Introduction: Build Your Own Workshop

Picture of Build Your Own Workshop

Like a lot of tinkerers I've been wanting the "Dream" shop for years. I tried several different shop ideas over the years and was never really happy. So I decided to build what I wanted and I had to figure out how to do it. This project is still in progress as it's being built as I get the money and the time.
This is a real basic overview on my solution

Step 1: Getting the Barebones Up

Picture of Getting the Barebones Up

After the site was selected and leveled, holes were dug for the posts. The first few were dug with a hand post hole digger, than I borrowed an auger for my old tractor.
The wood came from the property and was milled with a WoodMizer bandsaw sawmill. I had always heard that the fastest route to a roof was a post and beam that's what I did.

Step 2: Going Up

Picture of Going Up

I decided to go with 2 stories because I figured since the roof and the pad were the expensive parts it would just make sense. I also originally laid out a 20x20 area and decided it would be too small so I went 30 x 40. The monster was starting to awaken.
(note: 2 stories are A LOT MORE WORK! and 20x20 probably would have been just fine, but now that the hole was started I just jumped right in.)

Step 3: The Slab

Picture of The Slab

Next up in this abbreviated version of the last 2 years of my life was the slab. Slabs are expensive, but, I saved my sheckles and was able to pull it off. Since I was going to all the trouble of a slab I figured I might as well install a radiant heat system. So I did.
First there was 6 inches of well tamped gravel, then a moisture barrier (plastic sheeting) than insulation, than rebar and reinforcement wire than the pex. Covered in a tasty coating of concrete

Step 4: Bring on the Insulation

Picture of Bring on the Insulation

I wanted to wrap the skeleton with straw bales for their amazing insulation factor.
The bales deliver somewhere around an R-40 to 50

Step 5: A Plaster Skin

Picture of A Plaster Skin

hydraulic lime plaster is applied to the bales . it acts as a skin for strength and helps the building breath.
Plastering is a lot of work .but, really gives the building a nice surface. I'm still plastering on the interior and this spring I hope to finish the exterior. Part 2 : Working with Hydraulic Lime Plaster is up.
It shows in much more detail how to work with this most excellent material.


robbtoberfest (author)2009-01-30

Beautiful and classic!


CeedogH (author)Strawbale Shop2015-09-09

Hello this is mike!!

CeedogH (author)2015-09-09

I would like to do that except . . . I have a budget.

jsimp2861 (author)2013-12-08

very nice, would love to have a shop that size for welding, auto repair, woodworking and just tinkering

Strawbale Shop (author)2013-05-09

* The extra time you put into a strawbale structure to smooth the walls will pay you back many times over when you plaster.
File under things I would do differently

Strawbale Shop (author)2013-05-09

The pex used in the floor is 7/8's ID. It was installed in three 300 foot loops

vincent7520 (author)2012-09-30

Congratulations …
Lucky man who has so much space available : would you like to know that your workshop is at least twice (if not more) the size of house ?

all things are relative

Nonetheless, your project is great !

tinker234 (author)2012-02-23

could you get free contre slabs from company's that are extras

Strawbale Shop (author)tinker2342012-09-30

Don't know about free labs...

ssleeper (author)2011-09-03

Wow Very nice job. Would you say the labor involved is more or about the same as a stick built shop?
How much would you say it cost you to build this building as aposed to a stick built or a pole building?

tinker234 (author)2011-05-31

also do you have a theme for your shop

Strawbale Shop (author)tinker2342011-06-02

No air conditioner here I use an exhaust fan in the morning to pull in the cool air, but pretty much it's just the thick walls of the straw bales.
Never thought of one....hmmmm...
"do it yourself"? or maybe "re-purpose/re-use"?
People who visit the shop think it has an "old" feel. I think it's probably because of the big round walls and post and beam structure

tinker234 (author)Strawbale Shop2011-06-02

old fashiond theme then ever thought of air conditoing where i live it is a must

tinker234 (author)2011-05-27

wow nice is the foundation safe and could i ask how do you power it

Strawbale Shop (author)tinker2342011-05-30

Safe? it's a 6 inch slab of concrete sitting on 4 to 5 inches of tamped rock. Yeah seems pretty safe. The shop is currently powered on the grid, but, I made sure the roof was aligned and fortified for the possibility of solar when the financial gods are in agreement. Thanks for your comment.
PS: today it's 95º outside and inside the shop is a cool 69º

coopgrl88 (author)2010-02-22

 I think it is great you are showing a straw-bale structure.  They don't get enough exposure.  Cheap and efficient homes and structures.  Fire and pest resistant.  They also breathe, so you don't feel stuffy like you can in a modern structure.  Awesome.  I really look forward to seeing your final product and layout of your workshop!

bowmaster (author)coopgrl882010-12-14

Straw is fire resistant? I was looking at this and thinking, "Aw man, you're screwed if you drop a hot tool, have a sparks from a grinder or something, or anything like that."

Strawbale Shop (author)bowmaster2010-12-15

That would be a problem if there were any exposed straw, but, there isn't . All straw is covered by at least 2 inches of plaster.

coopgrl88 (author)Strawbale Shop2010-12-22

Thank you, you are correct :) The straw being tightly packed and completely sealed in by plaster or cob, this creates a fire resistant environment. Even if somehow fire were to get to the straw, with it being so dense in the wall, it would get snuffed out before damage would be done.

sabr686 (author)2010-07-06

This is amazing. I am so jealous, though. You could have at least invited me for the spray plaster part! Seriously, I love what you've done so far. I look forward to getting the chance to see what fixtures are going inside. Hopefully as useful and efficient as the outside. You have my respect, sir.

vestie (author)2009-08-27

Nice Job. Always wanted to do something like this. Really liked the radiant heating, it's a nice ecofriendly way of heating. Awesome design concepts. Is it the lack of oxygen that prevents the straw bales from rotting? What kind of shop are you building? If it where my shop I might have included in wall pneumatic lines. Great job your instructions where very clear. Sorry for asking to many questions. As far as fire goes ultimately it comes down to not being stupid and outfitting a space with adequate fire extinguishers. Most buildings will burn but with 2" of plaster on either side it would have to burn for a long time at high temperatures to penetrate the sides.(unless of course it finds another route. I.E Power Outlets or the posts) and by that time all of the stuff inside would be destroyed so theirs no point in making the structure any more fireproof. (sorry for this excessively long comment)

Strawbale Shop (author)vestie2009-08-28

Hi Vestie It's not so much lack of oxygen that keeps them from rotting it's keeping them dry. The bales are sitting on raised bucks on the concrete pad and there are vapor barriers everywhere that bale touches wood to prevent wicking. Also, the NHL plaster tends to migrate any moisture out of the bales. The pneumatic lines are just going in now. Like the electrical, they are exposed in case I need to modify or add to them later. As to fire protection , Yes, extinguishers are in place for more on straw bale and fire read my comment on May 12 09 Thanks again

vestie (author)Strawbale Shop2009-08-28

Yah I read the article. Cool stuff. Just wondering, where did you get all your info on this stuff because I'd like to learn more about it. Thanks, Vestie

Strawbale Shop (author)vestie2009-08-29

Years of research, everything from yahoo groups "strawbale-r-us" to just about every book on the subject to talking to people who had built with straw. A good place to start are these books: Straw Bale Building: How to plan, design and build with straw by Chris Magwood and Peter Mack More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series) by Chris Magwood Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates (Real Goods Solar Living Book) by Paul Lacinski

Allowance10 (author)2009-08-26

Sweet Project! You must have put a lot of time in!

Thanks. Yes, and I still am putting in lots of time...

Dr.Legume (author)2009-05-12

This is a great project, straw bale buildings have been around for centuries. As to the comments regarding whether it's fireproof, well, log cabins and wood frame houses are not fireproof either....even the World Trade Center burned, and that probably wasn't made from straw bales. Bugger the naysayers and their schadenfreude, if my dog had thumbs and an internet connection, he'd be an expert too :) Great job, Codini, I look forward to seeing the progress on this.

Strawbale Shop (author)Dr.Legume2009-05-12

LOL! no kidding!

outoforder2day (author)2009-05-07

Don't you worry about mice or other critters chewing through the hay at some point down the line? What about water and the potential for mold and decay? Awesome building and wonderful job!

It's straw not hay, and as such there isn't very much edible stuff to attract the varmints . The bales are sealed behind 2 inches of plaster .
The bales are up off the slab on pressure treated bucks and separated from the bucks by layers of barrier. The roof overhangs are very generous and lastly the lime plaster migrates any water out of the bales.


Ah, ok. Thanks for the clarification. I always thought mice ate everything. Again, very nice shop!

Strawbale Shop (author)2009-04-17

Part 2 is now up
How to: Natural Hydraulic Lime Plaster

Cthulu (author)2009-02-15

all I can say freaking awsome.

The Porsche Fan (author)2009-01-24

This is awesome, It would probably win if it was finished with more details

Yeah, you may have something there. I'm spending too much time actually working on the shop to work on the instructable.I'll go into more detail soon...promise

the walls of this remind me of the walls at a house in this Ecovillage that I visited called Dancing Rabbit.
( they have some REALLY interesting building ideas there if that helps you at all.

blakeredfield (author)2009-02-06

Question about the radiant heating system. You have used plastic tubing, but wouldnt metallic tubes be better, as they conduct heat better. Im wondering how much that'll matter, given that I'm assuming that the plastic hoses are specially designed to be used for this reason. I cant see any heating upstairs. Could you tell us how well it worked? I want to install a diy under-concrete heating system in my garage that flooded and is a mess atm - thats why all the questions. Also, what heating engine/system did you use? (very nice work)

Fixerdad (author)blakeredfield2009-02-09

I've been in the building trades over 25 years, and only a lunatic would actually use metal. Please understand that my harsh remark is just a kind of knee jerk panic reaction to a bad idea, nothing personal at all. Metal would be more expensive, time consuming and harder to work with, and definitely not freeze proof. When PEX (the type of tube used in the picture) 1st came out, some contractors I know put a piece that they had filled with water and capped at each end in their deep freezer (well below zero). Once solid, they beat the Cr** out of it with big hammers. It didn't leak. And that was the 1st generation of PEX. All hydronic slab systems use PEX, as there ain't nothing better out there. Just FYI. I'm calmed down now, sorry.

blakeredfield (author)Fixerdad2009-02-09

Easy tiger. Im a n00b way over my head, shooting ideas around. Plex is the way to go, then 100% . Thank you. I'll update my mental database.

Fixerdad (author)blakeredfield2009-02-10

Sorry again, just spazzed out at the thought of metal - I've drilled into regular water lines that some **&%$##*@@!!!'s have put into slabs for unknowable reasons. i did over react.+see last sentence of 1st reply

scarabeetle101 (author)2009-01-31

If I was rich and not fourteen, I would build myself one of these.

You don't have to be rich to build stuff, you just need to be determined and stubborn.

KyleofAsgard (author)2009-01-26

Hey well done on your workshop, I am a huge fan of straw bale housing and i was wondering if you could give a rough estimated all in all price the project cost you. great job

roynlois (author)2009-01-17

Would love to have the complete details. Think I would like to build a shop like this. Do you have conventional air conditioning or just use fans? If you have a set of plans let me know. Thanks...Roy

hydrnium.h2 (author)2009-01-15

A workshop insulated by straw and held up by a wood framing. Isn't this a little flammable? Or did you add some retardants?

Less flamable than a traditional stick built structure. The plaster is a retardant and keeps the air out. You could probably spray your bales with a boric acid mix Thanks

sugeri-instructables (author)2009-01-16

Do you have any details about the posts and their footings. What size posts - 8" or ...? What about the footings? What is the frost level, if any? How deep are the holes, are they backfilled with gravel, concrete ...? I have been dreaming of building a workshop too, post and beam seems to make the most sense, but I keep finding contradictory descriptions of the physical building. I think that this idea is marvelous. Gary

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