Got Rules for Your Tools?

When it comes to staying organized, drawers work for me.
When it comes to staying organized, drawers work for me.

“Put things back where you find them.”

Can you still hear that one ringing in your ears from childhood? I can, but in my shop, it’s one rule I really do try to live by.

Some woodworkers wonder what kind of real work gets done in a clean shop. I guess for those folks, clutter helps get the creative juices flowing, or at least it doesn’t grind productivity to a halt. But the “Oscar Madison” approach sure doesn’t work for me. A disorganized shop throws a wrench into my workflow right from the start, because I can’t settle into a relaxed, focused mindset. That’s when my best woodworking happens: I know exactly what I’m setting out to do, I know where all the tools and parts are to get me there, and I can just get down to work.

A mess, on the other hand, starts me out scattered and keeps me there.

It doesn't take hi tech to tame shop chaos. I store my surplus of router bits on a board full of holes. Simple, cheap and I know right where they are.
It doesn't take hi tech to tame shop chaos. I store my surplus router bits on a board full of holes. It's simple, cheap and I know right where they are.

So, in the shop, I’m a drawer guy. When I need a file, I know that it’s fourth drawer down in the red chest, somewhere on the left. Scrapers? Brown tool chest, second drawer. #8 screws are always in the top drawer, back of the shop. Really, as long as I generally know where something should be, and it ends up somewhere in the right drawer when I’m done, I’m set. Pegboard doesn’t work for me, for reasons I can’t really pinpoint, but I appreciate those who swear by the stuff. It’s really all the same principle—put it back where it goes…especially if you paint an outline around it.

My crusty old shop brush proves to me why I need to follow my own rule: I don’t have a spot for it. It floats from bench to saw table to who knows where. I’ve literally spun around in circles looking for the darn thing. I’ve gotta find a drawer for that brush, or maybe outline it, because sooner or later it’s going to disappear for good.

My mangy old shop brush is the most elusive tool in the shop, because I haven't trained myself to store it in one place. One of these days, it will disappear for good.
My mangy old shop brush is the most elusive tool in the shop, because I haven't trained myself to store it in one place. One of these days, I'll lose it for good.

How about you? What’s a rule you keep in your shop that you’re absolutely committed to? It doesn’t have to be organizational, just helpful in some way. Safety, tool care, methods of work, storage, shop etiquette, you name it.

Think about it, then tell us what it is here. That goes for you clutter lovers, too. We can all use a little well-meaning advice now and again.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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  • Matt

    No liquids on the bed of the table saw! I hate water rings on cast iron.

  • Chris Marshall


    I SECOND that rule, big time! But, isn’t it weird how clean, bright cast iron is just a magnet for people to want to set wet things on?! A guy who visits my shop from time to time does it with almost every visit. Argh!

    Thank goodness for Boeshield and wax!


  • For me it has to be at the end of each project, really giving the shop a good cleaning. Dust the tables, sweep the floors, etc. I can work through -some- mess during a project, but starting one in an already messy shop really bothers me.


  • Tim

    1. No one in the shop without good shoes on (rule created especially for my 7yo son)

    2. No horseplay of any kind (ditto above)

    3. The job’s not done ’till everything’s put away

    4. Similar to previous posts – NOTHING get’s set on the table saw (though this one can be a challenge for me too!)

  • I don’t really have any rules that are worth mentioning, but I try to keep tools separate from raw materials and fasteners. What usually happens is that everything gets piled into a common work area, but my preference is to keep things separate.

    Also, this is not a tool rule, but general rule – no drinking allowed when tools are in use. That goes for both myself and any spectators. Spectators must also wear eye protection even if I’m not doing anything that requires it. This usually does one of two things – it gets idle spectators to leave the area and afford me some privacy, or it gets them in the mood to help out with whatever I’m doing.

    Side note, that drawer organization photo is a tease, how about more pics of your shop organization?!

  • Ryan

    1. Use the right tool for the job, and use the tool for its intended purpose. My chisel is not your screwdriver. A wrench is not a hammer.

    2. If you’d like to borrow one of my tools, that’s ok. Just leave a deposit of 2x the replacement value of the tool on the workbench. Half of your deposit will be refunded upon return of the tool. The other half will be used to buy a new one because chances are you’ve broken it, dulled it, rusted it, bent it or worn it beyond repair.

  • Jim Brown

    I was an HV A/C Mechanic during my working years, and one rule I had was, “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place. I could get into my service truck in the dark of night, and find what I wanted. The same applys for my wood shop. Put it back where you got it.

  • Chris Marshall

    Okay, folks, so far I’m sensing a common theme here: Neat is good. Whew. Glad I’m not the only Felix Unger to keep a shop. A project is like surgery to me, sometimes.

    How about you clutter-is-good woodworkers? You know who you are. Make your stand! Tell us why we’re wasting time fussing with all the organizing. It’s all in good fun!

    TOOLGUYD: I wish I could share more organizing tips, but really, drawers are my whole deal. I try to reduce and re-use when I can, to keep the volume of “stuff” down, too. My wife says I’ve got a Zen approach to order, so “less is more” keeps it all pretty easy to find.

    RYAN: I love Rule #2! Guessing you don’t loan out too many tools–who wants to anyway?! That’s a really good one…become the rental center.

  • “I wish I could share more organizing tips, but really, drawers are my whole deal.”

    Well, in that case, you could always show us the rest of your neatly organized drawers!

    I have many drawers, but no matter what I do, they disorganize themselves in a matter of weeks.

  • Jon Phillips

    I get a kick out your ideas for your shop that orginize thing with a place for every thing and every thing in its place. I have 3 shop brushes so one of them is usally where I can see it. But like many home work shops I share my wood working with my brake changeing and my oil changeing and my Kids coming over to change there oil and brakes and batterys, so I not only have a set of wood working tools but I have a sizeable collection of machanics tools also, keeping them caged is a sizeable task. I have a two car garage with storage for food and my wifes fabric supply. Needless to say I dont have a lot of wall space to mount cabinets and shelves. but I enjoy reading about yours so keep it up

  • David Whiting

    I have a bunch of inexpensive goggles in a box. If a power tool goes on everybody in the shop puts on a set. No exceptions. I get a little static from someone a distance from the tool but it is the rule.

  • Les

    It a had question it depends on:
    1 who it is
    2 what tool it is
    3 who else might use it
    4 how long for
    5 what happen last they borrowed something
    6 Personally I don`t like borrowing other peoples tools either

  • Ric Smith

    Lend nothing to anyone!

    It often does not get returned.

    Oh and I never seem to remember who I loaned it to.


    • Chris Marshall


      Please check your email for the Miter Saw Station Cutting Diagram.

      Thanks for inquiring about the project!



  • Clint

    I can really relate top your “lost brush” problem. I used to know where all of my tools were, except for my elusive brush. A few years ago, I was shopping with my wife and we passed a household item area with small brushes with matching dust pans. I now have a blue set for my drill press, a red set for my router table–and so on. My trusty bench brush now hangs reliably over my work bench.

  • G. Graham

    For me, there is no difference in loaning a tool or a toothbrush. I had a bad experience with a shop vac that became a lesson learned.