Workshop and Garage Organization Tips

Whether you have a dream home workshop or a small slice of garage as your DIY dungeon, simple organization solutions can make your time there more productive and enjoyable.

To help you get started, Eileen Roth, professional speaker and author of Organizing for Dummies, outlines several easy steps for tidying your handy hideout.

Get in the zone
Start by identifying your workshop's boundaries, Roth says. Adding a room divider to a multipurpose area can help better define different zones. Then sort and purge items that don't belong, including things you no longer use. But before you haul in a Dumpster, consider handing down your unwanted goods to those who could put them to use.

This is also a good time to assess ways that you can make your workshop's atmosphere more comfortable: Think about lighting, air quality, temperature, pest control, etc. Paying attention to these often-overlooked factors can have a big impact on your shop's workflow.

A group effort
It may seem like a no-brainer, but storing similar items together is among the best organizing techniques. One way to apply this method is to create stations that can house tools, materials and equipment related to different tasks. For example, a router station can corral a router table, a router, bits, jigs, etc. A metalworking station can store welders, grinders and associated safety gear. (Keep in mind the location of electrical outlets as well as safety precautions, which may determine your layout.) You can even custom build a workbench specific to your equipment.

At a more basic level, Roth says, all hammers should be grouped together; the same goes for chisels, fasteners, measuring devices and more. Storing like items alongside each other will help you remember where they are.

Cartons, crates, cases and more
After sorting your workshop's contents into like groups, you'll need various containers for storing them — and the possibilities are endless.

Many tool companies supply cases for their products, but other storage options are available. Try thinking outside the box and consider using storage devices in ways other than they are intended. HANDY's former Editor Larry Okrend, for instance, prefers using a mechanic's chest for corralling his woodworking hand tools, and the open spaces between wall studs are great for stashing lumber or hanging shelves with Flip Clips. Even everyday household items can be useful: ice-cube trays for fasteners, magnetic knife holders for screwdrivers, etc.

Though open shelves and pegboards may be the norm in most workshops, HANDY's former Senior Editor Dan Cary recommends closed storage that protects contents from dust and prevents a cluttered appearance. Sometimes custom-built containers are the most effective.

Location, location, location
Strategic placement is another key element of an organized workshop. Simply put items where you use them.

Keep the items you use frequently easily accessible so you can dive right into projects when you enter the room. Adding casters to stationary objects such as trash bins can save you steps and time. Items you use less often (such as that dusty tile cutter you haven't touched since last year's bathroom remodel) should be kept farther away from main workspaces, perhaps in a high cabinet. Just remember to test all possibilities before nailing down the best option.

Some potentially hazardous items may require limited access. Flammable or toxic chemicals, for example, should be stowed in a locking metal cabinet, out of the reach of children and pets and safe from stray sparks.

For simple repairs and projects throughout the house, Roth suggests keeping a small grab-and-go tool bag on hand. Include a screwdriver and screws, a small hammer and nails, glue, a tape measure, a utility knife and any other tools you often need for these jobs.

Once it's neat, don't retreat
After implementing your ideal organization plan, upkeep is simple: When you're done with something, put it away. Roth says the key is to not let things pile up. If you make a small effort to tidy up each time you use the shop or when a project is complete, everything will stay neat. A weekly brush-up also helps, especially if more than one person uses the space — it's common for multiple users to inadvertently re-arrange or misplace items.

For optimum efficiency, Roth suggests reevaluating your organization system after a few months. If you add or subtract tools from your collection, you may need to make a few minor tweaks. Another good time for a review is when you are beginning a large project. Ask yourself whether a setup tailored for that project is worth the time and effort it takes to rearrange the workshop.

The bottom line is to develop the best system for your needs. As your organizational practices become habits, your home workshop can grow into the productive handy headquarters that it's meant to be.

Eileen Roth, Everything In Its Place
Inspire Design Group LLC (Flip Clip Instant Storage)
ORG (home organization solutions)