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Workshop in a cargo/shipping container?

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  • Workshop in a cargo/shipping container?

    Anybody else here doing this? I had to move recently, might have to again at some point. Moving is a gigantic hassle, just awful. Oh, you get around to throwing out stuff you really didn't HAVE to have, certainly a plus. But you also end up giving away some things you'd rather have kept, but don't immediately have a good place for or time to work on (my '76 Yamaha RD-400, sob!).

    Anyhow, partly in hope of making another move a little easier, I bought an extra-long (45') extra-tall (called "high cube") cargo container. I planted it on a leveled pad of gravel, not concrete, and will wire it to the electrical service with a marine-style plug, so that the whole deal is legally "temporary" and can avoid building permits. The container has a roll-up garage door in the middle of one side, with barred sliding windows on either side, and a man-door at the end of the same side, at the opposite end from the cargo doors, which won't get opened nearly as often. It has a run of standard double flourescent light fixtures on the ceiling from one end to the other, and electrical boxes every 8' down the back wall. It cost me about $350 (with a tip to the driver) to get the container moved about 35 miles. The container itself, with the modifications, I got for the very good price of $4000.

    Because of the move, my would-be shop is just crammed and piled with boxes of tools and supplies and manuals. I'm about to begin dragging stuff outside while I set up benches, build storage shelving, and generally make a useable space. When I eventually have something worth showing, I'll shoot and post some pix.

    Of course, being long and narrow, a container-shop is sort of like having a shop in a hallway, with predictable pros and cons. Any big projects have to be done outside, under some variety of carport. I might very well get a second container, but am limited as to spanning two containers with a hard roof over an open space between in not wanting to have the authorities start telling me my installation no longer looks temporary.

    The majority of my welding gear is going into a smallish step-van that I also have to customize with shelves and such. If I do have to move again, I'm going to already be packed and portable!! Anything I put in the container will be screwed in place or otherwise quickly securable. If you have seen how one of these containers gets moved, on a flatbed trailer that works like one of those roll-on tow trucks, you can see that anything inside has to be pretty well held down.

    Anyhow, I'm interested to hear from any of you who have already done something like this, and have good ideas to share.
    Last edited by old jupiter; 05-17-2013, 12:28 PM.

  • #2
    Storage Container

    You might think about painting the roof with mobile home asphalt base paint. Those boxes have a tendency to rust through on the roof if it is not being moved for long periods because water lays in the channels.


    • #3
      I've stood on the "roof" a couple of times, noting some rusty spots that need to be wire-wheeled, acid-treated, and re-coated (they used a sort of rubberized paint) during a dry spell some time this summer. And I gotta put a final coat of white over the whole top; it's brick red now, and the container gets hot real fast on a sunny day!

      But I think the rust on my container is residual effects of salt water exposure on the boatride over from China, and not from standing rainwater. Maybe different companies build their containers in different ways, but this one seems to have a little crown to the roof, and all of the overlapping welded joints are lapped in such a way as to help water run off. That said, your idea of a good coating surely is wise.


      • #4

        I see the attraction of having a portable shop. However, unless everything is bolted down, there would be a lot of work before you could move it.

        One concern that I would have is adequate ventilation for sanding, grinding, and welding. Perhaps you could put a large exhaust fan in the end opposite the garage door.

        Syncrowave 200, Millermatic 211, Victor torch, Propane forge....


        • #5
          I have seen guys in the city use those cargo boxes as a full size shop. Some of the smaller ones are 4 boxes stacked 2 high. Set about 20' apart and then a roof in between. They have steps to the top two boxes and the inside walls of the bottoms are cutout and supported with beams. It is actually a pretty cool setup and save a lot of money. Plus the top two boxes have plenty of storage if u have a way to put it up that high.

          Also from what I gather you can get containers in good shape for between 800-2000 bucks in the harbors around new York city. That's where all the trailer/container rental company's around me get them, they buy em cheap, paint em, put their name on em and either rent them out or sell them for 5-8000 bucks


          • #6
            If it's placed directly on the ground, will the bottom start to rust out? Perhaps place it up on blocks or the like?

            Before moving stuff into the container (if it's not too late already :-) how about welding some tie-downs and fastening points on the inside, so you can really secure all the stuff if/when you ever have to move it?

            My (home) shop sometimes feels not much bigger than a 20' container ... I've ended up putting just about everything on casters so I can roll stuff around. All the stuff I'm not using right now gets rolled together into a big jumble "over there" while the things I'm using are pulled out of the pile and brought "over here".



            • #7
              Thread necromancy but may help someone:

              Much love for my two High Cubes. I use white roof coating which dropped the temp significantly. Since they are designed to be supported on the end fittings mine are on a couple of I-beams. One ISO container is welded to the beams and the other rests on them awaiting my next decision which is either to join them or leave space between. If I ever need to move them a torch and grinder will easily disconnect the components.

              Tandemloc has a great site for ISO handling info and parts that's worth a read.

              I camouflaged the street side and they vanish among my trees blending in nicely. I see no benefit in a structure clashing with its surroundings and what people don't see they don't get nosy about.

              3M 5200 Marine sealant rules. Compared to it all ordinary caulk is garbage. I sealed my weatherhead and wifi passthrough years ago with perfect results.

              I like the Sea Box website for reference, but my ISO containers aren't heavily modded, at least yet. The protection they provide from weather, humidity, and dirt daubers is magnificent. I fell in ISO lust years agon while deployed and want more of them.

              If I moved, I'd be likely to buy another fresh ISO and crossload into it from the others then have it delivered to site. That would let me have one ISO to load each time, with the last trip being a lightly loaded or empty container which I'd want for space anyway.

              I drilled one wall of my main ISO for welding feedthroughs. A quick shot with a holesaw and you can use fittings of your choice. I have short pigtails inside so I can connect any power source easily then attach whatever length of cable I wish to run outdoors. No need for cables out the door.

              Safety note:
              I don't own a Landoll or other trailer suitable for hauling ISO containers, but if I did I'd take the time to buy and weld in proper corner locks at the correct positions. My containers were delivered by Landoll but they were just strapped on. That would be insane for a loaded container and was mostly decorative for an empty one.
              Trucker delivering them mentioned he doesn't haul loaded ISOs, and no wonder. They can also be chained properly if the tiltbed has suitable anchor points.


              • #8
                My "shop" is not a lot bigger. 16x50' I will someday have to move if I ever build a real shop. I have made as much storage palletized as possible.

                Got to go....tones just dropped on a garage fire.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by fjk View Post
                  If it's placed directly on the ground, will the bottom start to rust out? Perhaps place it up on blocks or the like?


                  Also some containers with a wood floor are not fully sealed with steel on the bottom, and if sitting on moist ground, the moisture levels inside the container from humidity coming up out of the ground can go to intolerable levels..

                  Causes everything inside it to want to corrode...

                  So check how the bottom is sealed, or not.......
                  Hobby Welder for about 32 years
                  Hobart 190 MIG with SpoolGun
                  Hobart AirForce 700i Plasma Cutter
                  Hornell Speedglas 9000X Helmet
                  295A AC Buzzbox (what I learned on)
                  Miller Bobcat 225, factory propane option, also serves as my emergency power generator
                  Dandeman's Toy Page


                  • #10
                    ISOs are designed to be supported on the ends. A railroad tie in good condition would do on hard ground.

                    However, I suggest being able to get under them comfortably in case you want plumbing and wiring access underneath later on.

                    I dragged my "loose' ISO next to its mate today and after welding it to the beam they share and welding the top corner fittings together I'll get a couple of 20-foot strips of 2"x1/8" to stitch down the center to cover the roof joint.

                    For sealing gaps etc, Great Stuff Pond and Stone rocks. Wear disposable gloves. It's STICKY and does fine outdoors. I stopped buying lesser foams.

                    Click image for larger version

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                    • #11
                      What would you do for plumbing though?