A Machine Shed’s Second Life

Posted on Posted in General Farming, Media Articles

Originally written by Dan Miller and Published in The Progressive Farmer/November 2014

With a choice of building a new shop or rehabbing his 1970’s building, Mark Ruff and his father, Luther, took a second look and came up with a spacious redesign.

There comes a day when the old shop won’t work anymore.  The equipment gets larger and more complicated to maintain, and floor space is more squeezed each passing day.

Mark Ruff saw that day coming to his rapidly growing Circleville, Ohio, corn and soybean farm.  His main shop area was a 1950’s two-car garage, with a 1970’s machine shed attached to it.  A single 30 x 30 foot bay in the shed boasted concrete on the floor and a door.  The rest was dirt and open to the weather.  Work not done in those bays was done haphazardly in other buildings.  Ruff’s tools were scattered, never in the right place or frustratingly misplaced.

“We had to make a decision,” Ruff says, “tear it down (and build new) or remodel it.”  He chose to redesign the existing building.  In reality, he gutted it.  While it may well have been less expensive to build new, the footprint of the garage and equipment shed fit well within the building layout and traffic pattern of the farm lot.

“I’m not disappointed in what we built,” Ruff says, giving a nod to his father, Luther, for the imaginative design.  “It was money well spent.”

Posts Removed.  Much of the redesign dealt with the machine shed’s support posts.  As originally built, the posts chopped up the planned workspaces.

To remedy that problem, half the posts were removed.  The remaining four interior posts were reinforced to support large, laminated wood beams that spanned each of the posts and the large door openings.

The work created a mostly, wide-open space of 4,900 square feet.

The design of that original 30 x 30 foot square space with concrete floor changed, too.  A rolling steel door can be lowered to segregate it from the rest of the shop.  With it and the front door closed, the space becomes an area for painting and other work Ruff doesn’t want drifting through the entire shop.

Drive In.  Ruff’s shop is accessed through seven overhead doors, five along the front and two on the west end of the building, each with nearly 14 feet of clearance.  The high-quality, insulted doors, ranging from 15 feet wide to 24 feet wide, give access to individual bays or combinations of bays.  No support post support post divides the five bays across the front of the building.  A work truck can pull into one bay, or a planter can be unfolded across several bays.

A 24 foot door on the west end of the building gives Ruff another angle of access down the length of the shop’s space.  Next to it, a 15 foot service door opens to a more narrow area bound on one side by the shop’s back wall and the four remaining support posts.  It’s space long enough to hold a semi truck and trailer.  On this day at Ruff Farms, a well-used John Deere excavator was being overhauled in the space.

Key to making this shop work for Ruff is how it’s managed.  Equipment is not stored inside.  Each piece is brought inside for service and pulled out when the work is completed.

With the exception of a small tool shop and a single petroleum storage unit, Ruff has no area dedicated to a single process, such as welding.  Most everything is moved around the shop on wheels.  In that way, tools and equipment are brought to the work.

Electrical outlets have been installed between each door and mounted to the support posts.  Blue and black striped extension cords hang on hooks at each outlet location.  The coloring was chosen on purpose.

They aren’t to be used anywhere else but in the shop.  The colors make it easy to find them on the occasions in which they do wander away (which is cause for some rebuke).

Bright Idea.  Ruff put good effort into lighting.  “I wanted it like a grocery store.  Eliminate the shadows. Create even light.”  He brought in a consultant who wrote an illumination plan.  Light from efficient T5 fixtures overhead are supplemented by fluorescent lights mounted on the walls.  The wall mounted fixtures eliminate shadows and compensate for ceiling light lost when overhead doors block ceiling mounted lights.  The walls and ceiling are covered with reflective, white steel panels.

This shop’s heating plan is based on keeping it to a minimum.  Ruff heavily insulated the building instead.  The walls have 6 inches of insulation, and the ceiling has 10 inches of blown in insulation.  The overhead doors are insulated.  The overhead doors are insulated.  The shop is heated with portable radiant heaters.  Ruff has five of the diesel fueled units, but he often finds that two, or even a single unit, generate enough heat for the building to keep everyone comfortable.

Ruff is planning this winter to plumb compressed air to multiple locations around the shop.  He thought about doing it during construction but decided to wait, wanting to better understand the work flow around the shop.

Air Supply.  Compressed air drops will be located in enough places, he says, to keep individual hoses short – hoses on 50 foot reels rather than 100.  He’d rather give his staff the ability to use compressed air from multiple locations at the same time, while not dragging long, crisscrossing lines across the floor of the shop.

He is going to add additional 220 volt outlets around the shop to make his welding work more portable.

Ruff is happy with the new capabilities the shop has brought to his operation.  It has made maintenance and repair work more efficient, and given him and his employees a clean, dry place to do that work.

“We all like the doors.  We can do five, six, seven projects in there, all at the same time,” he says.  “It’s really changed our workflow. Better, we can do work the year round.”


Three Great Ideas:  Mark Ruff, Circleville, Ohio

  1. Lighting.  Ruff hired a consultant to draft a lighting plan that spreads even light across the floor and eliminates shadows in the corners.
  2. Restructure.  The building was originally an open machine shed.  With engineering work, half the interior post were removed.  That change greatly improved work and traffic flow in the shop.
  3. Doors.  Ruff’s shop includes seven overhead doors to accommodate multiple maintenance, repair and rehab projects at once.  An interior, overhead rolling door can be pulled down to segregate one of the bays for spray painting.

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