Everything is New Again

January 10, 2009 11:44 AM


To say that Roger Johnson recycles is an understatement. On close inspection, the tools and gadgets in his shop look strikingly familiar—and they should because they have been constructed from repurposed farm implements.

In 1999, a tornado ravaged his Chandler, Minn., farmstead. After the cleanup, he saw an opportunity to build the shop he really wanted.

"My old shop was the size of a double garage," he says. "I really needed a building with height."

On Johnson's livestock farm, Timber Valley, the primary function of his shop is to perform equipment repair and maintenance.

It took him two years to finish the structure, and by relying on his knack for repurposing and his own labor, he kept total cost to $5,200. The building is constructed from steel salvaged from a feed mill that was being torn down. It measures 28'x48', and although average in size, its usefulness is above-average.

The space is divided into a heated 28'x26' workroom, with 28'x22' cold storage on the south end. "I have a small shop, but there is plenty of room to get the jobs done," he says. "Almost everything is on rollers, so I can roll tools into position or put them out of the way. If something isn't on rollers, I have carts that can carry it around."

Johnson designed and built a one-ton tower crane to reach the middle of his shop, where most of his fabrication takes place. "I used a toolbar from a six-row cultivator," he explains. "The boom was a toolbar from a four-row cultivator, and the extended boom is from a disk wing."

A two-way cylinder can extend the boom 29", and the end features a hook and pulley from the 12-volt electric winch. The boom is raised with a 4" cylinder attached to the vertical tower, and an orbit motor provides a 180° side-to-side swing ability. A 3-hp motor with 24-volt electric-over-hydraulic valves powers a single-stage pump drive. The crane is operated by a three-switch remote: up/down, swing and extend boom.

"I can work with the crane by myself because I can use the remote to control it," Johnson says.

The front part of the shop is divided into two levels, with parts storage above measuring 24'x10'x7'.

To access this area, Johnson built an elevator into the tower crane. The base is a steel mesh platform, and the up-and-down power is provided by an electric winch mounted on top of the tower crane.

"This elevator doesn't get in the way like a ladder would," Johnson says. "I included a bicycle basket to hold parts so my hands are free."

Another interesting self-constructed feature of his shop is the 10'x19 ½' door that swings up. The door is Johnson's main source of airflow during the summers, and it provides shade over the 10'x30' apron. The windows in the door are from a tractor, the cylinders are repurposed from a combine and the hydraulic system is from a discarded swather. It also features a walk-through door.

Johnson built a metal bender, which he says can bend up to 10-gauge steel, from parts recovered from a damaged round baler.

"It's not power-down like the ones you can order," Johnson laments. "But it cost me $200 instead of $6,000."

For his many projects, Johnson equipped his shop with 20 power outlets spaced every 8'. Two air lines span the length of the shop and run on a 100-gal. tank with 150-lb. psi.

The unheated back room features a tire-changing station outfitted with pressure gauges and patching materials.

"The smartest thing I did in designing the back room was making the sliding door from the outside wide enough to fit a pallet on a skid steer through," Johnson says.

The workroom is heated with a waste oil burner he constructed for $40. The heat exchange is made from an air compressor tank. The burner box measures 24"x18"x12" and is made from 12-gauge metal. On one end of the tank, a cast iron skillet is bolted on for the burner, and on the other end a chimney is attached. The front of the firebox is sourced from a discarded kitchen oven. The oven door allows Johnson to keep an eye on the flame. The waste oil heating system was mounted on top of the woodstove, which he also built, so that he can switch back and forth between the systems.

He says one jug of filtered waste oil heats the shop for 10 hours, and he only heats the space when he's inside working.

To fit the space he had, Johnson built almost everything that is on his shop floor: a 5'x5' welding bench with a tool rack on back, a 10" and a 6" bench grinder with steel vise, a portable tool bench with toolbox and metal top, a press with its own power unit and three vises that are on movable stands.

One specialty piece of equipment he uses for numerous projects is a metal roller. The same tornado that destroyed his previous shop threw his Allis-Chalmers round baler into the yard. He took the rollers and paired them with a gear drive from a feed grinder and crank wrench. The top roller is latched into place, and the entire piece can be slid off once rolled. It is able to bend up to 10-gauge steel.

Johnson gets the most from his shop space by segmenting other craft work into two other shop spaces. He has a well-equipped space devoted to restoring antique tractors and a smaller area especially for metalworking projects. 


Roger Johnson, Chandler, Minn.

Building: 28'x48' steel building

Maximum Height: 24'

Floor: 4" reinforced concrete

Insulation: 6" fiberglass

Heat: Waste oil burner, woodstove

Storage: 28'x22' cold storage room, 24'x10'x7' overhead parts storage

Workbenches: 5'x5' welding bench with a tool rack on back, 2'x6' steel-topped table serves an office area equipped with a phone

Lighting: Nine 100-watt incandescent lights, four 4' fluorescents above workbenches, two 10"x30" skylights

Unusual tools: Telescoping crane, workstations with wheels, metal bender

You can e-mail Margy Fischer at mfischer@farmjournal.com

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