Sep 10 2008
Got Shop Comfort?
Woodworking season comes around yearly, with Labor Day behind us, many of the summer outdoor oriented activities and chores are soon to be waning. The colder weather will be along soon enough to push us in and keep us indoors.
This is good, it spawns the need to be creative through other ways, and hobbies fill that gap. Problem is, many of us have to use a space for our woodworking hobby that is not exactly comfortable during a good bit of the indoor season. When we are cold, we don’t often enjoy what we want to enjoy as long or as much. We are more in the mode of just do it and get er’ done, rather than enjoying ourselves, where thinking through the process, being in the moment, and feeling like we relieved some stress are all big parts of having a good time. If it isn’t a good time, let’s face it, we generally avoid it.
To add, when you are cold, humans do not think as critically, and can even become distracted from slower thinking. Woodworking, like other tasks that require concentration, really does want your attention in many, many ways, because it is a very detailed endeavor, which can be inherently dangerous as well, so how you help yourself overcome these issues while trying to enjoy the woodworking season is a question that is a good thing to have on your mind.
My want is to help you stay warm in the shop. It was my want too. I bought this as a ‘what the heck’ purchase, meaning I did my research, but I really had no idea if my purchase was the best choice or if it was going to work adequately for my purposes. I do not enjoy being cold, and after asking around, no one really knew what to tell me. Electricity costs in my area rule that out, and Permanent installations are out for me as well. I got lucky on both counts, because this heater did work out for me big time. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. Now that I have used it several years it, I’m sharing my observations with you.
That is the Mr. Heater brand, Big Buddy Heater. In my shop, it is hooked via an accessory hose to a 5-gallon propane bottle. I just use the propane bottle off my BBQ as my fuel source, because both items seem to get the most use during opposite seasons, and as such it just makes sense to use the bottle I already have. I also bought the wall wart DC adapter that powers the small fan in the unit. The unit is user configurable for portability, it can also utilize 2 disposable type propane bottles housed in each side, and the fan can be powered by “D” cell batteries. I did run it off Duracell’s for a while, and the battery life is quite long.
It is a ceramic element heater with built in piezo electric starter. It has it’s own starter with thermocouple, three heat settings that give you 4000, 9000, or 18,000 BTU per hour. It is CSA certified for indoor and outdoor use. It has oxygen and tip over safety switches; you can even mount the unit to the wall to get it off the floor. It would also be a great thing to have during an extended power outage.
My shop space is a 2-car garage. It measures 20×20 so call it 400 square feet, I have 9-foot ceilings so cubed I have 2700 cubic feet. I have insulated walls covered with drywall, and an un-insulated metal garage door. My observations are that the 18,000 BTU setting can raise the temperature in my space 8-10 degrees F per hour on average. Outside was around freezing, my garage is generally 15-20 degrees warmer than outside is in the winter due to the hot water heater and a few other appliances that help warm the space a bit. Once I was between 60-70 degrees, turning down to the 4000 BTU setting would often maintain the temperature or perhaps very slowly gain or lose a degree or so an hour based on the outside temp and the time of the day.
The unit does have a fan, and I do advocate using it. Mr. Heater refers to it as a blower fan. It is not a strong fan; so do not think forced air, because if you do it will disappoint you. The fan is helpful though. The fan does help draw the cold air near the floor, into the heater rather than have it heat the air it can get by it just being a radiant heater. This increases efficiency. I also use a fan in my shop to help circulate the air, and this really was a big help in keeping the entire space in good, comfortable shape. I would definitely use a fan with this heater in the same room, and oh, the fan does not need to be near the heater, all you are trying to do is keep the hot air from stratifying near the ceiling.
Mr Heater claims that depending on the settings you use, and it is going to vary, that the 5-gallon or 20 lb bottle will get you 25-110 hours of use. Not bad really, when you consider the amount of shop time most woodworkers average per setting generally speaking. It is also not bad when you consider that the Big Buddy is making heat from propane pretty efficiently with the fuel it is given, so if heating your space is of value to you, improving your spaces’ ability to retain heat should be as well.
For your own research, I’ll include Mr. Heaters online product sheet of the big Buddy Heater here: Big Buddy Indoor Safe Heater and let you know that the heater, short hose and electrical converter for the fan will run you in the ballpark of $160, though you may find alternative or sale pricing, taxes and shipping from nearly anywhere.
Your space may be just like mine, (400 – 700 sq ft) or it may be smaller, larger, with more or less insulation, and your weather may be far more severe. This may be all you need, or you may need two, or less or something bigger. The main things I want you to take from this is that this heater works well, given the range of heating capability it has, coupled with the space and conditions I describe.
You are welcome to think about your own space and how you may need to augment the non-scientific observations I gave for performance to best gauge your own best guess at estimated outcomes. You are welcome to use my comments section or my contact page to ask any questions that you may want help answering, I will give them my best, based on my own observations. Please feel free to comunicate any time. I felt the product is a good fit for a 2 car garage sized space, a good value for the money spent, and I would buy it again.
I own two of these units. I use one to heat my shop every winter day, because I work in my shop full time. I have used it going on four seasons now, (as of 2011) three of those seasons daily. I have used one in the house as well. I have a Carbon Monoxide detector for both units, 5 feet from the Big Buddy and they have never been set off. I have used them a lot, I’ve had no concerns with Carbon Monoxide. None.
If you are concerned with moisture in the air, as heaters like this can add water vapor in the air to a degree, I recommend using a product like Dri-Z-Air. These are very inexpensive and you can purchase refill packs for them. I have used Dri-Z-Air products many times over the years and they work well. They are popular with people storing boats and RV’s that are stored for winter. There is a list of online retailers on their company website to aid you in finding them. A good choice would be Amazon.com. These will help capture the moisture and humidity, to keep your tooling safe.
Remember always that waxes, oils, contained spaces like drawers and cabinets for tool storage, desiccant dehumidifiers, anti corrosion emitters and even GoldenRod Dehumidifiers are great ways to help insure that corrosion is kept at bay.
After many winter seasons of heavy use, this heater has been a real trooper.
So if you are thinking you want to enjoy a warmer woodworking season, a heater with 4000-18,000 BTU capabilities may be just what you are looking for. Be sure to buy the Big Buddy transformer for the blower motor, and always use a Big Buddy filter in the propane supply line.
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