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Information about Organizing your shop. Selecting and using Parts Cabinets

I have small parts cabinets everywhere. I believe in organization, well, 90% worth. The benefits are numerous. Deeply involved in your newest whiz-bang gizmo, you find you need just one more 10k resistor, or a small 6/32 screw. Having the ability to go right to your stock and retrieve what you need at that crucial time is, in the vernacular, priceless. Being organized also allows you to see at a glance your current stock of routine parts, and whether you should take advantage of that super sale to re-stock. If you like to scrounge parts from old equipment, it is nice to have designated places you can put your retrieved treasure. It also not only keeps your shop neater and looking better, but it makes cleaning up after that all night thrashing session much easier. You just put everything back 'where it belongs'. I also find that I enjoy organizing things. It is relatively mindless entertainment. It lets you see concrete results, and, at least for me, I often find a forgotten piece or part that warrants further 'investigation'.

I will start by examining what types of cabinets and materials you should acquire. I will then simply document my organizing efforts. Your needs may differ. And let me mention also, that I firmly believe in the junk box, and/or junk drawer. There are always things that do not fit a defined category. That is the basis of the 90% rule. The other 10% is in miscellaneous, or assorted containers or drawers. Besides, a junk drawer can be fun, just pawing through it. In other words, organization is good, but don't lose any sleep over the un-organized part.

Selecting and obtaining small parts cabinets

I love small drawer cabinets. They are readily available in all different sizes and drawer configurations. While there are a number of companies making them, two of the most common are Akro-Mils and Flambeau. Pay very close attention to what you buy. Many cheap cabinets are just that, cheap. Most cabinet frames are made of either metal, or a heavy Polystyrene plastic. The drawers can be made of many materials, with the most common being Polystyrene (very rigid) and polypropylene (normally more flexible). I prefer drawers made of clear Polystyrene, and cabinet frames of metal or thick polystyrene. Check that the drawer slides work well, and that they do not hang up when opening. Try to get cabinets with drawer handles at the top of the drawer. These are much easier to label. Whatever you get, check the drawers for breakage! Even new ones will sometimes be broken in transit. A good small parts cabinet will serve you well for many years with a minimum amount of care.

There are many levels of quality. Mostly they can be broken down into cheap junk, homeowner style, and commercial cabinets. Of course, avoid the cheap junk! Likewise, though they can be tempting, I do not believe the commercial cabinets are worth the cost for most users. They are nice, but very expensive. A decent homeowner grade cabinet will serve well, and they are much more affordable. And, the best part is you can afford many more drawers! More organization! If you can afford the 'good stuff', great, there is an astounding array available at business and office suppliers. If not, go shopping at a discount store like Target, or an office supply store. I actually prefer to scrounge mine at garage sales and flea markets. Just make sure they are not broken. The older cabinets seem to work better, and you often get an added bonus of the stuff that is in them. More stuff! And, don't forget our friend, Ebay! If you get a used cabinet, make sure the drawer guides are all intact, and be careful of broken drawers.

Many of the older metal cabinets are not stackable. While this is OK, be aware, and think of how you will use them. The plastic frames are often very stackable. If you want to hang one on a wall, get a metal cabinet. Forget the keyhole slots, take the drawers out, drill a couple of holes in the back, and screw it to a sturdy support with sheet metal screws and fender washers.

Finally, care. They don't need much. Some common chemicals will eat the drawers (especially model glues). DO NOT overload the drawers. They are for light weight stuff. For heavy stuff, get the commercial cabinets. Clean the drawers with soap & water, do NOT put them in your dishwasher (don't ask how I found that out!). I have found the most common way to destroy the drawers is to set one in your work area, and accidentally place something heavy on top of it. Like your hand.

About those little plastic drawer dividers. Throw them out. They will not stay in place, and they tend to pop up, and keep the drawer from opening or closing - a major pain. The stuff will eventually mix anyway, somehow, magically. Some of the commercial cabinets have better dividers, but the best rule is to use the drawer at full size, don't sub-divide it.

ESD - Electrostatic discharge.

In my experience, I have never knowingly had an IC, or other part, damaged by storage in the clear polystyrene drawers, or the commercial grade cabinets. I have experienced damage to parts stored in polypropylene (flexible) drawers. With that said, a little precaution is still in order. Most parts are just fine sitting in the drawers, but. If you are storing particularly static prone parts, such as older CMOS, or FET input op-amps, store them in 1/4" thick anti-static (ESD) foam. This foam can be found readily via mail order, or from ebay suppliers. Get the Black, closed cell foam (Not the pink stuff, which is not for esd!). Make sure it is rated as ESD foam...... I actually keep most of my ICs in this foam just because it is neater, and easier to store. The foam can be cut with scissors to any shape or size, and to fit nicely inside the drawers.


Labelling! After years of cruising the office supply store, trying different types of stickers, labels, markers, pens, printers, scotch tape, and every other method of labeling, I have come to a conclusion. None come close to a good label printer! The printing is clear, and with a decent labeler, there are plenty of styles and sizes of labels and fonts. The best part, the labels stick to anything - for good! The machines are cheap. Although the label tape can be costly, you will find that you can get quite a few labels out of a tape cartridge. And, if you do it right the first time, you are possibly doing it for the very last time. Invest a little in nice labels for your parts drawers and cabinets! Make sure the machine you get will do various sizes of fonts, and that it will do two lines (Double line). Ensure that the tapes are readily available everywhere (lower cost), and that the keyboard is easy to use. I recommend that you use only Black text on white label stock. Try to avoid clear. Clear may sound good, but I have found the contents of the drawer behind a clear label will tend to obscure the type.

One of the hardest parts of using a labeler is peeling the backing away from the label. Most come with a little "magic wand" for this purpose. These actually work VERY well if you take the time to learn how to use them, but, it takes practice. They do tend to get misplaced a lot. A good substitute is an exacto-knife. Use the tip of the blade to separate label & backing. Again, with some practice, this works very well. Don't poke yourself! And, from experience, if you need to trim the label with scissors, do it BEFORE you remove the backing!

After you get one, you will find that a label machine can be used for lots of other things. Re-doing faded serial numbers is one. They also make nice file folder labels. They are also useful for marking all those Wall-Warts (power packs) as to what equipment they belong to. I label all of mine as soon as I get them. No more searching for the right adapter! Most of my parts cabinets were labeled before getting a label maker, but I am slowly converting!

At left are two of mine, with a tape cartridge in front. At left is a Casio KL-7000. At right is a Brother P-Touch extra, my favorite.


Once you have found the right cabinets, it is time to figure out how to use them. We will start with the general purpose electronics parts. Here is how I have organized my resistor assortment. It is in one 45 drawer cabinet with a few larger assorted drawers at the bottom for the inevitable misc values, precision resistors, and a few higher wattage ones. Recommended resistor drawer values You can see that this cabinet was labeled before I got a labelmaker. The labels are stick on file tabs, and were typed by hand. A couple have fallen off. The cabinet is a metal cabinet with clear styrene drawers made by Flambeau. Note these drawer handles are in the center. That makes labeling much more challenging! You will always need resistors. This would be a good start to your organizing efforts!


I have small capacitors organized in two different cabinets, each with 23 small drawers, and 4 larger drawers. Electrolytics are in one, and non-electrolytics in another. Here is a possible layout for those. Recommended Capacitor cabinet layout. Note the cabinet style. These are older plastic cabinets with clear styrene drawers made by Bush-Lake Industries Inc. One cabinet has the handles in the center of the drawers, the other one has them in the preferred location at the top.

Semiconductors - ICs Transistor & Diodes.

There are far to many ICs and Transistors to organize them all. (unless you have a real need to). But there are certain ICs that are common, and many that are not. I keep all the standard 7400 TTL and 4000 series CMOS chips organized in various cabinets Each of these collections are in a dedicated 45 drawer cabinet (with 45 different types) Here is the layout of my 7400 ttl cabinet. The 4000 series is similar. Note there is one type per drawer. On the label I put what it is (IE 4-input nand). This often serves to wet the memory juices when I am looking for the right part to do something. I also have drawers for assorted other types that I may use occasionally in an overflow cabinet. For transistors, since I work on a lot of older and vintage equipment, I keep a good assortment of different transistors. These are actually in an original 40 drawer cabinet, and a 60 drawer 'overflow'. Here is where it pays to sort of 'standardize' on the drawer types, as you can add types, and just re-position the drawer to keep them in order. Analog ICs (OP-amps, timers, amplifiers, etc) are in another cabinet. Finally, Diodes. I find that a small collection of 1N4000 series diodes, some zeners at popular voltages, and a couple of germanium or crystal diodes pretty much fills the bill.


I keep any LSI chips (designated as more than 22 pins) in separate cabinets. Processors, UARTS, RAMS, Controllers, Audio Amps, Decoders, PIAs, sound chips, well you get the idea. Here I pay a lot of attention to ESD. All parts are kept in protective foam. I wont try to detail this as it totally depends on your interests.

Working stock

I have a small, OK, medium sized, cabinet that I keep very close to me on the bench where I experiment. This contains many of my 'comfort zone' parts. The ones I turn to time and again. 555 ICs, a few 7400, 4066 switch, 741 op-amp, etc. As well, it has 2n2222 and 2n3906/04 transistors, IN4001 diodes, 1k, 10k and 330 ohm resistors, LEDS, and assorted other parts I use constantly. The contents will often change (or expand!) depending on my prevailing interest. It is nice to be experimenting, and not have to get up every time I need something.

Other small parts

Here is my cabinet for terminal lugs. This is one of my favorite styles of cabinets. It is an Akro-Mils Model 10-136. A heavy plastic frame, and polystyrene drawers with the handles at the top of the drawers. The cabinets are easily stackable via a recessed area in the top.

Here are two more examples of where a small cabinet can serve to organize something. AT top is my collection of power fuses. There are drawers for Less than 1 amp, then 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15, and 20 amp. Additionally, a drawer for more than 20 amp, a drawer for Misc sizes, and three drawers at the bottom for 1-5 amp, 5-10 amp amd 10-20 amp assorted for all those odd-ball ones.

At the bottom is an old (note the labels) cabinet for small IC Sockets. This has been worth it's weight in gold, as I use a lot of sockets. Drawers for 8 pin, 14 pin, 16 pin, 18 pin, 24 pin, 28 pin, and 40 pin with a couple of assorted drawers, rounds it out.

Small hardware

A photo of my four small hardware cabinets. They are Akro-Mils with metal frames. Each has 12 small drawers, 3 medium drawers and 2 large Drawers.
(Click for larger image)

My small hardware (Nut, bolts & washers) is, likewise, organized. It is partly in the four cabinets seen at left. Among the top, smaller drawers, The first is for 4/40 hardware and nuts. The second is 6/32, third is 8/32 and the last is 10/32. The larger drawers below the small ones hold assorted larger hardware including spacers, washers, and some 1/4 - 20 and 1/4 -28 bolts. The smaller bolts are grouped into general 'long' and 'short' , and further organized by type of head and drive. For each size, I have the following small drawers:

  • Hex head short
  • Hex head long
  • Flat Head slotted short
  • Flat Head slotted long
  • Flat head Phillips short
  • Flat head Phillips long
  • Pan head slotted short
  • Pan head slotted long
  • Pan head Phillips short
  • Pan head Phillips long

The designation of long and short is sort of arbitrary, but generally, longer than 1" is considered long. Of course you can break them down into more specific lengths, but the above has served me well over the years. Interspersed throughout are a few drawers for specific screws I use a lot, like 6/32 x 3/8". I also have a separate cabinet for Allen head (Cap) screws, and one for stainless steel hardware, a cabinet for small bearings, a cabinet for washers, one for very small hardware (microscope rivets), locknuts, as well as various other cabinets.

These are three of my parts cabinets for bearings, gears and other miscellaneous small mechanical bits and pieces. The cabinets are polystyrene cabinets from Akro-mils. The small one is a model 10-115. The bottom two are the same series 10, but I am unsure of the actual number. Each one has 18 medium sized drawers.


I know this sounds like a lot of effort, but it isn't! One evening spent with the label maker will leave a large parts cabinet and selection of parts forever organized! And, being able to find a particular type without digging through a box of them is worth it the first time you do it. The bonus is, you can do it while watching TV... Multi-tasking!

This description is but a small part of my actual world. I have dedicated cabinets for fuses, terminal lugs, switches, small pots, Optos, RAMs, Processors, IC Sockets (very handy), lamps, transformers and coils, replacement semis, custom chips, coffee pot parts (yes I have a drawer for parts to my bunn coffee pot), crystals, and on and on. Once you start, it may be hard to stop! Find some decent cabinets, a labeler (with spare tapes), and start organizing!