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13 farm shop innovations


1. Go portable for space

For Paul Hargus, being able to move “anywhere except the 2-foot parameter of our shop's wall” was essential to make the most of his family's 48×48-foot shop. Hargus farms with his father, Dwayne, near Jackson, Minnesota. The Nelson brothers, on the other hand, have a spacious 80×80-foot shop. They try to “keep everything unattached or on wheels, so we can roll tools and supplies right up to the work at hand,” says Neil Nelson, who farms with Dave and Dennis near Belmond, Iowa.

Even welding gear finds itself on-the-go around shops. Neal Pavlish, who farms near Crete, Nebraska, wired 220-volt outlets on each wall of his shop “so I can move freely about the shop with the welder,” he says.

A great example of metal fabricating mobility was created by Glen Wasmuth of Battleford, Saskatchewan (shown right). Topped off with a 30×72-inch steel plate, the cart holds a cutting torch, 5-hp. compressor, ½-inch drill press, vise, mechanic's tool chest, parts drawers, and a wide variety of grinders and welding clamps, all topped off with an overhead light. The cart's outlets include a 40-amp plug (the cart has its own breaker box) to feed a MIG welder. Wasmuth says the 2,500-pound cart rolls easily on concrete, due to 12-inch-diameter wheels on the rear axle and 8-inch wheels up front.

2. Expand outdoors

When the Burrers faced the decision of building a larger shop to accommodate wider implements, they came up with a far more affordable option.

The Elyria, Ohio, farmers poured concrete work pads on three quarters of the area surrounding their 50×65-foot shop.

“The one side of the shop was left in gravel, which is where we can park muddy equipment to do a preliminary cleaning,” says Tom Burrer, who farms with father Doug and brother Corwin. “Those outdoor pads are great for doing maintenance on larger equipment such as 40-foot tillage implements.”

To service these outdoors pads, the Burrers located electrical outlets and air hose couplers spaced every 20 feet all the way around their shop. 


3. Add a tire changer

With tire dealers farther from home and often only available on weekdays, a growing number of farmers are investing in tire changers (shown left) to fix flats on-the-go.

Manual changers cost around $250, while semiautomatic, professional, air-operated units begin at $1,000 and escalate from there.

Duane Vick of Power, Montana, opted for a Wheel Service tire changer that can dismount and mount tires on 20-inch-diameter rims. “It was one of my best shop investments,” he says.

To cut costs, shop around for a used changer. But tire repair expert Don Kubly of Gempler's warns that these machines can be quite worn from use. “You need to operate the machine and make sure its mechanisms, like the bead breaker shovel, run smoothly,” he warns. Finally, lay in a supply of basic tire tools and supplies ($450 to $800) and obtain a tire repair manual. “You can't have enough repair information,” Kubly says.


4. Convert to T5 light fixtures

A new generation of fluorescent lights lets you shine far more light on your shop work and save money.

A former electrician, Larry Rutt opted for T5 high-output (54 watts per tube) fixtures in his Chappell, Nebraska, shop. He knows they run on half the power of 400-watt metal halide lights.

“They are not only very efficient but also put out a bright, white light as opposed to the slightly yellow light from the metal halide,” Rutt says.

T5 lights deliver far more diffused light. “You don't seem to get glare from them,” says Bodie Deuschle of Heritage Farms in Fulda, Minnesota.

T5s' advantages include longer life, instant-on operation, lower operating heat, and quieter operation compared to T8 fluorescents and high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights. T5 bulbs maintain their light output over their entire life; T8 and HPS bulbs slowly grow dim with time. Unlike either T8 or HPS lights, if one of the bulbs in a T5 fixture burns out, the other bulbs continue to operate.

Converting over to T5 fluorescents promises an easy retrofit. You can buy new or even use existing T8 fixtures and change them over with a T5 ballast.

Keep in mind that multiple T5 fixtures can be operated off a single HPS or metal halide junction box.

For example, a four-lamp T5 fixture draws around 235 watts compared to 455 watts for a single-bulb HPS. 


5. Alleviate heavy lifting

Want to take the backbreaking work out of hauling heavy objects to your shop's loft?

Take a tip from Lloyd Gordon and buy a dilapidated forklift. The Wellington, Ohio, farmer didn't rebuild the forklift. Instead, he salvaged the mast from the vehicle and installed it in his farm's shop to act as a hydraulic elevator capable of toting up to 1,500-pound loads upward.

After being removed, the lift mast was mounted to Gordon's shop floor and attached to overhead beams supporting the loft. The hydraulic pump from the forklift was paired with an 8-hp. electric motor. The switch for that motor and lever to activate the pump are mounted on a sheet metal shroud covering the mast. A nice added touch is a safety bar (painted yellow). It trips a contact switch that immediately stops the pump if that bar is lifted by an arm or parts sticking outside the lift pad. 

6. Speed oil drains

Make short work of draining oil and virtually eliminate spills with this mobile drain cart, a brainchild of Randy Miiller of Mt. Vernon, South Dakota. His drain cart is a plastic wheelbarrow plumbed with a drain valve in its sump. The valve can be coupled to a transfer pump (Tuthill LP50P36Q114 transfer pump) that propels used oil through a ¾-inch hose to a container located outside the shop. “It provides a huge funnel area,” Miiller says.

This innovation can be put together for around $500 to $600 (pump is $400 to $450), not including valves, fittings, and hoses. 


7. Ventilate fumes, exhaust

Improving your shop's ventilation won't speed up repair and maintenance chores, but this investment makes working in a shop during the winter months easier on your lungs. It will also help keep gleaming white metal walls and ceilings from becoming dingy with soot.

Farmer-innovative vent systems vary widely in design and use. For example, Doug Masuen salvaged a furnace fan to suck smoke directly from a vehicle's exhaust (shown bottom, right). “To ventilate my entire shop, I salvaged a fan from an old farrowing house and then mounted it to the top of my shop's wall,” the Le Mars, Iowa, farmer says. “My two concerns for ventilation are when I'm running a motor and when I'm welding or cutting on metal.”

Pat Muller went right to the source of his shop's troublesome smoke by positioning a ventilation hood over his welding table (shown right) to capture smoke. The hood was plumbed with ducting to a ½-hp. fan.

There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to ventilating farm shops. The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers recommends using a wall-mount fan that provides a minimum of 1,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) in welding areas. The National Ag Safety Database ( bumps the figure up to 2,000 cfm.


8. Replace aging fiberboard with slat board capacity

If your fiberboard (for example, Peg-Board) wall tool storage is threatening to collapse from tool weight or its holes have busted out from all those times you hung up a 20-pound pipe wrench, consider switching out the old board with slat board (also known as slotwall or bracket board).

In common use for display in stores, heavy-duty versions of this product are available for the shop and have carrying capacity anywhere from five to 10 times that of fiberboard.

“We're amazed by what it can hold. We hung tools off that wall that would pull hangers through fiberboard,” says Dale Smith, who farms with sons Dave and Kevin near Rochester, Indiana. Their slat board wall is shown at left.

The sky is the limit on slat board variety. The product is available in 4×4-foot or 4×8-foot sheets or in precut widths down to 1½ to 2 feet tall. It's sold in pressboard, solid lumber, polymer, resin, and metal materials.

A 4×8-foot sheet of laminated (Melamine) pressboard sells for $43 to $45. 

9. Upgrade heating

If that old heater dangling from your ceiling is giving you the cold shoulder, consider a heating upgrade.

A ready replacement can be found in infrared tube heaters, which offer a 30% to 50% fuel savings over forced-air units.

“One huge advantage infrared tubes offer is that they warm objects – not the air,” says Paul Hargus. “The floor is warm, for starters, and you can park a cold tractor or combine in the shop and be sure it's warm to work on the next morning.” 


10. Invest in an automotive lift system

Tired of rolling under vehicles on a creeper, the Damman brothers invested in a 10,000-pound automotive lift (shown above) for $2,800.

“It's worth every penny and will be very useful for years to come,” says Duane, who farms with brother Dean in Melbourne, Iowa.

The beauty of auto lifts: they can be surface-mounted on most any shop. The most popular is the two-post models. They offer rated load capacities ranging from 7,000 to 30,000 pounds. Two thirds of all lifts sold in the U.S. are two-post, side-by-side above-ground lifts. The reason for this popularity is that two-post lifts provide the most unobstructed access to a raised vehicle.

“It's nice to be able to get a vehicle up about 6 feet and work on anything on the chassis,” says Doug Masuen who farms near Le Mars, Iowa. “Anything I need to do short of major body work, I can complete on the auto lift.”

When shopping for a lift, know that not all lifts are built to the same levels of quality.

The market has been invaded by cheap, offshore lighter-duty lifts, particularly in the two-post model market. So make sure that the lift you are considering has been certified by the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). Certified lifts will have a gold label signifying that the lift has been independently tested and verified to meet performance and safety.

Two-post lifts vary greatly in price not only due to their lifting capacities but also to account for other features they offer. Costs can range from $3,000 to $12,000. 

11. Coat floors for quick cleanup

Terry Nelson of Page, North Dakota, coated his shop's floor with an industrial epoxy paint that is oil-, fuel-, and heavy equipment-resistant. “I can drive my equipment on the floor, and it eases the cleanup of spills without compromising the floor's integrity. And, boy, does it make the job of sweeping the floor much easier,” he says. Depending on its grade, coatings range from $45 to $140 per gallon. 

12. Boost cell service in sheltering shops

Don Villwock and Jason Missiniec were trapped in a cell phone shadow thanks to their shop's metal walls. “With the doors closed, we couldn't get a signal in here,” says Missiniec, manager at Villwock Farms near Edwardsport, Indiana. Their solution was to install a cell phone repeater (sometimes referred to as a booster) in the ceiling of their main shop bay. For a $100 to $250 investment, a cell phone repeater (or booster) can instantly cure signal-challenged shops.

A repeater kit consists of an outside antenna, an amplifier (which requires AC or DC power), and an inside antenna. Some signal boosters also comprise a cell phone antenna connected by coaxial cable directly to the cell phone or to a computer air card. Repeater kits range from $250 up to $900 depending on their capabilities and signal strength. 

13. Create a hydraulic hose center

Waiting to get hydraulic hose replacements wasn't an option for the Errotabere Ranch near Riverdale, California.

“There are times when we absolutely must be rolling in the field,” says Remi Errotabere, who farms with brothers Dan and Jean. “So we invested in a hydraulic crimper and stocked up on hoses and fittings.”

The decision to make your own hydraulic hoses is not a cheap one. A crimper costs $2,500 to $4,000 alone.

“It is a serious investment,” says Tim Deans of Gates. “But some suppliers offer incentive programs that can offset the initial expense. You can recoup that expense by making your own hose.”

Deans urges farmers to avoid buying cheaper manual crimping tools. “Those tools can work if you are making hose rated for low-pressure applications,” he says. “But many ag hoses run at far higher pressures (at 3,000 psi to 5,000 psi) that require more steel spirals in the hose. Manual machines won't do an adequate job crimping fittings over this type of hose.”

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