Keeping Warm?


This little blue-flamed wonder added months to my woodworking season during many cold Minnesota winters.

The other day I was out in the shop blowing a summer’s worth of dust off of my furnace filter. Call it the Minnesotan in me, but I’m already hunkering down and getting ready for much colder days to come. I guess it’s one of those instinctive things you do when you’re used to winters that last from sometime in October to past the fishing opener. You make sure the heat is ready to go.

I take my furnace for granted. Although I leave the heat off when I’m not working, my little forced air furnace can bring the temps up from the mid 30s to a balmy 62 in about 15 minutes flat. It’s a wonderful luxury, and it isn’t much bigger than an air conditioner.

Years ago, when my shop was a one-car, then a two-car garage, I wasn’t so lucky to have that furnace. I used the little blow torch heater you see above. It runs on a 20-lb. propane tank, and I relied on it for many years. I went through countless tanks of propane. Having an open flame in the shop never put my conscience at ease, but at least I could keep warm without wearing too many layers. And, provided I kept a fresh source of air coming in, the fumes weren’t too bad. I made do, and it served me well.

Before that little jet engine heater came along, winter woodworking was much more brutal. I’d basically dress for ice fishing and head out to the garage. The wind coming off the table saw blade was so cold it would make my fingers go numb. In and out, in and out of the house I’d go to warm up and let the fog clear off my glasses. When the temps dropped to zero or below, that was it for woodworking.

Now, a closed combustion chamber furnace lives near the ceiling of my shop and keeps things downright toasty.

Now, a closed-combustion furnace lives near the ceiling of my shop and keeps things downright toasty. It's every bit as important as any tool in my shop, come winter.

Winter can be a great season for woodworking, provided you don’t go hypothermic in the process. How do you keep warm in your shop during the cold months? Wood-burning stove? Propane heater? Some sort of electric solution? What do you recommend, and what have you shucked for a better way to keep from freezing?

Post a comment and tell us how you’ll keep those shop fires burning this winter. You might have the very solution another woodworker needs who still dresses for ice fishing before firing up the table saw.

Catch you in the shop—and do stay warm!

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

18 thoughts on “Keeping Warm?

  1. I live outside of Missouri. I know how the winter is up there, my brother in law lives there. I do have the great pleasure of having a heated and cooled garage. It is still cold. There is only 1 duct in there and its about 55 with it being about 25 outside. I’m thinking about adding another duct on the shop side. So if you have duct work running thru your garage, add a duct in your garage, and just shut it off when not working out there.. Stay warm & great wood working !!!

  2. My shop in Ohio has had the heat on already. I use that little propane torch thing also, hooked up to a 100# tank. I keep a sharp eye on it. Don’t care for that open flame either. Summers are better with a window a/c. I sure like the double doors up though. I have no windows.

  3. I have insulated my shop with a min. of 3′ of foam board. (inexpensive if bought from a roofing supply house, and they will cut it whatever thickness you want). I use an electric heater, 1500 watts keeps it about 60 degrees. I have a picture window and a 8′ X 3′ half glass door.

  4. Jim, What part of Ohio are you in? I’m located just outside of Columbus, but I was born and raised in MN. Can’t shake the Minnesotan out of a guy, especially in the winter, when it comes to furnaces and heat!

    Tim, is it common for garages in Missouri to have ducts running through them? Why is that?

    Larry, does the foam board fit tight between your wall studs and fill those bays? Do you glue it in place with construction adhesive, or it just sitting behind drywall? That stuff must offer pretty good R-value.

    Thanks for writing in, guys!

  5. For years I have heated my shop with an 1896 Round Oak brand cast iron pot belly stove I bought at an auction in July (always the best time of year to by heaters of any kind). Anyway it was in pretty good shape when I bought it except for a broken vent damper and a local welder was able to piece that back together for me. So some stove black once a year and a little touch up on the painted emblems in the ornately cast iron and I am set for the season.

    This beautiful antique stove sits in roughly the center of my shop with a long run of single wall pipe just over my head which switches to triple wall just before it goes thru the wall to a chimney stack outside. I have mounted a small blower from an old down draft cook top to the wall just where the vent pipe exits the building blowing back along the length toward the stove and with wood plentiful in my back yard I can heat my 20 X 40 shop to a comfortable 55 degrees on even a near zero degree day.

    Plus I get the added benefit of a great conversation piece as guests admire my restored antique while I work on their peice of furniture.

  6. I use basically the same torpedo heater as above except it uses Kerosene. I wired a 120 volt thermostat that was designed for baseboard heaters and control my heater with this. I generally set the thermostat for about 55 degrees and keep plenty warm. I did insulate my walls and ceiling to help keep the warmth in but at $4.00/gal of K-1 it can be a little expensive, but it does keep me out of trouble and in the garage most of Saturday (unless it is a good ski day).

  7. I had a chance to move to the San Diego area years ago & we did. We go to the snow(a couple of inches in the mountians yesterday) or the beach. I am insulating & dry walling but its to keep down the summers heat.

  8. Pingback: » Xmas Roundup: Woodworker’s Night Before Christmas, Keeping Warm in the Woodshop, Easy Way to Cut Plywood - Blog

  9. I’m in New Jersey and use a propane heater in my 8’x15′ shop. Works well. I do have a problem in that enery metal tool in the shop gets a layer of moisture on it when I turn the heater on. Any one else have this problem? Any possible solutions??

  10. I have been a hobbyist woodworker in Upstate NY and the Winter was always a miserable time to work in an unheated garage. I just moved this summer and at my new house I have a 28×30 2 car garage/ wood shop that will never see a car parked in it. I just had a Modine Hot Dawg closed combustion 45k btu heater installed and couldn’t be more happy. It was 10 below today and in 20 minutes I was up to a balmy 62…

  11. I’m in mid southwestern Ontario, Canada very close to Lake Huron’s shore with very strong winds off the lake. My shop is a 28 x 28 metal clad building with 6″ insulation in the walls and 12″ in the ceiling. The shop is heated by infloor hot water heating supplied by a domestic hot water tank. The thermostat is set at 60 degrees to during the heating season to maintain a very low humidity to keep my hobby wood dry and prevent any moisture from affecting my aray of equipment. This is a very satisfactory way of heating the shop and is cost effective.

  12. Most readers probably know this but in the cold it’s important to warm up powered tools before putting them under load. I burned out a hand-held circular saw in MN years ago…took less than a minute. Thanks

  13. For the last forty two years I have frozen in my shop during the winter and suffered thru summer heat. I now have moved my lathe and most of my tools into my warm/cool basement. Precious has complained a little about the sawdust on her washer and dryer, so I started doing the wash and low and behold the dust problem has disappeared. I also have made a sanding vacuum box. Cuts down on most of the dust. Takes some of my time to do the laundry but has made for a much nicer work space for me. It has been hard getting rid of forty three years of accumulation in the basement. But we all have too much stuff that we keep. My goal this coming year is to make my basement more shop friendly. Wish me luck, it will be a huge challenge.

  14. I built a 24’x36′ shop with 10′ ceiling and attic.The whole building is well insulated and I heat with coal,the stove is an older Harman wood/coal and a loaded stove will burn for almost 24hours.The good part is the shop is always 80deg and the concrete slab is warm.

  15. For years I had the same propane heater to warm things up. Worked great, but I was not crazy about the open flame either. A few years back, when my Dad passed, my Mother said that she no longer wanted to use the pellet stove that they had used to heat their house. I changed out the stove in my house and put the new one in my living room. The ousted stove went into my shop, where it happily perks away all winter long, keeping things between 50-65 degrees, depending on the outside temp. Upstate NY gets pretty chilly in Jan.-Feb. (sub zero), so I am very content to leave the TV behind and go out and “make some sawdust” in te middle of winter.

  16. My shop is 24x14x8, and insulated. I bought a used woodstove from a mobile home for $50 but had to spend $500 for the metal chimney. If I am only planning to be in the shop for a short time, I use the electric furnace I salvaged from my house (I disconnected all but 5KW of the heating elements) when the heat pump was installed. By running the furnace fan without heat, it works well as an air filter too. I leave the furnace set at about 50 degrees to keep the shop dry in the winter and prevent condensation in the humid Seattle area. I can open two skylights in the summer to help cool the shop or provide additional ventilation.

  17. I live in Klamath Falls, Oregon. We have geothermal water at very shallow depths of around 100 to 300 foot. I heat my home with this heat source.

    My shop is in the basement, and if you place a thermometer on the floor under a rug, the temperature, summer or winter is 97 degree F. This is because the ground temperature at 2 meters is 98 degrees. I use a swamp cooler in the summer to keep the shop cool. Easter Oregon has very dry summers, so this works very well.

    I also heat my driveway to keep from shoveling snow. Gives me more time to work in the shop.

  18. I use a couple of electric heaters in my uninsulated, rented NJ shop. Have talked to my land lord about insulating a couple of times, and hopefully we will get it done this year. If the LL will pay for the materials, I will do the installation.

    In the mean time I can get the inside temp 15 or 20 degrees above the outside temp. Precludes doing much work when it’s below freezing… I’d really like to hear if anyone has info about small externally vented propane heaters.

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