Dealing with Small and Medium Parts

The small and medium parts are not as organized as they could be. There are too many of some parts and too few of others. This page is a resource in helping address this issue.

Current Situation (March 2009)

Attached is a spreadsheet with a high level inventory done during Volunteer night on March 10, 2009.
See the spreadsheet with parts notes

The small parts drawers are falling apart, label are falling off, parts are all mixed in, and we have too many of some parts while too few of others.

The current system has served us very well, but it is time to put some work into re-vamping it.

Who is involved? Who has a stake?

Who is impacted by the organization of small parts?

  • People doing general shop repairs
    • Including mechanics in open shop
  • EAB participants
  • Fix for sale
  • Kids educational programs

Who will help keep them organized?

  • Volunteers
    • Requires some basic knowledge
    • Completed at any time or with instruction at volunteer night?

Anybody against new organization?

  • People who have other uses for the space
  • People who want to use recycled materials and not buy new bins

Basic Requirements

Size Approx. Dimensions a Volume Unique Parts b Room for Expansion Total
Small 2.25″×5.875″×1.25″ 16.5 in 3 79 16 95
Medium 5.5″×15.25″×2″ 167.75 in 3 38 7 45
Large Varies Varies 4 6 10

a) Dimensions are: Width x Depth x Height (inches)
b) The parts from “Large” include:

  1. axles
  2. headset bolts
  3. quick release skewers & parts
  4. spokes

What If and Dream Requirements

In addition to replacing the broken and mixed-up bins that we currently have, it would be nice to create a more powerful parts storage system.

General goals for a storage system:

  • Room for expansion
    • Include uncommon as well as common parts
    • More specific classification of parts
  • Assistance in sorting parts
  • Reduced parts searching time
  • Address the needs for various groups who have a stake
    • Common grouping of parts
    • Ensure sufficient supplies of needed parts
    • Be conscious of space use and not take up too much of the shop
  • Easy to use
    • Educational
  • Inventory should be easy
  • Maintainable
    • Something that can be cleaned

Target Goal

We want sturdy small parts storage with convenient sorting, fast searching, and proper space for everything from common to special use components.

Whats success?

How do we know if we reached our goal? What measurements can we use to validate our solution?

  • Proper space for all parts?
    • Enough space for common parts, but not too much for rare parts
    • Space has the right shape to make it easy to access parts
  • Is it feasible?
    • Can fit into the shop with little modifications
    • Is it expensive
  • Does it meet the target goal?
    • Convenient sorting?
    • Fast parts locating?
    • Sturdy
  • Is it intuitive so that little or no instructions are needed? Will it be functional or will it simply fall apart?

Success Criteria:

  1. Proper Space
  2. Sorting and Searching
  3. Intuitive or Educational
  4. Sturdy
  5. Feasibility

Free-Forms Ideas

  • Digital photos as lables
    • Photos to show the variations of different parts
  • Colors for organization
  • Library shelving
    • multiple people can browse at the same time
    • keep an open path for people to get by
  • Bins for unsorted parts
    • Just one bin for all unsorted parts
      • One generic place to catch all loose parts
    • A bin for each category of parts
      • Have a salvage parts bin for each category
  • Bags to keep sets together (better than zip tie)
  • Place to keep bags
    • Both empty ones to be used and full ones with parts
  • Clear containers
    • Peanut butter jars, milk crates, milk jugs
    • Mesh-type bags
  • Get more card catalog units
  • Order parts logically
    • Alphabetize
    • Based on location on the bike
  • Use bags instead of bins
    • Allows for hanging on hooks, hang on wall space
  • Eye level is important
    • Put commonly used parts eye level
    • Less common parts more out of the way locations
  • Example parts/components to act as labels
    • Have an actual part attached as a quick visual reference
  • Exploded view diagrams that also correspond to part locations within the shelving
  • Good lighting in the area
  • Flat is better than deep
    • Good to spread parts out to look through them

Bad ideas: ways the system can fail!

  • Open space
    • People will put a bolt down onto open space instead of storing it away properly
  • Overstuffing containers
  • Fragile containers
  • Disconnected labels (labeling system should not allow for it to get mixed up)

Initial Suggested Bins

A new bin system that is more sturdy and flexible would serve the shop well. A typical system would be of hanging bins. There are many alternatives if we wish to go the commercial route:

Hanging Bins

Other industrial storage solutions from MSC

Bins, but don’t hang them

Hanging the bins may not be the best thing to do. An alternative would be to put the bins onto a shelf. Preferribly, a shelf built to fit the bins in a very space-efficient way such as the one shown below:

Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Mounting to existing wall/panel Cost is high and requires a sturdy wall
Easy to mix and match bin sizes Bins can break at their hooks
Spacing is predetermined and always nice Hanging requires care and can not be done quickly
Space is devoted to specific bins of specific type

Would be DIY, but could be made similar to

Pros Cons
Low cost Shelf has fixed size
Simple Spacing is not guaranteed
Space can be made multi-purpose Space can get chaotic
Less stress on the bins Not utilizing bin features
Can stack bins if wanted Extra space can introduce clutter
Shelf can be customized


  • Don’t want something that can spill
  • Don’t want something that can have the hanging ledge break

Initial Suggested Drawers

Detailed Specification

Storage method

The most promising storage method is to use stacking bins of various sizes that will be placed onto a shelf or multiple shelves.

Bin sizes and Numbers

Estimate based on inventory

First pass look

Very rough estimate based on a high level inventory completed earlier. We have about 15 different options for sizes to choose from from one manufacturer alone.

Size Dimensions Quantity
Small 4-1/8" 4-1/2" 3" 95
Medium 4-1/8" 10-7/8" 4" 45
Large 8-1/4" 10-3/4" 7" 10

Note: dimensions are Width x Depth x Height

Assumed shelf parameters

W, Shelf row width: 48"
t, Shelf thickness: .5"
G_h, Wiggle room height: 1"
G_w, Wiggle width room per bin: .25"

How much height is needed for the small and medium bins?
S = number of small bins = 95
M = number of medium bins = 45

N1, Number of small or medium bins per shelf row
(row width)/(bin width) = 48"/4.125"
Approximately N1=11 bins/row

Required number of rows:
(number of bins)/(bins per row) = (S+M)/N1
Approximately 12 rows

Required height (Assume 4" bin height":
(Number of rows) * (Bin Height)
H1=12 * 4" = 48"

How much height is needed for the large bins?
L = number of large bins = 10
N2, number of large bins per row
(row width)/(bins width) = 48"/8.125"
Approximately N2 = 5 bins/row

Required number of rows:
(number of bins)/(bins per row) = L/N2
Approximately 2 rows

Required height:
(Number of rows) * (Bin Height)
H2=2 * 7" = 14"

What is the total height including wiggle room and shelf thickness?

H1+H2+(N1+N2) * (G_w+G_h)

Approximately 7 feet high

Modifications to help make the bins fit

We can make modifications to get the height or width smaller in order to fit the bins system into our existing shelf space. Here are some of things we could do:

  • Subdivide bins so that fewer total bins are being used
  • Change bins sizes to get different distributions of small medium and large, or to get bins of different dimensions that will fit the shelf better
  • Don’t put all of the bins on one shelf. We could have a main shelf with most of the bins and then secondary shelving somewhere else.
  • Reduce the number of bins, since this may be more than is needed
  • Use a stepping stool to allow people to get to the upper bins and then the extra height would be acceptable

I guess one underlying problems are:

  1. Drawers are cumbersome: to access the parts or see the quantity, you need to open a drawer
  2. People move the positions of the different drawers
  3. The drawers are falling apart
  4. The labels are falling off

The fact that the parts are mixed is a symptom.

I wonder if there is an easy solution that allows us to recycle materials, for example from our neighbors Creative Reuse Pittsburgh.



I like the idea of working wtih Creative Reuse. Their web page has a list of items they seem to have available for purchase:

It looks like a lot of fantastic sign-making material, but not so much in the shelving department. I may send them an email asking what kind of materials they have that could maybe help us with the small parts. First, I am going to try to use the high level inventory to get an estimate of our space requirements.


You know what I say Will.

DO IT!!!


Will, thanks for putting all the time in to get this info together. That high-level inventory is pretty extensive!

A couple comments:

I think the “intuitive” goal should be even more than that – accessible and educational for people with no mechanical background.

One thing I think is important is to spatially group the parts according to what system of the bike they belong to. This makes it much easier for novices to find what they need, if they are searching a constrained area and not distracted by hundreds of irrelevant parts.

The categories I used last time I made an attempt to organize the small parts basically corresponded to the colored bicycle (brakes, drivetrain, steer tube & handlebars, seat, wheels). However, at the level of the smallest drawer size, we have a “deraillers” parts box, which is a more refined category than the above system, and a “general hardware” box, which is bolts and nuts and washers, stuff that is not specific to a system. I would consider even more specific stuff – brakes by type, rear vs front derailler, etc. – for added user friendliness.

I found it quite difficult to spatially group the parts by system, and to affix labels to the groupings. The parts drawer boxes have no frontal space for a big label pertaining to the whole box (“brakes”), and it is difficult to cleanly, clearly establish and label a split within a large box of parts drawers (ie, one row for nuts, one row for bolts). Even if you color code it, where do you paste the label that explains the meaning of the code? There was also the problem that parts within a system needed different sized drawers. I suggest we should consider the potential for achieving these tasks (spatial grouping and labeling) when evaluating different drawer and bin options. If we can’t label it, the organization is not transparent, and therefore useless. Labels with pictures are needed for the individual parts, and group or regional labels are needed too. I amended the attached inventory with category columns.

Also I think a priority should be the small to medium parts, as the file cabinets are at least reasonably clear and organized, although not perfect.


Updated with content from the 5/12 meeting. Also I made a couple of changes to the spreadsheet including sorting it by category, then by subcategory, then by size.


Created a file page for the spreadsheet and updated it to help label the bins and see what bins are needed/not needed.


The Bike Kitchen has a pretty good setup that we can use as an example. I attached a zip of photos that they took for us so that we can see what they have going.