Organizing a workshop.
February 24, 2005 4:10 PM   Subscribe

PartsFilter: I foolishly felt pity for a widow and purchased, alakazam, a metric ton of stuff. Bolts, nuts, screws, washers, doohickeys, whatchamacallits, whozits, and whatnots.

Add to it my already burgeoning collection of random bits and pieces, and I find myself stymied as how to best organize it all. Sometimes I have only a half-dozen of "Size A" this, and simultaneously a gazillion "Size B" of something almost but not quite the same.

Not only do I seek a handy storage solution (ziploc baggies? divider trays? "disposable"-style tupperware?), but an organizing system: roundhead slot screws separate from flathead robertson screws, varied by size, varied by use, varied by godknowswhat criteria. There are a hundred ways to do it, and none of them make any more sense than any other way.

The current system sucks: my hand tools are mostly nicely arranged by function on the pegboard, my power tools are mostly nicely stored in a new-found cabinet, my bulk supplies (paint, lubricants, garden stuff) are on shelves... and everything else is just scattered from one end of the shop to the other.

Save me, oh anal retentives and hobby DIYers! You are my only hop!
posted by five fresh fish to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Thrifty solution - Recycled glass Jars of various sizes. Seen it mostly done with baby food jars.
Attach the lids to the bottom side of a board with a screw or strong adhesive and hang. Or use an the existing bottom side of a shelf(ves) or cupboard(s). Then screw/unscrew the jars into/from their lids for storage/use.
Sure there are other organizing solutions at your local container or hardware store.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:30 PM on February 24, 2005

My dad does that jar thing, with the lids nailed to the undersides of various rafters and boards around his workbench. Seems to work pretty well--you can see exactly what's where, and when you want something, you unscrew the jar and the screws or nails are sitting in a nice convenient container on your bench.

Doesn't give much help for an organizing system, I guess, but it's a good idea to look into once you decide on your own private Dewey Decimal equivalent. As a downside, though, I guess it's not very easily re-arrangeable, if all of sudden you need to add something into the middle of a set.
posted by LairBob at 4:38 PM on February 24, 2005

Yeah, that always seems like a good idea until a jar falls and explodes sending glass and screws into every corner of your shop. Trust me, don't do it with glass jars.

I just use cheap plastic-drawers parts organizers like you can get at hardware stores. I'm sure you can find something in the flabbergastingly complete but hard-to-deep-link McMaster-Carr catalog under "Bin-Box Cabinets" - it's pp. 1439-1440.

Organizing, that's a pain in the ass, especially if your second-hand parts collection isn't in boxes - what I usually do is tape the top from each box of screws, bolts, &c. to the front of the drawer they're in. I guess you could number the boxes and index their contents in a searchable database...
posted by nicwolff at 4:53 PM on February 24, 2005

Actually, if all your jars use the same size lid, it would be pretty easy to insert a new container into the middle of a series.

I got one of those arrays of plastic drawers (in a metal frame). I don't sort things down to the level you're suggesting; I mostly separate by coarse and fine threads, with the drawer for fine-thread nuts above the corresponding screw drawer. Socket-heads are tossed in with Phillips heads and pan heads.

Sounds like you have more quantity of at least some fasteners that could be stored with my system. Maybe you could keep a representative sample easily accessible, and archive the rest.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:56 PM on February 24, 2005

A life-lesson I'm still learning:

You can apply "lean inventory" to your home as well as to a business: If something is taking up space, there is a cost to it, if nothing more than the cost of wanting to keep it organized and dust-free, or wanting to keep it out of the way of other stuff, or wanting it not to take up space that more useful stuff could occupy. Nuts and bolts and screws are inexpensive, so it is profitable for a hardware or DIY store to keep them in inventory; NOT so much for you to keep them in stock.

Unless you're doing handiwork and using these pieces-parts on a very regular basis, the best place for them to be stored in inventory is waiting patiently for you--well-organized and easy to find--at the store.

But also, I know Sears Hardware and other stores sell those little Tupperware-style drawers specifically for nuts-n-bolts and fly-fishing paraphernalia and beads and such.
posted by Shane at 5:15 PM on February 24, 2005

Oops, sorry, I feel bad now--I meant to tell you how nice it was of you to buy those from the widow. Keep 'em around and you'll find a use for them. We all hoard things from time to time ;-)
posted by Shane at 5:26 PM on February 24, 2005

my dad always kept odds 'n ends in one of those rectangular boxes with the ton of little plastic drawers, for the little stuff.. and the bigger stuff in glass jars with lids attached to the top of a cabinet. Works fine.
posted by defcom1 at 6:05 PM on February 24, 2005

I'm totally jealous, my shop was robbed three times last fall and they even took my junk (all manner of crap in labeled coffee cans). I like the steel drawers they sell through lee valley veritas. Just make a plywood/mdf carcas and use eigth inch saw kerfs for the glides. Add some slotted paint stirrers and you have endlessly configurable compartments.
posted by jmgorman at 6:49 PM on February 24, 2005

My dad had four types of storage for stuff like this. From largest to smallest. Coffee cans on shaelves that were basically exactly coffee can height. I believe he had a whole shop wall of these. Orange juice cans [we bought OJ concentrate that came in plastic containers for a while, OJ can size]. Baby food jars with lids attached to the shelf above. Each of those three had one strips of masking tape going around the whole top saying what was inside. Each sized item had an entire shelf, or more, that was exactly the right height for it. He also had one of those little plastic things with a gazillion tiny drawers, for super small stuff. When we were kids, we loved hanging out with my Dad in the shop sorting screws and nails. If you have kids, or neighborhood kids, see if you can organize a work party to go through it all.
posted by jessamyn at 6:51 PM on February 24, 2005

I'm more curious about organizing strategies now. I've decided it's either plastic ziploc containers, or a million little plastic bins approach.

Shane, you clearly have no idea how immensely satisfying it is to have the right bolt or spring or crimp-on connector right when you want it. It's almost as good as happening to have the right tool for the job. "3x16 obtuse threader deconvolver? Good thing I splurged a buck at the widow's garage sale!"

I don't suppose your dad handed down his organizational secrets, jessamyn? A little index system for the shelves, anything that'd suggest it's important to separate the square-shaped nuts from the hex-shaped ones?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:07 PM on February 24, 2005

I wish I was there to take a picture of it! This shot of the shop doesn't have the wall-of-cans. You also can't tell from there but the drawers in the tool chests are labelled with the noice the tool makes [ratchet, whirr, wham, grzzzz]

As I recall it was biggest to smallest [giant bolts up top, teeny finishing nails at the bottom in baby food jars] and I feel like the nuts went in cans that were nearby the diameter they fit around. I personally wouldn't separate out hex and square nuts only because they're easy as heck to distinguish by looking at them. The big labels that were written on the masking tape [you could read them from across the room] were the real plus, so he could tell us what to go grab and it was easy to figure out what he was talking about. The big hurdle was getting used to the fact that some cans would only have like one or two things in them, but overall the system worked because you knew where it all was and where it went away when you were done with me. While he was working, his workbench was just covered in cans.
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 PM on February 24, 2005

labelled with the noise the tool makes...

OMG. That's too precious.

I don't have the space for cans. I'll have to settle for racks of sliding drawers.

I'm turning into my father. This is exactly how he started out. First it was an extra pack of screws because they happened to be on sale, and next it'll be air tools, and then I'll end up with a frigging CNC milling machines...

I need a harmless hobby.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:00 PM on February 24, 2005

Oh, and especial thanks re: sticking a sample on the lid. I think I'll epoxy 'em to the drawerfront.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:02 PM on February 24, 2005

labelled with the noise the tool makes

That's brilliant--I am so stealing this [I think I'm stealing too many of her posted ideas]. That's a fine shop you linked to, too.

Don't use ziplocs, they flop around, wear out, and are otherwise hard to store.

Listen to Shane. Weigh the cost of the time it takes for organization and space against the cost of just going and buying it when you need it. If they're obscure and you're actually likely to use them, then consider that small parts are relatively sorted through if you don't have to do it very often.

Epoxy seems a bit time-consuming and permanent, but whatever floats your boat. You want new categories to be creatable in seconds, not hours.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:28 PM on February 24, 2005

My dad used the glass gar method. We had rows of them plus 2 different spinners of jars. Never saw a jar get dropped, and that amazingly was with ME getting in to stuff! Sadly, my dad wasn't the teaching sort, so I never learned much about proper ways of putting all those tools and things to use.
posted by Goofyy at 10:27 PM on February 24, 2005

I think sorting tools by function is better than by sound: Bangers (AKA persuaders), grabbers, cutters, benders, sizers, etc.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:44 AM on February 25, 2005

Listen to Shane. Weigh the cost of the time it takes for organization and space against the cost of just going and buying it when you need it.

When your weighing this don't forget to include your time. Few things are worse than having to drop everything and run to the hardware store when your in the middle of some project. Spending 45 minutes out of a busy weekend because of a $0.20 nut is very fustrating.
posted by Mitheral at 10:30 AM on February 25, 2005

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