Friday, December 16, 2011

Organizing space and mind, Part II: Guidelines for storage

 My apologies for the length of this entry. Since it went up, I've edited it considerably, but there's still a lot left.
I’ve seen two approaches for shop storage: Store anything that might conceivably be useful, or store as little as possible.

I knew a guy who built custom cabinets in a very small shop. Every job was planned out meticulously, and he ordered only what he needed for the job at hand, with a little extra. He didn’t keep scraps, and he returned full sheets. Throwing out scraps didn’t bother him: It had all been paid for with the materials deposit, so he wasn’t throwing any of his own money away. He ran a very profitable  business, and his shop ran VERY smoothly. It's not for everyone, but if you're trying to work in a tiny space, this strategy may be worth considering. 

I prefer to keep scraps and other things around. It’s a delicate balance sometimes, trying to figure out if it’s useful stuff, or borderline hoarding. But I make a point to shrink my collection of wood, and get rid of projects that I’ll never finish.

I’ve seen shops and art studios, and bicycle mechanic's basements, that have similar piles of special parts or materials, so I know I’m not alone. Some are much messier than mine. But in many cases, it's because the proprietors simply haven’t figured out efficient storage, or paid attention to organization. The end result is often a messy shop that’s less productive... and a bench that’s covered in crap.

I didn’t have an organized way to store things when I started. Things got dumped on the bench, and later got moved to another surface, and again if they were in the way. I ended up with a chronic case of the bumble-bees, buzzing around the shop looking for things, and my ability to work suffered horribly. My goal then became to keep an uncluttered workspace, but that wasn’t really enough either.

When I moved, I found a lot that I’d stored and forgotten, or didn’t properly put away, because I was more worried about storing everything, than I was about doing it well. I’ve since worked out some basic guidelines for good storage space in the shop. These are suggestions, not rules. Read them with the understanding that most workable systems will evolve over time, and with use.

1.) Everything must go in easily.

Think about bringing home groceries. Milk goes in the fridge, TP in the bathroom...  everything gets put right away. It’s all established routine, and it cuts down on clutter.

A shop should be no different, and there should be enough storage that there is a place for everything. If you have to move a project out of the way before you can get to the lumber rack, odds are good that the lumber will end up on the bench, or the floor.

I've also found it helpful to have a place to group supplies for a specific project, so I know exactly where those knobs or hinges are when I need them. If they end up kicking around, chances are pretty good they’ll get lost, and then the project will languish, and the shop will get clogged.

2.) Everything must come out easily.

It felt like I  had to unpack my lateral lumber racks whenever I wanted a particular board. That sucks when the other boards are 8/4 or bigger. Big and Tall lumber now gets leaned up in the corner, on end, because it's easier to sort through. I store short pieces (less than 4-5’) on deep shelves, ends out, so I can locate and pull out specific boards.

I've had similar misadventures with bins, milk crates, and other large, open storage. If something gets buried so deep that you don't feel like digging, it might as well not be there.

3.) Everything should be in evidence, and accessible.

Half of practicing good storage is to keep the working area free of clutter. The other half is setting up so that you can find what you need, get it out, and get back to work, without undue effort.

I want to be able to see what I have, and get to it, so that all of it remains useful. In some cases, it’s as simple as being able to see what’s on the shelves. In other cases, it may be labeling drawers, so that I know what’s in them, or at least bins for certain categories. 

4) Things should be stored in places that helps the shop flow.

When I was set up in my basement, my chop saw was on one wall, the lumber rack was on the opposite wall, and my bench was in between the two. Whenever I pulled a board off of the rack, I had to ‘helicopter’ it overhead, so I could put it on the bench, and then move it to the chop station. Not the greatest solution, and sometimes it was downright awkward. Now I put short-term rough lumber racks in line with or above the chop saw, to help things flow. Similar issues exist with sheet goods and table saw placement.

I’ll get into shop flow in part 3, but it’s worth mentioning here, because smart storage helps. If you trace out your workflow and your storage, and find yourself criss-crossing the shop a lot, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. This is doubly true for small shops: One unfinished project taking up the walkway can make parts of the shop inaccessible... even though they're right there. Three feet or three hundred, if you can't get to it, you're in trouble.

5.) Be safe.

Nothing heavy should be stored overhead, particularly lumber. If you’re on a ladder, heaving 12’ long, 8/4 oak over your head to get it out of the lumber rack, you’re asking for trouble.

Don’t store heavy ‘benchtop’ tools under the bench if you can help it. They’re light enough to be portable... but only barely. A strong and stable shelf at bench height will provide storage without risking injury. Moving them with a cart that’s also at that height is even better. Small, rolling workstations that match bench height are probably best, but that takes time, effort, and money, so it's something to pencil in as a long-term project.

6.) The storage area should be larger than you need.

Again, I think of the bike shop that I mentioned in the last entry. The building was huge, the work area was small. But everything had its place, and productive work flowed merrily along. And that’s the whole point.

If you’re setting up a new space in your basement or garage, and space is limited, dedicate 1/2 of the space for storage. There's a lot of normal stuff that goes into a shop, that shouldn't end up on your bench. But you also need space to put the things that aren’t planned for. If a broken chair arrives for you to fix, or a windfall of tools or lumber comes in from an unexpected event, it needs somewhere to go, so it doesn't clog up the work space.

To be Continued:

Space and Mind Part I
Space and Mind Part II
Space and Mind Part III
Space and Mind Part IV

1 comment:

upriver said...

Excellent thoughts and well-worded. Thanks!