Friday, March 25, 2016

Organizing My Small Shop

Clean your room well; for good spirits will not live where there is dirt.  There is no dirt in heaven.
(Attributed to Mother Ann of the Shakers.)

I'm a slob. Always have been... always will be.
(Attributed to Toy Making Dad of the Sitters Around)

As a kid, Oscar Madison was pretty much my hero.
No fooling, my room was hit by lightning when I lived with my parents. Initially my mom didn't realize it had been hit since the normal mess wasn't all that different than how the room normally looked. What with a bookcase blown off the wall and a couple of holes in said wall.

As I often remind her even though she knew what she was getting into... my wife still married me.

Here is a shot of shop last month... not my proudest moment.
I had to finally say, enough is enough and start squaring things away.
I couldn't get anything done. It was time to declutter and put things where they belonged. If they didn't have a space, it was time to make a space.

So let me start at the beginning...

I've had my shop space for about three years now and I always knew it would be a work in progress. It was the result of us putting a modest addition on our modest house.

It shares a room with a washer and dryer as well as a cat box (or two) and a utility tub. The space that is pretty permanently mine is a "L" that runs about 9 feet down one wall, 10 feet across the back wall (including the door and window) and then 7 feet up the next wall to the washer and dryer.

Since I didn't used to have ANY space, I really shouldn't complain about the space I do have. However, it's funny how many times I've wished I had just one more inch to get something to fit just right. Still, all things considered, space really isn't an issue. I build toys not pianos.

My first build was a long tool bench, 2x4s and screws with a plywood and hardboard top. In the event of an earthquake or rocket attack, it is a designated shelter spot in the house. It is solid. (Here is the post and the general plans.)

I have a tool cabinet that I inherited from my parents and it fit perfectly into the middle section (almost as if the middle section had been designed around it... just saying.) I labeled the drawers and have stuck to putting sockets and hammers and rulers back where they belong after each use. It has saved me dozens of hours. The mini fridge didn't last long. It went off to college soon after this photo was taken.

I added a wall mounted drop leaf table that I got from Ikea for like 166 or 250 Krona. I use it as an assembly and painting table. I've found that I've left it upright the whole time it has been there but a) I use it a lot and b) it's nice to know I could fold it down if needed.

Here is a rare shot of it cleaned off. The box for the shop vac may have to go at some point. I was trying to muffle the sound as recommended in some shop guides but it really doesn't fit that well thanks to the nature of the hose. Another project for another day.

On to the shop organization and lessons learned.

First off, there is only so much floor space so you gotta start hanging stuff on the walls. Thank's to a brother who was formerly in the retail beverage business, I was able to acquire a fair number of wooden wine crates. I've used some of the wood for toys (it is mostly 3/8" thick) but I've turned others into shelving. They are sturdy and they class up the establishment.

It seems that I've moved them all half a dozen times over the last three years. In general, I've come to what should have been an obvious conclusion -  put the stuff you need close by and don't waste any wall space. (DUH!) Compared to my first attempts, that wall is now much "tighter" and practical.

I had planned on building a Roubo style workbench that would have made Chris Schwarz himself weep but alas... I purchased the Harbor Freight bench instead.  I suck. The mind is willing but the body and wallet are weak. I think it was about $120 (On sale! Wow, how lucky was I to find something from Harbor Freight on sale, right?) It suits my needs for now although it is not sturdy enough to be used for planing. Well... at least not yet. I have some thoughts on that for another day.

The workbench is too long to fit in the space without blocking the aisle in the shop, so one end is tucked into one of the bays in the tool bench. (The floor of the bay has been removed.) It's not ideal but it gives me all the work surface I need and at some point the space may be reconfigured. Moving that power strip there has made things much easier when I'm using the rotary tool or palm sander.

An early get for my shop space was a used stationary belt-sander. Next to my drill press, I'd say it is my most used tool in the shop. We'll, actually looking at that picture, it is literally next to my drill press.

The drill press and sander both sit on the bottom base of an Ikea two piece cabinet that gave us 20 good years of service. (It may have been a Splurk or Rehnikl but I'm sure it wasn't a Jork.) The base is very sturdy and gave me some needed storage behind doors. The height on the drill press is fine but the sander was a bit low.

A log time ago I had made stackable crates as a shoe rack for our closet and after about 18 years of service, it was time for them to be replaced. They were still pretty sturdy so I cannibalized one and made the other into a very solid shelf into which I could fit little plastic bins.

The bins were salvaged from a piece of kid's furniture no longer needed to house Happy Meal toys from 350 movies we never saw. So the shelf raised the belt-sander just enough to make working on it more comfortable and gave me three "drawers" to house my drill bits and hole saws. Win-Win.

As an aside... check out the difference between a 1x3 furring strip sold now (on the left) and one sold in about 1998 (on the right). Sort of makes you think, huh?

With the doors removed from the top half of the Ikea cabinet, it really formed a nice hutch. I raised it a bit by making a big "C" out of 2x8s and setting it on top of that. Extra shelves have been easy to add and it sits on top of the tool bench and almost reaches the ceiling.

You can see the Western edge of  "The Great Wall of Clementine Boxes" as well as my growing toy making library in that photo but here is the rest of the wall. There are still more clementine boxes on another shelf across the room and in the closet of our computer room... and on my desk at work but I swear I can stop saving them at any point.

The wall mounted little plastic bins are pretty much invaluable. I did get smart and made labels with the exact dimensions and part numbers for the pre-made wheels and specific parts I use.

It sounds stupid but the little labels really help around the shop. You can see things at a glance without opening cigar boxes and drawers to look for your priceless Allen wrench collection. As a bonus you get a a zillion of them for just a few bucks. You can even send them through your printer. Just saying.

The latest addition to the shop has been another wine crate wall shelf but this one has a sliding lid. Once I mounted it on its side, it turned it into a cabinet. I also added a pencil and marker holder under it and my clamps in another wine case above it.

I picked up some sheets of self adhesive dry erase paper and turned the door into a white board for notes and quick scribbles. (Robert Neville must have dropped by...) It's great because I can pull it completely out and use it at the workbench to work numbers and do rough sketches.

My shop is as clean as it has ever been. As each surface was cleared my tabby supervisor came in to supervise and comment on my work. This time it passed the smell test and nothing had to be knocked on the floor to test for gravity levels in the shop.

As I suspect it is the case with all weekend tinkerers, it isn't just my experience and tools that will change over time but so will my storage and work surfaces. They will all be a constant work in progress and that's not a bad thing.


  1 comment:

  1. Good job on the shop cleaning. The work space seems to shrink daily.
    I paid my daughter to clean my shop for me. Actually the corner of the shop where my work bench and toolbox reside. It took two days. I should have had before photos. Perhaps I need to do a blog post about shop cleaning.


Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.