Shop outlets: listening to those outside voices

It’s been a long winter of construction at my home, but we’re finally nearly done adding a new garage/workshop to the property. As you can probably guess, I can’t wait to get the lights on and the machines moved in! For four months, I’ve felt like a kid trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve night.

This week, electrical receptacles and wiring were roughed in — a job I would have done myself if this building hadn’t been contracted out. I’m one of those DIYers that actually likes doing electrical work. But this time, I’m really glad I didn’t do it myself. Here’s why: the electrician had a much better plan than I did.

Forty-plus years of doing residential and commercial wiring teaches a guy many things. This time, I’m lucky enough to benefit from his experience. His advice: “We put shop outlets 44 inches up from the floor. Standard backsplash height for a base cabinet. Then you’ll never have to reach behind things to plug stuff in.”

A brilliant idea. Simple and smart.

In my last shop, I ran the outlets at the typical wall height — about 16 in. off the floor. That placement might work in a living room, but (as I learned during the five years in that shop) you put anything against the wall, and reaching those wall outlets becomes a real pain in the posterior. Despite the fact that my outlets were too low, though, I did do a couple things right. I loaded the walls with outlets — about every 4 ft., and I wired them for equal numbers of 220-volt and 110-volt outlets. I never had to look far for either type. I really believe you can never have too many outlets in a shop … and I feel the same way about lights. A shop can never be TOO bright.

So this time around, the pattern will be pretty much the same: 220- and 110-volt outlets in pairs, all around the shop. Even the veteran electrician gave that plan a nod of approval. And, one of the receptacles on the ceiling, placed pretty much dead center, will also be 220-volts. I’m planning to rewire a retractable reel so I can pull power down for the table saw, then retract it when it’s not needed. No more running an extension cord across the floor this way.

If you’re thinking about adding some new receptacles to your shop, I hope something here can be of help to you, too.

Catch you in the shop,

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.

3 thoughts on “Shop outlets: listening to those outside voices

  1. I think I would have put the center 220 outlet in the floor at or very near the saw. I hate dangling cords.

  2. I recently finished wiring my new workshop/garage as well. my workshop area is about 1000 sq. ft. Along with the recepticles you are adding, I would recommend switches and receps for a dust collection system, outdoor lighting, alarm systems, telephone, CAT cable, TV cable, speakers, and air system. I have 9 switches wired together in the four walls so I have easy access to the collector wherever I am working. Also, all of my wall receps are quad outlets. That way you don’t have to continuously unplug tools to power up another. I included four ceiling drop outlets as well. Think through the wiring carefully because once you dry wall, it gets very difficult to add additional switches and outlets.

  3. For my basement shop I had the contractor install a small breaker box for the big power tools, with a breaker for each one. In that box, I also had him install a main switch for killing power to all those circuits without affecting the lights. In that way I can power down all the big tools when inquisitive grandchildren are around. Outlets by my utility bench, where I plug in battery charges and the boombox, are on separate circuits and can remain on.

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