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Mechanics Corner: A place for everything

Andrew Overbay for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 November 2017

Where did I put that thing? The old saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” is important to me. It grows more important each day. The reason it grows in importance is: As I get older, it gets harder and harder for me to recall exactly where I left whatever it is I currently need. Nowhere is this more evident than in the farm shop.

As I age (see, I am even repeating myself), not putting tools back in their proper place is not unlike lying – both require you to have a strong memory. Did I mention I am getting older? Oh yeah … sorry.

As a converted “sundowner,” a farmer who farms mostly after hours from work, I enjoy some shop time – but not when I am trying to make a quick repair to get back out there to complete a task. This time of year, as the days are getting shorter, the available daylight gets to be at a premium, especially to my over-50 eyes.

When you are in a rush, it is very easy (actually too easy) to drop the tools used on your latest project where you are and get the tractor or implement back out on the farm.

Not long ago, I wrote an article called “Can I borrow that?” It addressed the need to understand the etiquette of borrowing equipment and returning it in a timely manner in condition at least as good as when it left its home farm. That same mentality needs to apply to you as well.

When you are using tools in your shop, you need to think of your work as being done with tools borrowed from yourself. Those tools need to be cleaned and returned to their rightful place in your shop so that when you need them again, they are right there ready to go.

While we are at it, I did mention cleaning your tools before returning them to the drawer. Grabbing up an oil-covered wrench is twice as likely to occur when you are dressed up to take your wife out to dinner and you need to get a wrench for a quick repair.

You either get oil on your good pants or, maybe worse, you get oil all over the steering wheel of your pickup so it blacks your hands for the next three weeks.

One of the best investments you can make is in a storage system where you have a selected place for each tool and that place is known to everyone involved in the operation. One of my memories of my dad and his shop is an incident involving my grandfather. Granddad stayed with us the last few years of his life, and he would sometimes busy himself around the farm in ways that might not be very safe or welcome.

An example of the latter came when Granddad decided he needed to “clean” Dad’s shop for him. Of course, as he cleaned, he put away tools wherever he thought they needed to be. As you might already suspect, many of his places did not coincide with Dad’s chosen places for those tools. For years after that, we would “discover” tools we had been looking for but had replaced to save time.

It is funny to think back on that occurrence but, at the time, it was anything but fun. It did drive home the point, though, that leaving tools lying around after a repair invited them to take a “vacation.”

Tool storage costs range greatly. It is easy to spend thousands of dollars on tool chests and storage systems. However much you decide to spend or not spend, you need to think about storage costs and needs prior to purchasing any new tools.

How much room is needed to put that tool away? Are there needs to protect the tools from heat, dust or corrosion? How often do you potentially need the tools? Do the tools need to be mobile to be used in a setting beyond the shop walls?

Answering some of these questions will help guide you in acquiring the best storage system for your tools. One suggestion I have that can help you save time is to store a small flashlight in any tool chest you buy.

It will help you determine the proper tool you are needing without having to pull a bunch of smaller or larger tools and lower the number of tools you have out not participating in the repair. I also stashed an old pair of reading glasses in the drawer with the flashlight. (I am getting older, you know.)

Finally, while it may seem like a waste of good daylight to take the time to put tools away following a repair, the time spent will be returned to you many times over when you can confidently stride over to the drawer that tool is stored in, knowing it will be there ready to go.

Putting tools back in the same place every time also means you don’t have to remember when you used it last and retrace your steps to where it was left. Additionally, putting tools back in their proper place will help you in case of a break-in as well. Seeing the “holes” will spur you into more accurately describing to law enforcement what was missing and when it might have been taken.

So get organized, and stay that way as much as possible. “A place for everything and everything in its place,” is the motto of any good shop mechanic, and it is a mantra that will save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the long run.  end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

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