Introduction: Tool Organizer Shelf

One of our three theatres is on the opposite side of the building making running back to the shop for that "one tool" inconvenient. As a solution we turned one of the storage closets into a mini tool room to keep a basic set of tools in. The first incarnation of tool storage was a commercially available shelf with storage bins. This was a nice shelf, but proved impractical. With an ever changing workforce (students that rotate through the shop each semester) things never got put back in the same place. It was hard to see what tools were missing without doing a full inventory at the end of each day. Many time tools from the main shop would be left in the theatre tool room and vise versa.

The solution is a tool shelf with a cubby for each tool. This approach makes it easy to see if any tools are missing with a quick visual inspection. Through the use of labels and outlines anyone, even those unfamiliar with the storage system, can put tools away properly. The final step to making sure tools get back to the proper shop is color coding. The tools that belong in the theatre tool room were painted with fluorescent green accents. This is an easy enough concept for everyone to grasp, if it is bright green, leave it in the tool room.

Step 1: Build the Cabinet

The two PDF's have all the information you need to construct your own Tool Shelf. The main frame is constructed out of 3/4" AC Ply and the dividers and back are constructed from 1/2" AC ply. This could be substituted for a lower grade of plywood if you choose, but I wanted the semi even surface of the AC plywood.

Unfortunately I do not have process shots of the actual assembly of the shelf. This was constructed in just under 3 hours and I did not have time for pictures. All the joints are glued, pre-drilled, and screwed together for strength. I recommend using screws instead of brads if you ever plan on moving your shelf. This will prevent separation of the frame.

Start be constructing the outer frame of the shelf. Next add in the actual shelves and then the tool dividers. Once you have all of the shelves and dividers installed glue and screw on the back. The back adds lateral stability to the shelf as well as a surface to attach and hang more tools on. The drawers are built last taking extra care to ensure they are nice and square. Once the shelves are constructed sand the top, bottom, and side with 120 grit sandpaper and coat with Johnson's paste wax. The paste wax allows the drawers to slide smoothly without the need for expensive drawer glides. Johnson's paste wax is an inexpensive coating that also looks great on wooden bowls and cast iron tool tops.

Once your shelf is constructed take time to fill all the screw holes and voids with rock hard wood filler (or similar product). This extra step just adds to the overall quality and appearance of your shelf that will be around for a long long time. Once the wood filler drys sand and paint. Be sure to only paint the fronts of the drawers. Paint will just increase the friction between the drawers and the drawer recess so be sure not to get any paint in there. Use painters tape to mask off the sides and recesses. I needed two coats of the "powermatic yellow" paint that I chose.

Step 2: Tool Brackets

Now that your shelf is painted it is time to add in custom brackets for all of your tools. The idea here is to create holders that only accept the particular tool that belongs on the particular shelf. Decide where each tool goes and then trace that particular tool. I used blocks of 2x to create a supports for many of the tools and cut out the profiles on the band saw. This part is not included in the plans because the vast difference in tools. Hopefully the pictures will inspire you to create some of your own containment methods.

When placing your tools be sure to leave enough room to easily pick them up and re-hang them. Avoid using hooks that other tools could be mistakenly hung on.

Step 3: Label and Outline

Now that all of your tool hangers and brackets have been make an installed it is time to label everything. While labeling things is important there are many times that the person hanging up the tool may not remember the name of the tool (students new to the shop). The tool outlines leave no room for error when returning a tool to its home. I like to call this the "square peg in the square hole" approach to tool organization.

Hang your tools up and trace them with a fresh sharpie. Do your best to get a smooth consistent outline. Over the entire shelf I ended up using 3-4 sharpies. The painted wood is a little rough on the tips, but having a crisp line was worth the extra few bucks to use fresh sharpies.

Once everything is outlined use a label maker to label all the tools. Some of the larger tools are impractical to outline so a label would have to suffice. Something that could also work is an illustration or picture of the tool pasted in the cubbys.

Step 4: Final Thoughts

Well, that's it. You have now completed your very own tool shelf. Whether you are using this to keep track of your inventory or just for personal use it is a clean and practical tool storage solution. Everything has a place and is easily accessible.

Since creating the shelf I painted all of the tools with fluorescent green accents. This helps further separate the tools into which shop they belong in. Many times we will bring extra tools from the main shop to assist with the current tasks, but at the end of the day if they aren't green the students know that they should return there.

Painting the tools green took a little time. I wanted to make sure to keep the paint away from areas that were gripped. Some of the tools required extensive masking or even disassembly to paint the desired areas. Before painting the plastic I used a clear plastic primer to ensure proper adhesion on all of the plastic parts. For the metal tools they were all lightly sanded with 120 grit sand paper and cleaned with simple green industrial de-greaser. So far all the paint has held up well.

I hope that this instructable has provided some useful information or ideas. Please share pictures with what you come up with, I'd love to see them.

Shelving Contest

Runner Up in the
Shelving Contest