How to not Lose Parts?

So, recently, we got ourselves this -

The problem is that I know for a fact that if we don’t get some kind of system in place to make sure those tools don’t go missing, then they WILL GO MISSING (our team has always had a big problem with losing parts).

I thought of maybe having a system in place where people need to sign out parts and sign them back in so that we know who had em last, but that would probably take too much time to actually use.

So, what strategies do y’all’s teams use to keep track of small tools like those in the picture such that they don’t go missing?

my team has multiple ratchet sets so we color coded the cases and then every meeting we make sure all the pieces are back. Otherwise, no leaving until it’s found.

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I use the strategy of pointing out to my students the price of what they’re working with, be it tool or part, and it usually gives them a better idea of how something should be treated. Tools usually return to their homes.


This probably isn’t the answer you want to hear, but keeping things organized and clean and getting things out away is much more of a cultural thing and less of systematic thing. Like you said, you cannot expect people to sign tools in and out, that would be quite ineffective, and inaccurate. But setting a precidence for people cleaning up after them selves I find it be the only reliable way to run an effective shop.

Our team employs 3 ways to keep people cleaning up. First, at least 3 times a week at our beginning meetings (we spend about 10 minutes before every meeting together getting information out before going into sub teams), we make sure to pound into them that they have to clean. I have also made it very clear to my subteam leads they need to be cleaning after everything to set a good example.

Second, after every meeting we spend at least 30 minutes putting things away, vacuuming, taking out the trash so the janitors don’t have too, sweeping, putting prototypes away, so on. The shop must look as good if not better than the first meeting every of the year every day or people will get in truble if they were responsible.

Finally we just stright up send people home if they aren’t cleaning and being responsible. We have 60 person team this year and so it’s not really a problem sending people home. Sending people home teaches them really fast.

Look, you might be thinking “that’s kinda of an rude way to handle things, your team probably think your pretty mean.” But I have found that setting the precidence early, it makes the rest of the season run way easier. I haven’t had to send someone home or get mad at the for not cleaning up sense pre season and things are way more efficient than years prior. Plus, mentors backing us up helps a lot.

Again, it’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but imo it’s the only effective way to keep a shop clean. Good luck!!!


Maybe others better than myself have developed a culture so powerful that it is actually followed, but as for myself after 10 yrs of mentoring, I’ve decided to cut my losses and buy cheaper tools with the intent of replacing them every few years when they get lost/broken.

“I could buy an expensive mechanical pencil, or I can buy 20 cheap #2 pencils that will do the job fine and I don’t care if I lose them.”

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We just purchased a couple of sets of sockets because the sets like those shown by the OP were missing most of the commonly used sizes. This is my first year with the team so I don’t know when those sets were first purchased.

We solved this problem by encouraging students to bring their own tools. Of course, the team owns some tools so students that can’t afford tools have some to use, we keep these in our tool box on our pit cart. As a result of having your own tools, students seem to clean up “their stuff” more often than the team’s stuff. As far as team tools, we label them with an engraving pen and/or paint them so you know who’s they are. Also, we have a student every meeting collect and organize the tool box. Doing these things have definitely helped with tool organization.

We have smaller sets of tools. When a student needs a 3/8 socket and a ratchet, they take the entire set. Same for drills, we have broken a few drills but haven’t lost one out of the set in quite a while now.

To add to this, once a week or every few days we clean up whatever we have worked on and put the tools back that we find if any have wandered away from their homes.

The hard part is that two of our most experienced mentors, myself included, are the worst at putting tools back.

In an ideal world, every tool has a home. Not just a junk bin where all the allen wrenches go or whatever. A dedicated and labelled spot in the toolbox for each tool.

For critical tools in particular - putting a foam insert into your toolbox drawer, cutting out a space for each tool, and labelling that space - this does a lot to make it clear that The Tool Is Supposed to Be Here and that something is wrong when it is not there.

You can’t loose parts you never buy…

We enforce cleanup at the end of every meeting. Every tool has to be put away. If tools go missing and we need them, it’s all hands on deck to find them… and if we can’t, then everyone’s learned a valuable lesson on keeping track of things and putting them away properly - especially when our team leads are upset over losing a night’s worth of work (or more if we can’t pick it up locally to replace it).

We also do budgeting with the team, letting them know how much we spent in each category each year… and how much money we need to raise just to do what we do next year. It tends to make them fairly cost-conscious.

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We have a roving shop master (keeping track of tools, who’s using them, making sure people are using tools correctly, who needs tools for upcoming tasks, as well as general organization, restocking, etc) and enough duplicates that if someone put down their 3/8" wrench and can’t find it again within a dozen seconds they just go grab another one off the rack, either it gets found in the meeting via shop-master or it gets found during our 15 minute clean up time at the end of every meeting.
Basically we assume they’ll go missing at some point, but are set up so losing a tool doesn’t impact us significantly.

For unusual, dangerous, or especially valuable tools we have a separate system where the students check out the tool directly from a mentor and be personally accountable for it’s return by the end of the meeting.

While my team is certainly not perfect, the best thing I’ve found is a combination of making it easier to be organized/not lose things, and making it part of the team culture. We do still lose tools, but not to nearly the extent we used to.

One of the biggest things that helped us was getting extra tools in our standard sizes. We have a full set of wrenches, a full set of drill bits, etc., but we also get individual tools in the sizes we use most of the time. We use organizer boxes to group things together so they’re easy to find: if a student nees a #11 drill bit, they can go to the drill bit organizer box and get one of the 12 or so in there instead of checking every drill index until they find one. We have enough duplicates of our common sizes of hand tools like wrenches that anybody who needs one can have one and put them back when they’re done.

The students are generally respectful of their tools now, but weren’t always. After a couple of years of frustration and really awful tools, we tried giving them one small but nice set of drill bits and promising them a bigger set if they kept the set intact all year. Broken drill bits would be replaced if they told us, but lost drill bits would invalidate the promise. It worked well with our team, and they’ve gotten some nice tools through progressive upgrades as they treat their tools better.

Next step for us is going to be foam cutouts in the toolbox to make cleaning and checking for missing tools easier.