To offer you a virtual tour of workshop wizardry, we've gathered a gallery of organization ideas, some from the HANDY workshop and others from Club members — and a few inspired by the office and even the kitchen.
Woodworkers, carpenters and general handy people have discovered the fantastic functionality of the classic mechanic's tool chest, which keeps tools at hand in easy-sliding drawers of varying depths (photo below). Designate a drawer for chisels, another for bits, one for measuring tools or squares or for files, hammers, pliers, levels, saw blades, cutting tools, sanding gear, eye and hearing protection, etc. You might even want two or three chests.
The shallow drawers of a mechanic's tool chest are not a disadvantage, as some might expect. Instead, they enhance convenience: Because the tools can't sink to the bottom of the drawer, they stay visible and accessible.
For optimal organization, labels are essential for every drawer as well as for tool cases, shelves and containers — especially if you share your shop (voluntarily or not) with others. Labeling helps you to assign a spot for each item and to find that item when you need it (photo below).
Operate your shop like a well-organized office, with names on the drawers and file folders. Of course, you can create labels using masking tape and a marker, but a mechanical label maker does a much neater job (and it's fun to use).
Besides the label maker, other office items we've incorporated into the HANDY shop include an accordion file to hold sanding discs of various grits, CD jewel boxes for storing small saw blades and a file box for tool manuals (photos below). (Files are also great for organizing project plans or sheets of sandpaper.)
A covered file box keeps shop-related paperwork clean as well as organized. Many Club members tell us they keep HANDY articles on file, an approach that may call for a full-size file cabinet that can hold project plans as well as tool manuals.
Accordion folders come in a range of sizes that can accommodate various kinds of sandpaper, and they allow you to sort sheets by size and grit. CD cases are great for safely storing small saw blades.
The kitchen also offers shop storage ideas, starting with the furniture: namely, a solid set of cabinets and a countertop. Mix in a pantry for storage and a work island on casters and your shop is really cooking. You can take a few more culinary cues: Mount a magnetic knife holder to store frequently used items such as screwdrivers, wrenches or pliers; install pullout trays or lazy Susans in base cabinets for better accessibility; and insert a silverware tray in a shallow drawer to keep hardware handy.
Take a tip from the cook's playbook: Fasten a magnetic-strip knife holder above your workspace to keep frequently used tools within reach. (With such a simple system, you'll find yourself returning those tools to their rightful place more often.)
Kitchen storage components, such as these gliding trays, function well in the shop, too. With basic woodworking skills, you can make your own — or order them in standard or custom sizes.
No shop is complete without some repurposed kitchen leftovers. Besides their obvious potential as hardware holders or paint buckets, coffee cans (with both ends removed) are great for corralling dowels, tubing, molding, etc., along the ceiling.
Your kitchen and home office probably feature organizational objects and systems that can help to improve your workshop ways. We've included a few practical tips from the HANDY shop as well. (This ceramic pitcher is not one of them.)
At the ready or out of the way
A key principle of shop organization relates to frequency of use. Keep in-demand tools such as your tape measure, hammer, drill/driver and circular saw in a top drawer, on the wall or on an open shelf. Store seldom-used items (a pipe threader or wire stripper, for example) and seasonal tools (a snow thrower, hedge trimmer, etc.) out of the way until they are needed. However, be sure not to stow any disaster-relief tools (such as a pipe wrench or plumber's helper) where they aren't easily accessible if an emergency strikes.
For a portable shop, keep a bag, bucket or box of general-use tools at the ready. Depending on your DIY specialty, you might also want a convenient collection for plumbing projects or electrical work, or a bag of paint supplies (photo below). This helps to organize your inventory and keep you prepared for impromptu repairs.
Keeping portable collections of tools for specific jobs saves time — you don't have to round them up when its time to paint (or do plumbing or electrical work, for example). This approach also keeps tools organized and makes it easy to pack everything up at the end of the project.
Some of these ideas may seem elementary, but that's the point. HANDY's former editor, Dan Cary, says that the key to an efficient, well-organized workshop is simplicity. "The less complicated, the better. If it's not easy to maintain, you're not going to repeat it," he says. So whatever storage strategies you embrace, be sure they're convenient to use and simple to keep up long-term.
Clamps are woodshop necessities, and clamp carts keep them organized and right at hand. This rolling version holds various sizes of clamps and provides three shelves — one large enough to hold a compressor, a shop vacuum or other large tools.