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Unheated garage ok for a lathe?

Would an old english lathe survive in an unheated garage

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Ian Skeldon 208/05/2017 19:51:50
489 forum posts
41 photos


I currently have a small grayson and a slightly larger Chester DB10 in my indoor workshop. Thread cutting on the Grayson is a none starter really, the Chester is ok on soft materials. I recently used a Harrison 300 and was blown away by how easy it did the job.

On reflection, it's a lot bigger, a lot, lot heavier and it's 3 phase, oh and of course it's imperial. But it worked just like the ones I used during my apprenticeship several centuries ago and I could just about justify getting one if I sell the others, the problem is this.

There is no way it will fit into my indoor workshop, it would have to go into my boarded garage, lighting would need improving but the big concern is that it is not heated at all. Would something like a Harrison 300 etc, Colchester Student or larger Boxford be ok in an unheated garage or would I be asking for trouble?



richardandtracy08/05/2017 20:03:24
943 forum posts
10 photos

I have an unheated workshop where I use my lathe. More, it has a sheet metal roof and a severe condensation problem.

It's horrible working at -8C. The condensation kills electronics fairly fast, but electrics are OK. To prevent dewfall on the lathe I keep a plastic sheet over it when not in use. The cold can cause condensation directly on every metal surface. Keep everything well oiled, and weekly wipe it all down to get rid of any emulsified oil and then re-oil. 12 years on the ways on my lathe are still shiny and it's as accurate as it was. So, with care, it's OK, but could be better.



Martin 10008/05/2017 20:28:29
262 forum posts
6 photos

The machine tools will 'survive' with oil, grease, gloop and buggering about with covers and tungsten filament light bulbs and all the other ancient bodges more fitting of the 19th century than the 21st.

A cold damp workshop is not pleasant to work in. Build a new workshop or properly insulate the cold one. Resist the temptation to heat it with a woodburner, in fact resist the temptation to heat it at all with fossil fuels or electric. A bit of heat gain from the sun is all you really need for most of the year.

capnahab08/05/2017 20:30:25
182 forum posts
64 photos

I have a DSG in the garage, sheet over it in winter and an electric 12 inch greenhouse anti frost heater in the chip pan to keep air moving. Haven't had any rust.

Chris Evans 608/05/2017 20:37:36
1780 forum posts

My machinery survives the garage climate and no rust issues for two reasons. 1) It is used a lot. 2) In the winter I use a diesel powered ex truck heater (Eberspacher) this has a fan to move the warm air around, if I think things are going to get cold enough for condensation I leave a desk fan running.

IanT08/05/2017 21:39:04
1669 forum posts
161 photos

Hi Ian,

I operate two workshops (inside and out) and my larger machines (which are outside) don't get used too much in the winter. However, I keep them well oiled and wrap thin plastic over the working surfaces which clings to them because of the oil. I also place dust sheets over the plastic which helps to keep it in place and perhaps slow any temperature gradients going on.

I have a large, very heavy cast iron surface plate (2ft square) and on a nice sunny Spring morning (particularly after a cold night) condensation just runs off the bottom of it. So it's not the cold nights that cause the problem, it's the warm damp mornings when everything in the workshop is cold and condensation forms. However the bottom of the surface plate is painted and I use cling film spread over a well oiled surface to protect the crucial top surface (plus the usual wooden cover to guard against knocks/ dropping things on it). It has to be well cleaned before use but it is still in good condition after many years in this environment.

So none of this is ideal but it is the best I can do and works reasonably well provided you give your machinery a good wipe down every now and again. It's less effective if the machines are not used/touched over a longer period (as I have discovered to my cost) so you need to be aware of this and act accordingly.

Good Luck.



Mike E.08/05/2017 22:14:51
209 forum posts
29 photos
Posted by Martin 100 on 08/05/2017 20:28:29:

.......................... Resist the temptation to heat it with a woodburner, in fact resist the temptation to heat it at all with fossil fuels or electric. ...........................

Why ? I'm just an old person trying to understand.

SillyOldDuffer08/05/2017 22:18:50
6447 forum posts
1421 photos

I don't think being unheated matters unless the garage is also damp. I work in an unheated garage without anything going rusty but it's part of the house with double skinned walls and a damp proof membrane etc. It's dry.

My wooden garden shed, also unheated, is much damper and tools kept in it go rusty. Much depends on the building and how wet it is. I think you could make an unheated garage suitable by stopping wet from getting in, adding insulation, ventilating damp air, and perhaps fitting a dehumidifier. Keeping air off the lathe with a cover would help too.


Vic08/05/2017 22:25:28
2645 forum posts
20 photos

As Dave says, it's more about damp than whether it's an unheated space or not. My workshop is unheated but it's fairly well sealed and doesn't get damp so no real problems.

Ian Skeldon 208/05/2017 22:25:30
489 forum posts
41 photos

Wow, thank to all contributers, seems like it's ok to proceed then. My garage is dry and walls are lined with OSB with expanded foam squirted into the gap between the OSB and the concrete garage panels.

I will take on board the need to keep things well oiled and keep the air moving.

Thank you again,


Martin 10008/05/2017 23:33:17
262 forum posts
6 photos
Posted by Mike E. on 08/05/2017 22:14:51:
Posted by Martin 100 on 08/05/2017 20:28:29:

.......................... Resist the temptation to heat it with a woodburner, in fact resist the temptation to heat it at all with fossil fuels or electric. ...........................

Why ? I'm just an old person trying to understand.

Because it's relatively easy to provide a very usable, extremely comfortable workspace with a reasonable air temperature and humidity with nothing more than occupation heat and solar gain through double (or triple) glazed windows supplemented with solar air heaters. If it's not warm enough get a cat or dog in

A workshop as comfortable a place to be as a really well built modern house (not that many of those actually exist) A workshop where your total energy bill for heating and cooling is approaching zero becuase you spent a few hundred quid on 'extreme' insulation together with draftproofing and getting overhangs over the windows right to stop overheating in the summer.

Of course there are some that think insulation and controlled ventilation are the work of the devil and will continue to hack down forests and burn 'waste' wood or whatever chucking most of the heat up the stack and polluting the local area and will simply open the door when it gets too hot. It's usually the same ones who slather oil and grease on everything, cover everything with a dust sheet and leave 60W light bulbs running for 6 months of the year under the covers to 'prevent rust' and work in subzero condtions until the woodburner gets up to temperature.

Localised heat with infra red is really only needed when you have 60ft high ceilings and hanger sized doors Same with fan heaters, only needed if you are sat at a bench on a cold uninsulated concrete floor to stop legs freezing up.

not done it yet09/05/2017 01:26:04
5130 forum posts
20 photos

With Dave really. Perhaps not as exteme as Martin.


Iron requires air and water to rust. We cannot remove the air but can keep the surfaces free of moisture. Either oil/grease or warm enough to prevent condensation. Dew point depends on relative humidity reaching 100% and condensation can occur on any surface at zero Celsius.


I have partitioned off about 14m^3 for my machines at present. Well insulated and sealed - I mean very draught-proof - so air change with the door closed is vey minimal and only at low level.


Since January - to date - it has cost me about 5p per night to keep things warmed a little and quite dry. Initially it was costing about 10p per night to run a desiccant dehumidifier for three hours. Likely drawing moisture from the concrete floor until dried out. I am now running it just an hour each night, costing just over 3p I think.


The humidifier collects water and warm


s the area sufficiently to keep all metal surfaces dry. The machine working surfaces are lightly oiled, just as if in use. Later in the year a compressor type dehumidifier would be better (over 15 degrees and less heat produced) but I expect I will need ventilation while working in there, anyway!



I was contemplating fitting a fridge in the partition wall for summer cooling, controlled by an STC1000 at rather higher temperature than the normal fridge thermostat. That would act as both dehumidifier and heat pump. The running costs could be minimised by solar generation.



(LED) lighting is clearly required at all times of use but again solar generation can normally be used to keep grid power consumption down. I don't have a suitable wall for conversion to solar air heater, but the insulation is quite good for a sectional concrete garage.




I plan to increase the volume to about 18m^3 this summer if I can manage it. The only real expense being the reticel insulation for lining. The rest is chicken feed, cost wise - three or four scrap garage doors (easily found), a couple rolls of 150mm rock wool insulation and a length of angle iron (both items on site already).



I purchased two 'dead' dehumidifiers for less than a hundred quid; one works perfectly and the other only on one of the two 'speed' settings. I am using the less than perfect one. Reticel cost around £200. Payback time cf a 60W bulb running 6 months of the year? About a year, I would guess! Worth it, I think!






edit:the last 'paragraph should have been four or five.   This is the only forum where the post is compressed like this!


















Edited By not done it yet on 09/05/2017 01:30:15

not done it yet09/05/2017 07:12:27
5130 forum posts
20 photos

Oops! Late night guess was wrong. It will take about 6 years for payback, on sensible reflection. But still maintaining the usefulness of the kit in the winter months and good protection of machines and tooling will make it cost effective in very short order.

Eric Arthrell09/05/2017 07:25:03
47 forum posts
19 photos

Old caravaner's trick was to fill a bucket with a mix of half rice and half salt and place in the van to keep out condensation whilst in storage.

I use it in my metal shed, not perfect but helps.

regards Eric.

Mike E.09/05/2017 08:32:27
209 forum posts
29 photos

Thank you for your reply Martin. I've recently submitted an application to Planning for a new garage/workshop to be built. I'm going to take on board some of your suggestions, but still put in a wood burning stove as it will give a bit of old world ambiance and the comfort that I enjoy; especially when friends come by to visit or see what I am up to.


Kettrinboy09/05/2017 08:37:40
88 forum posts
47 photos

My Harrison L5 has survived 35 yrs in an unheated workshop , as long as all the exposed metal is oiled when not using it the months from Oct to March then no rust sets in , I dont cover it as if you miss oiling a bit at least you will spot it rather than a spot hiding under a cover and rusting for months , just the motor I cover with a heavy cloth to keep damp out and it has always run fine by the time winter has gone , the biggest challenge is stopping all your small tools like taps , dies , drills and cutters etc going rusty , everthing needs covering in WD40 or else one night of bad damp can turn everthing rusty.

regards Geoff

matt merchant09/05/2017 09:55:01
19 forum posts
2 photos

As my workspace has to accommodate the tumble drier as well as my bits and peices, I've 'borrowed' a few container dry bags from work, which are roughly 1.5/2kg porous bags of clay pellets one of our suppliers use in containers spending 6 weeks on the ocean waves to keep the shiny bits from going ginger, not sure if they are available commercially but an option to keep damp at bay without the electrickery meter going high mach numbers


IanT09/05/2017 10:32:52
1669 forum posts
161 photos

Smaller tools and better "scrap" are stored in red plastic boxes (ex biscuit containers) with "sealable" lids, larger things (like chucks) have their own plastic bags and are stored in sliding drawer units or box, anything used very occasionally (or rarely) is oiled and wrapped in cling film (keep a roll handy down there) before storage. Sounds a pain but it just becomes habit to put things back in their bag or wrap them after use. Seems to keep things in good order.

Some things, especially my finer tools and measuring devices are kept in the house (inside workshop) and taken down the garden as required. I'm trying very hard to have A (e.g. just one) clear objective whenever I go down there and planning what needs to be used for a particular job helps keep me on track. I'm afraid it's all too easy to notice something interesting lying around and to start to tinker....



OuBallie09/05/2017 11:24:51
1150 forum posts
661 photos

My Workshop is a converted attached Garage.

Vapour sealed inner walls, 2" EPS then Stirling board.

Floor painted.

The only heat I need is in the middle of winter when an hour with an electric fan heater has the temp up to 15° from 5/6°C.

The temp inside never drops below 5/6° no matter that outside.

No sign of rust on any bare metal or machine.

Geoff - Moral is insulate, insulate, insulate.

Andrew Tinsley09/05/2017 16:51:59
1211 forum posts

I could not agree more with OuBallie, My garage was attached, but had a simple up and over door which wasn't insulated. Roof was insulated, but bloody hell it was cold in winter and stuff rusted nearly overnight! well maybe a week!

I have built an extension over the garage The new floor / ceiling was stuffed with high grade insulating panels and fitted a roller type insulated door. All doors and windows are double glazed. One needs only a minimal amount of heat in winter. I plumbed in a couple of small radiators from the upstairs central heating. They are thermostatically controlled and are off most of the time even in a cold winter.

More surprisingly during a mini heatwave last summer it was incredibly cool inside! Do yourself a favour and insulate up to the gunnels!


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