5 tips to stay organized in the garage

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Kyle Smith

The thrill of making progress assembling your DIY project can quickly be overshadowed by the frustration of a missing part or piece of hardware that you’re pretty sure you set down right there. Despite how confident we all are in our memory and ability to stay organized and remember exactly where each piece went, a little preparation and awareness goes a long way. Here are five tips for how to stay on top of your game:

Get small trays for small parts (and bigger trays for big parts)

trays to organize car parts
I don’t remember where these small plastic trays came from, but they live on top of my workbench now, making organization of bolts and small parts easy. Kyle Smith

If your project isn’t going to be apart long, use a handful of small trays to organize bolts and hardware. Muffin tins are great for this, and you can label each grouping of hardware directly on the tin with a permanent marker. I also keep these stacking plastic trays on my workbench and I can number the order in which the hardware or small parts came off the car and assemble in reverse order to ensure I am doing things in the correct order. I say to do this only if the project won’t be apart long because if you just have random tray and dishes of hardware on your workbench, it is only time before they get knocked and scattered across your floor. In my shop they seem to always make it under something immovable.

Grab your camera

This is one piece of advice that has been relayed to me 100 times, and I have recommended it to others just as often, yet I still catch myself not actually doing it. So do as I say and not as I do, because taking pictures during disassembly can—and will—save you from massive headaches. Sure, there are times where you end up not needing the references upon reassembly. When you do, though, those jpeg files feel like they’ve been downloaded from the heavens rather than your digital camera.

Tape is your friend


The term “tag and bag” is great, but what about items that cannot be bagged? Grab some tape, write the info you will need to remember for reassembly, and then slap it on your part. For greasy bits where tape doesn’t stick, make yourself a few quick and easy “toe tags” by attaching a flag to a piece of wire or string, writing the info you need on it, and then tying the wire or string to the part.

Keep it all in one spot

workbench to organize parts
All the parts from the engine removal of the Austin Healey are all on this workbench. The fact I can roll it next to the car is an extra luxury. Kyle Smith

Typically I try to only have two big projects going at once, and that is why I own two workbenches. The concept is simple: keep everything related to a project on its assigned bench. Be disciplined about this one. I run little risk of cross pollinating the Austin Healey water pump with the Corvair parts bin, but fasteners, heat shields, and a multitude of small parts might not be immediately recognizable as belonging to one car or the other if I have been away from the project for a week or two. I know everything on one workbench should be parts for project A, and everything on the other is parts for project B. If you don’t have much worktop space, a folding table is a wise investment to keep parts in one place and off the floor.

Work clean, stay clean

clean workbench
This is how I strive to keep my workbenches and spaces. It ensures that my projects don’t get muddled. Kyle Smith

The last few points have been all about general organization, but a good foundation of success for any project is a clean and ready environment in which to do the job. If you are having to shuffle spare parts and other dirty pieces out of your way as you are trying to work, it’s less likely to end well. Get your space cleaned up before diving into the task at hand, and remember to keep tidy as you go. That means having a few rags or towels on hand,  as well as floor-dry or trays to contain spills and greasy parts.

These five tips will get you started, but over time you’ll develop your own system. If you’re a seasoned wrench and have some helpful tips for the Hagerty Community, we’d love to hear about them below. There is always room for fine-tuning and improvement.

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