the recepactles on the north and west walls, and the other circuit to the east and south walls. The better solution would have been to run both circuits to each receptacle box. This way, each duplex receptacle in the two-gang box would be on a different circuit. This just helps even out the electrical load and prevent overloading in case you have power-hungry tools all along one wall. Again, this where your electrician can help you with how to do this per electrical code.

Another consideration, especially if your MiniMax Workshop is in a separate building, is whether to install outdoor receptacles. I took advantage of the open walls while I was running wires and poked through to the outside to install an outdoor-rated electrical receptacle box. I simply branched off the nearest receptacle box on the inside with the wiring. This outdoor receptacle has come in handy multiple times.

One of the things your electrician may mention to you is the use of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) or residual-current device (RCD in th U.K.) for the receptacles. In the U.S., they are required for circuits used outdoors, laundry rooms, bathrooms, basements, kitchens–anywhere there’s a potential for exposure to liquids. I could have used GFCI breakers at the main panel in the house. This would have protected both circuits going out to the MiniMax Workshop. But these can be pricey. Instead, I opted to install a GFCI receptacle at the start of each circuit then branched off to the other receptacles. This way, all of the receptacles downstream are protected.

After installing all of the boxes and wiring and making the final connections, it was time to flip on the breakers. This is always a sweat-inducing moment for me. But the worst that has ever happened to me is that I had a wire crossed somewhere and the breaker tripped immediately. If the breaker stays on, it’s a good sign your wiring is correct! To be sure, I checked each receptacle with a tester.

Testing the receptacles with a tester
Using a simple tester like this, you can verify that the wiring is correctly installed. A special GFCI tester is available that allows you to test that the GFCI operates correctly.

At this point, I called for my an electrical inspection as required by the local code officials. They looked at the breaker panel, the underground cable, and made sure I was using GFCI receptacles correctly. I passed the inspection which meant that I could insulate the walls and add the wall covering.

Evaluating Your Potential Work Space – The Interior

MiniMax Workshop Exterior
The MiniMax Workshop

If your potential workspace for a woodworking shop is outdoors, you should have already evaluated the exterior of the workshop as I talked about here. Obviously, it has to be in a condition that protects the interior space. That’s what I want to address next. For me, this means taking a look at the inside of my 10′ x 16′ (3m x 5m) garden shed and deciding what changes I’ll need to make to turn the space into a usable workshop.

After the garden shed was (mostly) cleaned out, I spent a lot of time inside planning and daydreaming. This is the only space I have available to indulge my woodworking hobby, so the struggle is between practicality and the ultimate shop. Do I make do with what I have, doing the best I can with the shed as-is or do I take the time (and a little expense) to make the space more comfortable and enjoyable? You can probably guess that I decided to go with option number two. I figured if I’m going to be spending any amount of time out there, it might as well be a place where I can relax and be comfortable. After all, my past workshops also served as my “mental therapy.” I could go into “my space” and relax, be creative, or just sit and think.

As I mentioned before, my shed was built by Tuff Shed, so I didn’t have any questions about the quality of construction. They used traditional construction techniques with 2×4 studs spaced at 16″ center-to-center. A conventional roof system with plywood sheathing and asphalt shingles was more than adequate.

MiniMax Workshop Raw Interior
Any outdoor building should have adequate air flow to prevent moisture buildup that can lead to rotting of the wood framing and sheathing.

At the top of the gable end walls near the peak of the roof, a vent was cut into the wall. I can’t stress enough how important this is. I made the mistake once of building a shed without vents. It started to rot from the inside out in a matter of months. I had completely ignored the fact that there has to be adequate air exchange between the inside and outside of the structure. Moisture can build up on the inside surfaces of the ceiling and walls. If you’re building an enclosed structure outdoors or having one built for you, be sure to provide adequate ventilation for proper air flow between the interior and exterior.

Looking at the interior space, I had to make the decision whether or not to add insulation. I’m in the southeastern U.S. so heating is not as much as a concern as cooling. If you decide you’ll want to add heat or air conditioning (or both) to your shop space, it’s a good idea to add insulation.

But there’s another factor that pushed me in the direction of adding insulation: Noise. My shed is near the property lines of the neighbors. I wanted to minimize the noise impact when I’m using power tools, especially in the evening hours.

As you progress toward getting your workspace ready to move into, start giving some thought to the layout of your work area. What tools are you going to need and how will they be arranged? How much floor real estate will these tools require? What about worksurfaces like benches and worktables? I’ve already decided that I want to run a workbench along the end wall (10′ or 3m). That will provide plenty of workspace to get started as I figure out how and where the rest of my tools and accessories will be stored. All of this plays into where you will install electrical receptacles later on. And you need to account for door openings and windows in the placement of equipment in your shop.

Get a sketchpad with grid lines and start sketching up possible ideas for your shop layout. Or do what I did–use SketchUp to create a 3D layout of your shop. You’ll appreciate it later.

MiniMax Workshop SketchUp Layout
Using a 3D modeling program like SketchUp can help you visualize how best to lay out the equipment in your shop.

Evaluating Your Potential Work Space – The Exterior

In this previous post, I mentioned several questions you need to ask when evaluating the space you would like to convert to a workshop. The first is whether the space is suitable as-is. In other words, can you set up shop in the space without making a lot of changes? If your workspace is located outdoors, you’ll have consider the suitability of the structure, as I did.

Taking a look at the exterior of my 10′ x 16′ (3m x 5m) garden shed, there is certainly some potential here. The shed was made by Tuff Shed. The nameplate above the door had a serial number on it, so I contacted Tuff Shed to see what I could find out about my particular shed. It was obviously an older model (more on that in a bit). The local Tuff Shed representative couldn’t provide any details. I suspect it was a smaller, common model sold through The Home Depot instead of one of the custom models that Tuff Shed is known for.

As I walked around the outside of the shed for the first time, some problems became apparent immediately. The bottom edges of the exterior siding were rotting away. I believe the main culprit is the lawn sprinkler system. As I watched the spray patterns from the sprinkler heads, one of them was directly hitting the side of the shed through it’s pattern cycle. Who knows how many years this has been going on. So, I realized that at some point I’ll need to repair the T-111 plywood siding or replace it.

Here in our southern climate, outbuildings need to be secured with hurricane anchors. On my shed, there is an anchor at each corner solidly bolted through the framing of the wall.

The shed walls are securely fastened to a galvanized steel base. I can’t really see under the shed, but I’m guessing the base consists of an outer frame with interior steel joists running the length of the shed. That’s another plus—I don’t need to worry about the floor framing rotting away or sagging over time. Vent holes in the sides of the floor frame provide adequate ventilation under the shed’s floor to prevent moisture build-up.

The lock on the double doors was missing one of a pair of keys. The local Tuff Shed representative gave me a replacement key once I gave him the lock number. The lock and latch system is robust and should last a lot of years.

And speaking of locks on doors, Tuff Shed’s door construction beats that of any shed I’ve ever seen. The doors are rock-solid and straight. I took a closer look at how the doors were constructed and realized their secret: The doors are braced with square aluminum tubing faced with 1/2″ plywood. I won’t need to be concerned about warping and twisting.

Overall, other than the rotting issue with the siding, I’m impressed with the construction of the shed.

Now it’s onto the inside of the shed to evaluate its condition for my new workshop.