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2013/10/18 - Organization

posted Jan 27, 2015, 10:20 AM by Jeff Balderson   [ updated Jan 27, 2015, 10:50 AM ]
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I think I'll start off by talking about shop organization. I'm horrible at it, but I'm getting better and have learned a good bit along the way.

Organizing a small shop space doesn't seem difficult on the surface and a lot of the ideas are really just common sense, but it can take a lot of thought to get everything as efficient as it can be.

When we first moved into our current house, I set up the shop in the basement. It was a very crowded 14'x17' room, and one corner was taken up by our furnace. With such a small shop, it's really important to maximize your storage to take advantage of all of the wall space and even the ceiling within the shop. Some ways to accomplish that are to install wall cabinets and shelves that are easily accessible, wall-mount tools with cabinets above them, use hooks in the ceiling to hang large clamps and store wood above cabinets or hanging from the ceiling. French Cleats can be extraordinarily helpful for mounting the cabinets and tools.

To help keep the amount of open floor space as large a possible, my only full-size floor-standing tools tools are a Ryobi BT3100 table saw, a 30+ year old Shopsmith Mark V (used as a drill press, horizontal boring machine, bandsaw and lathe), and a 2HP dust collector. All three roll and are stored against the wall when not in use. I also have a rolling tool cabinet that fits under my Shopsmith to make use of that wasted space. My workbench is on a mobile base that's usually used for tools. Smaller tabletop tools such as my spindle sander, belt sander, jointer, planer and pancake air compressor are on a rolling 2x2 wire cart that's about 6' tall. They get pulled out as needed and used on top of my workbench. I built a rolling table for my tabletop CNC with storage underneath. It can double as an assembly table, if desired.

Because space is so valuable, every new tool needs to be carefully considered before it's added to the collection and you need to occasionally take some time to think about everything in your shop. Look around your shop to find and remove the duplicate and unused equipment/tools. Discard wood scraps unless you know you have a use for them in the near future. Only buy/collect wood that you know you're going to use in the near future.

Last year, we finished up building our garage. When we were working with the architect, we thought carefully about how the space would be used and decided that we'd move my shop into the garage. To help with that, we added a 4' bump-out to house the majority of the shop equipment, and another 6' x 4' alcove to house the remainder of it. It's been a challenge moving everything that was in the (mostly) four-sided room I previously occupied onto two walls, and I've had to rethink the organization multiple times as I started using things. It's still a work in progress, but it's quite functional. It's hard to say what I might do in the long term, but for now, I'm working again.

Having a small shop requires more forethought than a larger one. Sometimes you can't have more than one tool out and ready to use. Try to group your operations as much as possible to avoid having to set up and tear down your shop as much as possible. Dry fit parts to make sure you won't have to pull a tool back out unnecessarily.

My next step is looking at installing some upper cabinets to replace the open shelving I'm using right now. I'm also probably going to put my air compressor on a shelf in an unused upper corner of the garage. That should keep it accessible when I need to use it instead of having to pull out the rolling cart it's currently stored on.

Lastly, it's extremely important to keep the shop CLEAN. Put tools away when you're done. Don't allow your workbench or other flat surface to become a dumping ground. Get rid of anything you don't need and don't have a place for. Sure you may save yourself a trip to a home center in the future, but it won't be in your way.