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Kyle
Moderator

5 tips to stay organized in the garage

The thrill of making progress assembling your DIY project can quickly be overshadowed by the frustration of a missing part or piece of hardware that you're pretty sure you set down right there. Despite how confident we all are in our memory and ability to stay organized and remember exactly where each piece went, a little preparation and awareness goes a long way. 

 

Read the tips on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/maintenance-and-tech/5-tips-to-stay-organized-in-the-garage/ 

46 REPLIES 46
dimitri911
New Driver

comment

TonyT
Instructor

You could work in our shop anytime you wanted. Great suggestions, and allow me add one more. Perform a tool inventory twice a day, the first one before you get lunch and the second before you turn off the lights. Remembering that that 11/32" quarter-drive socket fell down under the floor mat and retrieving it before you lose something else will allow you to think about how you will perform another task that must be done while lying on your back, staring up at the assortment of cables, wires and sharp pieces of metal behind that same dash...

Exmillwright
Passenger

I always remove the hood place it It on the roof of the car upside down 

As engine parts bolts screws are identified based and tagged placed  on the hood in the order the were removed . Everything is safe and sound waiting for me to locate , source what’s needed. Trust me I’ve had more than one torn apart, time flys in our new world . Remember anyone can dissemble that’s how I buy them cheap.

GoFast
Detailer

piling lumber atop a fragile Model A roof is not best practice.

DUB6
Technician

Oh crap @GoFast - you've seen inside my barn, haven't you? 😋

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Nvylaw
Passenger

And don't use a pencil to label your tape flags (particularly if your projects take as long as mine do).  Trying to decipher faded, smudgey heirogliphs years later is not fun.  

F360Spider
Detailer

Here's one that's served me well for decades: Keep tools and supplies in separate storage systems. I used to mix supplies like nuts, bolts, sandpaper, glue in with the wrenches, sockets, pliers and other stuff. It was maddening. Consciously separating them out makes finding that special tube of Loctite a lot easier.

 

Another rule I follow is to clean the shop/garage/work space before starting a job and ALWAYS after. If the floor is clean, it's far easier to find that retaining clip that sprung off than a floor covered with leaves and dirt.

Mike_M2
Passenger

For me it’s photos on my phone, I make notes if needed on the photo. Ziplock bags in two sizes. Small bits in small bags that are grouped with larger parts in bigger bags. With every bag labeled. I also video myself taking apart and then reassemble it right then if I think it might need it. Especially when rebuilding an engine I have never been into before. To label parts I use a label maker. Lastly I take the time to study and then redraw the wiring diagram in full color and layered per circuit in Adobe Illustrator. Using layers I can turn every other circuit off to focus only on the part I need. I will be adding the toe tags to my system excellent idea. 

Dutch0311
Passenger

I use large bins, small bins, every size zip lock bag made and photograph everything thing! I am currently working on an E-type that some else took apart and they didn't bag or label anything. It is has taken longer to find the correct bolts and parts to finish. 

topside
Detailer

All good advice that's worked for me for many years. I'd also add that spare/take-off/specific maintenance parts be separated/organized by the vehicle they pertain to.

John1
Pit Crew

I like how the article doesn't correct the problem.....the ' Can't Let It Go Problem"  I reached that point about 5 years after we built the new garage. Moving two things to get one was my breaking point.... LET IT GO!!!!!! Don't box it up and find a spot for it.....LET IT GO.......

wentwest
Intermediate Driver

I struggle with a pattern of putting things down without thinking. Lately I've been experimenting with a work apron, so I'll put common sockets and wrenches, screwdrivers and a rag, a ball of steel wool, etc., in a pocket instead of on the floor or a shelf or wherever.
ddegroodt
Passenger

I see a Crawford County Kansas license plate on the wall.  I graduated from the Auto Tech program at Pittsburg State.  Are you a McPherson grad?

Kyle
Moderator

Hey @ddegroodt ! You've got a sharp eye. Kansas is indeed home for me, despite my current Northern Michigan location, and I graduated the McPherson College restoration program in 2013. I had a few friends and high school classmates attend Pittsburg State, though not the Auto Tech side of the school (they weren't cool enough for that.)
008spyke
New Driver

This works fairly well for me, when I have an item that doesn't have an obvious place to belong, such as a new wrench in my toolbox drawer with the other wrenches, I hold it in my hand and think...if I was looking for this item later, where is the first place I would look to find it? That's where I put it. 

DanaDurango
Passenger

I remember Art Balbini my auto shop teacher at Mira Costa HS in Manhattan Beach, CA calling for "clean-up" 15 minutes before the bell rang. Sort of stuck with me. Wife gives me the "15 minute warning" before dinner, and I stop what I'm doing and get things cleaned and put away. Makes it more fun to get back at it when I am able

JackW
New Driver

One of the best practices I learned in my 34 years at Lockheed is " clean as you go". Keeping your work place clean and organized is essential when you are working on aircraft. When you finish one operation it's good practice to clean up, sort the parts you've been working on and put up tools that you won't need for the next operation. At break times (lunch, dinner) everything should be orderly and cleaned up. At the end of the day tools should be put back where they belong and you should spend a few minutes cleaning up.

jsedelmann
Pit Crew

Two other suggestions: ... first, magnetic bowls to keep those nuts, bolts, screws and even sockets from dropping to the floor and rolling into oblivion.  Second, ziploc bags for storing small parts.  

18rlward
Passenger

One thing I do is clean as I disassemble and make a note for action on that part of what  I need to do before reassembly. So if when I remove the horn and I know it doesn’t work I can make a note to send it out for repair or replacement. That way the part is ready to install when I get to that point instead of installing a bad part.

Pappabob
Passenger

I make it a habit to save those Chinese food trays and the soup containers our take-out comes in. They are very handy for those little parts Kyle was showing. 

Been doing the "final" assembly on my "Blue Heinz" 57 Chevy project recently and found it very convenient to load the top of one of my Rubermaid carts with a bunch of the most common tools (sockets, extensions, ratchets, combo wrenches, etc. Really convenient to just roll the cart over right next to wherever you are working. Very quickly, everything finds its "normal" place on the cart so it's easy to keep it organized and everything is right there whenever you need it. 

drlmn
Passenger

I do small engine repair, and if I'm unfamiliar with something, I take pictures. One thing I always do if possible, is put screws, bolts & nuts back where they came from instead of having a mess of hardware in a tray and trying to figure out where they came out of.

sspader
Pit Crew

Cell phones these days are a godsend.  Not only can you take a photo but also video.  I use the video function to make sure of the sequence of which a part comes apart & the proper way to reconstruct it!  You can also make comments on your video if needed.  

 

With big projects I always keep a clipboard near by to make a note of parts that need to be ordered.

Lakeboy
New Driver

I use little cheap plastic bags to put all the little parts in w a piece with part description with the part. Good ideas you posted, wonderful thanks! And I totally clean or paint parts as I remove them. 

GabrielS
Passenger

I like using those small sauce cups that come with takeout for organizing small parts, put a label on the lid, then closing it up. Also, when possible, put fasteners back in place after removing the part.

Hercules
Passenger

Use  multi level sliding drawers inside your cupboards to store your power tools so can see them at a glance.

tucsont
Passenger

I use a plastic parts box from Harbor Freight.  Print a number over each compartment on the lid.  Put nuts and bolts in each and write the compartment number on sheet of paper with corresponding number and description on it

KSJ1865
Passenger

Put a lock on your shop door. It will prevent your wife from using your shop as a dumping ground for anything she wants to keep BUT not in the house.

hearsedriver
Intermediate Driver

i have tried using sandwich bags as has been suggested, and for certain items, the only way to go. for lots of small stuff, not. at my age i have lots of empty pill bottles, plastic lids that lock. peel off the lable, and use painters tape to id contents (eg horn mount bolts), easier to search through than baggies. the other good suggestion i saw was to re-install the fasteners into whatever threaded holes they came out of, especially when they all have different lengths, eg a water pump mounting. PS anybody need pill bottles? LOL

barryb
New Driver

I use the easy to remember formula for keeping my tools from getting misplaced. PIBWIB to me means “Put It Back Where It Belongs” and could apply to lots of things besides tools. 

DUB6
Technician

When I was a youngster, my dad had a similar formula for when I used any of his tools.  He said, "If you use it and don't put it back, when I find it, you're gonna eat it for supper".  I either put it back, or 'lost' it so well that he would never find it, but I seldom left anything lying around after I was done with it.

DaveinGigHarbor
New Driver

Great tips and the comments section is even better!  Thanks.

Vidocq
Pit Crew

Where were ya hidin' that BSA? 

Jims65cyclone
Passenger

When rebuilding components with lots of small parts, e.g. carburetor, etc., I use styrofoam egg cartons to keep the parts organized.  As I go through disassembly, I place the parts in the cells of the egg cartons going from left to right in the order I disassemble the component.  On reassembly, I just go in reverse order, emptying each cell as I go.

I also save and use plastic containers with snap-on lids that lunch meats come to store small parts in until time for reinstallation.  Painter's tape and a sharpie pen make quick, removable labels that I stick on the ends of the containers that are easily readable when stacking the containers several high on metal storage shelves.

Milwaukeemidget
Passenger

A lot of us buy a "parts car", but don't keep it assembled because we lack the space. If you have a lot of parts that aren't going to be used any time soon, get them out of the garage. The running joke is that I've got a three-car garage and a  two-car attic, but keeping it all bagged and tagged and stored out of harms way sure makes doing work in the garage a lot easier.

MGBTGKG
Passenger

When I am starting a disassembly on my workbench I lay out a fresh sheet of builder's paper, the kind that is used to protect floors and such. It makes it easy to clean the bench after you're done, just roll it up and throw it away along with all the grease, oil and other crud.

auto-mark
Pit Crew

On a related note, I keep a spreadsheet of all the maintenance that's been done on my vehicles, by vehicle; noting date, odometer, and activity/details.  A hardcopy goes in the glovebox.    

Martini8
Passenger

Dollar Tree, 99 cents Only stores and the like are great sources for storage trays.  Some might also carry an assortment of plastic bags.  

tonyjustin
Pit Crew

Back in my gunsmithing days, my mentor gave me this tip.  Peel a trip of two inch masking tape and put it sticky side up on the bench.  When you're doing something on a delicate item, such as a carburetor, put each screw, spring, etc. on the tape in the order it came off.  It's kind of like the egg carton idea but it won't scatter things across the shop if it gets accidently knocked off the bench.

Boss302Dave
Passenger

A magnetic white board on the door of a nearby metal cabinet, or your side of your tool box for listing "to-do" tasks is simple and handy.  Sure paper works trapped under a wiper, but the dry erase maker in colors possibly signifying degree of importance (ex red/yellow/green) is simple and efficient.

Phil56
Passenger

I really appreciate this article and the time everyone took to add comments.  I am always wondering if there are ways I can be more organized, so every suggestion helps, if only to confirm I am pretty well organized.  I organize my storage of shop supplies grouped together the way my auto parts store organizes its customer access area - oil and grease together, aerosol lubricants together, autobody supplies together, clips and fasteners separate from nuts and bolts, etc.  They figured a logical organization of products, so I just use theirs.  "Bolts in baggies" is a good idea - I write where they came from on a slip of paper and slip it in the bag.  I have a workbench and a separate parts table for new, rebuilt, and waiting to be rebuilt parts.  My workbench is covered with sheet metal - a good hard surface and easy to clean up spills - and I dont accumulate parts repairs in progress on my workbench.  Specialized tools are stored together, away from other tools.  If I buy a special tool for something, such as stainless repair, the tool goes with the supplies for that, so that I am not tempted to grab it to use for something it should not be used for (or someone does not borrow it to use for something it should not be used for).  On the other hand, general purpose tools always go with like tools so I don't have to remember what I use to tool for last time.  My shop is not a storage room for the lawn mower and sports equipment.  And, finally, I have lots of cabinets and drawers to store everything away in.  Realistically, this is my plan, but apparently I am still in training to accomplish it. 

RW68RSConv
Intermediate Driver

I am a strong believer in seeing what you got! I used to have much of my hand tools hanging from peg hooks on a full sheet of 8ft X 4ft pegboard. When I moved I decided to go to a much bigger tool chest instead and save some walking. Bought all the little organizers, dividers, blah blah.  Well, after about 9 months, I hung new peg board, emptied my new chest, sold it, and never looked back. I can find what I want in a flash and just as important as I get older - when I'm done with a project I can instantly see dozens of tools and if there missing wrench or socket or screwdriver that I left under the hood or rolled under the seat, I go looking for it. 

1985Porsche
Passenger

I never close a drawer completely on my tool chest until all the tools that go in that drawer are back in and in their spot.  It really helps when cleaning up and I notice that some tool is still where it's not supposed to be by simply glancing at my tool chest.

Watersmeet
Pit Crew

These are all good tips. I must admit that if I couldn't just take it apart, lay the part down on the bench, throw the tool in the box, grab the next tool and take the next part off etc., etc, I shouldn't be doing the task.   Jim

Grumpyoldcoot
Pit Crew

I make notes as to the oil and oil filter used, the date and mileage of oil changes, plus any other info as to how the oil was measured, and any other useful information that might be valuable at the next oil change, such as sludge noted on the magnetic tips of the drain plugs, and size of wrench used to remove the drain plug. Also, type/diameter of drain plug gasket used. Notes are entered in a file on the computer for each of five cars we own.....especially the '67 Chev truck and '38 Chev coupe. We don't put a lot of mileage on each vehicle during the year, and as a result, I don't rely on my memory to keep it all straight.

 

Other information, such as repairs and other maintenance are also kept in each file. Dates and mileage are noted so that if the cars are ever sold, I have a printable maintenance log that shows what and when things were done. Receipts for work done by outside shops (including parts and prices) are kept on the computer if possible, or hard copies are paper-punched and kept in a 3-ring binder for each vehicle. Some of the receipts are scanned and kept in the computer files; the end result is that there is a history of what and when was done for each vehicle. A valuable resource if and when the vehicle is sold.

Teuffelhunden
Pit Crew

Knowledge can never be overlooked. Find clubs or individuals with the same interest in cars who have done it before. Go online and build your "mechanic's mental toolbox". Example... Visit some of the larger bolt and fastener shops or purchase "The Engineer's Little Black Book". These will help you identify nut and bolt types, grades, thread patterns, thread types, taps and dies to use, and helicoils. I take anything that may apply and keep it in a book of "knowledge". Technical articles, drawings, suppliers information, phone numbers of people with additional knowledge or expertise, anything I find that might relate to what I am doing placed in document protector sheets in a binder. I am rebuilding/modifying a '54 331 Chrysler Hemi, rebuilding/modifying a '54 264 Nailhead and I have my wife's '36 Buick Straight 8 to rebuild. There are tricks to ALL three of these engines that if you miss, there is a good chance you'll see the inside of the engine again really soon! Most of all, make sure you build a pedigree of your project. Later on, when you are wondering what part number of the head gasket you need to replace the one you just blew, going back and finding that receipt, or being able to contact "that guy" in "BFE" who helped you find that "thing-a-ma-jigger" really helps put the mind at ease. This knowledge and knowing what to look for has also saved me at swap meets where I might have easily purchased a part thinking or being told it is what I needed only to find that it doesn't fit, won't do the job I need it to, or is actually a cheap knock-off of the original and will fail. Knowledge is power and soon you'll find the word gets out and people will be reaching out to you for help.

DUB6
Technician

I think I have probably re-organized my benches and shop areas 10-12 times over the last 40 years.  I convince myself that "this time it is better than ever before, and I'll never have to do it again", but then a different type of project comes up and I find myself moving things around to accommodate.  Probably a never-ending story for a DIY'er, but that'd kill a production environment for sure.  All of these suggestions and comments are helpful, however, and I especially agree that the advent of the digital photo device is one of the best "organizers" in decades.  Gimme some tape and a Sharpie, and I'm pretty happy too!