By Mark Clement
Build a workshop storage cart in a weekend and take control of your DIY life.
Is workshop organization kind of a part time job for you?
Or, with a bite of humble pie, should it be?
I know I spend a lot of time on it—and actually would like to spend more. I get the bug for getting organized because I know I can do more once I’m streamlined.
Nothing puts a finer point on that for me than seeing DIY’ers on Facebook displaying workshops and work areas of such messy magnitude. It’s painful to watch; materials are everywhere with trip hazards galore. Chaos! I think my palms are sweating. And I am far from a neat freak.
For example, I know a guy who boasts having no less than seven caulk guns. He keeps losing the one he had in the heap of stuff he calls a shop, so he has to stop what he’s doing mid-stream to go get another one.
If you count the time to go get the tool he already owns and the time not working, that’s one heck of an expensive caulk gun.
We all lose and misplace things; that’s inevitable. But the fewer times it happens—and the more room we have to work—the better home improvement and workshop life is. Conversely, the fewer places I have to store things, the slower things go. (Except screw-ups and frustration; those things accelerate.)
So whether it’s for the project d’jour or the I-know-I’m-gonna-need-this-someday project, all the materials clogging up my life need a place to live that’s not under my feet or leaning on the table saw. Therefore, I designed this lumber and materials cart. I hope you get as much juice out of it as I do.
It works well in small and large shops. Essentially a ladder on wheels, it is super easy to build and even easier to customize. You can slam it together in a weekend—even in a single day.
This workshop organizater makes a place for it all: power tools, new trim, extra pieces of flooring, a rainy-day hunk of drywall, and that old door that’s just too cool to throw away.
This lumber cart is both cheap and shop-proof. It’s built with 2-by stock, OSB, four rolling casters and deck screws. You probably have half of it laying around your shop right now.
Base. For the base, I used 2-by-6 and made it 8-ft. long by 3-ft. wide. Four-inch rolling/locking casters on each corner mean you’ve got mobility when you want it, even when it’s loaded. I set the casters with 2-in. washer-head screws.
Frame. The frame that holds the “ladders” inside the base is made of three blocking assemblies. The ladders are 18 inches wide, which is wide enough to accept 2-by-12 material (Which is especially helpful if you have to load them on an angle due to an obstruction like the furnace in this basement shop).
Build the frame assemblies so the ladder legs can slot into the gaps. I like to leave a little wiggle room so the ladders fit. In theory, you can build them with really tight tolerances. In theory. In reality, 2-by-4s are far from perfect.
Ladders. Assemble the ladder pieces together. Fifteen-inch wide rungs plus 3 inches of rail give you 18-in. width. Vertically, spacing them 12 inches apart worked nicely to maximize room.
Install the frame assemblies, then slot the ladder rails into the blocking gaps and fasten. Use construction adhesive and fasteners to hold this in place for the long haul. I used glue on the corners of the base, too.
Side rails. I screwed the side-rail assemblies to the inside of the base and made them 30 inches above the base surface. The base is skinned with 1/2-in. OSB. The notching here is a little less fun than I like, but it works, and further locks everything together.
You could use 2-by or 5/4 deck boards too.
I got a lot of mileage and production stacking my cart with some semblance of organization. There’s no point in building the cart and then just making it a tall pile. I try to keep the longest stuff—trim, usually—on the top, so if I have to walk by it I can duck beneath rather than be tripped. Doors, sheets, and little stuff like buckets or a box fan can live on the sides—and the side you use the least. The front rail gets tools and stuff that I’m currently using or will soon use.
Honestly, it can take a day or more to organize all the stuff piled on tables and leaning in corners of your shop onto the materials cart. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff away. You know what they say: If you haven’t used it in a year, you probably won’t. It’s a little more applicable to sweaters than a load of primo lumber, but you should still get real about the heap.
On the lighter side of hoarding, it takes almost zero effort to customize this workshop organization center.
Drills and impact drivers almost always have a driver bit on them, so I drill 1/2-in. holes in the side rail tops about 12 inches apart. There’s plenty of room to slot a drill so it is always ready for work.
The same idea goes for the recip saw. Simply plunge-cut a slot and store the saw vertically. If you don’t use it often (and who does?) leave it on the back side of the unit. Or, hang it on a screw.
Structural screws carry larger items, everything from tool bags to demo bars. For heavy hand-carry tool bags, I drill a 3/8-in. hole half way through the side rail horizontally, then sink a 6-in. screw the rest of the way. There’s just enough left proud to catch a tool bag handle.
Maybe my favorite customization: a deck screw and a 5-gallon bucket. Hook the bucket on the screw and you’ve got a built-in trashcan. Now you can stop tripping over blocks and litter on the floor.
My miter saw workstation is placed directly across from the cart, so all the little blocks and cut-offs that can easily clog up a workbench get tossed instantly into the bucket.
Forget farm-to-table; think saw-to-bucket.
It takes a little effort up front to make, stack and organize this cart. However, it requires far less work than living in a slow-moving tornado of building materials that refuse to be where you want them when you need them to be there. With the cart loaded and organized, I can do weekend DIY, woodworking or repairs, and maintain what little sanity I have to focus on getting good work done. After all, isn’t that the point?
Editor’s Note: Mark Clement is co-host of the MyFixitUpLife show.
Side Note 1
Utilizing walls is one of the keys for DIY success and sanity for me. Not only are materials easier to store and access, but they stay straighter. They’re less likely to be destroyed by anything from pulling the lawn tractor in for the winter to rolling a hand truck loaded with bags of concrete over them.
Many store-bought hooks and brackets … what’s the technical term I’m searching for here … suck. Plus, I usually have a hunk of wood laying around so I make my own. Free is good. Here’s one simple design.
It only has three pieces: Top, Back, Brace.
The top and back are the same. Twelve to 18 inches each seems to work nicely. I rip them to 1-1/2-by-1-1/2 inches on the table saw.
To figure out the bracket I lay it out with my square. Or, just cut a few trial versions until you get a bracket you like. For me that means a 16-in. brace for an 18×18 bracket and an 8-in. brace for a 12-by-12 bracket. Both measurements are long-to-long-point of the 45-deg. miter.
I set the top on the back, hold it square then predrill, countersink and pop two deck screws into the connection. Then, I fit the bracket, predrill and countersink through the miter. I use my miter saw to hold the pieces stable while I drive the screws and—boom—I’m done.
To install I either screw to the face of a stud or to the side of a stud. Or, in my shop, I screwed right through the 3/4-in. OSB wall I’d installed so I could hang anything anywhere. Spanning the brackets by 6 feet means storing 8-ft. stock is a snap. Add more brackets as you need them.
Individually, they’re also great for cords, hoses and all kinds of other awesome tool stuff.
Side Note 2
In three simple steps, stuff goes from distributed clutter to organized and ready for action. Here’s how it works: First, put your stuff in a SmartJar. Snap the SmartJar Dock onto a pegboard. Place the SmartJar into the Dock. That’s it. The system is an excellent way to organize and label small items such as screws, nails, nuts, bolts, fishing tackle, craft items—you name it.
When stowed, the SmartJar gives you an easy view of whatever you decide to store in it. The docks are easy to insert and remove in standard pegboard. You lay them out and arrange them for the look and aesthetic you want. SmartJars are transparent, air-tight, durable and food-safe (BPA free).
You can also place a label on the lid for quick reference. On the pegboard, the dock takes up 3 inches by 3 inches and can be arranged directly adjacent to each other, either vertically or horizontally.
The docks are currently available in black, blue, gray, red, white and yellow, and are 100-percent Made in the USA.
Pegboard Compatibility: The SmartJar Dock is designed to snap easily and securely into standard pegboard measuring between 1/8 to 3/16-in. thick, with 1/4-in. diameter holes on 1-in. spacing. (This product is not compatible with thin, metal pegboard or pegboard panels with smaller holes).