The American Craftsman WorkShop #21: Shop Organization - The Payoff

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Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 01-14-2010 06:29 PM 4385 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 20: A Little OCD Goes A Long Way Part 21 of The American Craftsman WorkShop series Part 22: Organization - Back At It Again! »

Like Searching for El Dorado...

Open space in the wood shop can be as elusive as El Dorado, the lost city of gold. I am fortunate enough to have a shop large enough that I can have some open space to assemble and stage projects before sending them out.

Just as efficiency is critical for my survival, so is open space. Space is necessary to stage incoming materials, assemble, finish, and stage projects for shipping.

Space Is A Vacuum

Open space in the shop creates a vacuum and it will suck everything into itself. Fortunately in the shop, this is a matter of principal and not physics. Strict discipline in maintaining our workspace can keep control of this situation.

For me, it is critical for survival as a business to understand what costs me money in the shop and how to best utilize the space to make money. I have come to realize that I do NOT have space for storing. I am not in the warehouse/storage business and I cannot afford to store projects or materials. The material has to come in, get processed, and the project has to go out.

I have to make a choice to keep only select materials on hand and to allow my suppliers do what they do best. My local suppliers are in the business of maintaining, storing, and supplying the materials for me. I am fortunate that my two main suppliers are only 3 and 6 miles from my shop and I can rely on the convenience of this situation.

But even when I was working in Ohio, the same principles applied and my main suppliers were 28 and 40 miles (one way) from the shop. Making a good materials list and wisely picking the material yourself will minimize overages.

The Realization

The accumulation occurs over time. A little material left over from a job here then another job there… It is not something that happens all at once. And we are correct, the pieces can be used in another project, but we have to determine what are the odds that a particular piece of scrap will be used? For the type of projects and work that I do, I tend to use a certain size of wood or sheet goods. If it is smaller than that the odds are not good that it will be used for a long time if ever.

Most all woodworkers have a certain amount of space to store the materials. It may only be a corner of the room, the wall space over the workbench, or it may be a sizable lumber rack that fills a wall or two.

I have come to realize that I need to understand and strictly adhere to my storage limit. My limit is this; if it does not fit on the lumber rack or sheet goods organizer then something has to go. At this point I can call a local woodworker to give the material to or I can burn it. But I cannot afford to store it.

Pro Vs. Hobbyist

My reasoning and point of view is that of a business. As a hobbyist the reasons are different but the end result is the same (or should be.)

An unorganized and messy shop space is often sharing garage or living space. There is a simple principle that I share with my clients, “When Momma’s happy – everybody’s happy.” If your spouse sees an unorganized and unused space, they will not be as supportive of your hobby. Maybe your space is unorganized but used, still it is an eyesore and the basic principal applies.

Hobby woodworkers have to split their time between work, family, and shop. If you are not operating as a business in the shop, understand that your time is just as valuable as mine. If it is difficult to function due to disorganization then you are wasting valuable time.

It is more difficult to get motivated to work in an unorganized shop. This leads to a shop that sees little use and in your spouse’s mind a waste of money and space.


It can be stated without any debate that an unorganized shop is simply not as safe to work in as an organized shop. We participate in an inherently hazardous activity when we work in the shop. Keeping a clean and organized wood shop lends itself to a safer work environment.

Motivation Through Organization Envy

Organizing cost me more time than money. Some may have to shell out a few bucks to purchase or build organizing systems for tools and materials but the return on investment is huge.

Since my last organizational efforts I keep thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner!” I hope this motivates others to get more organized so that they may be able to enjoy working in the shop as much as I do.

Many think that I have over 1,000 sf of shop space but I am functioning in 950 sf of shop space.

Ahhh, space…



Share the Love~Share the Knowledge

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

19 comments so far

View Cory's profile


760 posts in 3384 days

#1 posted 01-14-2010 06:34 PM

Lookin good, Todd. I’m working on the same organization type projects in my garage/shop. I always get great info from your posts, so thank you!

-- The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4125 days

#2 posted 01-14-2010 06:52 PM

my packrat-”ness” and my creative chaos’”ness” (ha.. I typed “mess” first haha) wants to argue your points but they aren’t coming up with any good points (other than the “save it, don’t waste it” message).
I think I am an “organized clutter” person..but I’m lacking the organized gene ;)

Thanks for the great blog.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Russ's profile


142 posts in 3163 days

#3 posted 01-14-2010 06:52 PM

I agree, Todd. Even as a hobbyist ( for a few more months) it is so easy to have the shop full of materials. With work, family and shop time it is easy to get overwhelmed, Christmas was crazy but now that it has slowed down I am doing the same, cleaning and organizing. Reading your post gave me some more ideas, buy blue tubs to store my scraps that I may use outside, etc.

-- Happiness is being covered in sawdust

View jim C's profile

jim C

1472 posts in 3063 days

#4 posted 01-14-2010 07:03 PM

I couldn’t have said it better. Before retirement and the sale of my company, I had 50,000+ sq. feet of a precision mfg. co. You could eat off the floors. I demanded cleanliness and organization, and the result was everyone was motivated and proud to work there. (It also was a major catalyst in the successful sale of the company).
Consistent organizational habits and cleanliness take little time and adds profits as more time becomes available by not searching for anything in an unorganized environment.
Rat-packing was and is another of my pet peeves. If I look at something that sits there week after week, and has no real reason, it go’s.
You certainly have the right business plan. Keep it up.

View woodchic's profile


841 posts in 3322 days

#5 posted 01-14-2010 08:04 PM

Great post Todd!


-- Robin Renee'

View chuck24's profile


48 posts in 3239 days

#6 posted 01-14-2010 08:25 PM

I am an organizing fool. Everything in our house and my shop has to be where it is supposed to be. The wife loves it because she doesnt have to put the groceries away (she gets to cary them in).

My job in the Navy at a training command is to make sure all the classes are scheduled but another one of my “other tasks” is to run our program of getting rid of waste weather its just trash, or way to much excess or processes that waste time. It is called Lean Six Sigma and all the top fortune 500 companies use it. The way you have explained the “cost” benefit is dead on. Less material equals more money. In our case we are a construction training center so we have all sorts of shops here. If we had to much material it would make it harder on the instructors to prep for there upcoming classes and even harder for the students to get the material they need to complete a cetain project. Now we may not see the green money but our money is measured in how many troops we can train effectivly.

Hope all of that was clear. This is a new program that I am just learning. At first when I got here I said to myself that it was a waste of time and that it should just be common sense. Example: if we have so much metal in the racks out side that it is rusted… that may mean it isnt getting used… DUH… Scrap it and get it out of there all it is doing is rusting and wasting money.

I could go for days on this subject but not everyone can figure that out so that is why we have the program.

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3273 days

#7 posted 01-14-2010 11:20 PM

Since building my shop a couple of years ago I made it a habit to keep it as organized as possible. Organizing and cleaning my shop has become easy for me since I make it a habit of putting tools back in their place every night before I stop working. I also have made it a habit and personal goal to sweep and vaccum the floors before closing up each night. I have discovered that if I make it a HABIT and continually adhere to this habit my shop will stay clean and organized because I don’y want to feel guilty by not following my own organization and cleanliness goals.
I have a 25 ft long flexible 4” hose on the back and front of my shop that is connected to the dust collection system. With this I can easily reach all of my shop floors.
When I am in my shop working it easily becomes messy. Sure, there are times when I just feel like putting off cleaning up when finished, but that 15 minutes or so that it takes makes me feel so much better…especially when I walk back in the shop the next day. Making something a habit with repetition makes it easier to do.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4064 days

#8 posted 01-14-2010 11:48 PM

I love the feedback, especially the professional level feedback.

I think this is important for the hobbyist to consider for application to their own shop.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4264 days

#9 posted 01-15-2010 12:13 AM

A great Blog Todd, now if just a little bit soaks in, I’ll be happy.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3235 days

#10 posted 01-15-2010 12:14 AM

Great job Todd!!

As a professional – I have been running a crew of workers for many years…...Organization really comes in to play…..You have to have the proper materials……etc on site so the crew can do the work they are scheduled to perform – labor is the most expensive part of any project (and the most controllable) have your crew non productive due to waiting for items to show up or due to them having to spend time looking for things can cost you plenty…even make a profitable job turn into a big looser. Glad to say I am much more organized on the professional side….

At home I try to work that into my shop with varying results (one big issue is I am the only gopher I have at home (hard to be the chief to the chief) – I don’t always have some young apprentices or laborers to shuffle stuff around for me (I have had a few local kids do work for me now and then…which is very helpful).......It is always a balancing act as to how much time I can spend on projects vs how much time I can tidy up and organize…..Your posts have been great inspiration…and the points you make are very valid.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View zlatanv's profile


691 posts in 3199 days

#11 posted 01-15-2010 12:49 AM

Totally agree, there is a place for everything and everything has its place, much easier and efficient. My biggest problem is the wife likes to garage sale toooooo much and most of that stuff finds its way to the garage/shop. Put up a shed last year for all the lawn equip and bikes, and garage sale finds, been six months and its full. Wish I had your space. Do you work alone or do have any helpers? Have multiple jobs going at one time or try to keep it to one at a time? Keep up the excellent work!

-- Z, Rockwall, TX

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4064 days

#12 posted 01-15-2010 01:13 AM

Dick – regardless of your shop condition you seem pretty happy anyway:)

Reggiek – I am the “it” man in my operation too. I don’t have employees but I use subs as needed.

Side note: I am not the type of contractor that calls guys subs but works them like employees. They are truly subs.

zlatanv – I always have more than one iron in the fire but I try to maintain discipline about how many active jobs I am working. There is usually one bigger one and there is one or two small ones that I plug into the schedule here and there as the schedule allows. As a contractor it is always nice to have some “filler” jobs.

Once in a while there has been two of us in the shop and it is just perfect for that.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3637 days

#13 posted 01-15-2010 01:15 AM

It looks great, Todd.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4064 days

#14 posted 01-15-2010 01:20 AM

Hey Charles – I was just thinking about you as I was working on my shop. Just wondering if you had done any more work on yours?

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Loucarb's profile


2388 posts in 3410 days

#15 posted 01-15-2010 01:37 AM

Great post. You have a great shop. You are right about the clutter. In my shop an open space is like a black hole, it just sucks everything in. I try to keep most things in their place cause I don’t like hunting for stuff, but I do get some clutter that I have to clean up now & then.

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