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Since the time humans have been keeping “stuff,” we have enjoyed the happy task of finding someplace to put said stuff. For years, fasteners, bits, and bobs have lived in a draw in my workbench. For the last year of that time it has been increasingly harder and to get closed — until the last time I shut it. Apparently it really had reached that magic capacity where truly nothing else would fit, and in doing so, the final compression of the drawer closing popped a tube of two-part epoxy stored there. The resulting mess meant I was in the market for fastener storage.

After the trip to Lowe’s for the 22-container storage bin, the resulting mess on the floor was a little embarrassing. For years I kept saying “I don’t need one of those storage things,” or “folks in India turn chess pieces with their feet on a hand-cranked lathe; I don’t need plastic storage bins.” This logic was, of course, moronic and just an excuse. After the glue ball in the drawer and the second trip to the store for screws I knew I already had but couldn’t find, organization won out.

Even after a weekend of using the thing, I still marvel at being able to find my fasteners. It was worth the $20.

22 Drawer Storage Cabinet [Lowe's]
Hardware Storage
[Google Products]

 

42 Responses to Storage: The Age-Old Problem

  1. Adam says:

    Or you could always go old-school and nail the metal lids to glass jars to the bottom of a wood shelf. Just don’t drop em!

    • Rick says:

      Yup, that’s how my Grandpa and I handled it. We also stored hardware in International Coffee cans because they were small and had a plastic lid. Just tape one piece of hardware on the outside so you’ll know the contents.

  2. My problem with these bins is that I end up opening almost every drawer before I find what I want. Plus I’ve got coffee cans full of hand-me-down mixed hardware that I’ll have to use a week’s vacation time to go through. I need a Coinstar machine for mixed screws, bolts, nails, washers, and nuts.

    • Ben Granucci says:

      A labeler like the P-Touch and drawer dividers are your friend when you have a lot of drawers. At work, each drawer gets labeled with a (brief) general listing of what is in it, and then each divider gets labeled with what in particular goes in that compartment.

  3. 0ld as dirt says:

    storage bins are a nice idea but you buy more storage bins when they get full and when they get full you buy more until finally you have a garage or workshop full of unlabeled plastic storage containers.Your workshop looks like a “hoarders” house.Can’t find a damn thing.

    • Mike says:

      I would say that drawers, boxes and shelves full of partial packages of stuff looks more like a “hoarders” house than stacks of storage bins. I would rather have my storage cabinet at work full of bins of hardware than miscellaneous boxes, bags, and containers.

      An inexpensive label maker can make quick work of the unlabeled drawers/bins. Or go old school and use masking tape and a Sharpie.

  4. marc brown says:

    Kudos for a problem well solved. = )

  5. Dana Dawes says:

    We reached a critical mass a few years ago when it came to locating the fasteners that we needed without wasting a lot of time. We took a few days, a stack of plastic containers, a label maker, and some sheets of colored dots to get things organized; it’s made a huge difference. We broke fasteners down into three main categories: wood screws, sheet metal screws, and machine screws: the container for fasteners in each class got a colored dot, blue for machine screws, for instance. Next, each container got a printed label with the specific type of fastener and the size. For instance, #8×1 1/2 flat-head phillips-drive wood screw would be labeled: FHPWS 8 x 1 1/2. Finally, we organized the containers within a group by size.

    The time spent to do this was certainly well spent. We can grab the fasteners that we want very quickly.

    • Mike says:

      I love the idea of color coding types of hardware. I might take this a step further at work and get different colored bins. Now to just figure out what the different categories will be…

  6. fred says:

    In a commercial setting – we use Rotabins to store all the commonly used parts – and carry 2 or 3 Stanley compartmentalized boxes with our most used screws etc. on each truck.

  7. Jaquandor says:

    I have one of those exact organizers in my shop at work (along with two other similar ones). I love it, but I find that a key to using it well is to label the drawers with what’s in each one. Otherwise you end up doing the “Now which drawer contains my quarter-inch twenties bolts again?” dance. We also have a couple of old metal former first-aid kits on the wall, which have long been emptied of their first-aid supplies. This is where we keep the hardware that we use in sufficient quantity that we purchase entire boxes at a time.

  8. SCWetherbee says:

    I don’t know why, but I hate those things. The Stanley things like this:

    • SCWetherbee says:

      I meant to say that the Stanley organizer is what I liked. Big individual bins, clear lid, and you can carry it around like a suitcase and nothing spills around. It’s easy to grab the assortment of whatever it is and take to the job. You can’t do that with the little drawers or open bins. BUT open bins do have their place, like in the maintenance room at work where stuff gets worked on, my only trouble is you just can’t have every length of every size machine screw or bolt on every machine, but I make sure if I ever need one of those sizes I just get twice what I need from Grainger or McMaster-Carr.

    • DoItRite says:

      Did some research and found that Harbor Freight sells the exact same items for about 11 bucks with coupon (and got a free flashlight too). Went down there yesterday and picked up a bunch. Normally I’m a little hesitant to buy cheap chinese, but these came from the same factory anyway and are same quality.

      http://www.harborfreight.com/8-bin-portable-parts-storage-case-93927.html

      • Brian says:

        I tried the Harbor Freight version. Filled one with nails. the first time I picked it up for transport, I ended up with a jumbled mess of mixed up parts in the bottom compartments. The lid is just too weak to seat tightly against the bins.

  9. Simon says:

    cheap squeaky plastic drawers suck. You spend all day sliding them open and closed. Hard to grab something and then throw it back. Hard to know that you are almost out of a size. Open access with labels is the ultimate.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/simplesimon/577820876/

    Simon

    • Dana Dawes says:

      Simon

      That looks like what we’re planning as we move to the new shop. I kept my eye out for a few months for a sale on the bins and got several cases of them in different colors.

      The only downside will be when we need to take some of those bins out to a job. I’m planning to build some cases out of baltic birch and plexi so we can carry a few (4-6) of them with us and the contents will stay secure.

  10. Tony says:

    Plastic storage cases are remarkable expensive at times, I did find my local junk shop has small ones at $1 each. Downside is small ones only store small stuff.

    Someone dumped a metal index card holder one day, (a bit like the wooden ones libraries have) so I grabbed that pretty quick. 30 deep drawers, and bloody heavy. One side looks like someone put a forklift through it. It’s previous owner also use it for part storage, it still had a few bits & pieces rattling around in it.

    Now that I’ve got a laser cutter, I think I’ll make my own from plywood.

  11. Gary Z says:

    I got an old card file from an office supply store. Deep drawers with bearing slides. Then got plastic parts bins at Menards and Harbor Freight to organize each drawer. Every 6 months or so I cull out what I think I don’t need anymore. Each time I cull the cast off pile gets smaller and the drawers are much neater.

  12. Jim says:

    I use the relatively clear plastic tackle boxes that offer some flexibility sizes. I like the Plano ones. They’re organized by general category such as washers or pan head screws and that’s marked on a piece of duct tape on one end. When I need something I can grab the whole tackle box and carry it to my bench or elsewhere in the house and then match the size to the job. I have about a dozen so far with various fasteners and so far only one is marked “Misc.” I like that the lids latch and it doesn’t matter how I turn it or carry it, stuff stays put. It’s not the cheapest method at $4+ per tackle box and I have yet to build something to hold them to they’re still stacked up which isn’t convenient, but for small quantities and anything smaller than a carriage bolt I can’t think of a better method. I do need to get a good screw/bolt gauge because I didn’t label when I sorted them out.

  13. pwwells says:

    My wife asked me why I don’t have some of every kind of fastener – just in case. I explained that I do, and that I keep them in a nearby warehouse with a large orange sign that says Home Depot.

  14. MikeT says:

    For sorting small parts, I use a pill-counting tray that my pharmacist gave me for free. Apparently all the drug reps hand them out gratis, but my pharmacist doesn’t need more than a couple.

  15. Joe the Barbarian says:

    My father-in-law has one of these and he labeled each drawer. Except now all of the drawers are out of the box and on the shop table. It seems like everytime he has a project every tool he owns ends up on the floor of his workspace. what a mess.

    But at least he has a system, I just have a coffee can full of random hardware. so i get to stab myself on fifty tiny brads everytime i need to find a nut or a bolt.

  16. Jim K. says:

    @Alan- Coinstar machine for mixed hardware = WANT!!!

  17. Dave says:

    I confess I bought a ridiculous amount of small and large plastic storage boxes on-sale from harbor freight a few years ago, and spent a few weeks (of evenings) sorting my “part piles” into a nicely sorted and labeled stack of storage boxes.

    To be honest, it was one of the best things I’ve done from a workshop management perspective – I now have dedicated storage boxes for wood, metal and metric screws – bolts, nuts and washers (big and small) – electrical connectors, drywall anchors and other miscellaneous parts, etc.

    At this point, I have more than 15 large storage boxes (holding nails, spikes, carriage bolts and deck screws), and around 40 smaller ones (for washers, smaller screws, bolts, nuts and other bits) – all labeled with the appropriate part type and category.

    Granted, I still have to spend some time finding the right storage box, and then the correct compartment for the part I’m looking for – but I’ve been able to reduce my trips to the store with the “big orange sign” pretty considerably. For me, this really makes all the effort worthwhile, especially when you can deliver a specific fastener “on request” for your spouse – I use it to justify why I keep all that “crap” in the garage… :-)

    Finally, my current solution is WAY better than having to root around in a drawer or a large rubbermaid bin looking for the package of the item I remember buying 6-12 months ago…

    Next project: to build some shelves that facilitate easy access to all my part boxes. I see some full-extension drawer slides in my future…

    On a side note, that’s also why I like the standalone boxes vs. the 40-60 tray units – I like being able to partition my stuff more directly, and for me, shelving that holds plastic storage bins is a lot more flexible than those awkward top-heavy parts units – especially when it comes to being able to grab an entire category of parts (i.e., small wood screws, or drywall anchors) to take with you on a project call.

  18. Mike says:

    Business card plastic boxes are cheap, readily available, sturdy and stack well.

  19. Dave A. says:

    My solution has worked perfectly for me.

    I started using the Plano 3700 transparent cases in their red drawer quad-rack. I’m able to see what’s in a drawer while its closed, and take a whole drawer full of various sized bolts with me when

    http://www.planostoragesolutions.com/products/125-3700-size-stowaway-rack-organizer.aspx

    http://www.planostoragesolutions.com/products/184-3700-adjustable-compartment-pro-latch-stowaway.aspx

    At some point I decided that four wasn’t enough and I bought a second four drawer rack. When I needed to buy my third I was no longer able to find the red quad-racks in the local big box stores. I contacted Plano directly who was willing to sell me them at the higher MSRP.

    It was then when I imagined just making my own rack out of very simple objects.
    I purchased a 4×4 ft sheet of 1/8″ plywood and some square 3/8″ dowels.

    I used a pair of leftover 1×12 pieces for the top and bottom of my rack, cut to the width and depth of the Plano 3700 case. Then I cut the 4x4ft plywood to pieces for the sides and back. At four feet tall that would give me a stack of 18 cases.
    I glued and stapled lengths of the square dowels at even intervals on the sides for support.

    I’ve currently have 18 of the Plano drawers in it, but all of them aren’t full. Some are even empty. When I have them all purposed or even full, I’ll make another 4ft tall rack to store another 18. I might even make a stack of their DEEP 3700 series of the same footprint.

    So far, I have zero complaints. Except that I don’t have time to reorganize ALL my items into the drawers.

  20. Mitch says:

    Like most of us I’ve collected a lot of tools and storage bins over many years of rehabbing and projects. I’m moving and have decided to divest myself of a lot of misc tools, bins and the like. I’m not interested in selling I just want to give/donate these things somewhere other than the recycle bin. I’ve found the typical donation sites (Amvets, Purple Hearts and the like) aren’t interested. Any suggestions?

    • Mike says:

      Check to see if Habitat for Humanity has a ReStore in your area. Most of what they have are from these types of donations.

  21. Dave says:

    I have metal coffee cans filled with my used oddball hardware (auto, motorcycle, outboard, etc) sorted by type: things that look like bolts, things that look like nuts, things that look like washers, and sheet metal screws.

    I have a few of most types.

    When I need something I have a large sturdy open-topped storage bin I dump the can into, it’s large enough the bottom of the bin is never more than 1-2 fasteners deep.

    After I give up on that can or find the item, the square corner of the bin works just fine as a funnel to dump the items back into the coffee can.

    I can go through quite a bit quite quickly.

    New stuff gets stored in plastic bins (don’t have much new stuff)

    Dave

  22. PutnamEco says:

    I’m surprised no Toolmongers have mentioned the Tanos/Systainer sortainers yet. They come in a large assortment of sizes and configurations. Even Bosch is starting to sell some of their tools in them. There is also the Sortimo L-boxx and T-boxx to consider. I’m always envious when I see a Sortimo Globelyst M system installed in someones van, as I’ve been running a random assortment of storage, trying to standardize towards one system. If there was a secure lockable(and weather proof) job box system for the systainers I would not be able to resist.

    • fred says:

      I’ve never gotten a price quote for the Sortimo systems – but they do look very good.
      In my neck of the woods Dejana and Adrian Steel do a lot of the upfitting business

  23. brisaacs says:

    @Putnameco – i haven’t used these, but I’m always on the prowl for the metal cases that they sell full sets of fasteners in. http://www.nutsandbolts.com/stainless-nut-bolt-and-washer-assortment-825-pieces-p-132.html?zenid=i64to64faoen1vsr6iiujo64k0

    costs a lot, but keeps your nuts and bolts organized like nothing else.

  24. george says:

    i’ve tried almost everything in my life and so far the clear flat boxes/containers are the best. i’ve had the metal boxes $$ and they are great to a point. i just like looking at whats in the container without a bunch of wasted motions.

  25. Jerry says:

    Wow! What a bunch of different ways of storing “things.” I personally use a combination of storage containers – Large roll-around rack with open bins on both sides, bench-top storage cabs with drawers. many shelves filled with open cardboard bin-boxes. Pretty much everything is labeled. Even when I do strew things about the shop, it’s simple to pick up as everything has a place. Of course, I have always been somewhat OCD ;-)

  26. Dave says:

    I use Parmesan cheese bottles.

  27. SuperJdynamite says:

    I use Container Store brand shoe and accessory boxes.

    I find that storing things in plastic containers works best if you can always stack them on top of each other. When I buy a handful of shoebox sized containers that are some random brand they never stack well on top of the last handful of random brand containers I bought.

    The Container Store boxes are always the same size. I’ve been buying them for years and they always stack nicely on top of the ones I previously purchased.

  28. Chris Parker says:

    I use these kinds of cases (for some reason, we always referred to them as “jeweler’s cases”. I’ll offer two comments on them. First, you can get them with drawers made out of one of two different materials. One is a nylon-like plastic (semi-translucent), and the other is polystyrene (clear). Although the polystyrene looks better because it’s clear, it’s very brittle. Go with the semi-translucent drawers, like the one pictured in the posting.

    Second, get yourself a label maker. If you really stick to it and label your drawers with their contents, you will find these cabinets very useful. If you don’t, you’ll never find anything again :)

  29. Craft stores sometimes have pretty decent storage systems for small screws – with boxes that allow you to basically open the lid and look at all the compartments (rather than needing to pull them all out to find what you’re looking for). I prefer this “Top down” storage to “Pull it Out” Storage just for the convenience.

  30. joe homeowner says:

    I use whatever, coffee cans or old food jars, and buckets drywall mud comes in. Works very well. but I don’t keep alot of hardware around.

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