How To Make A Hardware Cache – Keep it ALL
by Damien Andrews
How many times have you stood in front of your workbench and wished you had just one ¼" x 2" nut and bolt combination? Or maybe a couple of washers, or some 1½" #8 wood screws? Or maybe your latest do-it-yourself project has some special need, like a small piece of metal or plastic to hold or level or – whatever. Maybe you just need a small piece of rubber to use as a spacer or bumper. But when you visually scan your nicely stacked boxes of hardware, no luck. And Murphy's Law will often add insult to injury – you'll need a 1½" #8 wood screw, but all you'll have is a 1¾" #8 wood screw. And then it's inside to get cleaned up – followed by a trip to the hardware store to buy a small package of screws.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, save ALL of the hardware you come across – no matter how useless it might seem at the time. Trust me, one day you'll be glad you did. It's not really that hard to save everything. You just need a simple system. Here's one that's worked for me for many, many years.
My system is based on four things: three containers and one large cookie sheet with a rim around the outer edge. Two of the containers can be old coffee cans, or cans that are about that size. The third container should be longer. I use a rectangular re-sealable plastic container I got at the discount store. Mine is 14" x 10" x 5" deep and has a snap-on lid. The cookie sheet with the lip (the lip is critical for this application) is about 14" x 18" with a lip that's about ¾" tall all the way around. If you're not happy with the cost of cookie sheets and plastic containers at the discount store, try your local flea market. Such things sell for 25-50¢ each.
One of the coffee cans will be marked "Screws." The other coffee can will be marked "Bolts & Nuts." The large plastic container doesn't really need to be marked – it's for miscellaneous, and will end up with the greatest quantity of contents. Also, the contents of the miscellaneous hardware container will be very irregular in size, weight, shape and color – unlike the can holding screws.
Put ALL of your leftover screws and reusable screws into the appropriate can – that includes sheet metal screws, drywall screws, decking screws, wood screws and so forth. It doesn't matter if the screws are long or short, or have square heads or slotted heads – they all go into that one container.
The Bolts & Nuts container will hold all of the bolts – and whenever possible, each bolt in that hardware storage can will have a nut or nuts and washer(s) attached. You can slide a dozen washers onto the bolt size they fit, and you can also put several nuts on a single bolt. No loose nuts or washers in this container, though – they go into the miscellaneous hardware container. You can put bolts in here without nuts, but no nuts without bolts.
The large plastic container that you've selected to hold all of your miscellaneous hardware will hold everything not covered previously – including unmated nuts and loose washers. This is where you'll toss the hardware that's leftover when you assemble something – either because you opted not to install a part or feature, or they provided extra pieces of hardware.
The cookie sheet is really the key to this system. You can dump any one of the containers out into the cookie sheet and easily, quickly sort through all the hardware from the container. Once you find what you're looking for, you dump the remaining hardware back into its proper container. If necessary, while your hardware is spread out on the metal cookie sheet, you can give it a quick shot of WD-40 to prevent rust.
Keeping all of your old hardware is a great way to save money. And not just the money that you'd spend on buying new hardware. With the cost of gas going up like a helium filled balloon, saving trips to the hardware store for a dollar's worth of hardware just makes good sense.
The best thing about having a nice array of unused hardware out in the shop is that you are not slowed down or stopped when working on a project. To me, there's nothing worse than having to quit my project, get cleaned up and go fetch a couple of pieces of hardware. So save money. Save Time. Save stress. Save your hardware.