Ask Hackaday: Organizing A Growing Collection Of Electronic Odds And Ends

ask hackaday

[Tim] wrote in, lamenting a problem that many of us can likely echo. Over the years, he has acquired all sorts of small electronic parts and components, along with tools and accessories – all of which are starting to crowd his workspace. He says that most of his stockpile is being stored in a tackle box, but it’s getting unwieldy and he would like to find a better way to organize things.

Yours truly suffers from the same sort of situation. It’s mostly a result of being a tad bit lazy, while conveniently finding alternative storage containers for my electronic odds and ends. My workbench is strewn with plastic snack baggies (for screws, not ESD-sensitive bits), Glad-Ware containers, Eclipse gum packages, and old plastic baby formula tubs for larger items. While I’m certainly doing my share to reuse plastic packaging, I am aware that it’s not exactly the best organization methodology.

This topic does come up pretty often, and even though we’ve talked about it on several occasions, people still like to hear fresh feedback from their peers. If you have some clever organization tips, or a novel way of storing your electronics components, be sure to share them in the comments!

54 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: Organizing A Growing Collection Of Electronic Odds And Ends

  1. I suggest two tackle boxes minimum: Capacitors and resistors. I keep common stuff in the bins inside, and the uncommon bulk inside a box within the tackle box.

    The only other suggestion I have is larger poly bins for odd electronics you just can’t get yourself to throw away:

    1. when I worked in the oilfield I used at least two smaller tackle boxes. One for electrical hardware, another for small brass fittings. Beat dumping out the contents of a coffee can on the tailgate to fish out what I needed.

  2. I use one of those IKEA bookshelves at home; the kind with all the cube holes in it? I got a 5×5 and fitted half the cubbies with the matching plastic drawers (in a red and black theme to go with the rest of my workshop) – Any odd electronic parts that I want to keep go into one of the plastic drawers, inside of which you will find a tacklebox. Unless the parts are too big for a tacklebox of course, in which case, you won’t find a tacklebox.

    Yeah, you read that right; inside of my fancy and expensive electronics hiding and sorting system is really just a set of tackleboxes. I actually went slightly better and got those plastic “parts boxes” that have division inside that are moveable, but otherwise perform about the same function as a tacklebox…

    At fablocker hackerspace, we have been using a large and growing assortment of tackle boxes. The dream would be to move to collapsible shelving. For discretes like resistors and caps, we’re talking about those wall-mounted hardware organizers you can get at home improvement stores…

  3. I have an ever-growing collection of surface mount passives (reistors, capacitors, inductors). The best method I’ve found of keeping track of them is to store them in FT-4 containters- about 5/8x1x1x1/2″, they store well in crafting boxes (like what the beaders use), and I can label them with one of the simple thermal label-makers. Many times, Digi-Key components come with a sticker, so I’ll cut that to size and put it on the size so I know what to re-order. I used to be able to get the flexatop containers at the container store, but now I can only find them in large (but not ridiculous) quantity from US

    1. Probably great software for a hackerspace where volunteers regularly cycle through supply room or tool room duties. No doubt there are some home shop owners who would use it, but I see it as overkill for most. The home shop owner should keep an up to date record as to what the own in case one meets the grim reappear unexpectedly, to protect the family from scam artists.

  4. Many moons ago (approx 130), I built a resistor organizer; basically a 1 foot wide stack of 2x4s, with a grid of 3/4″ pigeonholes. I think the grid is 11 by 6 (it’s packed away at the moment since I just moved house).

    Vertically, I have powers of 10 starting at 100 (labelled by the 3rd band), and horizontally, the most significant digit. I also have a column for odd resistors (one hole for unsorted, one for<100 ohms, etc). The top row is reserved for 100, 1k, 10k, etc.

    The whole thing is hideously overengineered (the 2x4s are bolted together with carriage bolts, for heavens sake!), and it weighs a ton, but it is really easy to pull out the right value resistor in a second or two.

    Caps are just in a plastic parts bin, semi-organized by value, but it takes a lot longer to locate. All other parts are in one of those upright parts organizers with little drawers.

  5. I organize all my small electronics in cookies boxes (those that come with assorted cookies), like this one:
    The plastic partitions are big enough and perfect for passive and small active components. I have a pile of these boxes with everything from electronics to screws, they are really handy (and the cookies taste good too!).

    Regarding active components (ICs, voltage regulators, diodesm, transistors ..) (most of them desoldered from broken devices), they are all digitally cataloged in a spreadsheet.

    Bigger components like DC motors, servos, etc.. they are all inside circular metallic cookie boxes!!
    All my boxes have a few bags of silica gel to absorb humidity..

    Just my 2cents

  6. I have reused multiple containers for mixed nuts from Target. For the smaller variety of containers, I cut a 2 x 4 in half (length-wise) and screwed the tops underneath the board. I attached eyebolts to the topside of the board and hung it underneath my work bench. Works well for storing small parts (wire nuts, fasteners, etc…)

  7. I like the color styrofoam thing but I’m going to throw in a twist. I’m going to use a standard component trays instead of the styrofoam so that they can be moved easier. I only have a 5×5 component tray so I’ll group the colors in 2.

    If you really wanted to get particular with the styrofoam you could add color rows inside each box to add the third band.

  8. I don’t have a lot of room to dedicate to this, and I usually put everything away when done.

    I use a binder with business card sheets, and 2″x3″ zip lock bags. This holds all my resistors, most capacitors, inductors and transistors. Larger bulky stuff goes on a tackle box.

    If you use plastic divider trays, it is KEY that you get one with adjustable dividers. I only buy Plano containers. If you did not get enough dividers, you can email them and free of charge they’ll send you some first class mail, for free.

    For a tackle box I use a Plano. I forget which one. It has an enclosure for 3 plano 6200 trays, a couple of small trays to the side, and room up top. I fit most all my tools in here (if I am neat).

    Bulky tools like the Helping Hand and Panavise go in a plastic “office folder” portable filing box meant for like 10 inches deep worth of manilla folders. Along the bottom I place a few more Plano containers, and up top go the vise and hands.

    key point: don’t use tackle boxes for resistors as it’s not going to make the most of the space. Tackle boxes are best for assorted bulk like USB ports, and ICs. Resistors lie flat in envelopes. If I have more than 50 resistors of a size, I put 50 in the resistor book and the rest go into a bulk box labeled “surplus” which I rarely take out of storage.

    Lastly, inventory your parts in Google Documents spreadsheet, with a column for Have and one for Need. I don’t count resistors and caps, just keep an eye on them, but I count less common stuff like ICs. Group your spreadsheet tabs the same was as your favorite e-store does so you have a natural system.

    Get a Brother USB label printer when they are on sale. They’re good for labeling detail on small surfaces, like chip tubes. I just label the resistor bags with a marker, R47, R2K2 etc. and keep them in order inside the book binder.

    1. I wish I had started an inventory sheet when I started collecting parts. Now, 30+ years later the job of cataloging the whole thing would be immense.

      I keep a ‘want list’ and a ‘In Progress Projects’ list on a whiteboard by the door of the lab so
      if I’m going out to the local supply place I might remember to pick things up. Otherwise it goes into a shopping list on my favorite distributor site, and when it hits $20 of misc parts I order it.

      Another useful feature is the ability some of the distributors to add ‘customer part number’. Which I use to add the project name and a part # if applicable.

      If you use drawer dividers for small parts, either hot melt glue them down or use scotch tape. Otherwise the parts migrate under the dividers over the years, and moves across the {street,city,country,ocean}.

  9. For a lot of SMD stuff, if you got the cash, you can purchase small glass (or plastic) bottles from a gold prospecting web site. They’re not expensive, you just need a lot of them. They also come in different sizes too. Plus, you can write on the tops with those “metallic ink” pens. or put a label on the bottle itself. I wrote on the tops, and put a bar code on the bottle, to make ordering easier, just scan it in. And once the bottles are in a foam carrier, you can see the values from the top really easy.

    REI sells a good supply of various plastic containers for other parts such as small transformers etc…

    Home stores sell those “bin boxes” with the drawers in them. You can’t beat those for leaded parts like resistors. Put the dividers in there and you can put several sizes in one drawer. or make it different wattages, or tolerances, what ever. Plus, they’re stackable. And you can always move the dividers around to make a section larger or smaller depending on your usage/collection.

    Some places, even sell those boxes with parts in them. But I don’t like that too much.

    For the SMD, I find myself salvaging a lot of stuff. With a small “pencil torch” (with “heat gun” attachment), it’s easy to remove them. Chips and resistors etc… But, then you have to store the dang things. So I just leave the parts on the board and take them off as I need them. It’s a LOT easier to see the parts, than it is to sort through a pile of them. But you just need to have an idea of what parts are on what boards.

    Big stuff, I just toss in various boxes. Chips, you keep in chip tubes. LED’s I keep in small plastic bags if I only have a few, if I have a few thousand of them, I put them in larger bags. Easy to see at a glance what they are. You should also keep your eys open for other plastic containers. Like those “wet wipes” in the toilet paper section of the grocery store, has a nice sized plastic box, and they’re cheap as can be.

    I’ve been collecting “junk” for decades. And as much as it may hurt, sometimes, you just need to clean out the real junk, from the “good junk”.

    That’s about all I can think of at the moment. You need a good memory for one thing. But don’t move stuff around too much, or you’ll have the same problem I do, and that is you’ve seen every part, in every location, and can’t ever remember it’s last location!!

  10. I had the same problem, now i use some assortment box which can be put away into an easy clip file-folder (not sure if i translated correctly).

    They are available in several pocket sizes, look as nice as a file folder, see here for getting an idea how they look like.

    The nice things are you can look through, see parts and mark the pockets individually. One of the disadvantages is that pockets are not accessible single, you need to open the cover and risk mixing of parts, but thats the case with most assortment-boxes.

    There is room for up to 4 of those in a three inch wide folder, which gives 80 (wide enough for e.g. through-hole resistors) or 128 smaller pockets, or for larger parts there is a wider and deeper version with 45 pockets in 3 of those “files” per 3 inch folder.


  11. I’ve tried many things over the years. The biggest problem is things ‘jumping’ from compartment to compartment when the storage device gets moved.

    I’ve ended up standardizing on commercially made parts drawer cabinets. If what is in the drawer is really small or sensitive, it goes in a small static or plastic bag as appropriate. There are separate cabinets for 74xx00 TTL, CMOS, Linear, hardware, connectors, resistors, ceramic, electrolytic, and tantalum caps as well as two for ‘other’ things like GPS modules, small specialty cables, filters, optical bits, etc.

    The biggest problem with this approach is I am now running out of wall space to put the cabinets in the lab!

    The one thing that this does not work well for is surface mount components, which seem to be small enough to fall out from between the molecules of plastic the drawers are constructed of. Those have their own containers which seal each compartment of caps from the next. The compartments are labeled and each has its own lid. I tried a few other methods and nothing really worked. Simply knocking the box off the desk resulted in loosing everything inside (since the caps are not marked and who wants to sort out 2000 0603 size resistors). @MAttBennet, I like the look of the flexatop’s. Now to find them in small quantities.

    For things that are larger than a drawer, I buy ‘shoebox’ plastic containers at the local home improvement store. The are $1 each and comfortably hold a decent size pair of shoes. These get things like USB devices, ethernet cables, wall warts, power cords, and audio cables. A label on the end keeps them straight on the shelves. For each ‘project’ I start, it gets a bin. Everything related to the project goes in the bin. Parts ordered for a project go straight from the box into the bin, enclosures, pcbs, etc. The joy of that is I know how deep the project queue is and it helps me from taking on a new project before too many old ones are done!

    For the larger things like devices saved for the enclosure collection, pcbs to be salvaged for parts, motors, whole assemblies, or that 8″x8″ widget I just cant give away at the next hamfest, larger bins get labeled and put in the basement. There is usually one or two that are labeled ‘hamfest’ which is stuff to be gotten rid of at the next gathering. That helps to pare the collection down too.

    All this has helped to shoehorn an ever expanding collection into a lab/office space that is just over 11×10.

    1. >I’ve tried many things over the years. The biggest problem is things ‘jumping’ from compartment to compartment when the storage device gets moved.

      I “had” that problem with el-cheapo boxes from craft stores or Harbor Freight, but no problems with the Plano containers. The plastic is thicker, and the dividers sit more flush. I’ve dropped them and they don’t pop open, and the contents inside don’t mix.

      I had really small parts in there, like loose SMD relays, and I dropped it.. maybe they would mix on me, but I’m really happy with these containers. They’re about 50% more than the generic containers, but they’re more than 50% efficient with space (and they are USA made even).

  12. I have multiple giant plastic bin that I throw leftovers in. If it came in a digikey/mouser/newark labled container, I keep it in that.

    My trick is to buy only what I need. I would much rather spend time developing something and buying parts easily online (i’m always placing an order somewhere)vs. spending the time sorting it or digging through everything I have.

  13. I have a section of wall in my lab dedicated to parts drawers.
    For the smd stuff I use 1″x1″ plastic resealable bags from a hobby store that sells jewelery parts. You can put a lot of them into 1 drawer. And I use a small thermal labeler to mark them. Older stuff that is hard to part with I keep in the tool shed in boxes paper comes in. They are uniform in size, and I label them with just a letter. The inventory is kept in a spreadsheet. Easy to find an item. Need a “XZX” part, go to the spreadsheet, it’s in box D.

  14. I use lots of various plastic bins but one that comes to mind well is using old CD/DVD cake boxes. Just cut off the stem (so you’re not poking the parts with it). They stack very nicely and it’s easy to see what’s in them. You can even leave the stem in tact to wind cord around them.

  15. For resistors I simply buy axial resistor assortments (remarkably Radioshack still seems to have one of the best value sets), sort them by value, write the numeric value on the tape that holds them together for each group, then staple all the tapes together. The result is a long roll sorted by value with easy to read labels (faster than color codes for me).

  16. I just have a whole bunch of parts cabinets with drawers – I got mine at Ace Hardware, but you can get them at Fry’s. Since I have a whole bunch of the same types, I can organize them as I see fit and move drawers of parts from one to another without spilling.

    I organize each case by a category – for example, I have one entirely for switches and relays, one for regular resistors, another for power resistors and pots, and two for capacitors. For static-sensitive ICs I use conductive foam blocks or for bulk quantities I line the drawer with aluminum foil.

    Odd items and PCBs I put in other containers – a plastic shoebox for LCDs, another box for wire, etc. I use Altoids tins to store Arduino boards (and other similar small dev boards)

    Since many of my parts are either excess from people cleaning their garages or miscellaneous from the Electronic Goldmine, I’ve probably got at least one parts cabinet that cost as much as the parts in it.

  17. In my lab at work we use parts drawers for all the through-hole stuff:
    – E12 series resistors spanning 1R to 10M
    – E6 capacitors spanning 1pF to 1uF
    – Selected common electrolytics from 1uF to 1000uF
    – Actives, Diodes, Optoelectronics

    Then I have a series of old filing drawers (like accountants used to use) for larger parts

    For SMD we use vials laid out in a big piece of plywood with holes drilled at regular intervals. They’re arranged into resistors (ordered by value with a group for each physical size), caps, actives, diodes, zeners, etc. You can fit about 1000 0603 parts into a 6ml vial, so it’s quite a handy solution

  18. I think the guiding value and the system is more important so I shall list them first:

    1. The value of the part is in UTILIZATION, not in having them. Many times I found myself buying too many, or unnecessarily. Now I try to minimize as much as possible. I log my desire with the bookmark and on paper, and try to prioritize and revisit them later. By the mere act of bookmarking, I am able to fulfill the desire and cut down almost 100% 0f impulse buying. Another step is to do a reduction before I submit the order, while taking advantage of the quantity break when possible. Triggering of order shall be on urgent items, and top up with the “to buy later” items to fulfill the minimum sum to enjoy free shipping.

    2. Storage must be on the principle that I can find them easily, retrieve them easily, and put them back easily. Categorization and labeling are keys. Physical ways of storage is always improving, for now: my system is big items on rack, small items are in transparent zip bags, and “similar” small zip bags are in bigger zip bags, and then “similar” big zip bags in a drawer. And a disposable dehumidifier in a drawer. Rigid container is used for item that need protection. I find good quality zip bag more efficient way to store.

    Ling SM

  19. As a shed warrior with eclectic interests I have come across this problem constantly (shrinking shed). Having just started in the electronic world I have solved,in part, storage for salvaged components. I have made boxes as describe by atomic (recycled Christmas card gift boxes)along with sticky labels. These are then stored in ice cream containers and labelled with masking tape. These are then stored on shelves.

    This solution works for my particular situation of limited space and protection against sawdust of which I produce copious amounts of.

    A enviromental responsible solution by todays jargon. Years ago I was just call cheap,tight wad, long pockets short arms, flea skinner etc. Does’nt matter, it works.

    I do appreciate the hints outlined above and will use them in the future.

  20. check the nearest craft store (Michaels) and go to the bead section and look for the different compartmentalize containers..there are 4 or 5 sections that have different types of storage boxes…and check out the reduces items area..good luck

  21. I’m using prescription bottles — the kind in which you get medications & pills from the pharmacist/chemist. Only been collecting them for about two years, tops, and I already have well over 100, probably 150 bottles. They’re polypropylene, in sizes of 10, 13, and 20 drams, IIRC, and made by Rexam.

    People sometimes think I’m a drug dealer when they visit and see my lab. I try to joke that I’m hooked on SMDs, but it’s usually over my guests’ heads. :3

    THE BEST solution would be for Plano to make an ESD-dissipating line of tackle boxes, aimed DIRECTLY at this crowd. Sure it’d cost a hair more, but man, it’d be worth the extra expense to me. I hate having to use separate areas & storage boxes for components that are ESD sensitive. I’m considering just buying sheets and rods of Tempalux CN-F material to make what I need, but ordering up a box ready-made would be much faster and convenient.

  22. I’ll simply point out that the US Post Office gives away cardboard boxes for free. And that 16 of the small ones fit almost perfectly in a ‘bankers box’ (cardboard file box) — which are a buck or so each in ten-packs at office supply stores.

  23. I use three things that work very well. As an electrical engineer by training, I am careful, but not anal, about ESD.

    My containers are as follows:
    1. a dual-sided small handled box with see-through containers – one for semiconductors; one for mechanical parts – switches, connectors, etc.
    2. for larger items – soldering irons, etc., I stack see-through plastic shoe box size containers
    3. All other stuff gets put into plastic baggies – I bought 100 for $2.50 in Japan. Steal.
    4. For resistors, I use a 3-ring binder with plastic sleeves. Each page is in numerical resistive order. This works great.

    Key is finding things quickly. As they say on “Myth Busters”. “If you can’t find it, you don’t have it.”

  24. Storage needs depend on parts.

    I have a mixture of parts draws (the small draws with dividers in them), tackle boxes in both small large sizes. then I have some snap-on type (copy) tool boxes. and some plastic bins. and some brief case style tool boxes (ALU camera case kind of things)

    small and generic things start in the draws, which have parts organised by type,
    for example a draw marked screws where random screws go, and a draw marked computer screws, that draw has dividers for case screws drive screws and stand offs

    Then there is an LED draw, divided into green orange red (the only colours I keep in quantity)

    for resistors, I don’t keep a draw for each value, I keep a draw for ranges, in multiples of ten.
    so all my 1k, 10k and 100k are together, brown black something… then I can just look in the draw for black, brown, red or orange etc…

    my tackle boxes tend to be for specific interests, so I have a tackle box for stuff I’ll want that’s specific to uC projects, (chips, eproms etc)

    Then I have a tool/carry case that’s specific to speaker building, (so full of jack sockets, corners feet and handles).

    Anything that’s awaiting disassembly to scavenge parts sits in a washing basket ready for it’s fate.

    Any very large parts (heatsinks) big motors get put into groups. (e.g music stuff, Leather craft stuff, wood stuff, electronics stuff, metal working stuff) and there are storage bins.

    ALL tools go inside rolling tool cabinets, these aren’t snap on ones buy cheaper copies picked up in sales.
    I can’t stress how important it is that my tools go away, the sheer amount of screw drivers that I’ve bough over the years simply because I’ve misplaced the one I wanted. it’s the same with soldering irons, spanners etc.

    Only tools too big not to go into roll cabinets, (welder) don’t live in the cabinet.

    like I first said:
    Storage needs depend on parts.

    If you’ve got lots of small parts then buy more tackle boxes, or parts draws.
    if you’re getting bigger stuff (large heat sinks) then get larger plastic bins the stacking type are good.

    If you ever need to fix things in a mobile environment, (for example I gig with the PA speakers I’ve made) then make sure you have something like a tool box that you can put spares in so you can just pick it up and go!

  25. I just discovered this idea, i had a surplus of
    strong round magnets. They were each holding up
    maybe 3 business cards and 1/2 a dozen slips of paper with phone numbers on them. I grabbed two
    standard envelopes. Opened them up, put business
    cards in one and telephone numbers in the other, then i used 2 magnets to stick them to the fridge. now with just 4 magnets and 2 envelopes i have my
    whole fridge organized, and no fumbling either.

  26. screw the lids of clear plastic peanut butter jars to a board and hang it over your workbench. then you can see everything you have to work with while they stay conveniently out of the way, assuming you have enough head room of course.

  27. Back then as a starter with a relatively small set of components and tools, I used shoe boxes.

    One shoe box was for components. For resistors, I had labeled the envelopes with their power rating and the resistances value, then I put them in the box in sequential order. Was a very nice fit and worked well for me. On the unused side, I put all my other components, which I bought that came in boxes with dividers in them – includes transistors, LEDs, Capacitors, etc.

    Another shoe box was for tools, including screwdrivers, pliers, multimeters, tape measure, hot glue gun & glue, etc.

  28. I know it seems on the more spendy side but after many a year stretching all the way back into childhood with a machinist grandfather and father organization when setting up my own shop and hobbies is a consideration I throw into the MUST HVAE pile of stuff. It should be easy to use, pack as much into a small space as possible and expandable. For me that is Milwaukee PACKOUT organizers. I had already had several for organizing hardware in my small shop so they were a no brainer.

    You can purchase extra on Esty or 3D print yourself if you have a printer (this is what I did) nesting bins that give you a top and bottom shelf inside each bin that it comes with split up into anywhere from one to five compartments depending on the options you choose. The bins on Etsy or the STL files you can print yourself are all meant to take advantage of the way the PACKOUT organizers close meaning even the smallest parts will see zero movement between bins. That plus labels and I’m good.

    Plus, if like me, your livingroom/bedroom must double as an electronics workshop that you can set up and take down to put out of site the dolly they sell for the PACKOUT plus the wooden top make a nice flat nightstand sized thing you can roll into a corner of the room and cover with a sheet or skirt if you’re comfortable sewing. The only issue is the same issue you have with any plastic or metal storage options which is static. So the delicate stuff goes into ESD baggies.

    I’m very happy with it. I have two small stacks about windowsill height with a XL box on the bottom of one and three organizers and another stack with a three drawer and several more organizers. Both stacks have wooden tops and roll away so you wouldn’t know they were in the livingroom. When company comes I even put pictures on them and little knickknacks and no one even knows they’re there unless I’ve told them.

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