Rich’s Repair Ramblings #3: Organization

Rich’s Repair Ramblings #3:


You might have a portable plastic tool box, or you might have several large combination top & bottom toolboxes, yet, if your tools and supplies are not organized for quick and easy access, any repair job potentially becomes fraught.

Two stories illustrate my point: a while back, a friend asked me to his house to assist with some front-end work. I brought no tools with me. We determined that we needed an 11/16” deep socket, ½” drive. He said to me “oh, I have that, I’ve got every size”. When he opened his tool “box”, really a large plastic box, there were several dozen sockets rolling around at the bottom: SAE, metric, shallow and deep, in 3/8” and ½” drive sizes. It took about 10 minutes to find the socket we needed, and since I only was able to spare an hour for him, the delay greatly cut into my available time.

Sockets are on rails, arranged by size, type, and color-coded (blue for SAE, red for metric)

A short time later, another friend asked me to assist with servicing the transmission and rear axle fluid on his car. He drove his car to my place. With the car safely up on jack stands in my garage, I was on a pad under the car to determine what we needed. It was too much effort for me to keep sliding out and sliding back under to fetch tools, so as I lay under the car, I made my tool requests to him: “1/2” drive ratchet wrench, bottom box, top drawer, on the left” and “locking pliers, top box, third drawer, on the right”. I knew right where my tools were, and was able to describe the locations to him, making it possible for him to find them while I stayed under the car. Together, we worked very efficiently that afternoon.

Metric wrenches are in size order, and organized by type (combo, box, open, flare nut)

I might have some OCD attached to my need to be organized, but frankly, those who have seen my setup acknowledge that they would like to strive for it. It’s no different than any other organizational need, whether it is your computer files, your clothing, or your kitchen utensils: when you need something, you want to know where it is so that you can put your hands on it right away.

When working on my classic cars, more than once I’ve found myself at my workbench in a position where some component is partially disassembled, and I need a tool RIGHT NOW to continue the disassembly. The situation requires me to keep one hand on the part, so putting it on the bench while I scrounge is not an option. Knowing the tool’s location has repeatedly paid off in these kinds of service situations.

Supply cabinet shelving has paints and varnishes on one shelf, car care products on another

One of my pet peeves, when peering into friends’ toolboxes, is the intermixing of tools and supplies. I make a clear distinction between “tools”, which are permanent, and “consumables”, which require replenishment. Large toolboxes are expensive; I want their weight-bearing drawers to be holding ratchets and wrenches, not spark plugs and spray lube. (And there’s no shame in labeling the drawers; we can’t memorize everything!)

Plastic bins were sized to fit greatest number of them on each shelf

The accompanying photos attest to my layout: sockets are on rails with clips; wrenches are in size order, with SAE sizes in one drawer and metric in another; and consumables are on shelves in a supply cabinet. Supplies which can fit in plastic bins are labeled; lately, I’ve been buying these small multi-compartment organizers for literally a few bucks each. I’ve used them to organize items like fuses, bulbs, washers, and electrical terminals. Your big-box hardware stores have all these goodies for sale.

Multi-compartment box has dividers to make different sizes; this one hold bulbs and fuses

Many years ago, a boss who was a mentor said to me: “take the time to GET organized, then once you are, STAY organized. It will greatly reduce your stress”. Whether it’s on-the-job or with one of my classics in the garage, I’ve found those to be words to live by. As you wrench on your classic, you’ll find organization to be akin to a 3rd hand in the workshop.


All photographs copyright © 2023 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.