Introduction: "Six Shooter" Desk Organizer

So, I find myself in need of some organization. I have several things cluttering up my desk at the moment; an awl, a small prying screwdriver, emery boards, some sanding sticks, etc... I am also planning on getting some needle files in the future.

At the same time, my mother is on a few medications and, as any person who has prescription meds will tell you, goes through quite a few of those orange medicine bottles. These bottles are nice durable plastic and I already use a few for storing small craft supplies, but I wondered if I could use some to create a desktop organizer for some of the small, thin objects that tend to clutter up my desk.

I made this organizer, which I nicknamed the "Six Shooter", from old medicine bottles, a wooden base, and some hardware. Lets start.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials for this project are:

  • 7 medicine bottles (without lids)
  • 1 wooden dowel (I used a scrap I had lying around and cut it down to 1.25")
  • 1 bearing
  • 6-8 sets of matching small bolts and nuts
  • 1 screw with a smaller diameter than the wooden dowel you use
  • 1 piece of wood to use as a base for the assembly (I used a 4"x4" section cut out from a 1x12)
  • Stain and Polyurethane (for the base of the assembly)
  • Index card or Cardstock
  • Scotch tape

Required tools:

  • Awl
  • Ruler
  • Cordless Drill
  • Box Wrench of the size to turn the nuts you are using
  • Screwdriver or Ratchet
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Jigsaw
  • Square

Step 2: Planning Stage

Now, individual medicine bottles have been very handy to have sitting around on my desk, as they can hold these thin objects quite well. However, on their own, they are very unstable unless you put some weight in the bottom.

So, I initially wanted to bind 7 medicine bottles together in a hexagon or honeycomb shaped pattern. But, even if I had this on its own, it would need to be moved around to access items in the back of the container. This is when I had the idea of using a bearing to allow the medicine bottles to be suspended over a base and revolved freely.

Also, initially, I planned on connecting each outside medicine bottle to the center one with my small nuts and bolts. However, after a failed prototype, I revised this design so that, in fact, certain outside medicine bottles would connect onto the others, as seen in the above plans.

I only used the main 6 connections. There are two others in the above plans you could use, but I deemed them unnecessary.

Step 3: Removing Goo and Labels

Before use, I suggest you wash the interior of your medicine bottles out with soap and warm water to get rid of any excess pill residue.

To remove the labels from my medicine bottles, I tried to peel as much of them off cleanly as I could, before using warm water and my fingers to rub off any remaining paper or glue that was still on the bottle. I did this for all 7 medicine bottles. You may have to do multiple washes to get all of the goo off.

Sometimes you can get the labels off really easily and cleanly, but I was unlucky and managed to get 7 medicine bottles that had their labels come off in pieces.

tarzanna from the comments suggests:

"I found an easy way to remove bottle labels. Fill each bottle with water
up to the top of label. Put in microwave, close door, set timer for 30 seconds, (time may vary depending on microwave watt capacity) & heat. Remove with potholder. Gently peel corner of label until enough paper to grasp, peel label slowly& evenly. Usually, the glue comes off with the label. Of course, more than 1 bottle can be heated at once BUT water cools & effectiveness is lost (as you peel the first label) in remaining bottles."

Step 4: Making Tools

After an earlier prototype where the medicine bottles didn't line up at all, I realized that getting the drill holes accurate, both on the center medicine bottle and the ones on the exterior, was a big deal. If you just drill haphazardly, you will end up with drill holes slightly out of line with the others. This will make the final product look far less professional and reduce the modularity of the whole system.

This requires you to draw a perfectly straight line all the way around the exterior of the medicine bottles, which is exceptionally hard to do freehand. To fix this problem, I used an index card. I cut it down to the right height for the medicine bottle and taped it tight enough around the medicine bottle to slide up and down the bottle length fairly easily. There will be some overlap, but try to get the overlapping edges as even as possible.

The most important thing is to have a "manufactured edge" on this index card. These are the original edges of the index card, which were cut precisely in a factory and are, therefore, completely straight. By letting your pen "ride" along this edge, you can create a perfectly straight ring around the medicine bottle.

Step 5: Marking the Bottles

Now, use your little index card tool we made in the previous step to mark at what height the holes should be on your medicine bottles.

The most important medicine bottle is the center one, which will be slightly raised up from the others. I marked a line 1 3/8" from the top with a sharpie pen. These are great for marking plastic and the marks can simply be wiped off with your fingers once you are done. Raising this bottle slightly above all of the others will make it much
easier to access this bottle's contents without having to dig through the contents of the bottles on the outer rim.

The rest of the medicine bottles need a line approximately 5/8" from the top. This will tell you where to drill your holes and allow you to drill holes that will perfectly line up.

Step 6: Drill the First Set of Holes

Now it's time to drill the holes in the bottles. I clamped a 2x4 to the workbench to push the medicine bottles against while I drilled holes into them. I started out drilling holes with a rather small 1/16" drill bit.

For the center bottle, the one marked 1 3/8" from the top, I used an awl to make a small mark where I wanted the drill to start. Then, after drilling the hole, I poked the awl through the hole to make a small mark at the point parallel to the drilled hole and repeated the process. This gave me two holes that were exactly across from each other. I then widened those drill bits with a 1/4" bit

Now, get two of the remaining medicine bottles and drill a single hole through the side of each of them at the height of the line you drew. These two will be the bottles that will be to the left and right of the middle medicine bottle.

Step 7: First Connections

Now, to give you an idea of how this will all go together, put 2 of the bolts into the holes in the middle medicine bottle. I found it most helpful to use a pair of needle-nose pliers to grasp the bolts and place it correctly in the holes. Then, connect those bolts to the two other medicine bottles you drilled into. However, do not put on the nuts on the bolts quite yet. We still need to drill more holes in the two external bottles.

Now, take the four remaining medicine bottles and arrange them around the three connected medicine bottles in the desired arrangement (a honeycomb pattern). Now, with a sharpie, mark the top rim of each bottle wherever it will connect with another bottle. You can then transfer that mark down to the line circling around the bottle.

The two medicine bottles that are connected to the middle medicine bottle will have 2 marks on their rims, and will require two more holes. The other 4 will only require one hole.

Also, as a side note, be careful not to be too rough with your plastic bottles while you are using the awl, as they can split, as shown in one of the images above.

Step 8: Connecting the Medicine Bottles

To connect the medicine bottles, we use the small nuts and bolts we reserved for this purpose. For my bolts, I used a 11/32 box wrench. Unfortunately, the medicine bottles are far too narrow to use a crescent wrench, and the nuts must be tightened far past what you can do with your hands to keep the whole assembly stable.

First, connect the middle medicine bottle to each of the ones at it's sides with your small bolts (these will be the ones with 3 holes in them). Use your box wrench to tighten the nuts onto the bolts. Then, you will have 4 medicine bottles with one hole. Take them and attach each to one of the remaining holes.

Tighten all of your bolts until the assembly is stable and doesn't wobble around.

Step 9: The Base of the Assembly

Now we actually need a base for the bearing to sit in so that it can turn the medicine bottles. For this, I used a 1x12 and cut out a 4" square piece with a jigsaw. Then I smoothed the whole thing over with a power sander. You could also run the edges through a router to achieve a roundover or more decorative trim.

Now, we actually need a hole in the center to fit the bearing. After some test holes, I found that the perfect size for my bearing was a 5/8" spade bit, however this may vary depending on where you get your bearings from. I made vertical and horizontal center lines and drew out where I wanted the bearing to go. Then, I simply drilled out the hole deep enough to fit the bearing flush against the surface.

One thing to keep in mind as you are doing this is the thickness of your material. If you bearing is too tall or your wood is too thin, the spade bit may end up cutting a small hole in the bottom of your base piece. It will never be seen, however, so you could probably just use some wood filler to close it up

Step 10: Preparing the Axle

Now, as an axle for this, I used a scrap piece of 3/8" oak wood dowel that I cut down to the right size. I used my awl and drill to create a hole in the center of the dowel. I also used a knife to taper one end of the dowel. In my medicine bottle assembly, I drilled a similar hole in the center of the middle medicine bottle.

For my dowel, I had to cut it to the length I wanted the medicine bottles to hover above the base. For me, this was about 1.25" and I cut it with a coping saw.

Step 11: Staining the Base

Okay, now we apply the stain. I applied some stain conditioner to the wood and applied the stain. I usually use stain conditioner with this stain because pine is a very porous wood, meaning it will suck up a lot of stain and get very dark very quickly. However, you can just as well omit it (and in hindsight, I might have wanted to omit it from the beginning so I could get a darker color faster).

This stain was the result of applying a few different coats of stain over a few days. It didn't quite get as dark as I initially wanted it to, but I found that I liked it anyway.

I finished up with two coats of polyurethane, with a light 400 grit sanding in between. However, my polyurethane can is very old and the last time I used it, I don't think the paint can lid went on correctly. So, I found that a lot of my polyurethane had dried up into a large chunk. I still managed to get enough out of the can for this base, however.

Step 12: Assembling the Whole Thing

Now we need to assemble the whole thing. Take your small screw and use the pliers to start screwing it into the bottom of the middle bottle of the assembly and continue with the ratchet/screwdriver after you get it started. Then, after it extends about halfway through the bottom of this bottle, screw on the wooden dowel. I suggest alternating using the ratchet or screwdriver to turn the screw and turning the dowel onto the screw by hand. Do this until the dowel is firmly attached to the bottom of this medicine bottle without any wiggle. I would also suggest adding some hot glue around the joint for extra stability before fully screwing on the dowel.

I then took a hot glue gun to attach the bearing to the bottom of the dowel. Try to line this up to be as straight as possible, as this will matter when you attach it to the base.

Step 13: Attach Base and Finish Up

Now we just need to attach the bearing into the hole on the base. I initially wanted to use some super glue around the bearing to eliminate some wiggle I noticed before I stained the wood. However, I think some stain and some polyurethane reached the sides of the hole and filled in any gaps.

So, I simply inserted the bearing into the hole and let friction hold it in place. Only time will tell if this will hold up. However, if you do decide to use super glue, be careful to only get it on the bearing sides and not underneath, as it could possibly bind up the motion of the bearing.

Now, load it up and place it on your desk. I have actually really enjoyed using this. It is perfect for long, thinner objects that aren't easily organized in other ways.

Happy Making!

Step 14: Bonus: Cardboard Dividers

So, in my case, I wanted to use one of the medicine bottles to hold 3 sizes of emery boards. I created a simple set of cardboard dividers for this task.

Cut out 2 pieces of cardboard that are wide enough to fit tightly into one of the medicine bottles and tall enough to come up to the top of the bottle. Then, in the middle of each, cut a slit that is roughly the thickness of your cardboard halfway down the length. Use this to connect the cardboard pieces to create a 4 way divider for one of the medicine bottles.


tarzanna (author)2016-08-05

I found an easy way to remove bottle labels. Fill each bottle with water up to the top of label. Put in microwave, close door, set timer for 30 seconds, (time may vary depending on microwave watt capacity) & heat. Remove with potholder. Gently peel corner of label until enough paper to grasp, peel label slowly& evenly. Usually, the glue comes off with the label. Of course, more than 1 bottle can be heated at once BUT water cools & effectiveness is lost (as you peel the first label) in remaining bottles.

TexasEngineer (author)tarzanna2016-08-05

I hadn't heard of that trick before, thanks for mentioning it! However, I always get a little concerned about microwaving plastic, especially in a microwave you'll be using for food as well haha.