How to organise a workshop

Not every farmer has the natural feel to be a mechanic on the farm. Yet, it is within anybody’s reach to collect the essential body of tools in his workshop to fix a pump or tractor on the farm. We visited a farmer from whom anybody could learn in this respect.

Unlike most farms, where the tools are dumped in a box in the shed and you have to turn the room upside down to find a screwdriver, each piece of equipment, nut and bolt on this farm has a designated place. Some in drawers, others on shelves and against the wall. Neat. A practiced eye will immediately see if something is missing.

Mr. André Dormehl (60), of Rosslyn outside Barkley East in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, says he is a perfectionist, especially when it comes to the workshop his late father erected for himself when he started farming in the late 1970s.

The shelf against the wall that André made shortly after his father built the workshop for him. Not one of the original pieces of equipment has been lost in the years since.

This is also why he prefers to work on his own in this sanctuary of his. He prides himself on the fact that in all these years, he’s never lost a pen, pocketknife or a single piece of equipment.

“When I sent my workers to fix a water pipe recently, I knew by nightfall that the iron saw was missing. The workers initially denied knowing anything about it, but I sent them back to go look for it and they found it under a pile of earth where they had joined the pipe.”

André says he’s been on many farms where the farmers don’t have a clue where their tools are, and this is why equipment often gets lost. We asked him some advice for farmers who would like to turn a new leaf and organise their tool sheds.

This set of spanners was bought for next to nothing at an auction years ago, ranging in sizes 6 to 41.
This set of spanners was bought for next to nothing at an auction years ago, ranging in sizes 6 to 41.

Are there any brand names you prefer?

Buying cheap equipment often means paying more, especially when it comes to specialised tools. You may think you are saving, only for the tool to break the first time you use it. If you don’t want your tools to go missing, it’s important to invest in well-known brand names. I recommend the

SPANNERS. Gedore’s famous products carry a lifetime guarantee if it’s not abused. It’s also easily available from retailers and the company offers a complete set of equipment. Stahlwille is another good brand, but extremely expensive and not as easily available.

PAIR OF PLIERS. Back in the day Elbeco pliers (of Solingen in Germany) and a Elbeco stockman’s knife with three blades were almost like status symbols for farmers. Crescent (an American manufacturer) also have excellent, durable pair of pliers. You can put up kilometers of wire fence with these pliers with little wear and tear. It is more likely that the operator will loose them than that they would break. Other good brands are Will, Elliot and Lucas. Spend on one or more of the above mentioned – it will be worth it in the long run.

Do you have any tools that will save you money in the long run?

A lathe is an expensive, specialised piece of equipment that you won’t find in just any workshop. It takes experience in fitting and turning and a resourceful operator. But it could save thousands in the production of new parts, bushes, axles and to cut any kind of groove.

Do you have any tips about welding equipment?

Inverter arc welding machines are fairly cheap and easily available. They have many benefits like the fact that they are lightweight, use little electricity and are suited to lightweight welding jobs.
Heavy duty welding needs bigger and more expensive machines that last longer. These have the benefit of being able to do long periods of welding with no interruptions.

A recent trend is metal inert gas (MIT) welding machines, which are more expensive but more effective than the normal arc welder. The downside is that it works with gas and any farmer can testify to the difficulty of getting hold of gas in rural areas and small towns. These machines also don’t work very well outside in the wind.

They’re dependent on electricity and the bigger models require three phase power. Engine powered bow welding machines play an important role if you are working in the field and need to do heavy duty welding.

Any tips for farmers starting a new workshop?

Figure out if you have a technical mind or if you love of taking on these types of projects. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re better skilled in another area. I always admired golfers who kept a ball on the fairway and easily got it on the green, but I realised I’m more comfortable with repair and renovation work.

There are experts who can do these type of jobs if you don’t have the skills. As a young man I admired those who could transform a pile of steel into a beautiful barn within days.

The tubing section of the workshop.
The tubing section of the workshop.
There is a place for each screw, nut and piece of equipment in this workshop.

Here are a few general tips to apply:

Be economical. Buy only what you need.

Build up. If you do work for other farmers, use the profit to buy new equipment.

Google! The internet is very valuable if you don’t know how to fix something. You’ll find someone has done it before and there will probably be a video of it on YouTube. The internet is also a good source of information about useful tools and a good place to compare prices and products.

Air. Ensure your workshop has good circulation. Welding and engine gases can be irritating and dangerous.

Orientation. Try to give the windows a northern view. This makes the workshop warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

Light. Ensure the workbench is next to a window. Good lighting makes tasks easier.

Organise! Classify your tools. Place electric tools, pipe joints and water related items, bolts and nuts, parts and equipment all in their designated places.

Don’t hoard. If something can’t be fixed, strip it and sell it as scrap. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with a pile of junk in your yard.

What are the ten most important pieces of equipment for a farm?

1. A pair of pliers
2. A hammer
3. Chisels
4. A set of screwdrivers
5. A set of ring spanners from size 6 to 25. Get the Metrinch-type that works for imperial and metric bolts. A shifting spanner and a vice grip are also handy.
6. A wire tensioner. Donalds is a good brand.
7. For windmills: two heavy duty monkey wrenches, a torque wrench, a clamp, crowbar, rope and a pulley.
8. For flat tyres: a heavy duty jack, a tyre spanner, tyre irons, a tyre repair kit and a hand pump or compressor.

What should one always remember about the upkeep of a workshop?

The golden rule is to always put every piece of equipment back in its place once you’re done. (And each thing should therefore have a place). An organised workshop makes your job easier and it makes the work joyful. It saves time when you don’t have to spend a half an hour searching for a screwdriver that wasn’t put back in its place.

With these plastic shelves that are named, one can immediately put your hand on the necessary equipment without any searching required.
With these plastic shelves that are named, one can immediately put your hand on the necessary equipment without any searching required.

André’s inspiration

Mr André Dormel says his father, Mr Kok Schoeman (that used to work at the co-op at the time and was known as the Lister king) and Mr Boet Cloete, a neighbour, are the people who showed him by hand how certain tasks are done.

“I ‘stole’ with my eyes and today I have a good knowledge of and a love for restoring old, trusty Lister engines. Many of them still provide water and electricity on farms. Uncle Boet was ahead of his time. He bought a pelleting machine in the late 1970s and started a sheep feeding pen. It required the erection of a huge steel barn and because he didn’t have sons, he asked me to help. I promised myself that this was something I’d like to be able to do by myself one day. I’m proud of the steel structures I’ve since been able to make for our church in town, a farm school and for my brother.”

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