How to Organize Your Shop According to the Pros

March 12, 2021 12:05 pm

There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to locate a tool or a part, especially when you know you have it and you really need it. There is pretty much only one way to combat this issue, and that is to organize your shop. That process isn’t easy and does take a decent amount of effort. However, the effort made up front will save you time and frustration later, so it’ll be worth it!

The idea of accomplishing a completely organized shop may seem like an overwhelming undertaking. We did some digging to provide resources that will help make the process a bit more approachable. What better way to get started than to take tips from top machinists with fantastic organization?

Not everyone’s storage and organization systems will look the exact same, but you can incorporate aspects of other organization practices to create your own unique machine shop organization system.

Below are video tutorials from three of the best machinists (and YouTubers). They share their shop storage and organization tips as well as the tools they recommend keeping on hand.

Keith Rucker’s Shop Storage and Organization Ideas


Keith Rucker from Vintage Machinery has quite the collection, so keeping it in order is essential. He walks through all kinds of ways to store and organize things in the machine shop.

Tools Recommended by Keith Rucker

Schaller 140 Pc Red Plastic Box Assortment

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Clean up those drawers! This modular storage system will fit perfectly in your drawers. They are light but sturdy and perfect for any small pieces needed to accomplish your operations.

FLAMBEAU Small Parts Cabinet

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Constructed from durable polypropylene, this cabinet measures 14-1/2″ x 15-1/2″ x 15-3/4″ and comes complete with pull-out trays and removable boxes. This system is highly versatile as it comes with 4 permanent dividers (lengthwise) and 16 movable dividers that can be placed where you need them.

Ernst 5060-Red 16-Tool Standard Wrench Organizer

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This solid plastic wrench organizer tray is designed for a standard set of 16 wrenches. Whether you would like to store your wrenches in a drawer or on a wall, this piece is perfect for either.

Be sure to check out Keith’s YouTube channel as he has a wealth of machining and vintage machinery videos.

Ultimate Machine Shop Toolbox & Organization! By John Saunders


In this video, John Saunders of NYC CNC offers some serious tips to help you work faster and smarter to ultimately produce the best parts. This video highlights how to use Kaizen foam and Schaller bins among other organizational tools to achieve it.

Tools Recommended by John Saunders

Husky 27 in. 5-Drawer Roller Cabinet Tool Chest

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This rolling cabinet is 3 ft tall and has 5 drawers – 3 small, 1 medium and 1 large. It is designed to handle heavy usage due to its all-welded steel construction. The outside of the tool chest is coated with a textured powder paint finish that has rust-resistant properties.

5C x 16ths Labeled Collet Storage Rack

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This collet storage rack has enough pockets to support up to 21 different collets. The holder even features angled size labelling so that the sizes remain visible when the collets are loaded. It also has a flat design that even when loaded fits a 3-1/2″ tall drawer.

Portable Label Maker

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Stop guessing where things are located and use this simple tool to label drawers and more! Featuring an easy-type keyboard, this lightweight and portable label maker is perfect for any machine shop.

Check out the NYC CNC YouTube channel here.

Kaizen Foam for Machinist Tools – Review and Demo by Aaron Durda of AlwaysSunnyintheShop


Kaizen foam is a staple for most when it comes to organizing a machine shop. Aaron Durda reviews the product and walks us through the best ways to use Kaizen foam which is great for organizing any tool drawer for micrometers, scales, scribes and more. Check out more of Aaron Durda’s AlwaysSunnyintheShop videos here.

Kaizen Foam 2ft x 4ft x 57mm

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Kaizen foam is quick and easy to cut without requiring an expensive tooling. The super tough foam performs very well and the easy-to-peel layered sections let you achieve the desired depth. Kaizen foam even works on vertical surfaces.

We mentioned some essential organizational tools in 5 Fundamental Tools to Keep Your Machine Shop Organized. Make sure to check it out! You may even find some helpful tips from the Practical Machinist forum members. Explore a couple threads about the topic here and here.


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  • Ed weldon says:

    Comments on space organization from a lifetime of dirty hands. In the shop you have two kinds of space, linear floor space, and cubic volume. Consider both. Linear floor space has a stiff price. You need it for the work center tools and consumable supplies, the operator, material in and out and equipment for handling the material, space to maintain, repair and possibly install and remove equipment. This space must accommodate available material handling resources as well as necessary building maintenance, power, environmental management, safety requirements and communication links. Support functions also require space. Cranes tend to have a huge cubic space requirement. Ditto forklifts. If you consider an investment in either don’t forget the cost of needed facilities volume in addition to floor space.
    Then there are space requirement for support (overhead) functions. Some of these will live at or near the work center as necessary consumables as long as that “inventory” is manageable, usually by an operator. While the linear footprint for that stuff can be annoyingly large it generally lends itself to storage in vertical volumes of space that won’t interfere with the other operations and maintenance of the work center or command valuable productive time by the operator.
    OK, now to the space storage for support functions. We’ve already heard from several suppliers of excellent systems for organizing materials. So I’m going to just offer some disconnected thoughts on the issue of getting organized.
    First is bulk materials. Safety is a big issue. But part of that is identification. You cannot be too rigorous about identifying all material in a busy shop and keeping it from “contaminating” similar stuff. I don’t care what it is. Hand soap or tool steel. Mark everything and provide convenient ways of keeping it pure. Ever try sorting out an accidental mix of 8-32 and 10-32 hex nuts? Did you ever ask your tool maker to engrave the exact description of the tool steel alloy on that $200 chunk of metal he worked on last week? You may wish he had if you watch that no longer useful tool go into the scrap bin.
    About spare parts and hardware. Sure, identification. It helps if that old tool maker who you cherish can read the markings. When it comes to fasteners for maintenance purposes I like removable boxes that can go to the job site and suitable measurement tool(s) in each box. Keep in mind the cost per minute of lost production when a work center goes down. And don’t hide multiple parts inside boxes. Empty the box and if possible put the package marking in the same spot as the contents. This is the foundation of a DIY “low bin reorder inventory control system.”
    Hardware for production (even fasteners and bulk materials like machining stock) must be rigorously separated from maintenance and tool making hardware and provided with a reliable system of inventory control. (You already know about this if you are contractually obligated to adhere to a formal quality standard.)
    Any kind of storage floor space begins to lose its efficiency and reliability when the distance from the user’s grip exceeds an arm’s length. Sometimes a vertical storage array is better. Like bar and rod stock that is around 30-60 inches in length. And vertical storage ensures quick identification of short pieces. Storage shelves below 2 feet and above 5 feet are harder to see into the back of. Ditto large flat drawers unless the user can stand to the side of them. And remember a large cabinet or drawer chest full of hardware may need a forklift, pallet jack or casters if you ever need to move it.
    Label everything. I live every day with a black sharpie pen in my pocket. And a tape measure.

    About Ed Weldon – I bought my first lathe in 1958, a 12 flat belt drive Leblond for $120, took it apart and hauled it home in the trunk of Mom’s 54 Buick. That “one hung low” for a couple of hours. Both are gone now. Today I have 8 lathes for my home workshop ranging from a century old 14″ Hendey tiebar down to a 6mm jeweler’s lathe. And today I look back on a 42 year career as a mechanical engineer and getting to know and evaluate numerous machine shops as well dealing with my own pack rat habits.

  • JasonT says:

    Mentioning John Saunders without his sources:-
    Paul Akers –
    and Jay Pearson
    There is no excuse in this day and age not to improve our shops, Its starts with clean and then moves to organising. Who hates working in a messy shop, i would be surprised if cleaning up a shop and starting to organise if it didn’t take the stress out of your staffs day and raise moral. Ill happily work on lower wages if a shop is pristine, for a crap pile i want a fortune. Have a meeting with your staff and ask what their opinion is, then when you see the improvements in productivity tell me the whole exercise was a waste of time.

  • Toolmaker51 says:

    The most expensive machine you’ll pay for, is the one you won’t buy. Believe Henry Ford said that.

    I triple endorse Ed Weldon’s comment on cubic space. So lame to hear from people occupying space about costs per square foot, when 1000’s of untapped cubes remain. Cannot develop the cubic without a logical floor.
    I’m on my own, so building my space is erratic. In that way it’s hit or miss, but the original plan follows a “get a this and not that” frame of mind.
    I’m 99% manual. Vert & Horiz mills with a 2 axis CNC, 3 lathes, group of drills, saws, a lot seemingly of grinding, assembly gear, the usual job shop mix, in a generous amount of room. I was very lucky, price equaled 6 yr rent in old home of SoCal. 2022-2004 = 18/ 6 is 3x, meaning 2 are free with reasonable tax bill, and instant equity.
    I group machines by 2 factors. 1. How a full from the raw job generally would progress (saw, turn & bore, mill keyway, press bearings). 2. By identity first then spindle size. (Say horizontal mills, 30 taper (if I had) toward that end, progressing to 50’s this end.) Each size has either a tooling cart or portion of, limits pushing it all over kingdom come.
    The lathes don’t share spindle types, but many cutters and MT tooling do interchange.
    Biggest machines have basically straight shot at one door for material, after passing horizontal saw.
    Between two most used mills, R8 Bridgeport & 40NMT Rambaudi is a 3′ radial drill 4MT. It sounds out of order but treasure the 4MT spindle for big drills and 2nd op. Why crank a table tapping holes, when I can bang them in with a tapping head and flood coolant?
    A 24″ shaper is nice where easiest to sweep chips, near lathes to run while changing chucks or dialing a 4 jaw. Who cares how long it takes to flat something, it’s like having an gopher employee!
    Horizontal saw, cold saw, hot saw are in a sort of straight line to ‘share’ gravity feed conveyor. Best thing ever when you get them cheap.Use a laser lining up rails and back jaw of vises, hold the longest bar they’ll deliver!
    The grinders, isolated far from everything with ways.
    Likewise, the welder is far from the little bit of woodwork equipment. Don’t need a source of ignition. Those are just for knocking up pallets or little crates. You have to use vacuum dust collection, no matter what.
    Anyway, that lays out my idea of floor use. Cubic wise is building up now. Found a die storage rack for tooling like rotary table, angle plates, vises etc. The ‘drawers’ run on rollers in an angle iron frame, unbelievable weight capacity. It’s better not enclosed, so not close to machines, but all of it in one foot print. A Presto lift is all you need, bottom shelf leveled to lowest position of lift, where heavy stuff belongs.
    I’ve probably mentioned how I inventory to other posts, it fits here too. It’s an ongoing type project, dynamic instead of never ending. Get a laptop, or an inactive phone capable of spreadsheets like XL. Set up with a] speech to text, b] next line on “ENTER”, c] plain text so it’ll input fractions, decimals (point), mm, and words equally, d] devise your own naming precedents and adhere to them (like military- barrel, rifle, M4…barrel, pistol, M9…..barrel, howitzer, M155).
    Devising the plan, start on paper, something easy like collets, and roughly categorize overall. The rest is easy.
    Once in awhile, starting from one corner walk around per the list, read into the spreadsheet ALL the collets. DOES NOT matter what order, just the precedence!
    R8 11/16″, R8 1/4″, TG 5/8″, ER16 1/2″, 5C 3/4″ hex, 5C 3/4″ square, 5C 3/4″ round…………… When finished for that session find the A-Z ascending sort function. POOF!
    2 weeks later, you find those four missing 5C 3/8″ hex, you’ll remember adding a Quantity column.

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