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26 Killer Ideas to [Organize] Your Workshop Now

Oct 20, 2016   //   by Bob Warfield   //   Blog, CNC Projects, Techniques  //  6 Comments

If your shop is like mine, you’ve managed to fill it with so much stuff (your treasures) that it’s a mess. You’d like to up your organization, but this isn’t just a matter of adding a couple of shelves here and there.  You need more powerful organization ideas if there’s to be any hope.

We’ve gathered a whole list of Killer Organization Ideas to get that noggin’ started thinking about the possibilities.  Fear not–even the smallest space filled with the largest assortment of treasures can be helped!

#1 – Start By Building Higher

Industrial spaces use pallet racks, and have you have room for them, they’re great.  You can often find them surplus at good prices on Craig’s List.  Be sure to think about how you’re going to access the top levels, though.  Industry has the advantage of larger spaces and fork lifts.  Smaller Shops may not be so lucky.

With a little ingenuity though, we can adapt a storage solution to provide its own access.  Consider this mocked up shelving system:

Shelving with steps

Pull out shelves provide steps to access the top shelves…

#2 – #6: Go Deeper

Once you’re floor to ceiling, you’ve used up one dimension of your space.  It’s time to go deeper, and the whole secret to going deeper is access.  If we put shelves behind shelves, how do we access the back shelves?

Try these ideas on for size:

Shelves on Tracks

#2 – Mount your front shelves on floor tracks so they can slide to provide access to back shelves…

Pullout to access depth

#3 – Use a pullout to arrange shallow bins back to back in a denser format than if they were horizontally arrayed on a shelf…

Filing cabinet toolholder storage

#4 – Old filing cabinets have very deep storage.  They make great tool holder storage…

Side drawers

#5 – Pullout and extend side drawers…

vertical storage drawers

#6 – Vertical Storage Drawers like these from

#7 – Put Drawers or Shelves Under Every Work Surface

I love the post-Christmas and Father’s Day sales because that’s when rolling tool cabinets go on sale.  I feel like I can never have too many.  They are instant drawers for storage and they look perfect in any shop!  Plus, you can slap a work surface on top of them.   Take two waist-high rolling cabinets and put a nice sized work surface they both fit under.  Bolt the work surface to the cabinets to create a rolling cart.  The possibilities are endless.  Here’s my quick and dirty welding cart made with a healthy chunk of steel bolted to a rolling tool cabinet with fire bricks to insulate it:

Welding table on rolling tool cabinet

My simple welding cart.  Work surface on fire brick insulators, Supplies in drawers, and the square tube pullout holds a vise…

Look for spots in your shop where you could add a rolling tool cabinet, wait for the sales, and add one each year.  You’ll be surprised at how handy they are.

#8 – Use the Space Behind a Work Surface or Cabinet

Behind Bench Storage

Behind-bench storage might be just the ticket…

#9 – #12: Use Marginalized Spaces in Gaps and Ends

Eventually, you realize there’s quite a lot of marginal space–space where you can’t fit a tool cabinet or shelves.  That space is still useful!

rafter storage

#9: Don’t let your rafters go to waste!

Attic Lift

#10: Did you forget the attic?  I love this idea for a lift to make it easy to move things back and forth to the attic…

Cabinet Side Storage

#11: Side of a cabinet becomes a storage surface…


#12 – Spray Can Rack is perfect for the little gap between the shelves and the door jamb…

#13 – #15: Create Special Purpose Parts Cabinets

Small parts seem like the bane of my organizational existence.  There are so many of them needed for CNC projects.  Plus we’ve got all the consumables such as cutters, inserts, and the like that go with the machines.  I decided many years ago to create a special purpose parts cabinet and It only took a couple of hours to make and I have loved it ever since.  I only wish I’d made a much bigger version with stronger shelves:

Small Parts Storage

#13: Small parts storage cabinet.  Eventually I will use most of the cubbies to hold multi-compartment plastic boxes.  Each one contains a particular size hardware.  I even put the taps for that hardware size in the box.  It’s great to grab the box and take it to where I’m working and have all the hardware that goes together.

spinning parts cabinet

#14: Take a bunch of those little benchtop parts cabinets with all the drawers and stick ’em on a Lazy Susan Carousel.  Voila!  Now you got room to organize a lot of small parts!

pullout parts box storage

#15: Here’s a really nice version of the parts-box-in-cabinet approach.  Each box is on a shelf with drawer pulls.

#16 – #23: Organize Shelves and Drawers

Okay, you’ve got shelves 15 levels deep.  You’ve got drawers that have drawers with drawers on their drawers (what did he just say!).  Some are vertical, some are diagonal, every nook and cranny has been turned into storage and there’s just no space left to poach.

Then you open a drawer and it’s a confused jumble of random stuff.  It’s time to start using the space you have more efficiently!

Milk Crate Shelf Organizers

#16: Use milk crates to organize shelves…

sliding drawer organizer

#17 – Sawdust Girl’s Sliding Drawer Organizers are easy to make and take advantage of drawer height…

pegboard drawer organizer

#18 – Another great idea from Sawdustgirl: use pegboard to make an adjustable drawer organizer

pocketed trays

#19 – Machine pocketed trays from plastic or wood to organizer bits, tools, and other items in your drawers…

power tool cabinet

#20 – Cordless tools in a vertical deep drawer–awesome!  We’ve all seen wall mounted versions of this, but using the vertical deep drawer maximizes the storage efficiency.  All that’s needed is a charging station for each type of battery that stays plugged into a cord fished out the back…

angle grinder storage

#21 – This angle grinder storage with the posts for the wheels is awesome, but a version in a vertical drawer like the cordless tools above would be even better…

Schaler Boxes

#22 – Of course you did know about Schaller Boxes, right?  These little injection molded boxes make it easy to subdivide a drawer…

French Fit Tools

#23 – I admit it: French Fitting tools into two colors of foam is my idea of the ultimate organization luxury.

#24 – Throw Something Away

Look, I was hoping not to bring this up, but that 2000 lb elephant in the room we’re not talking about?  That’s all the stuff you are never going to fit into a nice neat place no matter how many nifty Kaizen foam drawers you manage to come up with.  It’s too irregular, too unruly, too messy, too, too, too–impossible to contain!

The best I can suggest is a 3 step program for your sickness: organize, strip, and toss.  You’re a scrounger, let’s face it, that’s part of the problem.  But let’s at least get similar things together.  And if some of those things are similar mostly because they have good bits you plan to scavenge, let’s do the first part of the scavenging up front and toss what isn’t scavengeable.  That’s the essence of the Organize, Strip, and Toss concept.  So, pick some basic categories.  For example, electric motors:

strip and toss bins

A bin of scavenged motors for future projects…

Grab a bunch of milk crates or other containers, decide what your categories are, rope off some weekend time, and start working through that pile of bones stripping what’s useful and tossing the rest.  In no time, you’ll have made your spare parts collection a lot more useful and gotten rid of a bunch of stuff you were never going to use no matter what.  Phew!

#25 – Don’t Forget the Labels!

So, after 26 consecutive weekends installing shelving, rolling tool carts, and sorting through all those treasures, you have a fabulously clean and organized workshop.  Wow, can’t believe it’s finally done!

As your tired but proud eyes survey the scene, you heave a happy sigh, but it catches in your throat as you think about tackling the next project.  You’re going to need a certain special tool that you thought you’d lost, but discovered again as part of the cleanup.  Unfortunately, all you can see is drawer and cabinet pulls in every direction.  There are hundreds of them, and you have no idea what’s behind each door.  There’s just too many of them and you were in a hurry to get things put away.

What new manner of organizational curse is this?  Noooooooooooooooooooooo…………

Wait.  Calm down.  There is help here too.  You forgot to label things as you went, but it isn’t too late.

In the old days, we would’ve turned to the ubiquitous “Dymo Label Maker”.  These pistol-shaped gadgets embossed raised white letters on colored plastic tape with peel-off stickum on the backside.  Those things are antiques nowadays though because of the advent of label makers that have full keyboards, LCD displays so you can edit and avoid that crucial mistake two characters before finishing, and they print on clear tape that will stick to most anything.  You can get different colors too, so for example if you want contrast versus a dark background you might want white letters instead of black.

Label Makers

The old Dymo Label Makers have been superseded by more modern technology in label making…

Using these goodies you can put a label on every drawer, crate, and shelf to make finding things easier.

Highly recommended!


There you have it.  You’re now armed with 26 Killer Ideas to Organize Your Workshop.  Go forth and try to be less messy.  You’ll find it makes working in the shop both more efficient and more fun.

Got your own Killer Ideas for Organization?  Please share them with us in the comments!


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26 Killer Ideas to [Organize] Your Workshop Now
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  • The trash can is the most important organizational tool.

    Setting a cost per square foot for storage space helps to identify what to throw out based on cost of storage vs. purchasing new. Useful for drops, things that might be useful and things you might fix or mod.

    Then there is the shelf labeled “Cool Stuff that really Should Get Thrown Out.” Just one shelf of speculative projects, things to hack and electronics to salvage. Anything that does not fit goes into the trash.

    Know what we own and why we own it.

    • John, I like your thoughts–especially putting a $$$ value on the space.

  • I have and would recommend one of the clutter catchers from Swag Offroad

    • Alan, I like the Clutter Catcher. I especially liked their photo of using one on your vise stand. Might have to order one!

  • GREAT post!

    I’m not as organized as I would like to be with vertical drawers and pocket trays, but I do keep open shelves full of Akro-Mils plastic storage bins. Some are long-term, like for tools, parts, and consumables, whereas others are where I put things that are partly completed, partly disassembled, etc. It’s easy for me to grab a few empties and put away whatever I’m working on so I can easily re-focus on something new. Open shelves make it easy to eyeball what’s there.

    My shop is also pretty small, so I also use rolling toolchests a lot for tools that aren’t used too frequently, like a 3D printer, laser cutter, arbor press, bench grinder, sander, chop saw, extra benchtop drill press, etc. The drawers are great for tooling and supplies and the locking casters provide enough rigidity for many operations. I always bolt on an outlet strip or two, and put a suitably sturdy work surface on top (like two layers of MDF glued together). For delicate or dust-sensitive things like the 3D printer, I’ll also add a dust cover made from clear vinyl shower curtain material, duct tape, and a few rivets in the corners (it’s not beautiful, but it’s quick, haha). It’s great to be able to push these little guys out of the way and get them back quickly when needed.

    Any idea where to get those “milk crates” in different heights and colors?

    • There are a lot of milk crates listed on Amazon. I have also had success finding this sort of thing from companies like US Plastics that carry lots of different plastic items (as well as raw material for you to machine!). They do have a variety of crates. Still, I don’t see quite the variety as is pictured in the article.

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