59 Handy Hints to Keep Your Workshop Shipshape
It’s a lot easier (and more fun!) to do projects in a space that’s neat and tidy, and these clever tips will help you achieve just that in your home workshop.
Saw Dust Filter Fan
My workshop doesn’t have air conditioning, and it gets pretty hot while I’m working. I used to blow a fan directly at myself, but it sucked in dust from around the shop and blew it at me. I had a few extra furnace filters lying around, so I tried attaching one to the back of the fan using hook-and-loop fasteners. This made a huge difference! Don’t use a super-high-performance filter, as it could cause the fan to have to work too hard to pull air through, resulting in an overheated motor. — Larry Brannock. These 34 incredible tips will help you complete your woodworking projects faster and better than ever before!
How to Remember your Grits
Hook-and-loop sanding discs work great for sanding jobs, and you can reuse them several times before they’re worn out. But it’s almost impossible to read the grit labels on the discs after you’ve used them once because the markings get scrubbed off by the loops. Below is the incredibly simple way to remember sandpaper grits without needing to squint to see a faded number. Learn 7 pro-approved tips for hand sanding right here.
The Greatest Shop Tip in History
Last fall, I was out running the leaf blower and noticed my filthy shop vacuum filter sitting on the slab waiting for a cleaning. That meant hauling the air hose outside and holding the filter at arm’s length while I became enveloped in a giant dust cloud. Not this time. It took me about five microseconds to put two and two together. Five more microseconds with the leaf blower and that filter was cleaner than ever. Now the filter—and the dust—are 5 ft. away from my lungs, clothes and hair. Can’t call me Pigpen anymore. — Travis Larson
Don’t recycle all of your half-gallon plastic milk bottles. Save a couple for cleaning paint brushes. Cut out one side halfway down, pour in paint thinner and stick the brush handle through the side and up the bottle spout. Slip a dowel or nail through the hole in the brush handle to keep the bristles from resting on the bottom of the container while soaking. Check out more workshop handy hints here.
Peel-and-Stick Vinyl Work Surface
I use peel-and-stick vinyl tiles on all of the work surfaces in my home shop, especially cutting areas. The smooth surface makes cleanup so much easier! From sawdust to glass shards, the tiles make cleanup a cinch. — Carol Cordero
Vinyl is also great for cleaning up liquid spills, as it prevents the mess from soaking into the surface. We covered a plywood-topped cart in the Family Handyman workshop, and the adhesive-backed tiles were very easy to work with. Compared to the rough plywood, the tiles make the cart much easier to wipe clean with a dry or wet rag after any project. Learn how to build one of these carts right here.
Pencils on the Double
Can’t find your pencil? Try this sharp idea from Ruth Brunner. Saw a package of pencils in half with a fine-tooth saw and stick pencil cap erasers on the eraserless halves. You’ve just doubled your stock of pencils and made them a lot harder to break!
Bring Universal Power to Your Shop
With a retractable extension cord in the shop, there’s no more searching for the extension cord, no more tripping over cords on the floor, and no more constantly bending over to plug in whatever you need. But stay away from wimpy 16- to 18-gauge corded models. They don’t carry enough current for many tools. The Husky 14-3, 50-ft. model ($70 at Home Depot) works great, but any 14-3 model with a 13-amp rating will do fine. But as you know, the more you spend…
The ReelWorks Extension Cord is the best heavy duty retractable cord out there. Click here for it on Amazon.
Use a Garden Hose Reel in Your Workshop
Here’s a neat way to store air hoses or extension cords without the fuss of knots and kinks. Use a garden hose reel. It stores 200 ft. of hose or cord, and it’s easy to transport in the back of a truck or trailer. — Michael VanSant. Try out some of these 50 extraordinary uses for ordinary items.
Safe Blade Disposal
I was recently removing a lot of old caulking on my boat with a utility knife. To safely dispose of the used blades and eliminate the risk of cutting through a trash bag and injuring someone, I put the used blades in a soda can and pushed the pop top back over the opening to contain the blades. — Justin Zack
Check out these DIY Safety Tips. Our field editors tell of the DIY mistakes they’ve made and the lessons learned from ladders, electricity, roofs, power nailers, drills, pressure washers and more.
Use a saber saw to cut lengthwise notches in a 30-in. long piece of 3- or 4-in. dia. pipe then glue on a PVC end cap. Drill pilot holes in the pipe opposite the notches and screw the quiver to a shop wall. Your notched-out quiver will hold any size dowel—from standard 36-in. lengths to stubby leftovers—for instant access. Thanks to George Marchalk for sending this tip down the pipeline.
Need more storage for your dowels? Check out this high-rise storage option.
Cut a 2-ft. length of 4-in. PVC pipe lengthwise with a scroll saw, creating a trough that’s a little more than half the pipe’s diameter. Glue or screw in 1/2-in. thick wood partitions to create compartments for often-used screw and nail sizes. To make it tip-proof, trace the pipe’s curve on a couple of scrap 2×4 blocks, power-sand or saw out the curve, and screw the pipe on this scrap block base. Click here for 12 more fastener storage tips!
A skateboard isn’t just useful for rolling through the park, it also makes a handy hauler on the fly. Just load it up with your heavy items such as tires or large sheets of plywood, and easily tote them from one area of your shop to another. If you don’t have a skateboard handy, keep an eye out for one at garage sales or at thrift stores. Even if you don’t ride it, it’s worth a few bucks to buy one exclusively to haul stuff around your workshop!
When you go to the big box stores in need of some washers, wood screws, drywall anchors, etc., those little plastic or cardboard boxes just don’t work well for storage once you open them.
So I took an empty gum container, removed the labels and filled it up with washers—except for one. I glued one washer to the top of the lid of the gum container. That way I can see what parts are inside the container at a glance. Plus the gum containers are very durable and look organized on shelves in my shop. — Jerry Bullock
Find-Anything Hardware Drawer
Nothing has a chance to randomly accumulate in Bruce’s shop—not in apron pockets, on cabinet shelves, not even in a drawer. There is truly a place for everything, everything goes in its place, and no usable area remains empty. Even just one of his hardware drawers is a sublime example. Learn how to build roll out cabinet drawers here.
Best Hack For Storing Plywood
We were puzzled by the little belted-together blocks that were stuck between pieces of plywood alongside Bruce’s lumber rack, and received eye-opening instruction.
“Plywood or other sheet stock can warp, especially if it’s stored surface to surface. The blocks separate the sheets so air can circulate on both sides. Flat sheets from the lumberyard stay flat this way, no matter how long they’re stored,” Bruce said.
The leather is flexible, so you can use them on any combination of thicknesses of sheet goods.
The blocks are a snap to make from scrap wood and leather. Cut two 1-in.-wide strips of leather (or vinyl or heavy cloth) and space and screw 2-in. x 3/4-in. x 1-in. blocks along the strap.
“The air space also keeps them a lot easier to grab when you need to pull one out. For full sheets, use three sets of spacers, one at each end and one in the middle.”
Quick Check Extension Cords
“Extension cords are workshop necessity, but they can also be a messy pain. When in a rush, I grew tired of not easily being able to tell the length of each extension cord. There’s no need to haul out and unreel a 100 ft. when a 50 ft. will do! So, I simply marked both ends of the cord with a permanent marker indicating their length. Now I know exactly which cord to grab for the need of each job!” — Dave Switzer
This brilliant cord organization project takes a cue from the kitchen. It’s so easy to DIY, the instructions need no words—literally.
Use a Pallet to Store Lawn and Garden Equipment
If you have a yard or a garden, you know that there are a lot of long-handled tools involved. You probably also know how obnoxious it is when you need the shovel or the rake and have to walk all over to find it. All you need for this pallet organization hack is a pallet, a couple of screws and a drill. And if you don’t have any pallets lying around, they are easy to get for free. Many businesses will give them to you, but you should call first! Another great place to check is local Craiglist ads. This is a quick one-hour project and after you’re done, your tools will be organized and easy to reach.
You could easily attach this pallet to a fence, shed or to the exposed wall studs in your garage. No matter what you choose, you’ll want to make sure that your screws are long enough to go through both your pallet and the wall you are attaching it to. We drilled two screws into the pallet, one into each exposed wall stud. You won’t need a ton of screws or nails because the pallet isn’t all that heavy. Now you have a quick and (possibly) free way to store your lawn tools!
Looking for more ways to work smarter in your workshop? Here are 19 tips from a seasoned woodworker and do-it-yourselfer.
Extend the Life of your Shop Vac Filter with this Trick
Now that I have started wood turning, my shop vacuum gets a lot of work. I stopped using filter bags since they quickly fill with the large volume of chips and other wood debris, and instead I use a pleated filter. However, the filter can get plugged, reducing efficiency of the vacuum. I solved this problem by placing a large sheet of window screen fabric between the tank and the top part, which includes the filter. Now, dust and chips enter below the screen and won’t clog the filter. — Bill Wells
We love the Ridgid shop vacuum showed above. Check out the 16-gallon vacuum on Amazon.
Accordion-Style Sandpaper Organization
Keeping sandpaper organized has always been tough for me. The best method I’ve found is to store my sandpaper in an accordion-style file folder, labeling the different grits on the folder tabs. – Spencer Olivier
Need one of these file folders? Check out this color-coded one on Amazon!
Turn Your Old Garden Rake Into a Shop Storage Solution
Don’t put your old rake out to pasture. Put the rake to use in your workshop instead. Just cut off the handle and hang it on the wall or on your pegboard. It’s a handy place to store wrenches and other tools. — Roy Dupont
OK, you know the drill. You go to the lumber pile and wonder what length the board is, what species of wood it is and then, whether it’s worth digging through the pile to get it out. Sometimes it’s easier to just go and do the Sunday crossword. Reader Jamie Smith has a simple tip. Label the ends with a permanent marker when you put them in the rack to begin with.
Cheap Travel Size Bit Holder
Toothbrush holders make great, inexpensive holders for drill and driver bits. You can find them at discount stores and drugstores in the sample/travel section. Label the holders with a permanent marker and keep them in your drill tote or tool pouch. — Vincent Lucrezi
Landing Pad for Your Sander
It used to drive me nuts waiting for my random orbit sander to stop spinning so I could set it down. If I didn’t wait, it would dance around and tumble off my workbench. My solution was to keep a piece of carpet on my bench. I just set the sander on the carpet and let it wiggle quietly to a stop. — Phil Wortford. Here’s another brilliant use for carpet in your workshop.
Pill Bottle Storage
Sometimes I carry Forstner drill bits in my toolbox. To protect the cutting edges, I customize plastic pill bottles by drilling holes in the lids for the shank to poke through. Works great for router bits too! — Earl Hagen
Irwin has a great set of Forstner bits that come in a handy case. If you don’t want to see your bits in pill bottles, check out this set from Amazon.
Pegboard Plans Hanger
If you have Pegboard over your workbench and you need to hang plans or drawings where you can see them, use two clothespins with a hole drilled in one end of each. Then hang each clothespin from a Pegboard hook and they’re ready to hold those plans.