You might say Pete and Julie Mertz's shop was 12 years in the planning. In 1993, they built a Morton 60'x60' dirt-floored machine shed, intending that, as plans and finances permitted, it would someday become a shop.
The only visible evidence of their long-range planning was the full ridge vent, which let them install a ceiling later. Searching for ideas, Pete collected enough shop articles to fill a plastic container.
"Someday” arrived in 2005, when the Mertzes turned the shed into the shop of their dreams. Spacious and accessible, with unique storage features, a wash bay and a roomy office, it was named the winner of the shop category of Farm Journal's "I Built the Best” contest. That victory earned the Mertzes $500.
To convert the shed into a shop, the Mertzes poured a concrete floor, reinforced with ½" rebar on 2" centers. In the middle of the shop, in front of the door, the concrete is 8" thick—"heavy enough for semis,” Pete explains. Under the office, on the west side, it is 5½" thick. On the east end, it is 6" thick.
Under the concrete is 2" of foam board insulation. Around the edges of the building, the Mertzes placed 2"-thick foam insulation board vertically, extending 16" into the ground.
The Mertz's shop is warmed by a propane-fueled radiant tube heater. "Radiant heat is nice and even, warming objects rather than the air,” Pete says. "I considered an in-floor heating system, but I didn't want to give up floor space for the boiler. Radiant heat may be a little slower than floor heat for evaporating water from the floor, but it still evaporates quickly enough.”
Wall-mounted heaters. In the office and bathroom are wall-mounted electric heaters. "We could mount them on the wall without losing any floor space,” Pete explains.
A utility room in the same area is unheated but never gets cold enough to freeze.
Heating the shop for a full winter costs about $1,500, including the office and bathroom areas. "We keep the temperature about 62°F, which is warm enough to work in shirtsleeves,” Pete says.
Heat is retained by fiberglass batt insulation in the walls and blown-in foam insulation in the ceiling. The walls and ceiling also contain a moisture barrier.
Illumination comes from three rows of 8' fluorescent bulbs. Each row contains four banks of two bulbs (for a total of 24 bulbs). The rows of bulbs are 15' apart.
"We installed wiring so we could add more banks of bulbs between the existing ones,” Pete explains, "but we haven't needed them.” There also are fluorescent light fixtures located over the shop's workbench and underneath the stairs that lead to an overhead storage area.
During the daytime, three 36"x48" windows above the workbench brighten the interior and provide ventilation. There also are windows in two of the three walk-in doors. The third walk-in door leads to a machine shed.
White steel paneling on the walls reflects light. The Mertzes hung the paneling themselves, saving money by purchasing "seconds” from a lumberyard.
Air outlets. Two compressed-air outlets on the south wall and 100' of hose lets Pete reach any part of the shop bay. "We're set up to add more outlets, but we haven't needed them,” he says. He installed another air outlet, with 75' of hose, in the attached machine shed. That outlet also serves a nearby grain dryer, using 100' of hose mounted on a cart.
Air is delivered through ¾" black iron pipe. Pete set his 6½-hp, 80-gal., 21-cfm air compressor in an overhead storage area above the office. "The 8" of insulation in the office ceiling muffles the sound,” he says. "You hear just a rumble, not a roar. The noise isn't bad in the shop bay, either.”
The Mertzes installed four-place 110-volt electrical outlets every 10' along the north, east and west walls. There is a 220-volt outlet on each side of the door—one for the power washer and one for the welder.
Pete built the unusual 40'x3' workbench in a continuous piece. It is framed with 4"x4" tubing, obtained by salvaging old light poles from a parking lot.
"With a long bench I can spread out a big job, and if I get distracted I can leave it without tying up the entire bench,” Pete says. "I put my radial-arm saw in the middle of the bench, so I have 20' to each side when I rip lumber.”
Installing his radial-arm saw forced Pete to cut his one-piece bench in the middle. "I agonized over that,” he says.
For the surface of the workbench, Pete used 1½" untreated tongue-and-groove lumber, fastened to the frame with trailer deck screws. After sanding the wood smooth, he applied three coats of polyethylene finish. "It wipes down slick as a whistle,” he says.
Underneath the workbench, an old chest of drawers and a shelf provide storage space. Additional storage space comes from a 16½"x44' shelf that is mounted above the workbench. "I wanted a place for stuff I use every day and also for power tools that I don't use too often,” Pete explains.
The shelf is made of ¾" plywood, framed with 2x4s. To make it strong, Pete built the shelf in one piece. He set it on scaffolding and lifted it into position with a skid loader. Brackets are anchored on 2x10s running the length of the building and bolted to the posts in the wall. "The shelf is so strong you can do chin-ups on it,” Pete says.
Ladder on wheels. To reach the shelf, he built a ladder from 2x4s and 1x4s, with rollers on the bottom. The top of the ladder rolls in a garage-door track that is attached to the front edge of the shelf. "You can push yourself along the entire length,” he says. "The ladder is stable, but it doesn't get in the way when you're working at the bench. You can just push it aside.”
The overhead storage area holds additional supplies and is accessible by climbing the wooden stairs. Located above the 14'x22' office, bathroom and utility room, the storage area rests on 2x4 studs on 16" centers in the office walls and "wooden I-beams” (2x2s with Blandex, also called chip board or wafer board) in the ceiling.
The space under the stairs is used for oil barrel storage. "We just back in the tractor or combine and roll out the barrel of oil,” Pete says. "We didn't think we needed an oil-change pit or lift badly enough to sacrifice floor space.”
The office area is 14'x15'. "It's strictly a shop office and a place to meet with visitors,” Pete says. "Because Julie keeps the farm records, we left them in the house.”
The office is furnished with a metal desk and file cabinet. "We figured a metal desk could handle rough treatment and would be easier to paint,” Julie says. "We wanted it to match the file cabinet.”
"We thought about installing a bump rail to keep chairs away from the wall,” she says. "Instead, we put wainscoting at the bottom of the wall. It adds a little color and makes the place more attractive.”
To keep the office clean, the Mertzes added an entryway between the office and one of the outside doors. The entryway is furnished with a bench, a water hydrant and a floor drain connected to the main drain in the shop floor. "We can clean our boots before entering the office,” Pete says. From the shop bay, the bathroom can be accessed through the utility room without passing through the office.
The office is wired for dial-up Internet. "We plan to put a computer in the office so we can look up machinery dealerships,” Pete says. "We didn't want a satellite Internet connection because they may not work during stormy weather.” A microwave oven and refrigerator are for part-time employees during harvest.
The bathroom walls are lined with smooth-finished, patterned paneling. "It's a little more attractive than wood-grain paneling,” Julie says. The Mertzes chose not to install a shower because there are no full-time employees, just Pete and his brother David. (The brothers farm together, but Pete and Julie own the shop.)
However, they did put a washer and dryer in the utility room. "Our son and daughter-in-law may live in this house someday, so I wanted a place to wash clothes,” Pete says.
A wall-mounted laundry tub (with no legs to get in the way) is especially handy. "I like to be able to wash my arms without splashing water on the floor,” Pete says. "You can fill a 5-gal. bucket in the tub if you need hot water in the shop.”
Lights in the bathroom and utility room are actuated by a three-way switch, so they go on and off together. In the office, Pete can turn on either four fluorescent bulbs per fixture or, for shorter visits, two per fixture.
Things to come. Still to be added are ventilation fans, guardrails for the stairs and overhead storage area and a curtain for the wash bay in the center of the shop. "We have a 30'x60' tarp, which we'll cut in two,” Pete says. "Julie will resew it into two 15'x60' pieces. We'll hang them from nylon rope and use nylon rope to stretch them at the bottom so they won't billow.”
To make up for the loss of the machine shed, the Mertzes added a 120' storage shed to the end of the original building. They considered making the new shed 80' long, but knowing how quickly farm equipment gets larger, they opted for extra length.
Increases in machinery size was one thing the Mertzes failed to anticipate when they constructed the building in 1993. "At that time, people still built shops with 14' sidewalls, so 16' walls seemed plenty high,” Pete says. "Now I would go 17' or 18'.”
However, clearance is sufficient for the Mertzes' needs. "It's 15'10" from the floor to the fluorescent lights,” Pete says. "My combine has 9" of clearance over the tank. I can unfold my field cultivator as long as I let it down to the floor first.”
Door technology has also changed. "I went with two 15'x16' sliding doors because 30' overhead doors didn't exist in 1993,” Pete says. "Today, I would go with an overhead door.”
One other thing has changed—price, Pete notes wryly. "The cost of the shed increased by $25,000 between 2004 and 2005,” he says.
Until 2005, Pete worked out of a small garage, the machine shed and another building. "Finally, I can find what I have. It's all in one place now. I wish I had built the shop sooner.”
Pete and Julie Mertz, Ottosen, Iowa
Building: 60'x60' Morton building with attached 60'x120' machine shed
Doors: Two 15'x16' sliding doors; three walk-in doors
Insulation: Walls, R19; ceiling, R38
Heat: Propane-fueled radiant tube heat
Lighting: Twenty-four 8' fluorescent bulbs; additional bulbs over workbench and under stairs
Storage: Parts bins on floor level; 14'x22' overhead storage; 16½"x44' shelf over workbench; drawers and shelf under workbench; rolling cart for electrical supplies
Unique features: 40' workbench with radial-arm saw in middle; 44' shelf with rolling ladder; entryway to wash boots before entering office; bathroom accessible from office or shop bay; built as machine shed with intentions to convert it to a shop later
- Early Spring 2009