Tool Box Labels That Will Make You Faster

February 21, 2022

Tool Box Labels That Will Make You Faster
Tool Boxes with Tiny Labels These tool boxes all look the same. How can we make the labels better? Image from Stephens Brothers Construction

If you've built a tool trailer with plywood shelves, or you've recently upfitted a work van with shelves and bins, you might want to know how you can label things so that they are easy to find.

Besides your drawers and tool boxes, you might also want to label cubbies.

Here are a few tool box labeling ideas, tips, and tricks.


Normal Tool Box Labels Are Terrible

Why do you want to label your tool boxes and drawers? Here are some good reasons. You want:

  • To be able to see what a tool box is from across the room.
  • To be able to re-stack organizers or tool boxes in a particular order easily, such as in a fastener shelf system.
  • To be able to find tools and inventory quickly.
  • A helper to be able to find tools and inventory quickly.
  • To know if you have the correct collection of tool boxes for a particular task.
  • To be able to rearrange your tools and inventory without changing a lot of labels.

The low-effort, no-brainer way to label drawers and shelves in a tool trailer or work van is to use adhesive labels that you can make in your printer. While this works, it isn't the best it could be.

If you are a high-performing worker in the trades, you want to figure out how to supercharge your labeling. This can be especially helpful if you work in a crew or employ a helper who doesn't know where all the tools and supplies are.

Let's look at some problems with conventional labeling systems:

1) Printed Labels Can Be Hard to Read.

If you've invested in Milwaukee's Packout system or another similar system, you might have an awful lot of tool boxes that all look alike. You need labels.

With typical printed labels you won't be able to read them from across the room, since they're usually small.

2) Printed Labels Aren't Ordered.

If your helper needs to find something in a drawer and you say, "Look in the abrasives drawer," you may have a long wait if your tool trailer has 50 drawers.

If your drawers are somehow ordered it will make searching faster.

3) You End Up Putting Stuff in Drawers That Doesn't Belong.

You'll inevitably have space left over in some drawers and you'll decide to put in unrelated tools or inventory. If you think of a drawer as "Hinge Parts", you might forget that you also keep door stoppers in it, as well.

4) Printed Labels Need to Be Kept Up-To-Date If You Reorganize.

Especially if you've just completed a reorganization, van upfit, or tool trailer build, you'll still want to tweak things and move them around. You'll find that you can be a little faster if you put something closer to a door or realize that some little-used supplies are taking up valuable drawer space at the entrance to your trailer.

It would be nice to not need to always be printing a new set of labels when you move things around.

Tool Box Label Tips and Tricks

Now, let's take a look at some ideas that will make you and you helper find tools and inventory faster.

Use Magnetic Tool Box Labels

This is our least favorite! But it might be useful for someone:

Magnets are a slight upgrade over sticky labels. Magnets need steel to stick to, so they won't work on a tool trailer's plywood drawers. They will be great on a typical mechanic's tool box or the bins and drawers that are used in a typical plumber or HVAC van upfit.

One of the benefits of magnets is that you can rearrange them at will. If you change your mind about how something should go, you can easily reconfigure.

Despite that, magnetic labels on a tool box are pretty uninspiring. How often do you need to switch up your labels?

Use Numbers Instead of Words

We saw this on Jay Bates' Contractor Tool Trailer Build. Jay cut all the plywood shelf pieces on a CNC machine, so he was able to do some interesting things, such as etching in numbers on each drawer. This is a pretty interesting way make labels, so let's see how it solves our labeling problems.

By using numbers instead of letters, the contractor just needs to know that certain collections of tools and inventory are in certain drawers or tool boxes.

For instance, all screwdrivers are in drawer #27.

Drawer #27 is easier for a helper to find because numbers are sequential, while typical drawers in a tool box or tool trailer do not have any kind of sequential ordering. It's pretty easy for a helper to find the 20s and then narrow in on #27.

Since there are only two characters, the actual label for a drawer or organizer can be made pretty large and easy to see.

If you're labeling drawers in a tool trailer, it's best to label the drawers sequentially.

Use Colored Labels

For most of us, colors are easy to see and differentiate. Our brains are very visually oriented, so using colors can help you remember drawer contents more than colors. This tip is on Noah's HVAC van.

If we look at the typical rainbow colors, they are:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Indigo
  • Violet

You can combine these colors into pairs to get 49 combos like:

  • Red-Red
  • Red-Orange
  • Red-Yellow
  • Red-Green
  • Red-Blue
  • Red-Indigo
  • Red-Violet
  • Orange-Red
  • Orange-Orange
  • Orange-Yellow
  • Orange-Green
  • Orange-Blue
  • Orange-Indigo
  • Orange-Violet
  • etc.

This kind of labeling is easy to see and easy to identify. If you need to put tools or inventory away it's simple to identify the drawer or organizer you need to find.

While colors don't have any inherent ordering, you can make them go in any order that you want, such as the ROYGBIV ordering above.

Colors are also a good way to group your tools and inventory.

You may have different drawers and organizers for plumbing tools and supplies. Make your plumbing organizers blue and you and your employees will always know that plumbing stuff is in blue-labeled organizers.

Combine Different Label Systems.

Remember that you can make your labels however you want!

Feel free to use standard labels, numbers, and colors for your tool boxes and drawers. You might do this by:

Using standard printed labels that say what's in a drawer, like "Electrical Parts". You can assign the color yellow to anything that's electrical (electrical -> lightning bolt -> lightning bolts are usually colored yellow) and then number the drawers or organizers you want from 1-5.

Labels for your electrical organizers might look like this:

Better Tool Box and Organizer Labels
Standard label Color/Number Label
Organizer 1 Outlets Yellow - 1
Organizer 2 Switchplates Yellow - 2
Organizer 3 MC cable tools and connectors Yellow - 3
Organizer 4 Old Work Plastic Yellow - 4
Organizer 5 Misc Metal Boxes Yellow - 5

Say that you're about to install a ceiling fan and you need a box to mount it. Tell your helper to "Get a fan box out of Yellow-5" and it should be easy for him to find. You could also call this box "Electrical 5", since your team would know that electrical parts go in yellow organizers, and yellow means electrical.

Conclusion

You don't need to use boring labels for your parts and tools. Numbers and colors give you lots of options for a better labeling system so that you and your employees can find and return tools and inventory more efficiently.

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