Keeping your tools out of harm's way

When a rack containing often used tools such as mallets is within arm’s reach, it’s as easy to return it to the rack as to let it clutter up the bench area

The continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted all of us in different ways. In my case, quite apart from having to self isolate as a golden oldie and thus unable to nip out for hardware, my hardwood timber supplier was shut, cutting off essential supplies of the ash and sycamore I use for stock items such as chopping boards. Needless to say, workshop projects ground to a standstill fairly early on.

So for many, like me, this proved to be a good time to look around the workshop and ask whether the best use is being made of wall and ceiling space in relation to keeping tools safe from damage and, equally important, readily to hand. A job that can be accomplished using offcuts, perhaps, and requiring only screws from stock.

My first workshop, located in my parents’ Victorian home and a 10th birthday present from my father who’d spotted my early love of woodworking, consisted of a bench in a housemaid’s cupboard. Over the years, I’ve now experienced working from several rather larger premises, including the spacious outbuilding where I set up a joinery business in the 1970s. Now retired, I operate a charity-funding craft business from a large garage adjoining my home, and in this smaller space I’ve found room for all the tools and machinery required for the running of a commercial business.

A common factor throughout has been my strong belief that expensive tools, regarded as the lifeblood of carpentry, should be cherished and treated with the utmost respect. For instance, beautifully crafted tools made by the likes of Marples, Moore and Wright and Veritas should never be kept loose in a drawer where they’ll jostle together, metal against metal; nor should they be lazily racked to hang between, or dangle from, partially-driven screws, where the same metal-to-metal contact applies; or worse still – wood chafed by a screw thread. As the photos in this article show, hundreds of tools and their accessories live in my workshop, housed in wooden racks, all made according to these rules.

Rules for wooden tool racks

1. All tools must be within arm’s reach of my position at the bench, racked in such a way as to be easily brought into play and then, even more importantly, returned to the same rack so as not to clutter the bench. This is especially true if, like me, your skill as a woodworker is matched only by chronic untidiness and a tendency to just dump a tool on the bench before picking up the next one required.

2. The racks are designed so that the tool is held securely, and to reveal, at a glance, when an item is missing. Thus, any tool in danger of being swept away with the shavings can be quickly identified and hunted down. While no two workshops are identical, or even alike, I hope these photos and descriptions of various racks that have served me well, may, between them, plant an idea for helping you to keep your tools readily to hand, as well as prolonging their life.

As a postscript, let me add that I share with my fellow Welshmen a shortness of stature, and anybody taller than 5ft 8in risks bumping their head when entering or leaving the workshop – it’s my space after all! If as a result of anything you’ve seen and read here going on to create a similar hazard, my advice is to warn any visitors.

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1 Immediately ahead of me on the bench and just above the window is this simple rack, which holds those tools used on every job – mallets, hammers and any favoured implements of your choice

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2 Just above my head is this pencil holder made from a single strip of softwood with multiple cross-cuts holding a collection of pencils in various hardness grades. I don’t know about you, but on any job taking longer than a few minutes at least a couple of pencils go missing, only to turn up later in the shavings or on the floor – it’s handy to be able to just grab a fresh one!

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3 A useful rack, simplicity itself to make, holding the many driver bits, including hexes for coach screws, countersink bits and plug cutters with their appropriate drill bits, etc. Very much one every woodworker will create to meet his or her personal requirements. A feature of this rack is the fact it’s easy to spot when a bit is missing, and to replace it before it gets swept up with the shavings and potentially lost forever

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4 This is a general view of the ceiling area immediately above my head as I work at the bench. Readily available to hand are invaluable items such as drills, drill bits, tape measures and a few others not shown, including wrenches, pry bars and various much-used items – quick release cramps being another important addition. The cramps shown in the background represent only a small selection of the many I’ve acquired over the years, including some beautiful old Record sash cramps on which the quality of workmanship is, I have to say, impeccable. These hang from their own racks elsewhere in the workshop, but obviously don’t need to be so ready to hand. I was delighted the other day, while watching a documentary on the building of a Bosendorfer grand piano, to see that some of my favourite F cramps were the very ones used by craftsmen as they assembled the instrument

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5 On the wall just to my left is an MDF-made rack, which holds 6, 9 and 12in squares along with various other marking out tools including sliding bevels. It’s time this was replaced with a timber version – how I hate MDF – but it’ll serve me for now

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6 Another rack within arm’s reach houses my selection of much prized marking out tools, mostly from Veritas and Marples, including the former’s beautiful knife gauge and the very traditional Marples mortise gauge. I also have a selection of others – non-digital – including Vernier callipers, which all serious woodworkers treat with great respect

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7 Over the years, I’ve racked my turning tools in various ways but this is the latest incarnation and suits me best. These are ready to hand immediately above and to the rear of the lathe but well clear of it, and I’ve at last acquired the very desirable habit of returning each tool to the rack immediately after use rather than discarding it only to become lost in the shavings. All is fixed to a board, which is then bolted to a ceiling joist. The tools are racked from the left according to frequency of use, rather than grouped as gouges, chisels, scraping tools, etc. but that’s very much down to personal choice

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8 Immediately below the turning tools and mounted on two Axminster magnetic racks are various accessories such as callipers. To the left, what appears to be a set of spanners is actually a range of very precise turning tools, converted by me for creating predetermined diameters. These start at 15mm and reduce by 1mm per tool, working down to some tiny diameters so seldom used that I’ve not even bothered to give them handles. The others, however, feature handles made from walnut offcuts, along with a length of plumbing copper for the ferrules

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