Hardware storage and organization

20 bins for $5. Can’t beat that. http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/emails/37/RetailB/images/6.jpg

Also discuss what you use to organize your stuff.

Our team uses the plastic bins we get each year. We have a platform on wheels that can carry 8 or 10 bins, and we wheel this from the storage closet to the shop room. The closet also has shelves and we can get used cardboard document storage boxes for free.

We have several rooms- one with all the machines, one full of sheet metal and tools, and one for electronics.

We store tools of similar types together in pull-out drawers or on shelves. Similar building materials are also stored together.

Our team has some of those grey bins. We use them to store our non-robot bolts. They work well for that.

We have a large chest of drawers that are about 2 feet wide and 2 inches deep that we use for storing fasteners. We got it from a dentist’s office. I spent a couple days this summer organizing it such that each drawer is a different thread size and all of the screws are organized in columns by head type and in rows by size. We also then have our road totes that we can take a little bit of each fastener in and the totes all slide into a nice small box for ease of carying.
Spare parts are stored in a cabinet of plastic drawers. They are currently sorted such that 1 or 2 types of motors each have a drawer, electrical hardware has a drawer, wire has 3 drawers depending on gauge. Its still kind of a mess, but it is getting better.
The metal stock has yet to be stored efficeintly, but we are working on that too .


Just have to make sure that no one knocks any of those things down. We had a problem when our recently organized draws got pushed over. :ahh:

I’m no fan of those bins. Sure, they’re great for long-term storage, but how can you take them to comp? If you wanted to take some spare fastners you would need to take them out of the bins and put them into some other type of storage. So wny not just put them in transportable storage to begin with?

Our team has used these tackle boxes for a number of years. They work well because they have lockable lids that prevent parts from shifting in transit.

What we use to organize

We use the KOP bins from each year, and a bunch of 2003 blue bins. all loaded into a custom built rolling storage unit.

Tackle boxes work nicely for electronics.

Aside from that we use mainly bins from the KOP/2003, on occasion a few small plastic ones you could find at Walmart.

They’re also superb for organizing bolts because then you can organize them not only by thread size, but also by length. We have three small tackle boxes: one for regular zinc-plated steel, one for black oxide alloy steel, and another one for stainless steel.

We also half a half dozen or so clear plastic boxes with lids that have compartments. These are for all the bolts, pins, bearings, etc.

Yea, for the BIG things, we too use the FIRST KOP bins.

But over the years I’ve researched a bunch of different part storage systems for nuts, bolts, electrical parts, etc.

For all four of my teams, our small hardware is entirely contained in ***Plano 3700 “Stow-Away 24” ***adjustable divider boxes, made by Plano Molding Company, Plano Illinois 60545. http://www.planomolding.com ***

UPC = 0-24099-23700-0***

The straight 3700 is the most commonly stocked model everywhere (2" depth). Though this is the only one we all use, there are other depths available. This one has 4 fixed rows, with up to five insert-able dividers per row, giving you a maximum of (4x6=) 24 compartments per box. We use them for ALL of our nut/bolt/rivet hardware, electrical parts, pwm cables, non-bulk ty-wraps, connectors, etc.

Although this box has worked very well for us as is, on occasion you may wish to cut sections out of the row dividers for larger footprint items. I’ve mostly done this with a Dremel and a cutoff wheel. But here’s a page that not only shows good images of this box, it also shows you how to convert a standard soldering iron into a “hot melt trimmer”: http://www.hempeldesigngroup.com/lego/storage/Plano3700.html
(This page also shows some of the other model numbers, with diff depths.)

There are several advantages to using this particular box vs other brands:

  1. It is a pure rectangular solid, with NO space wasted on handles, artistic curves, etc. This gives you VERY high part densities, not only in each box, but in a stack as well.
  2. VERY stackable, yet you CAN still pull out one from the stack’s center!
  3. It is (relatively) clear, allowing good viewing of what’s inside while closed.
  4. It has a “hanging tab” on one end, that is useful as a grip to extract it lengthwise from a table stack, or a custom made pigeonhole cabinet.
  5. ***They EXACTLY FIT the FIRST Kit of Parts bins sideways! *** Until you can make a custom pigeonhole cabinet/cart to carry them, you can carry over a dozen of them stacked “on the long edge” into/out of a regional in a single FIRST KoP bin!


  • Do NOT cut/break off the hanging tab! It’s useful to extract the box from stacks, or cabinets.
  • Carefully move the label to the bottom. That saves it for reordering, but it no longer interferes with content viewing while closed.
  • Use colored Sharpie pens (or labels) on both the front and the tab side, to indicate “group”/“category”/“contents”.
  • Color code the ends by subgroup to speed sorting and searching in the pits.

The 3700 is available from many outlets. Here’s a partial list of vendors:http://www.planomolding.com/content/index.cfm?siteaction=wheretobuy&lineid=2&groupid=12
Plano is available through practically every hardware/bigbox store in the US. If your local hardware store doesn’t happen to stock this model, use the above UPC to order it.

At 1502, we’ve created a bunch of pigeonhole cabinets (out of sheet plywood and masonite) to organize our 3700s, slid in so the short side with the “pull tab” is exposed. We made a number of these cabinets, all just high enough to fit under the standard folding table you see at a regional. This turns the entire underside of our regional work table into one large, long parts bin organizer, yet keeps the bins out from underfoot! We stack the mini-cabinets 2 high onto the furniture carts for transport. At home, the pigeonhole cabinets are stacked to become a “parts wall” in our FIRST team closet.

Each subgroup has a number of 3700s dedicated to them, color coded and labeled on the end for fast access.

Our cabinets are open faced, but if you wish, you can either make a cover/bar for the pigeonhole cabinets, or else face pairs of the cabinets toward each other with latches to retain the 3700s in their pigeonholes during transport.

Note: For best pricing, be sure to buy the 3700s in BULK (10 or more at a time). Also - MANY suppliers (like Lowes) give discounts to non-profit groups for quantity purchases, so be sure to ask for it! We are always given an extra 10% off whenever we buy a case of 8 of them, and believe me, we have a LOT of them!

These bins are highly prized around the shop, and have solved our parts organization problem. In fact, we always seem to be running out to pick up another dozen or so every year, as they’re so handy! :slight_smile:

I hope this helps!

  • Keith

Yep, we tend to use those a lot, too, in addition to our two giant toolboxes and two smaller ones.

Plus about three shelves that we also use to store various things, like joysticks, wheels, etc.

How do teams store their spart parts and such at competitions?

We’ve use tackleboxes in the past for bolts, shaft collars, bearings, pneumatic fittings, etc. We’ve always had problems with the lids breaking off, among other things.

We tend to put small spare parts in little plastic tubs, or just dump everything into KOP bins.

This year we’re trying to find a better way to do things. We’ve currently got a doublesided clear (clear makes things so much easier) tacklebox with nice solid latches on it that we keep all our most common small fasteners, snaprings, molex connectors, quick disconnect terminals, etc in.

We’re looking at buying some nice steel tackleboxes from McMaster that will never fall apart for small stuff, but we’ve still not found a good way to store big things like motors, electronics parts, spare robot parts, etc.

Right now we’re looking at buying a rolling toolchest that’ll fit into an unused space in the middle of our toolcrate that we could organize all our larger spare parts in.

Anyone do anything that they think works well that hasn’t been mentioned yet?

In addition to the Plano 3700 storage boxes for most of our hardware items (see item 11 in this thread…), we also use pill bottles for VERY small items. Example: we use them to store tiny electrical components, and the various Digikey C-grid connector pieces for making our own PWM connectors. Different bottles hold the m and f pins, various shell sizes, dip switches, etc.

The best part is that they were FREE. We went to a local pharmacy and asked them to sponsor us! :smiley: As a new sponsor, they simply donated a huge bag of standard tall orange pill bottles to us!

BTW, when choosing a bottle type/size, just be sure to…

A) Get the kind where the lids can be set to either childproof or not. This allows you to carry them in childproof mode to avoid spillage, yet still set them to non-childproof mode while in use, for speed. (This is normally either done by “flipping” the cap over, or push-pull snapping of a latch vertically.)

B) Plan ahead on bottle sizing, for compatibility with your box storage system. We found a size that allowed us to simply cut out two of the cross bars from a single Plano 3700 box, and they all nested perfectly inside, as two vertical rows.:smiley:

Oh yea… We typically peel and stick the Digikey label onto the bottles, and highlight pen the part number (or print a label with DTP). Not only does this mark the bottle quickly and neatly, it allows for faster reordering. To assist in sorting, we also use a basic Sharpie pen to make a unique note on the lid. Warning: use some clear shipping tape over the label, or the label’s info will wear off quickly.

I hope this helps!

  • Keith

I’ve found that the “Lock & Lock” brand of food containers are handy for some items. You can get them at Walmart, Target and similar stores.


We use primarily the ZAG/Stanley professional organizer boxes for our hardware and spare parts storage at competitions and during build.
Overstock hardware is kept in a filing cabinet to refill the organizers as needed.

The nr. 14325 (shallow, 25 removable boxes) is a fantastic hardware organizer that used to be available at Lowes or HD. Unfortunately no longer sold in US (2006), though they are still sold in europe if you search Ebay.

The 14410 (deep 10 compartments) is good for controls and pneumatic spares, ie solenoids, spikes etc.
The Plano boxes are excellent for wire terminals pneumatic fittings and other small fittings.
The ZAG’s have the advantage of the removable boxes which really speed your work at times and result in fewer misfiled parts.

We have a separate labeled organizer for each hardware type:
#10 hardware, 1/4-20 hardware, wire connectors, pneumatic fittings etc.

Grab the one you need, walk over to the bench and start working on your assembly.

See here: