Think back. Maybe even way, way back to your first exposure to a real “tool shop”. I was a little kid, maybe seven or eight, when I first discovered the wonder of my grandpa’s “shop”. He was a rancher and had a massive barn dedicated to nothing but tools and equipment. It was a big, greasy mix of all things mechanical - a seemingly unimaginable collection of tools for every possible purpose all scattered about in what, I’m sure grandpa thought, was some sort of organized chaos. And yet, I’m pretty sure it was also grandpa that said stuff like: “A stitch in time saves nine”,  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, or even “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”


While those old adages hadn’t necessarily translated into the management or upkeep of his shop, the fact is, grandpa was right. And even though it was probably a grandparent, or at least a much older and wiser person that originally taught us those principles, they are by no means old fashioned or antiquated ideas. Whether you own or manage a large industrial shop filled with the latest technologies in tools and industrial equipment or are a hobbyist with a well stocked shop, grandpa’s wisdom is perhaps even more relevant today than ever before.


A Stitch In Time

In todays fast paced world it is essential to the proper management of any shop that systems for tool cleaning, maintenance, storage and organization be established. Gone are the days when it was acceptable, probably even expected, that time would be wasted searching for the right tool for the job or making repairs simply because cleaning and maintenance of tools was not a priority. The first tool tip to make you look good is not sexy, complicated, or even mechanical in nature. It’s simply this:


Keeping tools clean, organized, and well maintained

increases efficiency and productivity,

which increases profits. 

And that makes you look good.


Of course, if your shop is not about turning a profit, then increasing efficiency and productivity is about getting more enjoyment from your hobby and doing the finest work possible with the equipment you have. And trust me - that looks good too.


While it may seem that taking the time to clean tools is unnecessary, the exact opposite is true. Regardless of the types of tools you work with every day, keeping them clean will save you time and headaches. Allowing dirt, dust, and grime to build up on or in your tools will initially affect their efficiency, slowing them down or compromising their accuracy. Such problems will reflect in the quality of your work. How many times will you have to re-cut, re-drill, or re-measure before skipping a good wipe down or clean out can no longer be justified? Whether you’re building cabinetry or running a custom fabrication shop, clean tools will always make the job go smoother. If dirt and grime are ignored and are allowed to build up, it eventually will take its toll on your tools, causing them to fail. At that point, you’re not only losing time, you’re paying for the cost of repairs (or maybe even replacement) that may have been avoided by a little common sense cleaning.


Establish a routine for cleaning your tools before storing or returning them. Use compressed air to blow out dust or shavings from hard to reach crevices, paying special attention to all moving parts such as blades, gears, and drill chucks. Wipe all tool surfaces clean. All other working surfaces should also be wiped free of dust and debris at this time. A periodic deep clean should not be overlooked. Start by using a damp cloth and then go back over with a dry cloth. Get into ratcheting mechanisms and other hard-to-clean areas using the appropriate lubricating oil with lightly oiled cotton swabs or by using a pinpoint applicator bottle . A regular cleaning routine should take only a few minutes each day, but will reap the benefits of longer lasting tools that work properly and efficiently.


An Ounce of Prevention

What “looks good” when it comes to the tools you work with every day? Know your tools. Know their limits. And be familiar with how to maintain them for top performance. Some types of tools require a little bit of maintenance every day. If you regularly work with pneumatic tools, then you should know that daily care is just part of the job. Pneumatic tools require regular oiling and lubrication. Without this degree of care, the parts inside will start to grind against each other. Eventually, the tool will erode itself into uselessness. Even though almost all pneumatic tools state “oil daily” right on the housing, repair technicians report that the most common issues are a result of having never been oiled. Other tools might require less frequent, but just as crucial care. Saw blades and drill bits, for instance, must be sharpened often. Using dull blades and bits put added stress on the motor. This may not be an issue if you aren’t running these tools constantly, but if you are, it could cause serious problems, possibly shortening the life of the motor. Just as problematic, though, is that dull blades and bits make rough, shoddy work and will eventually just burn wood and burn up your implements.

Another often reported cause of damage is pushing a tool beyond its limits. Don’t require a smaller tool to do the work of a larger, more powerful model. It will eventually fail due to constant over-stressing. Understanding the capacity of your tools and staying within their limits will help ensure lasting integrity. Be familiar with the load and stress each tool is made to handle. Look good. Don’t be that guy who seems clueless or just plain lazy.


Make the Right First Impression

Grandpa didn’t care what his shop looked like. It suited him just fine. But he didn’t have clients and customers judging the quality of his hay by their impressions of his “shop”. Nor was it important for him to attract quality employees and skilled technicians in order to be competitive with the other ranchers in his area. Your’s may not be a shop that potential clients have access to, but in today’s business environment an open door to the inner workings of your company is far more common than it used to be and can give you a competitive edge.

What does this have to do with tool tips to make you look good? Whether you’re an owner, an employee, or a week-end craftsman, having a clean, organized shop will always make you look good. But you and I both know that it’s not really about looking good. It’s about doing high quality work as efficiently as possible. An organized, efficient shop will have adequate and effective storage systems. Every tool should have a place where it is always safely stored when not in use. Tools should be kept categorically according to where they are in greatest demand in the shop. Traffic patterns and work station requirements should be continually evaluated for safety and productivity. And high expectations that tools will be treated, maintained, and stored correctly will ensure that tools will be there when you need them and that they will work the way they are supposed to.