Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Magic of Horse Mats and Monster Trucks

Growing up, there was little doubt I would turn out, um, peculiar. One week my dad threw out his back while working on the farm, and his doctor confined him to his bed to recover.

So my dad set up a little workshop in the bed and — while on his back — built a small end table and hand painted the end panels. My friends don’t believe this story, but I have the table to prove it.

As a result, I’ve always been careful about my own back. I lift heavy objects with my knees, blah blah blah. But lately, I have to say that the concrete floor in our shop at work has been murder.

In our previous shop, we had anti-fatigue mats, but we pitched those because we were going to have a wooden floor in our new shop. That didn’t work out. So a couple weeks ago we bought some thick rubber mats intended for horse stalls and weight-lifting rooms. Each 4′ x 6′ mat weighs about 100 pounds and cost about $60.

How do they work? Well they immediately made the shop smell like a tire store. Aside from that dream come true, they helped my back quite a bit. After a couple weeks of dovetailing and planing in front of my bench I definitely felt a difference.

This week, my love for my mat became even more obvious when I was working in my shop at home. After three days on my concrete I was ready to sneak into a nearby horse stall for relief.

I found a temporary solution: a moving blanket emblazoned with monster trucks. I folded the blanket in half and put it in front of my bench to protect the carcase assembly I was working on. Surprisingly, the moving blanket also helped my carcass.

– Christopher Schwarz

24 thoughts on “The Magic of Horse Mats and Monster Trucks

  1. Greg

    Sever months ago I found some heavy duty 3 x 3 rubber mats at home depot for $19.95. I bought 2 so I could try them out and have since added another 6. They interlock and have enough weight so that they don’t move. Nuch more affordable that the $90 industrial mats I purchased before finding these. My back is smiling!

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Andy,

    We flipped them after a couple days when we realized how much dust was getting into the grooves.

    I was at first concerned that the flat side of the mat would grip my shoes as well when planing (the grooved side seems grippier). But the flat side is good enough.

    Thanks for the tip on cleaning them.

    Chris

  3. Andy Mellett

    Good idea, I’ve actually got a couple of them in my finished gym. To avoid the smell take them outside and scrub them and spray them down with some soap. Leave them out there for a day or two and that should kill alot of the smell.

    Oh, and I hate to burst the "good idea" theme but you have the mat installed upside down. the grooves run on the bottom and the flat surface is on top. there is no way people could work out with them installed the way you have them, they would get totaled by the bottom of the benches, you couldn’t clean them out. Same deal in a horse stall.

    Andy

  4. cecil rice

    I’ve been interested in the Dri-Core product that Steve Johnson (above) talked about. Steve do you like it? Yes, they are expensive, for my 300 sq ft shop it would cost almost 700 dollars..but my knees and legs are worth it.

  5. Cinton Weaver

    Thursday may 27th 2009
    I have a bear floor in my shop and the gravel gets sort of damp some times I let the sawdust cover the floor and when it gets to damp I clean it up so I was wondering how the horse stall mats would work any suggestons would be sure helpful.

    Cliton from Ontario Canada

  6. Mike Watkins

    I, too, investigated the horse stall mats but settled on something cheaper. At the local Lowe’s Home Improvement store I purchased floor matting that comes in 16 sq ft packages for $17 – $18 per package. Each package has four, 2 foot square mats that interlock and is 1/2 inch thick. My only concern at this point is how durable they are. They come in a dull gray and also packages for four different colors. They can be easily cut to fit around tables, benches, etc.

    They recently added border pieces to the package that give a clean edge.

    Although these pieces are light weight, I’ve laid down enough of them around the saws, benches and other tools that they stay put.

  7. Jim Dresser

    When I got tired of everything sliding around in the back of my truck I put a horse stall mat in it. It cured the problem nicely, stays put and is easy to sweep off.

    I salvaged a panel from the solar heater for the pool when one was replaced. I split it in half and now have two very nice, easy to clean 12′ mats.

    I also have some of the Woodworker’s Supply type mats. The basic question is do you want them to be readily movable or not? The light weight mats move around easily and often when you don’t want them to. The horse stall mats stay put. Around here TSC often has them on sale for $40 or less.
    Jim Dresser

  8. Steve Johnson

    Because they are expensive, this has been a gradual process, but I have been laying down 2′ X 2′ Dricore sub-floor tiles. These are OSB boards with plastic "spacers" on the bottom, available at home centers. They have tongue and groove edges and easily interlock, providing (eventually, for me) a full wooden floor with a bit of "spring" and "give." Additional advantages include (1) warmer in winter, (2) cooler in summer, (3) easy to clean, (4) mobile equipment moves easily over the interlocked tiles, (5) the unfinished waferboard tiles don’t show sawdust, and (6) anything dropped on the floor stands a better-than-average chance of surviving. You can still put a rubber mat down where you do most of your standing, for even more comfort.

  9. Wen

    I have the rubber matts too, but I have thought I would like to cover the whole floor with 3/4" styrofoam and strip of treated wood then put 3/4" TG Plywood on top of that.

  10. John, Buffalo NY

    I did find some nice rubber mats at Harbor Freight Tools. They snap together in 2 foot sections and are light weight. Perhaps too light for some, but I like to be able to easily move the mats when I have to move tools, etc. A good price too!

  11. Bill Canter

    Like many in the posts above, my shop has a concrete floor. Cold in the winter, prone to "sweat moisture" in the hot Mississippi summers….and hard all year long ! I tried carpet remenants and found some relief. Once i tried the 2′ x 2′ interlocking foam squares at each work station i was sold! I have gradually covered my entire shop floor. They are confortable, easy to install and inexpensive enough that i dont feel bad when I cut or shape one to fit around a stationary tool. And just last week they paid for themselves. while opening a new matched stile and rail router bit set, I "fumbled one" and watch as it fell to the floor. It landed softly, took a small bounce, but was completely unharmed. I dont have to tell you what the outcome would have been if that bit would have landed on concrete.

    Bill

  12. Jacques

    I probably shouldn’t say this, but I can’t work if I’m not barefoot. I hate it when sawdust gets into my socks; my feet start to feel "grainy".

    At the moment my shop-floor is bare concrete, but I anticipate getting some carpet within the next few weeks. I’m doing this mostly to counter the cold though (it’s winter down here in South Africa).
    My back doesn’t show any strain, but then, I’m 24.

  13. GLY

    I have a friend that has a woodworking studio (he lives in a very effluent city, thus it’s not a shop!). It has wall to wall industrial carpeting. He loves it and says that in essence it’s just as easy to clean as a concrete floor, just have an industrial carpet vacuum.

    GLY

  14. Chris F

    Another option instead of buying large anti-fatigue mats is to buy small ones and strap them on your feet. I’ve been thinking about these because regular mats would prevent me from rolling my tools around, and in my garage this is pretty much required.

    I haven’t actually tried either of these, so I can’t say whether you still have enough traction for hard planing.

    http://www.ergoscanada.com/
    http://magicsoles.com/

  15. Ross

    As Bud points out, used carpet is very cheap (free, usually) and it is better to give it a second life in the workshop rather than adding to the landfill problem. I have used old carpet as anti-fatigue mat in the past, and installed it upside down. You still get the comfort for your feet, but it is a whole lot easier to keep clean.

  16. Christopher Schwarz

    I can’t comment on Woodcraft’s mats because I’ve never seen them or used them. The thing I disliked about the industrial mats we had before (which were way more expensive than $60), was that they would slide everywhere. They were lightweight and springy. The springy part was good, but everything else was bad.

    I can say that I like the horse stall mats better than the rainbow-color puzzle-piece mats from Home Depot. Those are an improvement over concrete, but the horse stall mats are head and shoulders above them in comfort.

    Chris

  17. David

    Chris – I’m a bit older than you are (though just a bit), and I can confirm that the lower back thing doesn’t get better with age.

    So my question is – are the $60 mats you mentioned really better than the anti-fatigue mats that every Woodcraft sells for $12? I’m all for paying a bit more for better back protection and the gel inserts mentioned earlier really do help, and are inexpensive, but I’m not sure I want the smell of a tire shop to replace the smell of freshly cut wood in my man-cave unless they’re superior to the vinyl-coated ones from Woodcraft.

    Thoughts?

    David

  18. Kelpine

    Having both bad knees and a small shop I hesitated buying some anti-fatique mats. Many of my floor tools have mobile bases, and figured they would be a bit of a burden shuffling around.

    Then by accident one day(actually laziness), I slipped on a pair of crocs I received as a gift and wandered to the shop. After a solid day on the concrete slab what a difference! They also kept my feet a tad warmer during the winter months.

  19. Charles Davis

    Hey Chris,

    Glad to hear that it’s doing the job for ya! We’ve finally raised our quality of living to that of horses.

    I was going to add some info and references on stall mats here but it was making for a long comment so I did a brief write-up on my site instead if others are interested.

    -Charles

  20. Marcus Ward

    I put carpet in parts of my shop, in front of the bandsaw and the workbench. It collects mountains of sawdust but it’s infinitely more comfortable than concrete. I don’t care that it does this because the point is to get work done. Dirty carpet is better than clean concrete.

  21. Richard Dawson

    I once dropped a L-N plane on my concrete floor and broke the knob. So, I called L-N with the intention of ordering (and paying for a new know). I was told that their planes have a lifetime guarantee and they would send a new one to me — free. They also sent the screw that holds it in place, since that appeared to be bent.

    At that time I pledged to install floor mats in my shop. I did and never looked back.

    Aside from the obvious great customer service and the well being of this woodworker, protecting your tools is another huge benefit.

  22. Wayne Anderson

    I use mats, and will be getting a few more soon. One additional thing I had to do was get gel inserts for my shoes. My heals were bothering me a lot before getting those cushions. -Wayne

  23. Bob Demers

    Chris
    I too start using rubber mats in front of the table saw and workbenches. I used thick 24X24 rubber tiles made from recycled tires, and althought they work great, im starting to believe that the rubber smell will never go away….

    I only whish I did that years ago, my back and my feet can sure feel the difference

    Bob

  24. Bud

    I have a Japanese woodworking book that suggests a carpeted work area…comfortable for sure but tough to keep clean I bet. However, they are literally giving carpet away, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

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