Whether you’re an occasional DIYer or a busy backyard mechanic, you need the right tools for the job and a systematic way to keep them arranged. Fumbling through a jumbled box or bag of loose tools is just frustrating. Knowing how to organize your tools in a toolbox is essential for any project, and can save you time, money and energy that would be better spent on the job at hand. Here’s a few things to think about when it is time to get your tools organized.
The first step to organization is assessing your needs. If your current toolbox is exploding or otherwise unwieldy, it might mean you need to step it up a notch, real estate-wise. If you’ve only got a few sparse manufacturer-provided repair kits lying around, a portable box will do. On the flip side, there are boxes out there so big you could practically charge rent to live in them. It all depends on what you need. Start with an inventory of your tools so everything can have a home. Pick a tool box that is a little bigger than you think you need because you will be surprised how much room your tools need once you start organizing them. For the vast majority of people, a sufficient solution is a medium size rollaway box with a portable box stacked on top. The rollaway box is a great place to store bulkier tools and can be found with large drawers, open storage, or a mix of both. The top box can also be found in a variety of designs but almost always include a hinged lid. Some of the pro tool boxes are full-blown work stations with space for a laptop, a power strip, lights, even a stereo!
Out With the Old, In With the New
Go through everything you currently own and throw out anything too old, rusted or broken to be of use. Just admit you’ll never get that multimeter fixed and buy a new one. Using tools past their useful life can be frustrating and possibly dangerous depending on the situation. Anything questionable needs to be tossed. Also note any gaps in your collection and fill them. Most people never need an excuse to buy new tools, but in this case it is the perfect time to grow your collection smartly. You can buy individual pieces, but it may also make sense to buy a tool assortment even if you end up with a few duplicates. Speaking of duplicates you can always pass on extra tools to your DIY friends, local high school shop class, or local charity shop. Next, decide how you want to organize and then brainstorm an overall layout. Clear a big space in your garage floor and lay out all your tools so you can get a good visual. Now you can start organizing based on how you use them. One recommendation is to group similar tools together. Make sure the heaviest tools go in the bottom drawers to keep the center of gravity low and prevent the box from tipping over when a drawer is opened (it happens).
One of the greatest benefits of keeping a well-organized box is knowing when something is missing. Do yourself a favor and make sure each tool has its own designated place. One method is to simply draw an outline of the tool on the bottom of the drawer (or drawer liner) itself, but you could also use imprinted foam or choose from a variety of ready-made trays and holders for sockets, wrenches or anything else you have a few of. Anyone who has seen a tool box used by an aircraft mechanic can appreciate how a well organized drawer prevents lost tools. Try to maximize your space by storing items like screwdrivers and pliers “head to toe” and keep tools that take up less vertical space in more shallow drawers, reserving the deeper drawers for taller, bulkier items. There are a wide variety of tool box drawer organizes for virtually every tool type and drawer size. You can also mix and match tool organizers to find the ones that best fit your needs.
Thinking Outside the Box
When you’re working on a job, fill a carry case or rolling cart with the tools you’ll need, cleaning and replacing them at the end of each day. Traveling tool systems have become almost standard across many vocations. For example, Milwaukee’s PACKOUT™ system allows you to build tool sets that can be quickly gathered and deployed for the job at hand. Once the job is done each case stacks neatly back in its place ready for the next time duty call. Try using magnetic trays at the job site for keeping smaller tools like sockets from rolling away and suction or magnetic-backed hooks to hang wrenches on. If you have duplicates or tools you don’t mind being unlocked, install a pegboard or long magnetic strips on the wall for easy access. You could even designate a “loaner tool” bag for when the neighbor down the street comes calling.
There are all sorts of creative tool-storage solutions, both ready-made and DIY. The basic rule is to organize things into progressively smaller groups, always making sure each piece is individually accounted for and maintained by taking time to reorganize at the end of each day. Over time you will figure out if things are really in the best place or need to more. As your tool collection grows take time every so often to do a review of your current needs and decide if a reorganization is in order. Professional work yields more professional results, every time.
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Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.