For those of us who live in colder climates, it’s important to consider Winterizing the Shop, especially if you don’t have a heater. Here are some tips that will save you money and hassle.
Clean the Shop – If your shop is dirty and cluttered, you won’t be able to see rust developing on your tools. Dust is also hygroscopic and attracts moisture, and you don’t want that happening on your cast iron.
Protect your Metal – Woodworking tools typically feature a lot of cast iron and unprotected cast iron rust easily. So I recommend applying some form of rust protectant to keep the rust at bay. In low humidity climates, you can get away with something like paste wax (I like Renaissance Wax) alone. If humidity is high, consider products like T9 Boeshield. And for extended down time or long-term storage, consider Cosmolene-style products, which will protect from rust but also render the tool unusable until you clean the gunk off. You might also consider special tool covers or magnetic sheets.
Clean Filters & Dust Bins – Because dust attracts moisture, it’s a good idea to keep your filters clean and your dust bins empty.
Warm the Shop Slowly – In Denver, Mother Nature often gives us a beautiful 70F day right in the middle of Winter. If that should happen to you, don’t just throw open the doors and windows. Doing so could cause condensation on your tools and the moist warm air hits the cold cast iron. Instead, allow your shop to come up to temperature slowly either with a heater or by cracking the windows and doors.
Insulate and Seal – Check your door and window seals and if possible, insulate your shop. If you’re in a garage and don’t want to replace the door with an insulated version, you should consider using a Garage Door Insulation Kit. You might also consider special garage door hinges that push the door up against the seals, such as the Green Hinge System.
Protect Your Liquids – Finishes and glues can freeze, rendering them unusable until they thaw or possibly ruining them completely. So my rule of thumb is to bring the liquids inside the house as soon as temps begin to approach 45F (7C).
Check Your Compressor – If you have a compressor that takes oil and the temps begin to approach 40F (4C), you might find that the compressor has some trouble. It might be worthwhile to look into an oil that works better in the cold. No matter what kind of compressor you have, you should drain the tank of condensation after every use. You don’t want water in the tank can fittings causing rust.
Consider Your Batteries – There’s no reason you can’t use cordless tools in the cold, but charging the batteries is a different story. Charging batteries under 40F (4C) can actually result in permanent negative impact on battery life. So let the batteries warm up a bit (ideally to room temperature) before charging.
Be Careful with Gas-Powered Portable Heaters – Propane and kerosene heaters can generate a lot of heat in a short amount of time, but a byproduct of the combustion process is moisture. So you want to make sure you have good ventilation when using that style of heater.
Be Careful with Plastics – Plastics become more brittle in the cold so be aware of that in case you have a case of the dropsies.
Be Mindful of General Safety – If you’re working in the cold, you might find yourself rushing. Try to slow down. And if your hands are cold, maybe consider wearing tight-fitting gloves to help you maintain your grip. Normally I don’t recommend gloves in the shop but I think a warm gloved hand is safer than a cold bare hand. Just make sure the gloves are snug, not too bulky, and have some grippy texture.
Consider Desiccant Packs – If you have tool drawers or boxes, it’s not a bad idea to invest in some desiccant packs. These help absorb moisture in closed environments and should help keep rust at bay.
Maintain a Minimum Temp – It may not be possible or financially feasible, but if you can run a heater that maintains a minimum temperature, just to stave off freezing, that would be a very good thing.