by Alan Noel
How many times have you purchased an item only to find another in your shop that has been around a while but forgotten?
Now that the wonderful days of Indian summer are coming to an end, it's a perfect time to wander indoors and take a good look at your shop to reassess the layout, rearrange the areas where clutter gathers and search through all the stuff that lingers on every shelf, in every cabinet and in all the nooks and crannies. I make it a point to clean out my shop at least twice a year. Despite my best efforts, however, I'm sometimes still forced to stop what I'm doing to tear apart my shop searching for the tool I need.
Sometimes the simplest tricks can help you get your shop in order and keep you from buying items you already have. Plus, in the process of cleaning up, you're bound to find some hidden treasures you tucked away and forgot about or that got buried in the clutter!
- Don't try to save every little scrap of wood. Ask yourself if you will ever really use it - "just in case" is not a good enough reason to keep every tiny item in your shop! Once you part with those odd-shaped cutoffs that are stacked and piled in every corner and under every bench, you'll be surprised at the extra storage space you'll have.
- Keep a garbage can right by your workbench to keep debris from cluttering up your work area. If you have several separate work areas, put a trash can next to each. You won't find yourself digging through sawdust, shavings, old sandpaper and wood scraps to find your handplane if all you have to do is reach over and drop them in the trash.
- Find a system for organizing your tools and materials that works for you. You might store items by usage, putting your most commonly used tools closest to your workbench, and less frequently used items up higher on shelves or cabinets. Keep items close to where you'll need them - store your finishing supplies near your finishing area, your safety goggles by your tablesaw, etc.
- Make use of available wall and ceiling space to install cabinets, shelves and pegboard and maximize your storage space. Drawers installed under a cabinet or bench, or a tool chest with drawers can be used to store knives, blades, chisels, measuring and marking tools, and other hand tools and will offer more protection than having them strewn about your shop.
- Use drawer organizers or small stackable storage bins to help you keep track of small items. Mount the unit within easy reach of your bench to keep drill bits, nuts and bolts, nails, washers, dowels, screws, pens, pencils, etc., close by when you need them. Router bit and drill bit storage trays go a long way in keeping your bits organized, too. Plus they stay sharper if they're not just thrown in a drawer with other odds and ends.
- Check the dates and labels on all chemicals, glues and finishing materials. Properly dispose of any expired products or any "mystery items" with missing labels. It's cheaper to buy new glue or finish than having to spend extra time and money repairing a joint or finish that failed due to a degraded product.
If you are constantly saying to yourself, "I know I have one – somewhere!" it may be time for you to organize your shop. Being able to actually use your workbench and find the tools you need without wasting time hunting for them is well worth it. Think of how much money you're going to save without having to go and purchase new items to replace the ones you lost. And for those things you forgot about and just don't need any more (or those that you found you have four of) there's always eBay - as they say, "One man's trash is another man's treasure"!