Set in Order
Seiton, straighten, or "set in order" is the next step in 5S'ing your workshop. Ben Franklin said "A place for everything and everything in its place," but for his adage to hold true, he must have exercised Seiri first. Until you sort and dispose of unused tools and materials, your "place for everything" will consume your shop and there will be no room to have "everything in its place."
After you have gotten rid of everything you do not use, it is then much easier to "set in order" what is left. If you do layout work at your workbench, all your layout tools should be close at hand. Clamps close to your assembly table, drill bits by the drill press, and push blocks by the table saw make sense, but few are diligent about purposefully rearranging things to achieve these logical goals. In the middle of a glue-up that I had rehearsed and tested, I discovered I needed a couple more clamps. The trip to the other side of my small shop did not take a lot of time, but it was frustrating and added to the stress of an already complicated glue-up. A little rearranging solved the problem forever.
Straightening, or "setting in order" should include labeling. Yes, I know, you are the only person in your shop and you remember where everything is – sure! And I remember what double mocha latte half-caf nutmeg-sprinkled thing Donald ordered at the coffee shop! Ask yourself honestly, "How much time have I wasted in the last year looking for something?" A Brother P-Touch labeling machine is one of the best "shop" investments I have ever made. With clear, white, or yellow label tape in a variety of sizes, you can make labels for everything, and months or years from now, those labels will be as clear and legible as they were the day you made them.
There is certainly no need to label everything, but "hidden" storage, like cabinets, drawers, bins, and boxes should always have labels. You may also want to label certain tools that (only) fit certain machines. For example, I would not think of labeling every Allen wrench, but the Allen wrench that is needed to adjust my router table fence is labeled, and it is stored in the same drawer with my router collet wrenches. This is the essence of "setting in order." Label items that are used often and that might be easily confused with other similar items, then put these items in proximity to where they are most used.
Cabinet doors should be labeled with their contents.
Wine boxes make excellent storage for short cut-offs, but they should be labeled to save time
The Seiton, or straighten phase of making your shop more efficient, comfortable, and productive need not be done all at once. Like all of 5S, think of Seiton as ongoing, continual improvement. If you notice that you are consistently using a certain chisel when fitting mortises and tenons, keep that chisel stored close at hand. In some circumstances, I have even bought a duplicate tool, simply because I was constantly using that tool at two different places in my shop, and it was never in the place where I was working. The few extra dollars for a duplicate tool has saved me time, time and again.
Resisting the temptation to mount my editorial soapbox, I will concede to one indulgence, and write
that Seiso, the "shine" portion of the 5S philosophy, is my favorite. After sorting through tools
and materials, disposing of what is not needed, and then straightening and organizing what is left,
a good thorough cleaning, and daily diligent upkeep, will make your shop safer, more pleasant, and
A while back, in another publication, I read a reader-submitted tip for installing a rare earth magnet in a dustpan to catch errant hardware, and in another publication saw a similar suggestion for using a magnet to separate hardware from the airflow of a dust collector. I laughed at the inglorious tip, wondering how hardware got on the floor in the first place, and why the woodworker would not simply pause and pick up the screw or nail when it fell. I then realized, like in so many shops and shop pictures that I see, the writer's shop was probably covered in dust, shavings, and other detritus, making it impossible to find a dropped nail. In some shop pictures I have seen, you couldn't find a dropped router!
I do not own the best dust collection system (saving my scrap metal money for a new one!) but I suspect that even with the best, some stray chips will still get away. Like gassing up our vehicles, no matter how much we shake the hose, tap the nozzle, and keep our fingers crossed, some gas always drips out onto our newly washed and waxed paint.
My jointer "spits" some shavings out the side, and there is always a little pile underneath the machine when I move it. The planer has very efficient chip/dust collection, but chips still escape the whirlwind and settle on the floor. The same is true for every other power tool, and the pile of shavings at my feet after a good workout hand planing a tabletop is impressive. You may think me a bit too "Felix Unger-ish," but a couple of minutes vacuuming every hour or so makes the work environment more enjoyable, and infinitely more safe.
Some chips always get away, no
Seiketsu, the fourth step, is to "standardize" the first three components of 5S. A better word might be to "inculcate," which is to instill an attitude or habit through instruction and repetition. After your initial "sorting" of items in your shop, and then "setting in order" what is left, you may find yourself briefly disoriented at times, as in "Now where did I put that half inch mortise chisel?" Don't worry. Herein lies the true beauty of the 5S system.
If, in the Seiton, or straighten phase, you put that chisel in the right place, you will quickly adapt to its new location and that location will become second nature. You will find yourself reaching for and grabbing the chisel without consciously looking. You will enjoy concentrating more on your work and less on "where is that tool?" And, if you did not put it in the right place, you will also quickly discover the inconvenience, and you will move it until it is in the right place – until it just feels "right."
As you can no doubt see, 5S is an ongoing process. It can easily become a workshop "way of life." Once you realize how much more fun your shop time can be, once you recognize that you are spending more time building and less time looking for tools, jigs, parts, and materials, and once you come to realize the safety and efficiency benefits of sorting, straightening, and cleaning, you will be hooked. The beauty is, you will probably be subconsciously hooked. Sorting will become second nature. Orderliness will become rote. Cleanliness will be a passion (or at least a habit). And when all of this occurs as a part of your regular routine, you will have standardized the process (Seiketsu) and in so doing, will have also achieved the fifth "S," Shitsuke, or "sustain."
Implementing 5S principles in your woodworking shop will heighten your enjoyment, extend your creative time, maximize your space, and enhance your safety. Give it a try!
Steven can be reached directly via email at email@example.com.
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