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Ultimate Garage Handbook

Book Review

by Ryan King

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Keep it clean, keep it neat, and keep it organized.

In my opinion, those are tenets for every garage.

Functionality and aesthetics are also critical concepts, because you should be working in it and by keeping it functional, you make it accessible; by making it aesthetically pleasing, you make it inspiring to work in; both aspects combine to boost your wellbeing and productivity.

I've been waiting to read a book on garages that really understands how to put one together for the hardcore automotive enthusiast with those ideas in mind, and this is it.

The Book

Ultimate Garage Handbook is written by Richard Newton — and before you write it off as some rich guy with more money than sense from the introduction I wrote, you should know he's an ASE Master Technician who's spent his life working on cars, not just collecting pretty things.

He does an excellent job of balancing effective garage philosophy with practical know-how to create a functional yet pleasing garage environment for the average enthusiast.

Read on to get a chapter-by-chapter breakdown to see if Ultimate Garage Handbook has what you're looking for:


This is a great introduction because it does what I think an introduction in a non-fiction book should do: set the tone.

The tone it sets is one I've waited a long time to find in an enthusiast or consumer-oriented book on garages: reasonable. That is, someone who's viewpoint is down the middle, focused on both functionality and looks, while keeping an eye on the bottom line — not thinking one is most or even more important than another.

Not only does the introduction set the tone, but it also provides practical — if not general — advice about garages and garage projects.

If you pick up this book, don't pass over the introduction thinking it's just talking about the author's favorite pet or how much they owe their significant other for their support — this is an important part of the book.

Chapter 1: Planning Your Garage

This chapter is inadequate.

Garage planning is complex and it just doesn't cover what you'll need to know.

That said, of all the enthusiast or consumer-oriented books on garages I've read up to this point, this one does the best job of giving you some of the basic decision tools you'll need to plan for a garage — whether you're organizing, remodeling, or building a new one.

Unlike the books geared toward the average homeowner, this one looks at what a car enthusiast might want or need in a small garage or shop necessary to deal with one, two, or three cars — like my Parking Garage. Mostly, it deals with getting you acquainted with the concept of space and its uses inside a gearhead's wrenching haven, as well as the kinds of practical options you have for that space — including the limitations facing those with small properties on which to expand.

Chapter 2: Building a Solid Floor

As of this writing, this book is over 15 years old and in that time, technology has changed. One of those technological areas is paint — specifically garage floor paint. Today, if you go with the right floor coating it can take hours — instead of days — to dry and be rock hard, unlike the technology of the mid-2000s. Consequently, some of the information in this chapter is a bit dated, but the overall approach taken to flooring, isn't. In fact, it's very real and very reasonable. Not only is the author interested in putting together a great place to while away the hours, but also putting down a great floor and it matters because of the detail he goes into in explaining what to do to produce that floor — whether you go expensive or inexpensive. This chapter provides the best practical advice on choosing garage flooring I've read in any book that covers this subject.

Chapter 3: The Challenge of Storage

This chapter is a bit short and light on details, but it does do something other books don't do: look at the garage from the perspective of different types of users.

Specifically, it provides very general ideas for parts storage, racing, and detailing — and it provides a more detailed look at the concept of long-term storage of an automobile.

One feature I appreciate is the fact that this book completely omits the idea of storing bicycles and household junk in the garage. It treats the garage as a space for car-stuff only. Now, for many of you, that may be a deal breaker, but for someone like me, the garage is strictly for cars and car-related stuff, so it's the only book I've read that's right on point for me when it comes to storage in the garage.

Chapter 4: Workbenches

This guy is seriously enthusiastic about workbenches and tool storage — and this chapter covers both.

Most of the information in Chapter 4 is general, but Newton does discuss the elements that make up good workbenches and tool storage in detail. Of course, as I've already mentioned, the information in here is more than 15 years old and the landscape for workbenches and tool storage has changed a bit in that time. As an example, the old standby Craftsman has had a tremendous reduction in its tool storage options. That said, the information here is still valid and applicable even with the current market. He goes so far as to address everything from cheap do-it-yourself options to workbenches and tool storage that cost multiple thousands of dollars.

Don't get me wrong, other books do go over the subject of workbenches and tool storage, but the emphasis is different — they seem to say less and do it over more pages. In Ultimate Garage Handbook, the author is both enthusiastic and practical — and covers a wide range of information but with just the right amount of detail that it gives you a concrete direction in which to run.

Chapter 5: Tools and Other Fun Things

Chapter 5 is also a bit short, but it packs some really solid, practical advice.

It discusses the ins and outs of tool equipment choices and which tools may be the most important for you to have on hand — it even addresses the fact that the average person is probably lucky to be working out of a two car garage and that the tool choices for that scenario need to be more conservative and proceeds to explain how to be more moderate with your collection while still getting work done on your ride.

This chapter covers quite a bit and includes advice on air compressors, air lines, media blasting cabinets, drill presses, welders, grinding wheels, vacuums, vices, and even how to make a homemade paint booth for small parts. Since tool technology hasn't really changed much in the past 15 years, all of the advice remains completely relevant — except for one piece of equipment: parts cleaning tanks. Newton's advice is to not have one in a home garage because of the fumes — and I agree if you're using solvents like he mentions — but there are a number of degreasers on the market now that aren't nearly as bad as solvents and with GreaseMaster, especially, you can barely tell it's there. Still any spray in the air from any degreaser can be harsh on the respiratory system, so keep that in mind for others in the house if you're working in an attached garage.

Chapter 6: The Electrical Grid

This chapter contains the electrical information missing from the other books on enthusiast and consumer-oriented garages I've reviewed up to this point. Chapter 6 is brief and it won't tell you all you need to know to design and install your electrical system, but it will give you the critical information necessary to understand the needs of an automotive enthusiast — and they are drastically different than those of the average homeowner. To put it bluntly, the average home garage's electrical system is woefully inadequate and there isn't a way to "make it work." In Chapter 6, Richard Newton clearly explains why that is and points out the significant differences needed to make an electrical system capable of handling the needs of us car nuts.

Chapter 7: Let There Be Light

As a professional artist (graphic designer, illustrator, and photographer), I can tell you that lighting is EVERYTHING. Poor lighting produces exhaustion and shitty results. Good results on any work requires a quality light source to produce clear vision that allows for precision control.

Garages are no different than an artist's or craftsman's studio. Richard Newton gets that — although, he doesn't mention it in relation to artists or craftsmen.

This is the chapter on lighting every garage book I've read up to this point is missing. It provides real tips for automotive enthusiasts to solve the kinds of problems we find with the kinds of work we do. Those solutions run the gamut of area, focused, and task lighting — even lighting specifically for the workbench. It won't tell you how to install it — and it doesn't even mention modern LED lighting, probably due to the age of the book — but it does explain the different concepts and considerations that need to be made to create a productive work environment in your garage with lights. That's really all you can reasonably expect out of a nine-page chapter. To install this stuff, you'll need to do more research or hire an electrician — but, at least you'll have a better idea of what you need.

Chapter 8: Climate Control

Chapter 8 is yet another chapter missing from the other enthusiast-oriented books. This one addresses heating and A/C for the garage and the best part is it focuses on the practical needs of enthusiasts while recognizing that heating and cooling are also necessary for year-round productivity.

Newton covers various forms of heating, A/C, and air circulation, but focuses predominantly on the use of a heat pump system with practical advice for effective implementation in both small attached and larger, detached, multi-bay workshops.

Like the chapter on the electrical system, Chapter 8 won't provide enough information to install an HVAC system yourself, but it will inform you of the needs of an automotive enthusiast.

Chapter 9: Wall and Ceiling Treatments

Chapter 9 is about options. However, where other books on garages place value on a bare-stud garage interior, Richard Newton doesn't — and I don't blame him. I like insulation and finished walls, too. This example is a prime reason why I gravitated towards this book: the focus is on a complete, functional, comfortable, and pleasing work environment — which is more my style.

Like the other books, Ultimate Garage Handbook does provide varying degrees of cost in its options, from low-cost drywall to high-cost slatwall and even suspended ceilings. Of course, if your choice is to go bare stud, that's the cheapest and doesn't really require any advice — unless you want to do built-in storage based on your exposed studs, then Ultimate Garage Handbook has nothing for you. In that case, check out Black and Decker's Complete Guide to Garages.

Chapter 10: Some Ideas from the Professional Shops

Idea books are a great thing to keep around. They're like notebooks, but visual, and more long-term in nature, like a journal or photo album — but a combination of the two. Chapter 10 is like an idea book, but only covers a single chapter made up of seven pages. It's stuffed with photos and captions, which provide insight into the solutions used by two professional race shops: Alex Job Racing (now AJR Restorations) and Flis Motorsports (now Flis Performance).

While short, this chapter is extremely useful, and after reading the rest of the book, you'll have a great foundation to apply these ideas to.


At 111 pages, this is a really short book.

In fact, I've read larger magazines.

Don't let that make you think there's nothing of any value here, though, because it isn't true. In fact, there's a lot of value and it's all practical and down to Earth.

Where How to Build Your Dream Garage is more focused on putting together a brand-new building as cheaply as possible, this one is more focused on making good use of one you already have. For an enthusiast like myself, both approaches have value. Although I don't yet have property, when I do find a place, being able to both make use of any garages or buildings already there or build those that I'll need are equally important capabilities.

I would imagine both are important for quite a few other gearheads, as well.

The approach of this book isn't dirt cheap, nor is it Taj Mahal expensive. In fact, it's focused on one thing: creating a pleasant, productive environment — even if that requires spending extra to get it done. In my opinion, that perspective is an important one to keep in mind for every automotive hobbiest. It's too easy to get caught up in trying to save money or building the best, instead of maintaining an even keel, focused on what matters: creating an environment geared for success. Richard Newton clearly understands that and wrote Ultimate Garage Handbook to help give you a foundation to achieve it.

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For more information contact Motorbooks on the web at www.motorbooks.com, by phone 1.800.826.6600, or by email at customerservice@motorbooks.com.

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