Introduction: Shop Organization Tips and Practices
I've had some form of a basement workshop for a decade at this point. What started out as a cordless drill and a miter saw, has grown to consume half of the subterranean space. As the workshop evolved, so too did my organizational methods. Some ideas worked great in their initial incarnation and live on, while others required modification or were entirely eliminated.
I personally glean inspiration from the work space and practices of others, so here is the dime tour of solutions which are currently working for me. Maybe you'll find something useful ... maybe you have a solution/idea that works for you and could improve my work flow. If so, I encourage you to share ... we're all friends here. Except Kevin .. Kevin is dead to me.
Step 1: Lumber Racks Are Just Shelving
My original lumber rack was a DIY design made from 2x4s and 3/4" EMT. The holes were drilled with a forstner bit, but the EMT was undersized, so I had to pad it out with electrical tape in order to get a snug fit.
The Achilles heel was mounting the 2x4s on their face, as opposed to their edge. I didn't want to waste 3 1/2" of the already shallow 11" space behind the door, so I gave it a shot. 1 1/2" of attachment between the wood and pipe just isn't enough, so they ended up sagging unevenly.
When the time came to upgrade, I looked at the common metal lumber rack kits, but most have 5-6 horizontal supports, which are fixed. I wanted adjustability for tighter spacing, so I wasn't always burying the board I wanted under 37 others.
My solution was metal track shelving components from the home center. I bought two 72" lengths of track and cut them each in half to fit my space. The brackets are sold individually and are available in a few different depths (6.75", 9.53", 11.75", 14.86", 18.96"). I went with 11.75" since that's what fit my available space and I started with 12 brackets. If/when I want to add more shelves, it's just a quick trip to the store.
I started with four equally spaced shelves, but I'm able to adjust them and add/remove as necessary depending on current wood inventory. Since I tend to have shorter boards and off cuts, which don't span across two verticals, I added OSB shelves.
Step 2: Sacrificial Walls
Maybe your workshop is in a garage and the walls are covered with drywall, which you don't want to punch full of holes. My space is predominantly poured concrete foundation walls, which I don't want to punch full of holes because that's an invitation to water intrusion I don't want to send. May I suggest ... sacrificial OSB wall panels.
I have two floor to ceiling wall panels and one partial panel. The panel by the table saw is built like a standard wall because a 2" PVC pipe runs through it and it's held against the wall with two blocks screwed into the joists. The other panels have the 2x4 framing laying on face, keeping them tighter to the wall to conserve space. (1 1/2" as opposed to 3 1/2"). The wall behind the drum sander is tied into a corner post of the house and a pipe chase, while the partial wall is secured to a rim joist.
I skin my panels with 1/2" OSB primarily because it's less expensive and lighter than plywood, but I've found that it holds screws just as well. Some people dislike the look and/or texture of the oriented strands, but I actually dig it. It's a visual change from the concrete and it turns out that when you reposition screws, the holes are barely noticeable.
If/when the time comes to sell or I want to repurpose the space, these panels can be removed within minutes and there is no wall damage.
Step 3: French Cleats Were a Phase
I'm not sure if everyone gives french cleats a go, but the percentage is probably pretty high. It seems like such a simple and elegant solution - just attach some parallel strips to the wall, which have a 45 degree angle cut on the top. Then make tool hangers with the complimentary angle cut and you are off to the races.
For me, this was a false sense of adjustability and flexibility. I thought I'd be able move tools around as acquired and keep things tightly nested, but in actuality, I ended up with wasted space due to tool lengths causing collisions.
A slightly better option would be slot wall. Less wasted space, but still the need to make custom holders that integrate with your chosen slot wall (not standard) for each new tool acquisition.
The method which is working for me is just securing things directly to the wall. This allows me to position items exactly where I want them to make use of all available space. Tool holders are screwed to the wall, combination squares hang on a magnetic strip, and for pegs, I use modified drywall screws [see next step].
I didn't entirely eliminate the use a french cleats. My chisel storage rack [Fig. 6] and saw blade cabinet have integrated cleats (glued and nailed in place), so I just screwed a necessary length of cleat to the wall. I also have one row of cleat above my sanding area, which I use to hang strap clamps and drum shells during work [Fig. 7]
I've also repurposed a few office organizers. A letter tray organizer is is the perfect size for full sheets of sandpaper [Fig. 8]. I use some random cubicle tray to hold tape measures, random drivers, extra pencils, etc [Fig. 9].
Step 4: Non-Marring Pegs
I hang a lot of things on pegs - marking gauges, jigs, templates, ear muffs, etc. I started using finish nails, but they couldn't support the weight of larger jigs, so I switched to screws. The downside of screws is that the threads can mar the surface of the item being held/hung. For me that usually means digging into my plywood jig, which I don't want.
I stumbled on a solution several years ago ... flexible sprinkler pipe, which I've also heard referred to as landscape tubing. It's a tight enough fit for the screw to hold without sliding, easy to cut with a utility knife, and ends up being the same outer diameter as the screw head (5/16"), which means no catching/scratching point when removing tools/jigs.
I'm sure other tubing like PEX would also work and every home center has a section of tubing sold by the foot.
Step 5: Every Tool Needs a Home ... and Not in a Drawer
If you haven't figured it out yet ... I'm hyper-organized. I like clutter free spaces, dedicated storage, economy of motion, efficiency, and enjoying myself in the workshop. The last thing I want to do is dig through piles of junk looking for tools and materials.
Step one to eliminating clutter ... give everything a home. Most of us employ this practice daily in a room we call "the kitchen." Aside from a few lunatics (Kevin), it's safe to say that everyone has system when it comes to the kitchen. Dishware in this cabinet, glasses in this cabinet, canned goods over here, spices over there, etc. It's really easy to use that same approach in a workshop.
When you have dedicated storage for tools, materials, and supplies, you're more likely to put them away, which means you'll know where to find them in the future. When your pancakes are burning on side one, I bet you know exactly were to find the spatula and have it in hand within seconds. You aren't running around the room looking in every cabinet while the delectable treats burn to an inedible crisp. You shouldn't have to frantically search for a clamp, marking gauge, or a damp rag during a glue up, nor should you be searching for screws or other materials mid project when you are in the creative zone.
- I keep commonly used 1lbs boxed screws in a shop made storage rack [Fig. 1]
- Small hardware (nuts, bolts, washers, etc) are in Harbor Freight storage cases [Fig. 2]
- Drum hardware (lugs, bolts, washers, vents, etc) live in Gladiator storage bins [Fig. 3].
I'll take it a step further by renouncing the use of tool cases/bags. Back in the day, tools came in plastic cases for storage and transport, which is nice if you move job sites all the time, but in a stationary workshop, they become a hindrance. They are rarely a uniform size and even if you do manage to stack them, the next tool you need will be on the bottom. The bags are even worse because they are oddly shaped and deform when you look at them. It only took me a few weeks of pulling tools in and out of cases before I decided they were a waste of time and space. Now most of my tools have their home in plain sight, so it's just grab and go.
- Bulky and/or rarely used tools are stored on a shelf under the miter station - circular saws, corded angle grinder, finish nailer, and jigsaw [Fig. 4].
- The Festool Domino in it's case since it has multiple accessories and is actually a useful container.
My drills and impact drivers have integrated belt clips, which I use to hang them on the tool wall instead of building a larger storage caddy [Fig. 4].
- My drills and impact drivers have integrated belt clips, which I use to hang them on the tool wall instead of building a larger storage caddy [Fig. 5].
- Other handheld power tools are hung on the tool wall using the sprinkler pipe pegs - brad nailer, pin nailer, cordless grinder, glue gun [Fig. 6].
Also, drawers are evil. If you want to misplace and eventually forget something even exists ... put it in a drawer. I used to have a drawer under my router table for the wrenches, bits, a depth gauge, and some calipers. It never failed that the item I wanted was buried at the bottom. The only set of drawers that still resides in the shop is a short filing cabinet, which is primarily used as the stand for my OSS.
- Infrequently used router accessories are kept in the affore mentioned filing cabinet drawers - bases, edge guides, table pins, older bits [Fig. 7].
- Router wrenches are stored by their router in plain site by using neodymium magnets [Fig. 8 & 9].
Step 6: Tool Placement and Accessory Symbiosis
My small space dictates where most of the stationary tools are placed, but I still put some thought into it.
- The table saw is near the door with ample open space on the infeed side. It abuts the workbench/assembly table, which therefore functions as the outfeed table.
- The jointer is directly under the lumber rack - tucked behind the door in an otherwise unusable space.
- The miter saw is against a long wall with space on both sides for long stock and has direct/open access from the door.
- The bandsaw is nested against the assembly table. Because they differ in height, there are no obstacles on the outfeed side.
Once placement was established for these large tools, I filled in the voids with the remaining tools. Is a corner the best placement for a drill press? Not really, but when the need to drill longer stock arises, I just pull it out from the wall. I'd also prefer to have my drum sander next to the rest of the sanding tools, but it doesn't fit. It's tucked in an opposite corner, which works for most of the projects I make. When I'm fabricating trim molding for the house and need space for long stock, I just roll it into the space in front of the table saw.
Small Shop Tip: Put everything on wheels. Even if you don't plan on moving tools, invest in the future. You'll be able to easily rearrange, reposition tools for large material, and even move tools for deep cleaning.
I'm of the opinion that tool grouping is more important than overall layout. In the kitchen, the oven/stove is the stationary tool. It stands to reason that most of us store pots and pans within close proximity and they are all stored together - not spread out like an easter egg hunt. I make it a point to store all similar tools and their accessories in one spot.
- In a back corner of the shop, I have my sanding zone. The two stationary tools are the oscillating belt/spindle sander and a downdraft table. Every other sander also lives in that zone. 1" strip sander on the tabletop, orbital sander hangs on the wall, belt sander and detail sander sit on shelf under the table [Fig. 2]
Note: The drum sander is an exception due to space limitations.
- All drill bits are stored on a rack next to the drill press [Fig. 3].
- Bandsaw blades are hung next to the saw [Fig.4]
- Push sticks, insert plates, and brake cartridges are stored by the table saw.
- Router bits, wrenches, and router lift tools are all stored on or next to the router table.
To further demonstrate my extreme organizational practices, I store all pertinent sleds and jigs next to their related tool. They all have a permanent storage location and if they aren't within direct reach, they are no more than a few steps away.
- All marking gauges and small handheld tools are stored on the tool wall adjacent to the assembly table.
- Drilling jigs are stored on the wall panel behind the drill press [Fig. 3].
- A small bandsaw sled sits on the PVC dust collection run by the saw [Fig. 4].
- An ever growing collection of sleds are stored on the wall panel adjacent to the table saw [Fig. 5].
- Custom jigs for drum making are stored on a wall, which is just a few steps from the tablesaw and workbench/assembly table [Fig. 6].
Jig Tip: Label your jigs with their purpose, as well as any specific use information. Take my 6 Pack Groove-In-Ator 1.0 jig as an example [Fig. 7]. If I hadn't labeled it, I wouldn't remember it's function. If it weren't for the fact that I recorded it's birth date, I wouldn't remember when I made it. Luckily for me, past BALES denoted the required router bit and base (thanks, buddy). He even marked a center line, so the jig can be quickly aligned to the work piece.
Step 7: Clamps Need to Free Range
This one goes against my tool grouping ideology, but hear me out.
I've seen large clamp racks on walls, as well as clamp racks on casters that you can ride around the shop like a scooter, but I don't have the need, nor the space (for the clamp rack ... I'll totally take the scooter).
I think I started with 4 clamps and just stored them towards the top of my tool wall. As the projects grew, the collection grew, but space on the wall diminished. It also became painfully obvious that I always needed a clamp when they were all out of reach, so I started spreading some around the shop.
I have found that for my workflow, large bar clamps, K body clamps, and F-clamps, can be stored in a solitary location. These are used for large assemblies and gathered in advance. Spring clamps, which I predominately use on drum shells, are also stored in one spot - a 5 gallon bucket.
My generalist clamp ... the one I let roam freely and multiply ... is the 6" F-clamp. I don't even have dedicated racks - I just hang them on the 2" PVC dust collection pipe that runs along two walls.
I use them all the time:
Miter saw - clamping multiple boards together for identical cuts
Oscillating belt sander - clamping a speed square to the deck for 45 degree alignment
Router table - clamping stop blocks and/or feather boards to the tabletop and/or fence
Drill press - clamping jigs and/or work pieces to the table
Bandsaw - clamping a fence to the table
Assembly table - glueups, holding alignment while drilling pilot holes, holding jigs and/or work pieces to the tabletop
Table saw - clamping stop blocks and/or feather boards to the tabletop and/or fence, clamping work piece to jigs, clamping of a sacrificial fence
I also recommend a wooden screw clamp for holding small pieces while drilling at the drill press.
Step 8: Dust Collection
Dust collection seems to be a similar evolution for everyone - No dust collection -> Shop vac -> Show vac with small cyclone -> Actual dust collector.
Due to space limitations, I resisted the move to a full size dust collector and wanted to see if a small scale system could be built on the cheap. I made one horizontal run along two walls of the shop using 2" pipe. The solitary turn is accomplished with a sweeping 45 degree fitting and wye fittings are used for the tool drops. 2" flexible couplers/boots connect the PVC to aluminum blast gates and then 2 1/2" flex hose ties into each tool.
Note: Some people insist that PVC needs to be grounded. I've seen several methods using copper wire - some inside the pipe and others on the outside of the pipe. My system is not grounded. I've never experienced static build up, never been shocked, and nothing has blown up.
This set up is surprisingly effective. It kept up with all of my stationary tools until I upgraded from a job site saw to a professional cabinet saw. It's also no match for handheld routing. Space is still a concern for me, so I'm considering a dedicated wall mounted dust collector for the table saw.
For overall air quality, I use a Jet air filtration system [Model AFS-1000B], which is centrally mounted above my work bench. I was shocked at how much of a difference it actually makes, so I highly recommend it as an addition to any workshop. Several companies make them at this point (Grizzly, Shop Fox, Rikon, Powertec), so the cost has dropped to around $200. WEN has a unit around $150.
My manual collection system is a dual attack - buckets and a brush. The buckets are for off cuts and prior to using them, I'd just toss pieces onto the floor, which I would then have to pick up later. Buckets keep the floor clean, probably reduce accidents, and are easy to empty into the fire pit once full. I have one next to the bandsaw/miter saw zone and one next to the table saw. The brush comes in handy for cleaning the dust off of the workbench and table saw mid project.
Bottom line IMO: Some dust collection is always better than no dust collection.
Step 9: Make PPE Convenient
I'm in the habit of putting on safety glasses and ear protection when I enter the shop and leaving them on until I quit for the day, but it was a struggle in the beginning. The trick for me was giving the items a home right next to the light switch, so I would put them on before starting any work.
Find a comfortable style of safety glasses. The first pair I had, constantly slid off my nose, so I always ended up taking them off. Eventually, I found a pack of glasses at Home Depot, which fit my dome rather nicely. They had 5 packs of all clear and packs with a few tinted, so I leave a pair in the truck as sunglasses. The shape reminds me of Oakley sunglasses I had back in the early 90s, which is perfect if you ask me.
I started off playing music via speakers and only using ear muffs while using loud tools, like the router and miter saw. That of course resulted in me setting them down somewhere and having to search, which in turn led to me buying a few pairs to spread around the shop. I also tried wearing my Shure in-ears (think prosumer earbuds) for music and decibel attenuation, but ear canal fatigue sets in around the 3 hour mark. The cord is also a safety hazard unless you run it under your shirt. It only takes one time of catching the cord on something (bandsaw table pin) and having the driver ripped out of your ear to learn that lesson. If you like the earbud style, the Isotunes products look pretty solid.
3M bluetooth worktunes was my optimal solution for me. No wires, no in ear fatigue, comfortable fit. They are also really ease to slide off of one ear for when I'm running the table saw. I like to hear the saw to monitor any impending binding, so I can react accordingly.
I have an RZ mask for when I'm running heavy dust inducing tools and/or doing a lot of milling. I find it to be more comfortable and effective than the disposable paper masks. When it comes to spraying paint and lacquer, I use a half mask respirator.
I keep a small first aid kit and fire extinguishing spray in the shop. They sit on a window ledge in plain sight, but I think I'll add a bright red sign to make it even more obvious for guests.
Step 10: Embrace the Shop Apron
For years, I resisted the idea of a shop apron. Obviously, aprons are for cooking and while I have a badass flamed apron for when I'm pretending to be a grill master, we don't play dress up in the workshop.
That being said, a friend's mother made me a shop apron and it only took one day of use to make me an advocate. Most people praise their apron due to the fact that it keeps your clothes relatively clean. I'll admit that the amount of sawdust that I now track into the living space has significantly decreased, but for me, the apron equates to organization and efficiency.
Prior to the apron, I constantly misplaced my tape measure and pencil. It became so frustrating that I purchased four tape measures and a box of pencils to place around the shop. This only partially worked because I just ended up moving them around the shop and still wasting time searching for them.
With the apron, the tape measure automatically goes into a left pocket and when I inevitably set down a pencil, I have a few more in the breast pocket. As an added bonus, I clipped the dust collection remote onto one of the shoulder straps, so we no longer play hide and seek.
For those interested, this apron is a heavy duty waxed canvas apron made by Hudson.
Step 11: Moisture Management
I don't have a major moisture problem persay, but if left unchecked, there is enough for rust to start making eyes at my cast iron table tops and metal hand tools. I thwart the low level attack by treating the cast iron with BOESHIELD T-9 and a coat of Renaissance wax in tandem with a small dehumidifier and small containers of DampRid.
An old carpenter trick was to leave a few pieces of chalk in their toolboxes as apparently this was enough to keep rust at bay. As a modern twist, every time I find one of those little silica gel desiccant packs within deliveries, I fight the urge to eat them and instead, place them in tool bags/cases and around the workshop.
Step 12: Sage Advice From the Village Idiot
That's the quick fly by ... I might even owe you a penny.
Shop layout will always evolve as tools are added/eliminated, space increases/decreases, and as organizational preferences change. Try things out and just keep making modifications until it's optimized for your space and workflow.
Maybe you hang your air hose reel on a dowel or hook, which is mounted to the side of your workbench. Perhaps it's the flexible type that refuses to coil ... like its father was a string of xmas lights and its mother was a phone cord. The perfect storm of perpetual cord tangliosis. It's even feasible that you endured this torture for 5+ years before trying a retractable hose reel ... which you mounted on the ceiling, totally love, and kick yourself for not doing it years earlier.
As the ole adage goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat ... this is just how I skinned my cat.
Disclaimer: No cats were harmed in the authoring of this Instructable.
Second Prize in the