In The Shop: Toasty Tools and Warm Toes
Feb 02, 2011
There are some farm shops with sophisticated heating systems, but it's safe to say the average farm shop is more of a wind break than a heated work area. Here are options to consider, if you're tired of handling frosty tools.
Kerosine "blast" heaters, the long, low heaters that look like a torpedo mounted over a flattened fuel tank, can raise a building's temperature above freezing and keep it tolerable. They're portable, so you can temporarily heat a feed room or pump house while making repairs on equipment in those buildings. In desperate times, I've even been known to use tarps and sheets of plywood to build an enclosure around a tractor's engine so I could use a blast heater to warm the diesel fuel above gel-point.
Propane-powered infra-red heaters come in various designs. Some are small heating-grids-with-reflectors that sit atop a propane bottle and direct infrared heat at a work bench or other small area. Others have built in-fans that help move warmed air. If you've got a small shop or garage, propane heaters can allow you to work without gloves. The trick is to fire up infra-red propane heaters long before you want to use the building--infra-red heaters warm SURFACES, so you have to let them run for awhile with their glow directed toward a bench top, tool box or other surface, and eventually the warmed surface will transfer heat to the surrounding air.
Waste oil heaters/furnaces are attractive because they run off "free" oil drained from crankcases, gearcases, and hydraulic systems. They come in a variety of configurations, and can put out a lot of heat. But their pumps and filtering systems require consistent maintenance to keep them running well. Another consideration is whether or not the building will be heated 24/7. Some waste oil furnaces have difficulty pumping and metering oil if the furnace is turned off at night, allowing the oil in the storage tank to cool and thicken.
Wood stoves, corn stoves and other stoves utilize wood or grain that farmers may have on-hand. High grain prices may make corn stoves a little pricey to operate. Wood looks cheap, but the cost of chain saws, log splitters and labor are hidden costs. But the heat from those sort of stoves is oddly attractive. I've noticed that shops with wood or corn stoves always seem to have a couple old chairs grouped around the stove, a comfortable distance from the glowing heat.
In general, I've noticed that kerosine, propane and waste oil heaters raise the temperature and make a shop "comfortable," but wood and corn stoves make shops "homey" and attract neighbors and friends.