Time for reading: 7 min.

The "Time on your Hands" Garage Project Part 3: Organize It!

You've read through Parts 1 and 2 of our Garage Project articles, and now it's time to move to the final part. Here, in Part 3 "Organize It!", we suggest some necessary garage workshop items for sale, and provide hints on how to both get AND stay organized.
The "Time on your Hands" Garage Project Part 3: Organize It!

If you've been home with some extra time on your hands recently, you may have stumbled across our article from a few weeks back, "The "Time on your Hands" Garage Project Part 1: Clean it!". Did you read that and actually clean out your garage? Good for you. When you came back inside from that, lo and behold, you found this article, "The "Time on your Hands" Garage Project Part 2: Design it!" Now you're holding a grease-stained 8.5 x 11" piece of paper with your pencil-sketched garage floorplan on it. Congratulations! It's time for Part 3, where all the hard work you put into this project during Parts 1 & 2 will produce the neat and organized final result you've wanted for a long time.

At the end of Part 2, we had a list of items for our refurbished shop which would give us the storage space and the working room to tackle our project car. Those items are:

  • Top and bottom combo toolbox
  • Tool service cart
  • Workbench
  • Storage shelving
  • Shop vacuum, trash bin, and air compressor

(In the interest of budget-watching, we will forego the mid-rise lift for now, keeping in mind that when finances allow, it's an easy add-on.) Taking them one at a time, let's see what's available, and let's also be sure to discuss how each of these helps prevent the garage from deteriorating into some kind of ugly mess again.

Top And Bottom Combo Toolbox

You've concluded that you can fit (and can afford) a 27" wide combination top box/bottom roller cabinet toolbox (you'll donate the old dented unit). You're not too concerned about height, because you have a tall ceiling. You can shop for a top & bottom box combination, or you can look for units sold separately. Buying them individually can be a better choice because it allows for some customization.

We really like this Homak bottom box: it has 7 drawers (for hand tool organization, a greater quantity of shallow drawers is better than a lesser quantity of deep drawers), and its front-to-back measurement is slightly larger than some other boxes.

Homak 7-Drawer Bottom Roller Cabinet
The Homak 7-drawer bottom roller cabinet is sturdy and long-lasting.

To complement it, this Homak top chest has four good-sized drawers plus storage up top. It's 27" wide, so it will easily fit on top of our bottom selection. (Do NOT buy a top box wider than the bottom box!)

Homak Top Chest
This Homak top chest isn’t fancy, but is high quality and gets the job done.

The organization of tools in a toolbox is a very personal matter. From my experience, the three best suggestions I can provide are:

  • a. Put the most frequently-used tools (typically screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers) in a drawer that's between waist and chest high. The drawer will be an easy reach, and peering inside will not involve standing on your toes or bending at your knees.
  • b. Dedicate the toolbox to TOOLS. Supplies do not belong in a toolbox! Items such as spare parts (like spark plugs), consumables (screws and tape), and non-workshop items (last year's Field & Stream magazine) belong elsewhere. If some toolbox drawers remain unused, you will find that your tool collection will grow as you become more involved in the shop, and you'll need room for them. (We cover the organization of supplies below.)
  • c. Label the drawers. But, you say, you have a memory like a sieve. Except, you can't find that 3/8" drive torque wrench which you need RIGHT NOW to correctly tighten those valve cover bolts. Labeling accomplishes two things: it helps you find ALL your tools without delay; and it helps ensure that the tool you've taken out goes back into the same drawer where you found it.

Tool Service Cart

You decided to spend money on a quality toolbox, so for a service cart, you're not looking for fancy, just functional. You want to be able to wheel a small assortment of tools out to the driveway and back, and this 4-drawer service cart from ATD fits the bill. You'll never have 'enough' storage room, so the four extra drawers will come in handy. While there are less expensive models in plastic, this all-steel one will withstand the abuse you're planning to throw at it. Besides, the red matches your eyes.

ATD 4-Drawer Service Cart
The ATD 4-drawer service cart will easily move tools from place to place.

There's one issue with service carts, though, that gives them a bad rap. They can quickly become repositories for all kinds of junk. To help you avoid such a scenario, always think of your service cart as a temporary place for tools you've moved there from elsewhere. Guys and gals who can afford this hack have been known to stock the drawers of their service cart with duplicates of their most frequently-used tools, which eliminates any need to move tools from box to box.

The two other lifesavers that will keep your service cart from looking like your own private version of the local pick'n'pull are these: trash should immediately go into the trash bin you bought; and tools will easily be returned to the toolbox because you labeled the drawers….


Our criteria for a workshop workbench are: a large, flat, working area; a high load capacity; and extra storage room. Oh, and if we can get all that for less than a thousand bucks, that would be nice too. It should be no surprise that we found our ideal bench at TOOLSiD: this ATD heavy duty bench is 60" long (fits our garage), can hold up to 1200 lb., and has a bottom shelf for stuff that doesn't fit elsewhere. It's a win!

ATD Heavy-Duty Workbench
The ATD heavy-duty workbench: simple, strong, and with extra storage.

Similar to the service cart issue, workbenches are notorious for their magnet-like ability to collect everything from piles of shop rags to last week's half-finished cup of coffee. See that nice shelf at the bottom of this bench? Let's maximize its use, and minimize the up-top clutter. The way to do that is by arranging storage boxes and cases to fill up that space.

Storage boxes and cases are available in plastic and metal, and in a wide variety of sizes. If you need slightly larger boxes for bulkier items, peruse the choices in our Portable Boxes & Totes section. For smaller items like nails, screws, and the like, you'll find what you need in our Small Parts Cases section.

Here's how I approached this with my own workshop bench. First, I measured the vertical height from the bottom shelf to the underside of the top shelf, then subtracted 2-3 inches so that I'd have room to maneuver my storage boxes. I also measured the width and depth. With those numbers in hand, I found the combination of boxes and cases that would fit.

If my available space was 24" high, 24" deep, and 48" wide, I could fit FOUR of these Stanley plastic toolboxes on one side. They're light, strong, and can hold an assortment of bulky items.

Stanley Tools 2000 Series Plastic ToolBox with Tool Tray
Stanley Tools - 2000 Series Plastic ToolBox with Tool Tray.

I would also purchase multiple storage boxes with lots of small compartments in them. I've made good use of such boxes for bolts, washers, and electrical connectors. You could stand these up side-by-side, which would allow you to slide out one at a time without disturbing the others. This 26-compartment job from Performance Tools is so affordable, that buying a dozen of them seems within reach. Just like your toolbox drawers: LABEL these under-bench boxes so that you know what's there.

Performance Tool 26-Compartment Storage Case
Performance Tool - 26-Compartment Storage Case.

Storage Shelving

We have all kinds of shelving choices: floor or wall mounted; universal or product-specific; and wood, plastic, and metal materials. For our dream garage, we are partial to the Stainless Works brand and their metal storage shelves available in a wide variety of widths and lengths. Width choices are 6", 8", 10", and 12", and lengths are 24", 36", and 48". The multitude of sizes allows us to maximize storage by fitting shelves into every available area.

Stainless Works Metal Shelves
The Stainless Works metal shelves come in 24”, 36”, and 48” lengths.

The same suggestion applies here as above for the workbench lower shelf: once your storage shelving is mounted in place, measure the length, depth, and height available for each shelf, and consider small storage boxes for at least some of the shelves. Certainly, frequently used items like flashlights, spray lube, and work gloves should find a home on a shelf that's within easy reach, as it makes no sense to put items like that in boxes.

Let's not forget any spare parts you might have for that project car! If you're in the middle of an engine job, you may have the air cleaner, carburetor, and valve covers off. Finding an open spot on a storage shelf keeps these off the floor AND off the workbench, and prevents them from becoming a tripping hazard.

Shop Vacuum, Trash Bin, And Air Compressor

We covered the desired shop vac and trash bin in Part 1. An air compressor, even a small portable unit, is one of those pieces of shop equipment which, once you get yours, will have you asking "how did I ever live without one?" While the horizontal tank models are among the most affordable, if you can swing it, a vertical tank takes up less of a footprint, and typically has larger tank capacity to boot. Check out this unit from Iron Horse, which packs 125 psi in a 20-gallon vertical tank.

Iron Horse Air Compressor
This Iron Horse air compressor delivers 5.5 CFM (cubic feet/minute) of air @90 psi (pounds/square inch).

Many of these vertical air compressors, like this Iron Horse model, are "semi-portable". The two wheels allow you to tilt it back and move it a short distance. However, don't think that you're going up a flight of stairs or down a rocky driveway with one! They are heavy. I rarely move mine, so the organizational challenge is not with the compressor itself, but rather, with the hose. Compressor hoses tend to get tangled and heaped into a pile in the middle of the floor, where you proceed to drive over the darn thing.

The solution is two-fold: a long-enough hose to minimize wheeling that cast-iron tank anywhere; and a hose reel for neat and proper storage. We have a wide selection of hoses and reels within our Air Tools Category. For one-click shopping, it's hard to beat this Lisle air hose reel complete with 50 feet of hose.

Lisle Side Winder Air Hose Reel
The Lisle Side Winder Air Hose Reel with 50’ of Hose.

A few final thoughts:

  • For less-frequently used, or more difficult-to-reach supplies, consider a digital storage album as a memory trigger. Everyone's phone takes decent pictures, so take a few snaps and create a "garage album".
  • In the real world, things will get messy. A project may come to a temporary halt for something as simple as dinner, or for something more involved like a weekend trip. Accept the fact that not everything will be put back in place at the end of every day. Rather, you can do it at the end of the project, or during an upcoming weekend.
  • While we did include a shop vac, we did not mention a broom (or even a dustpan). You can't break out the big vacuum for every little mess. It's good to be able to resort to a quick sweep for the little messes (and should you spill something oily, cat litter makes for a cheap absorbent).

This concludes our "Time on your Side Garage Project" series of articles. We hope you've enjoyed them. Even if you managed to get through only some of our recommendations, you still deserve a pat on the back (from 6 feet away) for getting the process started. Enjoy your newly refurbished garage!

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