Mule Motorcycles Workshop – Lots of Ideas from a Working Garage

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - maximum use of space

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - maximum use of space

I spend a lot of time in the garage. In fact I’ve spent a lot of time in it since 1986. When we were finally ready to buy a house, my wife wanted her own good sized kitchen and I wanted a two car garage. If we got that, we’d both be happy! So with the purchase of our first and only house, I began work setting up the garage of my dreams. It’s survived many phases, a jillion projects and there hasn’t been a car parked in it for 24 years. I’ve worked in and seen shops that I’ve envied, gotten ideas from, thought I could improve on or wished I’d never visited. I’ve stolen good ideas and come up with some I’m really proud of. It’s always interesting to see people’s faces the first time they step through the door. I had one friend who brought over his new girlfriend that was a pottery artist. She took one big panoramic look, sucked up a deep breath and said, “I love the way it smells in here!” That was a first.

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - solid bench tops - on the wall tool storage

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - solid bench tops - on the wall tool storage

It started out as just a big, fun hobby shop garage and gradually transitioned into a mechanical mental therapy room. I make all the rules. One being, wipe off the tools before you return them to their CORRECT location! That’s so I can find again them after you’re gone.

I subscribe to a Japanese magazine called Garage Life. It has hundreds of glossy photos of garage layouts, tool set-ups, compressors, bike and car lifts, windows, heaters, fans, shelving, sucker systems (for exhaust evac), hoists and actual foundation and wall construction, and most of all, displays of mechanical collections. Beautiful stuff. Great ideas every issue. I look at them over and over and see more different and new stuff every time.

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - tool storage

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - tool storage

Now I have to note here that my garage is very functional. It’s not a “Baby Boomer’s Tool display” room. If I don’t use stuff, it gets moved out to “Building 2” or “The shed”. I need every inch of space and can’t afford the luxury of displaying things that aren’t used. I do regular “5-S” events, which weeds out unused parts, tools, materials and projects on long term hold for machining, painting, plating, hard-parts or who knows what. Out to Building 2 until their time has arrived. Sometimes I’ll bring stuff back into the garage to make sure it gets into work or to remind me of something I need to do. Other times it might just provide inspiration or it might be in need of a design solution. I’ll trip over it or walk around it until I get to it.

Which brings up organization. With limited space and an unholy amount of stuff, keeping things in order is the price I have to pay. Things need to be organized, re-organized, filtered, kept in their place lest I can’t find them when I search. If I can’t find something when I search, I may be buying a duplicate . That can get very expensive with brake calipers, electrical components or the like. I spend a lot of time putting things away, cleaning up and reassessing where the hell I’m at. Having multiple projects in work requires a lot of brain space and other domestic responsibilities can suffer.

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - ramp accessible roll on work stand

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - ramp accessible roll on work stand

Tools: When I worked as a commissioned mechanic in bike shops, we had a Snap-On dealer that stopped by every week. All I ever bought was Snap-On. I became a tool snob. Later, no longer influenced by the toolman’s expensive repair jewelry, I began chasing down any tool truck I saw when I was in need. Sometimes it was Matco, Cornwell or even the Sears tool department! Then I began working in aerospace, primarily doing sheetmetal work. A different set of skills and required tools. Here, it was necessary to make many of my own tools or what’s referred to as “Shop aids”. Then I needed to make some for home and the more unique the job, the more imagination required to make the tool. Most of these home shop aids live in a tub in “Building 2”.

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop circa 1991

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop circa 1991

The tools I use on a regular basis though, are all in highly visible locations and easily within reach. As I generally have a helper assisting me, there are multiple racks of wrenches and rows of sockets. Prevents searching the other guy’s tool pile for the 9/16 wrench. Early on I thought that a handsome toolbox or many, was what made a garage have clout. Now, I wish all the boxes could go to the swap meet so I’d have more room to work. I say that, but actually, some smaller tools are better off stashed out of the way in drawers contained in toolboxes. It just seems I work around them more than I dig through them.

Mule Motorcycles garage - socket storage within easy reach

Mule Motorcycles garage - socket storage within easy reach

The first week we moved into the house, I bought a compressor with a stand-up 60 gallon tank at Costco. I’m still using that same one. I quit changing the oil in it about 15 years ago and it made no difference. I recently install a braided stainless line with a shutoff valve to the water drain in the bottom of the tank. I lay the hose in the driveway and open the valve for a second. Ka-whoosh! All the water is blown out instantly. Cool! In the heavy equipment dept, I have a drill press and small lathe. I used to have a big bead-blasting cabinet, but that got way too messy around the other “clean” things I try to do in the garage. Like engines and forks and carb work. Every time I would open the lid, a huge cloud of silica dust would fill the garage. Had to go. First out to the porch and then away with a friend. A lesson learned with the BB cabinet is that if you really use it a lot, it consumes orifice tips and air bleeds like mad! Messy work like that requires an area that can get really dirty without mechanical consequences. It’s like painting a car in the garage. Ends up being a one-time deal and then it’s time to move to a new neighborhood.

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - engines in progress on bench

Mule Motorcycles garage workshop - engines in progress on bench

I have two heavy duty wood stands I made and with the aid of a ramp, I can roll a bike right up there and either tie it down or use a rear wheel stand. Sometimes a bike project starts with just a motor and grows like a tree. Other times these stands can be used as a low bench for motor build ups or whatever. If used as a bench, I usually throw down a sheet or moving quilt to work on. No, this isn’t so the parts can sleep more comfortably, it’s so I don’t lose small parts. They’ll show up much better on a lightly colored background. I hate to kill too much time looking for the last circlip of that size in the United States that just dropped somewhere under the engine. I think it went under the engine!!

Mule Motorcycles garage - stacked washer dryer - wife's happy - more storage space

Mule Motorcycles garage - stacked washer dryer - wife's happy - more storage space

For more storage room, I told my wife that she needed one of those new stacked washer/dryer type machines because she deserved it so much. Boy was she happy! And now I have even more floor and vertical shelf space where the dryer used to sit. I built a hanging shelf that goes around the entire perimeter and recently got a long carpet remnant stapled down on a twenty foot section. Now I can slide new, unpainted or freshly painted bodywork up out of harm’s way. Sliding them up and down is easier and no risk of scratches.

Anyway, that’s how my garage works and if it works as planned you’ll get some ideas or provide some of your own.

Mule Motorcycles garage - work in progress

Mule Motorcycles garage - work in progress

Link: Mule Motorcycles

Comments

  1. nortley says

    Now if you took that place, turned it over, and shook, it would still look better than my garage. But, I seem to thrive in chaos.

  2. Mikey says

    Richard, I am in awe. I really like this shop. Makes my crowded (yes, I got that problem too) little corner look like Hell.
    My problem is that my better half believes that the garage is where we (actually, just her) store the stuff that she doesn’t want to look at inside the house anymore.
    I had to really put my foot down when I found a huge pile of empty cardboard boxes left over from the last Christmas season (Damn you Amazon and QVC!). There was a six by six pile of cardboard stacked exactly where I park the bike when I came home one day. cardboard makes such a good hot flame in the fireplace.
    She got really vocal when I did that but she went quiet when I asked her if she planned on using those boxes for anything but annoying me.
    Since then, I’ve had no problems out of her. she stays in the house, and I stay, well wherever in the garage I want to be.

  3. jim says

    That row of XS650 motors alone makes me drool. Fabulous workspace! My garage is 70+years old with a cracked and heaved floor, but my basement workbench resembles the benches in Pollock’s garage, only “somewhat” messier.

    One problem when living with the opposite gender is that personal space tends to “creep”. The garage that was originally intended strictly for male things like motorcycles and cars slowly fills with things like flower pots. If a deceased parent’s estate becomes part of the picture, bye, bye “guy” space. The only thing to do is move the bikes into the living room!

  4. Tyler says

    I’ve been lingering around thekneeslider for sometime now without saying much but I have to comment. I have a lot of respect for Mule Motorcycles. He’s in my own back yard (Inland San Diego). He’s my inspiration to restore and rebuild unique functioning motorcycles. I can admit I got caught up in the hardtail craze for a bit but then I realized I’d rather enjoy the ride comfortably instead. You don’t have to hard tail a bike to make it look cool. Anyway, his shop habits are tidy and professional and it shows in his work. Good stuff.

  5. Mule says

    We made a deal early on in home ownership. I OWN the garage. End of discussion. However I do like clean clothes. So I sub-lease the washer/dryer corner to my wife. She cooks all the meals and I let her use the washer and dryer to clean my clothes. Sometimes sacrafices have to made. Don’t tell her I said that or I won’t eat for a month!

  6. Dano says

    I had the 28’x28′ garage that had the “project” car in it. I also had a shop in a barn and 6 acres to spead stuff out on.
    The ‘down sizing bug’ got into the wife and we moved to a 1 acre lot with a small garage for the cars.
    My stipulation for agreeing to the move was a new garage workshop that will be 28’x38′, of which a 14’x28′ will be the actual shop with the tools and machines. I am in the process of excavation / construction right now.
    My moving process is proceeding under the Kaizen process and 6’s, I throw in Safety also. It is giving me the opportunity to get rid of the projects and stuff I will never finish or use again.
    Like you, I don’t intend to display tools, I’m using the high density draw style Stanley/ Vidmar cabinets and labels.
    It will be my last move and with luck and hard work a place I can retire to and get some things completed and not started and strewn about. Disipline, it will be tough but I can do it, I think!
    Thanks for the tip on the magazine, headed to Google next.

  7. elstevo says

    I’m probably 20 years too late with this question…… but, do you still have any of that TZ stuff that you want to get rid of? I love those mid 70’s 700/750’s and am currently restoring a 1980 TZ250G.

  8. Mule says

    Dano, I too lust after Vidmar cabinets. We have dozens in the Rocket Factory. In the one picture, you can see a red tool cabinet under the bench. I just got that at Costco for $425.00! The drawers aren’t very deep front to back, but they latch and are super wide. I removed the wheels and cutting board style wood top and it slid right under the bench. Great for organized parts storage, drill bits, cutters etc.. That, I thought was an incredible value. Not a Vidmar, but one third the cost! It’s pretty stout and appears that it should last til I’m gone.

  9. Mule says

    Elsteveo, those guys are long gone. Visit Motorcycle Picture of the Day for a bunch more pictures of the TZ750’s. That was what I refer to as “TZ Summer”, 1991. I restored 5 of them and sold them all off. In and out, all gone! Although there is a good story about riding one in the back country. Fastest I’ve ever been on anything ground based.

  10. Oldyeller8 says

    I don’t have a garage, damn! But I am still in good with the bike shop I use to work at. So, all my maintenance still happens there thanks to the owner letting me use his space.

    But I always follow the basic rules, ask first, keep the tools clean and put them back where you found them.

    Thanks Imperial Motorcycles in Burnaby, BC.

  11. todd says

    I learned long ago that I’m much better off spending time with my family than organizing my garage. I do allow myself some time to work on bike projects but it’s usually in the middle of the night after my daughter has gone to sleep. That gets old when I have to leave for work before 7 the next morning.

    I’m not envious of Mule’s garage, though he does have some beautiful bikes in there, I’m envious of the amount of time he’s able to spend out there (apparently). I have to start figuring out how to make more money in my garage than I do away at work. Only then will I have my priorities straight.

    -todd

  12. woolyhead says

    Time slips away…..too many dirt floor sheds and tarps in the rain. Just do it !

  13. christophter says

    well done sir. bought my first project engine a few weeks ago. salvaged some free scrap wood from a large shipping crate at work. it’s for the bench i’m going to build in the corner of my basement. of my apartment. one day i’ll have a house and a big garage with a lift. for now i’ll make do with the dimly lit corner and my own two hands for engine moving. thanks for the inspiration!

  14. Mule says

    Robert, The way I’ve done it with several different Japanese magazines is I went to my local Japanese bookstore or market. Lots of them have a magazine section and the attendents (?) can order them for you. The way I’ve always seen it done is you tell them you want Garage Life and they order a subscription for you. The mags come to them and every month you get a call. “Lobert, you Galage Rife here now!” And you go pick it up. It anin’t cheap, but it’s quarterly and if you live in a large metro area, I’m sure you could find a Japanese market or bookstore. Other good magazines are “Clubman, Sportster, Buell, Biker’s Station” and others. I can read not one word, bike the pictures are large, detailed and first class. I’ve gotten so many ideas, themes, garage ideas, paint scheme ideas it’s not even funny.

    Another hot tip is the GP Pitwalk series of soft bound books. Incredible large photos!!! Contact me through my website and I’ll give you more info on those. Kinda gettin’ away from the garage thing, but good stuff anyway.

  15. joe says

    Great layout and ohh,sooo clean ! I wish I could keep my shop that tidy. I am usualy using it for welding,grinding ,machinery repair, woodwork and storage etc. One day I hope to set up a garage just for motorcyle repairs and display.

  16. Cameron Nicol says

    Upstairs. I have a 100 sq ft shop, how much more do you need to build a bike in? Upstairs is where I keep all the stuff I’m not using. I would highly recommend it if you can’t find room for building 2…. Or three!!… OK I’m jealous

  17. Bjorn says

    Thanks for sharing Richard.
    We’ve been in a new place for about 15 months now and I’ve got a shed all to myself. Having a space where I can spread out a project and keep working away at it bit by bit is a luxury when you rent with kids.
    All my storage is metal shelving I scored when a previous employer cleaned out the print shop. A hardwood bench was a gift from the local bicycle shop to which I added some drawers made from recycled pallets. Cost nothing except for a couple of packets of screws.
    Having a dedicated space allows for bigger visions and wilder projects. It also beats rebuilding engines in the lounge room. Something I wouldn’t dare trying now I’m married.
    Thanks again for sharing your shed with us.

  18. John Worthington says

    As the fortunate to own one of Richard’s creations, I can say that the obvious thought, planning and practical execution of his garage layout is certainly reflected in the product of his labor. Thanks to Kneeslider for providing this piece and to Richard for sharing the insight into his mental therapy chamber.

  19. says

    Wow! You have used each corner for storage. It’s really good to watch neatness. Also, getting fine ideas from such working garage workshops is worth. But while working, I just cant be so neat and clean, I just mess each section and then it takes hell lot of time for re-arrangement. But will try to put up the tips from this article.

    Thanks Richard!
    ——————————————————–

  20. Woodco100 says

    Here is a little tip to keep the better half away. Keep a small piece of metal (steel, not aluminum) in the bench vise and a big agnle grinder close by and plugged in. When the wife sticks her head in the door, grab the grinder and shoot a nice stream of sparks her way!! That usually chases her back in the house. …and yes she has locked me out and made me sleep out here!

    http://s188.photobucket.com/albums/z146/woodco100/?action=view&current=PICT0761.jpg

  21. Oldtimer says

    Woodco100: Love the coffee table bike lift. When your wife asks if you’re about done with refinishing it, you can honestly say “I’m working on it!”

  22. beezaric says

    The only problem with a big garage is you have room for more stuff (junk in the wifes eyes) XR350.Bsa A65 Bsa Bantam C12/tribsa Bsa C11 Bsa B21 Hinkley Triumph and the old Mercury Comet
    Ric in Melbourne

  23. says

    I feel your pain . My setup isnt far from that, and my building 2 is shrinking quickly as well. I call my wife my tool fairy becuase its her job to put all the tools away and she does a fine job. Thats how I know shes a keeper.

  24. says

    Todd, my trained eye spotted an XJ650RJ in the background!!!! I just picked up one on Tuesday from Dave Edwards. I’ve been bugging him about that bike for at least 10 years! Thats a bike I’ll build for myself. Everyone has their quirks I guess!

  25. MV says

    Could I ask for some more details on the bike in the first pic and the one in the second to last (with the gold wheels)? Haven’t seen very many street tracker inspired twins, they look pretty awesome!!

  26. Scott S says

    This is timely for me.What a wonderful shop. I am trying to get my own space after 30 years of being a home owner and forty years of twisting wrenches in other peoples shops for a living. The biggest mistake I ever made in my life was not building a shop when I had the money to do it The real estate/banking issues in the late 80’s took my construction company away… Many projects await. I am now thinking about something a lot smaller than my DREAM shop. Thanks for the glimpse into your shop Richard.

  27. says

    MV, I will write a story about the bike in the first picture (Mule 7) and hopefully Paul will post it up here. It’s a really crazy story but will be entertaining as hell. It starts back in 1994!

    The other bike (Gold wheels), is the Web Surfer Special built for Cycle World which is a pretty interesting story as well. There are lots more pictures of both on my website.
    http://www.mulemotorcycles.net

    Scott S, one thing I was hoping to show with this story and pictures is not how cool I think my garage is, but more what you can do with a typical 2-car garage in Suburbia or a shed in Backwoods-City over time using your imagination. Also not mentioned is a technique I use. The plastic tubs that you can buy everywhere these days (with the folding interlocking lids) are perfect for all that unsightly, floppy garage crap that wives insist on collecting. You can take a magic marker and write on labels like, “Titanium brackets or Magnesium FCR carb bodies or Redline Brembo brake systems” on all the tubs and stack them under a bench. That will be sure to impress all your riding buddies! And for all the gun enthusiasts here on this site, you could write, “Explosive Rounds” or “Assorted Sniper accessories”. Guaranteed to impress! You can thank me later.

  28. todd says

    Good eye Mule. The XJ was free and it’s the most modern feeling early eighties bike I’ve ever ridden. Quite a pleasure. You can almost make out the tail of my GB500 in front of the bug, the tail light of the 90cc twin, and completely obscured is the free BSA B50MX.

    Tell you what, I’ll trade everything for yours straight across…

    -todd

  29. Walt says

    I’m using second hand lateral file cabinets to hold garage stuff like parts and tools. They’re cheap enough second hand (especially if a bit too nasty for office use) and built with roller glides to carry the weight. They keep the dust off your precious goodies like that 1935 Harley VL fork, and prevent the shelves full of stuff from creating visual confusion. (Don’t worry, I have shelves too)

    I have two four-deck files I use for larger parts like forks, jugs and transmissions. Cans of paint go in the top two levels, which have doors that open upward like a garage overhead door. They also work great for their original purpose, holding shop manuals and parts receipts. That is what they were built for, right?

  30. Mule says

    I have one file cabinet with folders and separators in the drawers. I put all my catalogs in that cabinet. I shoot for alphebetic order but they don’t always stay that way.

  31. Marc says

    Hi there,

    Could anyone tell me what is the benchtop material used on the second photo (under the black frame). It seems like another wood (?) layer has been added on top?

    And BTW, awesome awesome work there Richard!

    Marc

  32. says

    It’s 3/4″ plywood with 3 coats of “Exterior” Varithane. Which is like a plastic varnish. It’s pretty durable, yellows with age and you can wipe oil and stuff off pretty easy. Other chemicals will eat it up, but for most work and assembly type stuff it’s great. I’ve done the whole garage this way, walls and everything. However, now I lay down a hard vinyl, reinforced rubber over the surfaces and this works awesome. Sort of expensive, but will last for 25-30 years plus. Not that you’ll use it that long, but that means that it’ll be “Bomb-proof” for normal shop usage.

  33. says

    Oh yea, under and behind my small lathe, I had a local sheet metal shop bend up a bench top/backsplash/ chip deflector out of a galvanized sheet. This is very durable over the bench top/under the lathe and can be wiped off or cleaned up really nice.

    Something to think about when doing your shop lay out is ease of clean up. In concert with that, things that help prevent the need for clean up means LESS clean up to do later. A guard around the drill press keeps the chip from flying all over the room and getting into motors or areas of the shop you want to keep clean. Grinding, sanding and stuff like that I do in the driveway or side of the house and then just sweep up and hose away the reamaing dust. it never gets done in the “Clean Room”.

  34. christopher says

    i like ur set up i just recent got started with my shop its a great size shop i want to be in contact with you for ideas and input please contact me at tripp4@gmx.com

  35. Aichbe says

    I do metal polishing (aluminum, stainless, titanium, etc) and other surface treatments for local hotrod, bike shops, and invidual owners. I work out of a 2 car suburban garage which is also used for storage and to park my Sportster. My worst problem is dust. Strategically located fans help, but sometimes not so much. What I did is locate the small tables and buffers near the garage door, and mounted on wooden carriages with caster wheels so moving them in and out is easier. Most of the dust goes out the door. All the stored stuff and non-work related tools and parts are on an island of shelf units in the center 7 ft tall, so the perimeter, 5 ft out from the wall, is where my benches and tool storage boxes are arranged, with losts of cast-off office and kitchen cabinets, and other smaller plastic storage units for lighter weight tools and consumable stuff like sanding rolls and discs. Dirtiest stuff toward the door, cleaner, further inside. In Houston, I can have the garage open 9 or 10 months out of the year, and don’t do much in cold weather. It’s been evolving since 1995, and works pretty well for any parts under 100 lbs. Superchargers, H-D cases, wheels, swingarms, etc. are worked on inside, and stuff like superbike framesare polished with die grinders and hand-held buffers on the bike, with plastic over everything not to be polished. I had to stop working late at night because the compressor and my Airway wheels are too noisy. Nobody has complained for 12 years about and dust or noise in the daytime. I can work on my bike in the the driveway and entrance but can’t really tear it down or pull the engine in the space I have.