Introduction: Build a Versatile Hardware Sorter

About: When I was a boy, I was amazed how my grandfather could make flotsam and jetsam into useful things. I am proud that I have inherited some of his skill.

As much as I would like to keep my shop well organized, whenever I finish a project I tend to just toss the leftover parts into a coffee can - along with those I sweep off the floor or dig out of my pockets. When the can is suitably full and I can't think of anything else to do, I laboriously sort them out and put them in glass jars.

Eventually, I want to build a device into which I can dump handfuls of nails, screws, bolts, and washers in stainless, steel, brass, nylon, plus everything else I find on the floor and have it automatically sorted by form and function, composite material, grade, drive, length, threads per inch, and chirality.

That might take a while.

In the meantime, I offer this Instructable, which produces the same results, lacking the automatic part.

Step 1: Generally Speaking...

The heart of this project is a plastic parts sorting tray from HarborFreight. This is situated on a square piece of plywood on the underside of which are mounted several glass jars. A handful of hardware is placed on the tray, which is rotated to each jar in turn, where the appropriate hardware is deposited. A strong magnet epoxied to the tray separates ferrous parts from everything else.

It's not automatic, unless you are pretty loose with the definition, but it works, quickly and well.

Step 2: Putting It All Together...

This project has been on my mind for some time but it was only recenty that I thought of using a plastic hardware sorter to sort hardware. I just use it differently in this case.

The first thing I did was to gather a bunch of glass jars - mostly pickle or relish jars - of the same height. My project took 9 because that's how many I had. (For some reason, I had a tenth jar lid on the plywood when I took the photo.) Next I found an 18x18" piece of 1/2" piece of plywood which, again, is what I had.

Finding the center of the plywood, I drilled a pilot hole through it and the center of the sorting tray, which I followed with a 5/16" bolt. Spinning the tray I scribed a circle around the plywood base. By scribing side to side and corner to corner across the plywood, I was able to position eight jar lids around the center circle.

The jar lids were screwed to the plywood using 3/8" wood screws, positioned as close to the edge of the lid as possible without interefering with screwing the jar into it. Then a pilot hole was drilled through the center of each lid and the wood. Then - this is the tricky part - I used a hole saw to cut a hole through both the lid and plywood base. Be careful, the edge can be very sharp and metal filings abound. (Cut from both sides to keep the hole edges nice and smooth.)

Wear eye protection and gloves and run a magnet over your work area to pick up metal scraps.

A better way of doing this is to make the hole in the lid with a chassis punch and I would have, if I had one. Still, it turned out well.

The ninth lid is positioned within the circle by drilling through the tray and base. This hole is to sort the odd hardware or drill driver bit out of everything else. I could have used more jars in an inner circle but I didn't have them.

Step 3: Finishing Up

Once you have lids mounted and holes drilled, screw in the jars and number lids and jars with a felt pen.

Unscrew the jars and lids, sand and seal the wood, and paint it if you want. I used two coats of varnish and different colors of paint to signify steel,stainless steel, plastic/aluminum/brass, etc. I could have used more meaningful colors I guess, but...

I might add that different people use different hardware. I use a lot of Sheetrock and decking screws, some stainless, and nearly no brass. Figure out which jar you want to hold what you need.

Using the jars and lids you wisely numbered, put the sorter back together and try it out.

Step 4: All Done

(Some time after last upload)

My biggest problem with the parts sorter was that I couldn’t figure out where to put it; I just couldn’t leave it laying around as it is big and mostly glass. I finally decided to take some seldom used tools off the wall under one of my shop windows and put it there. Next I built a 1x4 frame the same size, added diagonal corner braces to support the top, and held it up with braces screwed to wall studs.

To identify which jar I wanted to use for which part, I attached a representative part to the surface of the sorter using a small zip tie. I also added knobs to opposite corners to make it easier to lift it out of the frame.

The project turned out pretty well and works great.

By the way, the coffee cans under the sorter are mounted on supports but are removable. They are where the parts go when the sorting jars get too full. I I’m doing an Instructable about that. I’ll have it posted shortly and add a link here.