Tool storage in the workshop

Smitty was a cranky old journeyman machinist with more than a few quirks. A lot of guys who worked piecework could be particular about their tools. Smitty tilted over into obsessive, even a little paranoid. He mounted extra locks on his toolbox and got really fired up if someone borrowed a tool for a moment or set their coffee cup down on his bench. His paranoia was viewed by the young apprentices as a temptation. Knowing we had the power to set him off was a juicy morsel, some Turkish delight, impossible to resist. You couldn’t be brazen though or you’d have Smitty and the boss after you. Mike stepped forward to take on the challenge. He ran the same milling machine as Smitty but on the night shift. The workbench had a few communal tools, some wrenches and hammers that everyone shared. Twice a week like clockwork, Mike would take the mill’s brass hammer and gently sand off 1/16” of an inch off the bottom of the ash handle. He carefully blended a small chamfer around the end of the handle and rubbed some dirty oil on his work to add a little patina. Months rolled by and Smitty was the only one in the shop unaware of the slowly unfolding prank. He’d pick up the shrinking tool and look at it and tilt his head like a puppy that just heard a new sound. It took several months but finally the handle shrunk to half its length and the light came on for the old guy. It was one of the few times I got to see someone get a new nickname. From that day forward he went by the name “Stubby”.

I made up this tool rack that hangs on the wall just opposite my workbench. I built this several years ago and had multiple goals in mind. I avoided drawers as I like to be able to pivot around and without thinking reach a tool. Also, easy to reach it makes them easy to put back. Instead of constantly accumulating piles of tools on the bench that always seem to find a way to hide out of sight; I stick them back in their place. I organized storage so that the tools I use most frequently are approximately in the “strike zone” to use a baseball term. Back saws and bench planes are right at my finger tips. When I built this I imposed a few limitations on myself just to stretch my design skills. I didn’t use a tape measure or ruler, just dividers and a square. It’s approximately 5 feet high by 3 feet wide. It’s made from 1X12 #2 white pine so it’s just over 11” deep. The bottom section is 2/5 of the entire height. I plan on building another rack beside it but may opt to mount some drawers in that. Small tools like chisels, files, and rasps seem to be multiplying like rabbits and I need a solution for storing them. I included a shot of my workbench. It’s a European style with a shoulder vise. I built it about ten years ago with an assortment of wood I’d been hoarding. The base is red oak, top is beech, tail vise is lacewood, the extension that juts out to support the shoulder vice is a chunk of bird’s eye maple. The large breadboard ends on the top are walnut. Lest you shudder, this is Ohio, we used to build barns out of walnut here.

George R. Walker

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About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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16 Responses to Tool storage in the workshop

  1. rab says:

    Nice work on the tool rack. Do you intend to post any details for those of us who might want to copy it?

    • walkerg says:

      rab,

      I’m getting ready to put together a second unit to house my other tools. It will be much the same except the bottom section will have some drawers. I’ll try to put some sketches up. My guess is you can figure this out though.
      This little design can’t be simpler. It’s just a rectangle 3 parts wide, 5 parts high. I dovetailed the corners for strength. Set a shelf (sliding dovetail)2/5 up to define the lower section. Divide the lower section into pigeon holes to fit your tools. I screwed cleats on the back to hang it on a mating cleat anchored to the wall. Hope that helps.
      George

      • rab says:

        A sketch might be helpful, though this might be an opportunity for me to test my largely undeveloped design skills! Thanks.

  2. Tico Vogt says:

    An enviable collection of planes. Nice organization. My Klausz bench is similar to yours and my basic tools are also readily at hand. The most urgent need I have is for a good storage solution for everything that has to do with drilling. Right now things rattle around in drawers and sliding trays, sets of Forstners, holesaws, utility bits, countersinks, reamers, plug cutters, augurs. Theses have just been accumulating over the years and it is hard to get fired up to make a “proper” place for them, unlike for a great saw, chisel, or plane.

    • walkerg says:

      Tico,

      I always debate getting all these small tools organized. Sometimes I think the easiest way will be to wait till I kick the bucket and let the auctioneers sort them out.

      George

  3. jim tolpin says:

    George…

    Amazing coincidence: I’m just about to build something similar to your plane and saw rack to sit just over my joinery bench. And, like you, I’m going to force myself to not use any measurements–just the tools themselves to define the spaces, and whole-number ratio proportions for the overall form. (Yes, I did say joinery bench–I have a much lower Roubo-style bench dedicated to hand planing. I’m so spoiled I can hardly stand myself).

    • walkerg says:

      Jim,
      I’ve been looking at a copy of Schwarz’s workbench book. I’m sure if it had been in print when I built my bench, I would have built a Roubo with a leg vice. Actually, I’m secretly contemplating building a 10′ Roubo and shoehorning it against the wall behind my current bench. I’m not sure you ever finish fiddling with tool boxes and benches.

      George

  4. Jack Plane says:

    I’m glad you posted the story about Stubby. These stories of apprentices/masters are a joy and invaluable in a world of diminishing training and apprenticeships in the traditional crafts.
    Perhaps someone might volunteer some time and space to accumulate a repository of such tales before they are lost for all time.

    • walkerg says:

      I’ve often thought the same. I was lucky enough to catch the last gasp of an apprentice tradition that I’m sad to say is no more. It’s hard to explain to someone what it was like. It had it’s own culture with many unwritten rules and taboos. An apprentice would never think of declining an offering of food, even if it was a cracker with Limburger cheese, hot sauce, and stinky fish. It was a melting pot and leveler that taught me much more than just a trade.
      George

  5. Mike Siemsen says:

    George,
    I have a bench that I built from Nicholson’s description of an English Joiners bench in his book The mechanic’s companion, or, The elements and practice of carpentry.
    I find as you have that we can learn from the past by trying things. I have learned much from this bench that aids me in my woodworking, it is simple and effective, very stable and a pleasure to use. These benches were often built 12 to 14 feet long and lend themselves very well to long work. I would nudge you in that direction if you are considering another bench. I have a friend who has a very nice Roubo, he is building a Nicholson because he prefers the way it functions. I must admit that one can never have too many benches. If there is space maybe I will bring it to WIA in October. It likes to travel.
    Mike

    • walkerg says:

      Mike,

      I totally agree about learning what a bench or a tool for that matter can teach. The difficulty with choosing a new bench is you almost need to use one for a while to see what it really has to offer. My current bench is wonderful for cutting dovetails and joinery, a little weak when you need to work on larger case sides and table tops. It’s on my list to build a longer bench and you confirm that. I’ll be presenting at the WIA in October, perhaps I could take your bench on a test drive?
      George

  6. Mark says:

    Well I got a question. You say you use simple ratios 2:3, 3:5 ect, are these not Fibonacci numbers eventually ending up with a ratio of 1:1.6. Even in this piece you start with a Square, the basic in the development of a Golden Rectangle. Then you use the bottom 2/5’s for the open section giving an overall ratio of 36/60 this give a ratio of 3:5 or mathematically the ratios come out to 1:1.6 and the basic overall structure is a golden rectangle.

    This is just my question not a critisim, I am no expert in design,. which is why I bought your DVD from LeeNielsen so I can appreciate the finer nuances of design.

    I guess my point is regardless what you do, you really can’t get away from the Golden Ratio.

    Years ago, my wife bought a old roll top portion for my desk, Tambor roll top type, but the roll top section was removed inside though are a series of drawers and cubicles which when you look at them, your system follows it to the letter. The whole system is balanced. I don’t think any member has a ratio even close to 1:1.6, there are squares and oblong shapes but they all work together to form a unit.

    Thanks for your effort and work in this area and making the DVD available.

  7. walkerg says:

    Mark,
    I appreciate your comments. Yes there are several whole number ratios very close to the Golden Maean (GM). 3:5 and 5:8 are two examples. The debate on whether the GM was used historically has been discussed since the late 19th century with virtually all the historical literature silent on it’s use. The literature is abundant and largely focusses on the use of whole number ratios which are easy to manipulate with dividers and provide a more diverse range of options than the single ratio of the GM. You might want to take a look at post I wrote on this subject back on Jan 29th.

    George

  8. adrian says:

    I keep seeing designs for this sort of tool storage. And what bothers me is that my tool collection is not static. It’s constantly growing and changing. I need a tool storage system that can adapt. If I build a rack with exact spaces designed in for each tool, how can I fit in a new chisel, or plane that arrives in the shop tomorrow?

    Any thoughts on this?

    • walkerg says:

      adrian,

      You pose something I think we all deal with. This is my third workbench, and probably sixth or seventh attempt at tool storage. I addressed some of your issues on this rack. The upper portion is basically a flat panel that can be reconfigured by attaching wooden cleats that keep tools secured. The bottom section with all the cubbyholes is fairly genaric also. I made the two bottom shelves roomy enough to handle standard sized moulding planes, and the small row on top is just a series of slots that get narrower as they go across. I made the widest slots on the left wide enough to house a #4 smoother and then went smaller from there. What I have learned in nearly 30 years of woodworking is that the number of tools that I reach for most often is rather small, possibly less than 15. Whatever storage you come up with, focus on making those tools as easy to access as possible. I find an open arrangement like this ideal. I have been thinking about a bank of drawers for my legion of chisels but I may still keep the most reached for out in the open. Hope that helps.

      George

  9. adrian says:

    I think my total collection of tools is, uh, relatively small. In the throes of my last project, for example, I acquired my 8th chisel. So if I build a chisel rack for 8 chisels then I’ve got a problem if I should ever happen to get a 9th one. And who knows, that 9th chisel might turn out to be one I reach for all the time. How can I know? (I haven’t got 30 years of guiding experience.) I have the chisels in a drawer with little wooden holders for them that are stacked onto threaded rod so I can insert new chisels in the right place in the line up. But this solution has an unappealing complexity to it. I think it took about an hour to carve out the new blocks to support chisel #8. (But when I hunted around for solutions to this problem on line, everybody seemed to assume that you had a fixed set of a dozen identical chisels to store. Might aren’t like that.)

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