Shop floors and lighting are critical

Author Cutting Tool Engineering
January 01, 2011 - 11:00am

The condition and maintenance of metalworking shops have a direct impact on efficiency and morale. A well-lit, clean shop is less mentally demanding than a wet, dripping, bat-infested cave of a shop. If it looks and smells bad, it probably is.

An organized, well-planned shop space is a pleasure to work in. Having everything at hand and organized is like shopping at your favorite tool store. Retail hardware stores are a good example of what a nifty metalworking shop might look like. Don’t underestimate the impact of infrastructure improvements on efficiency and profits.

Light-colored floors are best for machine shops and areas where fine work is being performed because they reflect light and give the shop a cleaner feel. It doesn’t hurt that it’s easier to find a lost part on a light-colored floor.

Epoxy coating or even special-colored flooring tiles can brighten the shop. Individual tiles are best because they can be replaced if damaged. The tiles also provide a little cushion if you drop a tool or delicate part. Plastic floor tiles that snap together are available in an array of colors.

If the floor is concrete, a smooth finish makes sweeping easier and doesn’t wear out the toes on boots as quickly when crawling around on your hands and knees. Skip the nonslip sand and abrasive material in paint and epoxy coatings. At least sample a test section before turning several thousand square feet into sandpaper. If you need proof, try sweeping the parking lot to get a feel for roughened surfaces as shop floors.

One of the best types of floors for durability and working comfort is wood. The extra cushion provided by wood makes long hours easier on the feet and knees. However, such a floor is not always practical in modern concrete buildings.

Many old-time shops have wood-brick floors made of thousands of 4 "×4 " or 4 "×6 " blocks cut off about 3 " long and planted in the floor, end grain up. The material is relatively cheap and easy to fix if damaged.

Every shop needs light, but standard warehouse lighting does not cut it. The finer the work, the more light is needed. When an architect tells you how many lumens per square foot are needed for a machine shop, upgrade to the next level. The architect may be reading a book written shortly after people worked in caves using mammoth blubber-fueled lamps. Adding this extra light will save you in the long run from cobbling in extra fixtures because you don’t have enough.

The best lighting is equal in intensity from any direction. That’s not always easy to do, but it’s a good goal. Efficient, high-intensity fluorescent light is best, followed by mercury vapor lamps. Avoid sodium vapor because it casts a sickly, yellowish light. Mercury vapor lamps take a while to warm up, so if you need instant light, fluorescent is your best bet. 

Lights should be mounted fairly high to miss the tops of machines and to clear crane rails. I have seen many bulbs broken in low-hanging fixtures from flying parts and handling long workpiece materials.

Task lighting should be easily positioned and, ideally, cool running. Several excellent cool-running LED machine task lights are available. Magnetic bases can be easily moved to new positions. Skip the flood lamps. It takes it out of you to have a light that could cook a hamburger beating down on the side of your head all day. CTE

TomLipton.tif About the Author: Tom Lipton is a career metalworker who has worked at various job shops that produce parts for the consumer product development, laboratory equipment, medical services and custom machinery design industries. He has received six U.S. patents and lives in Alamo, Calif. Lipton’s column is adapted from information in his book “Metalworking Sink or Swim: Tips and Tricks for Machinists, Welders, and Fabricators,” published by Industrial Press Inc., New York. The publisher can be reached by calling (888) 528-7852 or visiting By indicating the code CTE-2011 when ordering, CTE readers will receive a 20 percent discount off the book’s list price of $44.95.

Related Glossary Terms

  • abrasive


    Substance used for grinding, honing, lapping, superfinishing and polishing. Examples include garnet, emery, corundum, silicon carbide, cubic boron nitride and diamond in various grit sizes.

  • metalworking


    Any manufacturing process in which metal is processed or machined such that the workpiece is given a new shape. Broadly defined, the term includes processes such as design and layout, heat-treating, material handling and inspection.

  • turning


    Workpiece is held in a chuck, mounted on a face plate or secured between centers and rotated while a cutting tool, normally a single-point tool, is fed into it along its periphery or across its end or face. Takes the form of straight turning (cutting along the periphery of the workpiece); taper turning (creating a taper); step turning (turning different-size diameters on the same work); chamfering (beveling an edge or shoulder); facing (cutting on an end); turning threads (usually external but can be internal); roughing (high-volume metal removal); and finishing (final light cuts). Performed on lathes, turning centers, chucking machines, automatic screw machines and similar machines.