Navigation Bar

More information about Organizing your shop. Just a collection of tips and hints.

You are out 'scrounging', and you arrive home with that new, cool, piece of surplus equipment. Into the shop, you start experimenting with it, researching it, tracing out connectors, finding out voltages, having a good time. The Wife calls, it's time for dinner/cookout/a movie. The new-found gadget gets put on a shelf, time passes, and 10 years later you 're-discover' it. Hmm, I know I had figured this out once, but.

When you get that new piece of surplus extravaganza, take notes! IF you manage to find a web page on that big IC, print it out, it may not last. I have taken to using notepad on my shop computer, and just creating a file with everything I discover. That motor uses 12v on the Yellow and black leads, etc. And, when you are done, print it out! Put your notes, and, any data you may have found INSIDE the box/cover. If you can just barely make out a model number or something, re-label it. Now! It may not be there down the road. When you do re-visit your treasure, you will be very thankful! This has happened to me over & over. Document, it only takes a minute, and SAVE it, on paper, with, or in, the Gadget! IF there is something special that needs to be done to power it up (like removing a shipping lock), note it. Put a sticker on the outside! And, don't count on a web page being there, or your original notepad file surviving. Put it on paper!

Among other things, I am a do-it-yourselfer, and a woodworker. I have found the best way, for me, to keep Nails, Deck Screws, and the like, is in 1 & 2 pound coffee cans. Wrap a piece of Gray Duct tape around the top section (duct tape use # 4,896), use a permanent marker, and label it. These are very handy for carrying to a job site. The can will hold the bigger items, they are rugged and stable, and for me, a coffee abuser, free. Label it well, and ONLY PUT one type/size/style of item in it!! The also travel very well in the 'ol 5 gallon bucket.

If you get a supply of something, like tap-cons, that use a special drill bit, driver, adapter, or what ever. Put that special item in the Can, or drawer, with the item. Often, the particular size or shape is VERY important, and not standard.

For long cords, cables, extension cords, ropes, etc. It's time to discover 1/2" pipe mounting flanges. Screw a few to the wall (Securely), insert a 1-2 foot length of pipe, and you have a strong, sturdy, and useable place to hang those cords. In the picture is an example. The 3/4" Plywood was placed on the wall for this purpose, and provides a secure mounting for the pipes (Cords can get heavy). I have these scattered around my shop in various sizes and configurations. A single pipe and flange, screwed to a wall stud, makes a good 'hook' for a cable, air hose, etc. These can also be paired up to make Bicycle hangers, hang yard equipment, etc. Very versatile, strong, simple, and cheaper than the 'pre-packaged' brackets.

At right is an example of a Pipe mounting flange. These are really handy. Along with these, and various 1/2" (or other size) pipe fittings and threaded pipes, all available at the home center, many types of holders, and storage brackets can be made. The far right picture is an example of a simple lamp stand. It is shown clamped to the worktable instead of screwed down.

Label your Wall-Warts (Power packs). Everything these days seems to come with an AC power pack. Different voltages, currents, and connectors. None of them seem to be marked as to what they belong to. If you have a label maker (And, you should have one!), use it to label all of those wall warts, as to what equipment & model number they go to, as SOON as you get them! And, if the pack doesn't have the info, figure out the Voltage, and polarity of the DC plug, and put that on the label.

And, while you are at it, don't forget the other end! Unless it is clearly marked, place a label on the piece of equipment with the Voltage (and AC or DC), current rating, and the polarity of the plug. If you lose the original adapter, you won't be in the dark about what to use.

Label your toolbox drawers. I often have visitors who like to help out (often car repair related). You may know where all your tools are, but, labels will save a lot of thrashing when your fellow experimenters come calling. And, it will keep them happier to boot.

On a similar note, label your tools. Don't go crazy, or mess up the tool, but. I rarely loan out tools (nuff said), but I often participate in 'group' activities. Remodeling a house, working on a friends car, etc. Everyone brings their own tools to these get-togethers.

At the end of the day, one 1/2" wrench can look amazingly just like another. And they WILL get mixed up. It makes it easier when it's Miller time, and you wont be subject to that slow, steady attrition of your tools.

This isn't really organizing as such, but, often during any kind of project things will start to get to be a mess, tools and parts scattered everywhere, bits of wood here & there, etc. Every once in a while take a few minutes to 're-set'. In the house remodeling 'parties' we call it 'A little damage control'. Take a few minutes to put tools back, pick up spilled hardware, and clean up the garbage and scraps. It keeps things from getting out of hand, makes it MUCH easier when you all get tired of the festivities, and results in a better, and more enjoyable job. This can also serve as a time to back-off, think, plan, and re-evaluate. You don't have to go crazy, but try to re-group once in a while throughout the day. This concept also works in your shop. When I am in the middle of a project, things tend to get messy, benches get stacked, stuff gets taken out, and not put back. Take a break once in a while, clean off the bench, put tools back, pick up the junk. Put hardware back away. It does wonders for your attitude too sometimes! And, remember, it really is easier to clean a bunch of small messes, than one gigantic one (which normally happens when you want to do something else).

I use a lot of sheet metal screws, (mostly in wood). I have found it near impossible to organize them. There are a gazillion different sizes, shapes, head styles, etc. I have ended up having a cabinet with a few of my favorite sizes & types organized, and then just general, mixed, bins for the rest. I would suggest, if you find a size or type that you seem to favor a lot, get a large pack of them (much, much cheaper). Put them in one of your special drawers, and cut out, and place the box label in the drawer with them! Keeping the label with them in the drawer actually works well with a lot of hardware.

IF your shop has open ceiling joists, a simple way to keep spools of materials, such as wire, is with a length of 1/2" EMT metal conduit. Cut it the proper length to span a few joists, place it through the spools, and over the joists. I would suggest anchoring one side, but, if it spans at least three, it shouldn't fall down! AT left is an example of this, as well as spools on EMT placed between the studs on a partition wall. Just drill a 3/4" hole through the studs, and push the EMT through (Don't forget the spools). You can place worm type hose clamps on the inside ends against the studs to keep it in place.

The above got me thinking. EMT is wonderful stuff. I have replaced all my closet hanging poles with 1 inch EMT. It is much sturdier than the 'official' junk.

Here is how I keep my tape measures. It is simply a strip of sturdy metal screwed to the front of a shelf with spacers. In this case, I used a 1U Rack filler strip. They are pretty robust. Most tape measures have belt hooks, just clip it on! You can use this idea for other items with belt clips also.

Try to make a designated area for all your chargers. A small shelf (With room for the batteries to sit also), and a dedicated AC outlet & power strip.

Here is one of my wall mounted 4x8 pegboards for tools. Note in the enter the black screwdriver/nutdriver holder. This is a 'tool pallet' from one of those briefcase style technician tool boxes. Simply cut to fit, screw it to the wall, and you have a perfect holder for things like screwdrivers, or here, a nutdriver set. This same technique will work with other pallets also, with pockets for pliers, adapters, etc. These can often be found abandoned from old toolboxes, or, you can buy just the tool pallets new. It really is handy, and it beats every other method I have tried. Note also the combination wrenches hung by size. Although I have many more wrenches in toolboxes, these are very convenient, and it saves from having to dig through a toolbox drawer. The hammers at top are hung on double hooks. This board is adjacent to my mechanical bench, and the tools are just the ones I reach for the most at that location. With imagination most anything can be conveniently hung. Just be very careful to make it sturdy. If the hook falls out every time you use it, you will soon abandon the whole idea, and lose the convenience.

Pegboard is wonderful stuff. Use the 1/4" good stuff with the large 1/4" holes on 1" centers. Screw a 4x8 Sheet right to the wall studs, and, instant organization. Buying the hooks at the Home center can get expensive. Keep an eye out at garage sales, surplus stores, ebay, etc. Also don't forget surplus store fixtures and brackets. The work great, and there are tons of different styles. One tip. Get, and only use, good, 1/4" hooks and brackets. The little cheap 1/8" ones are flimsy, and will come out every time you take something down. This turns a lot of people off to pegboard. Use good hooks! It is a world of difference. And, don't forget, a 4x8 sheet on an open interior studded wall has TWO sides. A little bit of creativity placing the hooks, and you can hang things on the back between the studs also. Works great for the above wires and cables, as the stud bays tend to keep them more contained. One final note. Forget about those little plastic spacer do-hickeys and kits. Screw the board to solid joists or wood strips. You will lose that row of holes, but I have found that is NOT a big deal. Also, Do not screw it over drywall. The little spacers are NOT deep enough. Be creative, there are many places a smaller piece of pegboard will fit, and make an otherwise unusable spot a new storage mecca for something. The ends of shelves is one place.

Wires and cables. The bane of any shop or lab. I have yet to find a good way to store these in an organized fashion. But, you can make inroads. Pegboard works well, but, you need lots of it. In my current shop I have three 4x8 pegboard panels just for wires & cables. Some work very well, such as for long cords, power cords, computer cables, etc. Others don't. And I still have boxes of cables and wires sitting around waiting for the day. One thing I have learned. If it is just a little short piece of small, standard, cable or wire with no connectors, PITCH IT! You will go crazy trying to organize or even find all those little bits & pieces, and you won't use them anyway! It can be hard to do, but....

Four examples of pegboard. The first is my 'organized' 4x8 for PC Cables. Next is an example of a small piece on the end of shelves to reclaim otherwise wasted space. In this case for packing tape. The third has turned into a catch-all because of it's location, but it is mostly small test cables. The fourth is an example of storage of wires on the 'back' side of a pegboard, and in between studding.

Organize your cleaning stuff! For many uses 99% isopropyl alcohol works great. I use it to clean just about everything. Get a small trigger spray bottle (from the garden center), and fill it with isopropyl alcohol. You will find it incredibly handy. Two relatively benign cleaners I like to use are Soft Scrub, and CLR. And, don't forget the bottle of Formula 409! Flux off can sometimes be used as a cleaner, but be careful of damage to plastics, and where it drips. The jack of all trades - WD-40 can also be used as a very effective cleaner. It is particularly useful for cleaning pots and switches. It used to be recommended by organ manufacturers to clean the keyboard contacts. Again, just be careful what it gets on. it WILL detune tuned RF circuits, and will destroy any kind of ferrite slug. Just remember it is petroleum based, and you should be fine. Two more I'd like to mention are Lift off, and goof off. Both for limited tasks, but they often remove things (like tape residue) that are otherwise impossible. Just remember these are 'real' chemicals. BE careful. And, do NOT put them on anything a pet may touch, they are toxic! That is a good rule for MOST cleaners and chemicals.

OK, one more chemical I'd like to mention. PB Blaster penetrating catalyst, made by Blaster products. It comes in a really hokey looking can, and it may be a bit hard to find (auto parts stores). It is incredible for breaking loose rusted joints and fasteners. It smells awful, it gets everywhere, it is very toxic, and it melts plastics, but, if you have a rusted nut or bolt, this is your best bet! Get some! Read the warnings carefully!