AIEL Shop Tips
Work Benches and Floor Area
- Flat Benches. Use a carpenter's level to be sure that each work
surface is regular and does not lean. Check along its width, depth, and
diagonal. A slanted bench allows items, such as pencils, to roll away from
where they are placed. Hardware is a particular nuisance if it rolls under
something, or goes off the bench entirely to get lost in some crevice at
floor level. Spilled liquids will flow across an inclined bench, making for
prolonged cleanup. A flat, level bench eliminates these problems.
- Cover Benches with Newspaper. They absorb oils and moisture,
while providing a clean surface on which to work. When they get dirty,
replace them with clean newspaper and you'll have a fresh surface under
your work on a regular basis. Additionally, since the tendancy is to read
those newspapers, and thus distract, place the papers upside down so that
the printing faces away from you.
- Install Electrical Outlets on Bench Legs. If you have multiple
work benches, it is very handy to have one or more outlets on the legs of
each for in-front work. This allows one to plug in a drill or soldering
gun for repairs on larger items that must be left on the floor. Attach these
boxes onto the sides of the legs so as to keep plugs out of the way when
an outlet is in use, and so one won't come in contact with a grounded
surface when at the bench. Or, use plastic electrical boxes.
- Repurpose Broken Office Chairs. Remove broken backs and
associated hardware to create a broad seat on wheels. These are ideal
for working on items that are low to the floor because they provide for
being in a seated position at that height. Their wheels make for a
platform that is mobile to allow for fast repositioning around larger
items being serviced.
- Buy Old Postal Units to Organise Shop Items. Find these at
surplus places or at stores selling used office furniture. They are the
type that have multiple mail boxes and are typically seen at apartment
buildings, post offices or business complexes. Get the ones with open
backs and face them so that the openings are accessible. Depending on the
slot dimensions, one might store manuals and catalogues, solvents, parts
stock or hardware, and anything fitting the slot dimensions that you want
to display or be close to hand for easy access. These units can't handle
really heavy weights but are wonderful for shop organisation.
Place a smaller one on the bench itself for items you
use in your daily work, and mount larger ones on to the wall near your
bench, while the largest can be floor standing. You will find that these
are a fast, easy, inexpensive solution to storage -- you will want more of
them in the future!
- Check Floor Drains. If insects seem to be excessive, especially
in the winter, or you notice sewer odours, have a look at your floor drains.
Unused drains will lose their trap water through evaporation and allow a
direct passage from the sewer into your shop. Fill these with water every so
often to rehydrate the trap.
- Employ Squeeze Bottles. Bottles that contained condiments,
shampoo, eye drops, and a wide variety of other products can be cleaned
and used for service purposes. Fill them with adhesives, grease, oils,
cleaners, etc. Remember to collect hotel shampoo bottles and tubes for
when smaller containers fit your purpose. Be sure to clean them well and
to label prominently. Try to use one particuar product's container for
a given purpose so as to prevent mixups.
- Place Frequently Used Guns in Holsters. Soldering, hot-melt
glue, and heat guns will always be at the ready if you take them out
of their drawers and put them into holsters right at the bench. Arrange
for switched outlets with indicators to be within reach. Be sure that hot
tips protrude well outside of the holster to keep from melting or burning
it. If this is a regular problem, use metal holsters or curved storage
See the Bench Power discussion.
- Buy Used School Locker Sets. These usually come in groups of
three, but other groupings can be had. They are perfect storage for tall
items such as brooms/mops, paint roller extension handles, floor polishers,
mic stands and booms, and lighting tripod stands. Many have an upper
shelf where accessories for these aforementioned items can be placed.
Get the units that have flat tops so more storage can
be gained above. Some have sloped rooves but these are often hiding a flat
top underneath. So remove the screws or drill out the rivets holding the
slanted metal; remove it to access the level part of the top.
- Locate Used Aircraft Catering Cases. Flight attendents use these
to serve passengers on airplanes. They are narrow in width to fit aircraft
aisles and have locking castors to keep them stable in flight. Two fold-out
trays are on top while a fold-back door on either end allows full interior
access. Inside are rails holding removable bins that are perfect for
storing items in a shop. Each back-to-back pair has its own set of rails,
with each bin being accessed by choosing which door to open.
Because these cases are slim, they can easily be placed
along side a bench or cupboard. Being on wheels, they can be rolled out of
the way whenever it is necessary to retrieve items in behind. The mobility
of these cases means they can be brought right to the work area as necessary.
- Repurpose Old Dish Washer Cutlery Racks and Trays. With their
individual compartments, these long, rectangular plastic bins (often with
handles and hooks) can be used to hold bagged items such as small parts
from old lights being retired, extra nuts and bolts that are too numreous
to fit into the parts drawers you have, and small miscellaneous items not
having a home elsewhere. Their narrow size allows them to fit on shallow
shelves and into little-used crevices between larger storage units. Each
can be retrived for work at the bench but then quickly removed from the
task area once an item has been selected.
Declutter your shop by sorting and bagging all those
small items taking up space on the edges of cabinet tops, at the back of
drawers, or in long-forgotten "safe" places. Use resealable bags and label
each near its top. Categorise the bags into the rack's compartments as
determined by their now-organised contents. When done, you will be
presented with a transparent catalogue through which one may easly browse
when that extra or odd part is required -- now! (See
Decluttering your Shop Space)
Separating your inventory means knowing what you have. More of your old
inventory will become valuable as you remember to include it in projects
where you can bill a client for these items, or save from buying new parts
when repairing one of your own pieces of equipment.
- Have a File Cabinet for Shop Literature. One drawer should be
for manuals and instructions that came with equipment. You might also keep
small accessories for the equipment here. We even keep the blister-pack
cardboard that comes with smaller products because it has all the
information for that item. Each is placed into the file folder that matches
its category: Electrical, Electronic, Hand Tools, Power Tools, and so on.
Have another drawer for any brochures or catalogues that have arrived.
Make a general file for each type, such as Accessories, Lighting
Fixtures, Dimming Equipment, Tools, Wire &
Cable, etc. As each folder fills, sub-divide it into smaller categories.
The Lighting Fixtures one might be divided into Ellipsoidals,
Fresnels, Moving-Beam, PARs, etc. As some companies
come to prominence with you, create a new file for each. (Again, see
Decluttering your Shop Space)
Designate Sections: Some shops indicate their cabinets by colour.
Rather than painting a drawer or entire cabinet, apply colour coding tape.
This allows for easy changes later on. Cut the tape to a standard length
using scissors so as to achieve a sharp edge, then apply to the same
location on each drawer. This makes for a trim, professional look. Be sure
to clean where the tape will go, and after the tape has been applied, smooth
any irregularities so it won't come loose and become dog-eared. Now apply
labels above or below the coloured tape to identify specific drawer
See many of these
tips in action:
AIEL Shop Photo Tour