Small Shops, Large Shops

How BIG is Enough?

Did I ever show you my electronics bench?  Total Train Wreck:  (Fully functional, just looks like hell…)

It’s ALL there.  Desoldering machine, microscope for SMT parts, even a spetroscope for LED color checking.  Thing is, I never get around to keeping it clean and organized.  Project overlap.  Phones ring.  Martini time comes…And that’s the hole in Ure’s head.

An example of a much more  workmanlike shop – and in a tiny space – is reader Hank’s “closet shop” out in Hawaii.  I’ll let him give you the tour:

“This is the view as you approach.  The wood stool will fit inside so the sliding door closes.  Lighting is LED strip lights along the hanging bar, and under the lower shelf.

Top shelf drawers are fasteners, screws sorted by size.  At far end plastic compartment boxes for crimp terminals and metric screws.  Second shelf plastic drawers are for small hand tools, screwdrivers, cutters, pliers, small wrenches, etc.  Far end some small test gear and an AC Variac.

“Moving to the left side, the wall has the red ‘shop vac’ (dustbuster) and optical amplifier headband.  Second shelf has multimeters.  Left bench has clip leads sorted on the wall prongs, and the back corner is a soldering station, next to a gooseneck lighted magnifier.  Ceramic tiles on bench are soldering plates for heat resistance for splashes.  Not seen in dark under bench  is another shelf with a couple of DC bench power supplies, solder gun, and heatshrink blower.  Of course there are AC outlet strips at the back wall of the bench to power this stuff.

(Ure is appalled by the neatness of it all.  It must reflect a clear-headed person able to work one a single task, finish it, and then clean-up.  Z’is amazing, or what????)

“I put a 2×4 ft sheet of pegboard on the inside wall of the inside sliding door and bought a big assortment box of pegboard hangers.  The upper pegboard seen here is wire storage.  Magnet wire, hookup wire, etc.  Lots of space on the board yet for more tools.

Lower pegboard for larger tools.  Note orange Black & Decker battery drill at far end.  All the larger, heavier tools sometimes used get hung here.  Room for more above.

“So there it is… a small electronics workbench shop built into a closet.  And it closes up to hide the clutter!”

Thanksgiving Shop Time

One of the surest ways to a happy spouse (after good looks, being fit, and making shitloads of money) is to have a clean and well-organized shop.  Here are a few organizational ideas for you to consider if the holiday shop cleaning is on your list this coming week.

Pill Bottles.  No, we don’t like scrips, but if you need them, might as well turn the lemons into lemonade.  One whole cabinet of Ure’s electronics rat’s nest is devoted to pill bottles.  Recommend a small label printer which reduces the lazy man’s inclination to forget what all the parts are!

Another good parts storage idea?

When I need a single part (screw, fender washer, copper crush washer, hose clamps, electrical crimp-ons, and more) we try to get them in “assortments” that come in their own plastic boxes which can then be “filed by pile” into Nuts, Bolts, Washers, Clamps and so forth.

It may not sound particularly graceful, but it works and it takes care of the one thing I hate to do in the shop:  Spend valuable working time cleaning up and sorting out parts.

Watch the sales in January and February because a few years back I picked up a case of 24 shoe boxes – plastic, with covers.  These are great because they seal up to keep bugs, dust, and birds (more on this in a sec) out of your valuable parts.

As a bonus, because of the type plastic they are made off?  You can sort of see what’s insider and that makes finding things easier.

What you MIGHT want to shy away from, unless your shop is large enough to have a high school kid (masked) coming in to sweep floors and keep the parts bins clean, are set ups like this rack which is mostly tractor and construction parts.  If I need a lynch pin, or some right-angle sheet metal for a wall, then these are the bins where it’s found.  Larger hardware like the choice of metal or plastic pipe strap.

What’s not to love?  Well two things.  First, even with the big dust collector, there is still a certain amount of dust around, especially out here in the country.  So these open bins get dirty.  Second problem, because my shop is not air tight, the bins (one or two per year) become off limits when a bird gets in and build a nest.    When the birds take wing, the nest goes in the burn barrel.

If you need storage boxes (and have been paying attention to our dabblings in 3D printing?

Which gets us to the…

3D Printing Department

My first “original George” design for handling 300 ohm antenna wire was made and installed this week.  In place looks like this (two printed parts, base & clamp):

Stainless bolts on the clamp.  When the far one is installed on “yonder tree” this morning, the clamps will allow the antenna .(part of the Beverage arrays here) to be tensioned just right.  High enough to clear walking and animals under, but not so high as to be hard to work on.

Probably the best site on the web on Beverage antennas is the W8JI page over here.  Read and build…

Also in Radio Meets 3D…

My clean-up of the Icom M700 marine single sideband radio is done, save the gasket which remains unobtanium.  Radio’s answer to Endangered Species act. The gasket has aged, & ripped on one side, so Ure will be trying his thermoplastic urethane (flexible plastic) printing skills out to fab up a new one:

No, the Icom M700 is not state-of-the-art.  But, it’s a solid commercial SSB radio which is ideal for channelized operation.

And since there are five “channels” on the 60-meter band?  Well, you know who’s “gotta have one.”

OK, off to re-install the Beverage with the new clamps.

Have to wear bright orange vest and hat out in the woods.  Even though we have posted “no hunting” all over, no one reads signs.  No one can see the purple tree marks.  No one in Texas seems to understand that filet mignon is still cheaper and way faster by the pound.  When that changes, we will fire up one of the SKS’s.  But, until then…

Write when you get rich (or your shop spiffed up),

19 thoughts on “Small Shops, Large Shops”

  1. George
    “How BIG is Enough?”

    Impressive, but how many microprocessor logic analyzers do you own?
    I own two, a main unit and a backup. But to be honest I haven’t used them in years. Your parts storage is super! I use the boxes Digi-Key ships my parts in. I just use a sharpie to mark each box. I let the parts stay in their protective bags until needed. It’s all stored on a shelf in the garage while my lab is in a spare bed room. That way I get the air conditioning in summer instead of frying in the garage.

    “save the gasket which remains unobtanium”

    last week I tried to revive my old Canon i9900 ink jet printer. Bought it in 2004. It sorta worked. The test print was trash even though I had replaced the print head and cartridges. After tearing it down I discovered that the rotary encoder for paper handling was Kaput. The encoder wheel had died a hard death while in storage for many years. The ultra fine lines on the wheel had become compromised by mold.

    A used printer from ebay is on the way and I hope the rotary encoder works as they are unobtanium and a new replacement part is not available! If not then I may resort to jury rigging an optical encoder into my printer.

    I hate to see my old friend placed in the trash as it made excellent prints and I have some money invested in reviving it.

    Every Maker should have their own permanent work space!

  2. Small shops vs. large? When I need to change the track on a trackloader or an engine on anything, I want a large shop with enough room to work all around the current project, yet out of the weather. Climate control matters, but I usually do without unless it’s cold enough to need a torpedo heater. Storage of large stuff can be in a separate building or storage containers. When doing small work such as electronics or other sit down projects, I want all equipment and supplies in one room, so that usually means at least a 12′ x 12′ space. Perhaps that’s a reason I’ve failed to attract a live-in lover. I like to spread out and both electronics benches gave me the willies! I have no idea where George even puts the project being worked on. Space matters, even if it’s empty. Neatness and organization are nice, but I’m probably somewhere between Hank and George’s extremes. Nice equipment though. A tip for Hank would be to replace the closet doors with bifolds so as to have more elbow room available when both are open. Of course, getting anything in the 50th state right now might be challenging.

    George, spray foam is your friend. It can quickly seal the areas where birds and other critters come through. It’s not a panacea, but much better than having birds flying around inside. If it’s too big for spray foam, a bit of screening can be foamed into place. Urethane foam is structurally strong glue.

  3. Since this is electronics/coping day, I want to comment on a pet peeve. Small AM/FM radios today usually have momentary contact switches for all functions, including ON/OFF. Tolerable sometimes, but not ideal. The real problem is that if the power goes off, the radio goes off, and when the power comes back on, the radio stays off! This might be OK in a clock radio(or not), but it makes the radio useless as a source of voices to deter intruders and burglars. In the “good” old school days, radios had real power switches that switched power on and off rather than simply as an input to an always on electronics board. Even the radios with battery backup fail to come back on after a power failure. I’ve tried many such radios and most fail to come back to the same state they were in before the power failed. An electronic hack is possible, but hardly worth it for a $10.00 radio. Using a UPS is also a ridiculous option for such a simple function.

    • Buy an old radio.

      A phenolic or bakelite cased art deco relic from the 1940s or ’50s — re-cap it, and just let it run. You’ll get more than 65w of enjoyment from the tube glow and it will always come back up…

      • Good points – especially in winter! Those old radios are easy to fix too, IF you can find a replacement tube. I’ve not seen one anywhere for ages though.

      • I bought a GE tube caddy for $60, a few years ago at auction (why? Because I’ve wanted one since I was a wee child…)

        [I didn’t know at the time, but] it was full of tubes.

        When I went to pick it up, the guy dispensing the auction merch asked me if I were going to take the file cabinets, also. “File cabinets” “Yeah, those over there. They’re part of the lot…”


        Three file cabinets were filled with thousands of original Sam’s Photofact manuals, the other two were filled with (mostly new) vacuum tubes. If you need something, message me…

  4. Okay, I’m failing to see the floor-to-ceiling stack of Drake and Hallicrafters boatanchors I know HAVE to be present, somewhere…

  5. wow how bad is the depression right now .. the spin is spinning huge , but no use . its finished . how bad is new York . wow

  6. “Ure is appalled by the neatness of it all. It must reflect a clear-headed person able to work one a single task, finish it, and then clean-up.”

    Ouch! I laughed so hard I hurt myself. Of course I ‘cleaned up’ a project or two in progress so I would have a clean photo-shoot. But this is the desired, ideal resting state with flat space on the bench to set something to begin a new project.

    BiFold closet doors would eliminate the pegboard tool rack and would not be an advantage for me. I can reach to the far right end of the bench as-is. I still have storage boxes of parts, accessories, and more tools I need to sort thru and store organized. I didn’t show you the plastic double-shoe-box size containers in the room where my tiny parts are organized in paper 2×3 ‘coin envelopes’ for resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc organized file-wise.

    I once worked with a manager whose desk resembled the Ure workbench. He had a sign on the wall next to his desk that read: “A Clean Desk Is A Sign of A Sick Mind!” I’m comfortable with my sickness.

  7. so true the old saying the lunatics are running the asylum.. old salty usual ranting on 321 sewer with the Richard cranium guy who is into anything if it is greed and nonsense . scripted and produced by ray dalio. soon as I heard that craggy mick sheet , I thought of all the old gold bulls , not sheep that salty threw under the bus. be a sight him and dalio dancing together to the YMCA in new orleans

  8. One TV station I worked at was built brand new by a big media outfit. Best of everything, and it was the first digital station in the nation… literally got the first license when the FCC started issuing them. The shop area was a dream. Five complete modular workbenches, fully equipped. We had three shop techs, and the Chief Engineer had a bench also, and one spare bench for communal projects. Everyone kept their own bench and tool case.

    Within six months, four benches were piled two feet high… except mine. I also had to lock my tool case in my absence, because station personnel would come to the shop to ‘borrow a tool’ that never, ever got returned. The disadvantage of a clean workbench was that in my absence on weekends, it also got piled high. Every Monday morning my first task was to shovel off my workbench. I warned people not to do it. Fair warning given, sometimes I just shovelled the stuff into the dumpster and let the offending techs go diving if there was something they wanted to save. In my 40 years as a broadcast engineer, only once did I ever have another shop tech who kept a clean workbench after I hired him.
    So Ure in average shop-keeping company, it would seem.

  9. (Ure is appalled by the neatness of it all. It must reflect a clear-headed person able to work one a single task, finish it, and then clean-up. Z’is amazing, or what????)
    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
    An “old timer’s” comment: A neat desk is the sign of a sick mind. I agree. . .

    I work with “linear” electronics, but not radio. And model trains (HO), and work at machine work. Not very well, it’s just a sideline to the trains. (scratch-building, &c) There are a couple of wire shelves that serve as tool hangers. Otherwise, your bench looks clear compared to mine. Storage isn’t so neat as your’s or as pictured. I use a lot of “fishing tackle” boxes, with labels. But otherwise, a number of vendor set boxes, coffee cans, and even a few boxes. A lot of the “stuff” falls into several catagories, and I am a stash man,(not a hoarder) having a multiple of important (to me)parts. While not a collector, I also keep a number of hand tools, in case of an extended power outage. Just because I’m paranoid. . .

  10. George, I’ve never tried the beverage but have used many wire antennas during my 40 year adventure since being licensed. I really liked my Carolina Windom. Had one for field day one year at 45 feet and I had pile ups ON ME. I was shocked how well it worked. My new curiosity is an end fed half wave. Don’t have one up yet, I will let you know the results when I do. An antenna that purports to be resonant on certain sections of many bands without a tuner kind of excites me. Your thoughts?
    Thanks, DE KC8HI.

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