The last thing you want to see is a big mess when you walk into your shop. But for many craftsmen, this is easier said than done. You’ve got a lot on your plate, and keeping your workspace neat and tidy often falls to the bottom of the to-do list.
We get it. In a complex space like a workshop, getting organized isn’t a matter of buying a few bins at your local big box store. Instead, whipping a workshop into shape takes planning and execution to do properly and in a way you can reasonably maintain.
Because cleaning up is one thing, but actually staying organized—that’s another entirely. Unfortunately, maintaining the organization you’ve installed is the hardest part for many craftsmen and shop owners.
But no matter how challenging it is to get and remain organized, the effort is always worth it. When your shop is neat, you can complete jobs faster because you don’t waste time looking for equipment and supplies; they’re exactly where they need to be!
Staying neat and tidy is also a matter of safety. The last thing you want is an accident or injury caused by something as preventable as poor organization, but it does happen. In 2021, more than 1,000 workers died in construction-related accidents.
You need to do everything you can to maintain an organized workshop. Here’s how to keep your small workshop neat.
Make a Place for Everything
You may recall hearing your parents say this a time or two when nagging you to clean your room, but Benjamin Franklin originally coined this organizational advice. He said, “a place for everything, everything in its place.”
As corny as this saying may be, it holds as true today as it was when Franklin said it nearly 300 years ago. Everything you have, from the biggest piece of plywood to the smallest screw, should have an assigned place in your workshop.
When everything has a spot, you can easily find what you're looking for, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen it. Knowing where your tools, equipment, and supplies are is a huge timesaver and will keep you sane when you have a lot of projects happening at once.
Keep Small Items Organized
When you think about organizing your shop, you probably think about finding places for the large items, like your drills, saws, lumber, and other oversized tools and supplies. But your small items deserve just as much attention as the large ones!
What good are your drills, saws, and lumber if you can’t find screws and nails to hold them together? And when you really think about it, you have far more small items lying around than large ones. So keeping them organized is an essential part of a tidy workspace.
There are many ways you can keep your many small items organized. For example, many craftsmen use good old mason jars on a shelf in front of their workbench, while others like the mini plastic bins you can mount to a pegboard. You can also use drawer organizers to sort your small items.
Whatever you decide, make sure your containers are clearly labeled so you can easily see what’s inside. Also, be sure to put unused small items back into your jars or containers when not in use.
Use a Trash Hopper
When you’re working on a project, having a handy trash hopper nearby is a must. You’re constantly maying scraps and other waste, and you need to get debris out of your way and off your workspace to work efficiently.
Low profile hoppers work well because they can easily handle long scraps without bridging. They are also ideal for miter-saw and table-saw cutting stations. Maintaining a clean, workable space will keep workstations with dangerous tools like these safer.
Keeping your tools and supplies organized is one thing, but properly maintaining your scraps and other waste is essential to maintain a neat workspace. Make sure you have a well-positioned hopper in your shop to keep your area clean.
Clear off the Workbench
This advice goes hand in hand with the trash hopper because if you don’t keep your workbench free of debris and scraps, you won’t have an organized workshop. Nobody wants to work on a dirty workbench, so put in the effort to keep it clean.
Many craftsmen rely on their workbench to do detailed work and other tasks that require a steady, focused hand. If your bench is cluttered and unkempt, it will affect your work product. Get in the habit of clearing off the bench after every task to ensure it’s ready to handle the next item on your to-do list.
Check Your Triangle
The working triangle is the space between your jointer, planer, and table saw. You may or may not have heard of this. Either way, your triangle’s quality does affect your ability to work efficiently.
Arrange the components of your working triangle in a way that’s easy to navigate and free of debris. You need to be able to size, joint, and plane easily. There isn’t a perfect formula for a working triangle because it largely depends on the type of work you do.
Take the time to consider how you use your shop. What tools and equipment do you use the most? How can you store them to make them easy to reach and operate with minimal movement of your working project?
Clean Out Unused Tools and Supplies
Cleaning out a workshop may be one of the most challenging aspects of organizing your space. But, of course, there are plenty of things you use frequently and can easily justify keeping. But what about the items you only use a handful of times a year or less?
Those are tough calls. When you have a piece of equipment you seldom use, you might want to keep it for those “what if” moments. And that’s OK! Carefully consider what you’ve invested in the item and the likelihood you’ll actually use it. If you have the space to store it properly, keep it!
When you know what you want to get rid of, consider donating your tools and supplies to a charity that can use them. You could also sell your equipment on Facebook Marketplace or a yard sale.
Get on a Schedule
Keeping your workshop organized is no small feat. To do this, consider creating a cleaning and organization schedule.
Start by listing things that need to happen daily, like putting away tools, cleaning off the workbench, and sweeping the floor. Then make a list of tasks you want to do monthly or weekly. Things like sorting small items, cleaning out drawers, and going through your scrap pile might be worthwhile items for this list.
There are so many ways you can organize your workshop. The most important thing is to find the techniques that work well for you and the type of projects you do. Figure that out, and you’re well on your way to maintaining a neat workspace for years to come.
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