The “Explody” Stage of Shop Organization

The explody stage can be overwhelming, but push through it!

Getting those old, unused items out from wherever they’ve been crammed and sorting through them can be called the “Explody” stage of shop organization.

When you decide to clean out a workshop cabinet, clear the underside of your workbench, or rearrange a tool cabinet, things can get quite a bit messier before they get better. It can be discouraging.

When I first started teaching other woodworkers to use the principles of Sort, Set in Order, and the rest of 5S to make their shops more fun and efficient, I struggled to find the words to describe this phenomenon. It’s pretty easy to visualize the problem… you start to sort things out – which to keep, which to toss, which to move to another place. In the process, before you finish, stuff is everywhere.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn” wasn’t quite the right metaphor, but I used it to describe this phenomenon until a student in our recent 5S class coined the perfect term: the explody stage. When all that stuff crammed into cabinets and drawers comes out into the light, it does look like an explosion occurred. She emphasized the importance of not getting discouraged at this point in the process and to keep sorting.

Not having to look for things, not losing things, not “making do” with the wrong tool when the right tool is misplaced or hidden away… these are key goals and benefits of 5S implementation and shop organization. The explody stage is simply an obstacle in the path to reaching that goal. And as this student pointed out, there is a reward to doggedly pushing through and getting past the explody stage. She estimates that the time-savings alone from her new-found 5S shop organization will be the equivalent of an additional two weeks per year of productive shop time.

So when you start to clean, sort, or set your shop in order and things start to look worse than they did before… the explody stage… rather than get discouraged, push on through and get the job done. Here are some hints to help you get through the darkness and on to the dawn:

Keep in mind that if you have reached the explody stage it means you are more than halfway through!

  1. Visualize the end result – a cleaner more efficient shop, saving money, saving time – whatever motivates you.
  2. Focus on the good stuff you have found and don’t obsess over the tube of hardened epoxy or the can of dried up finish. Toss it and forget it.
  3. Imagine that you are making space for that new tool you have been eyeing!

Pretty soon you may look forward to the explody stage of cleaning and sorting and the progress it represents.

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Steve Johnson

About Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson is a full time life-long hobbyist woodworker committed to helping new and experienced woodworkers achieve the “shop of their dreams” – even if (especially if?) they don’t have a dream budget to work with. Steve is a retired businessman, and in his career relocated many times… He has had shops in basements, one- and two-car garages, barns, outbuildings, and once in the back of a semi-trailer. Now with a permanent shop and a little more shop time, he produces articles and videos to share his knowledge and experiences with other woodworkers. His videos can be seen at “DownToEarthWoodworks” on YouTube and his articles appear monthly in Highland Woodworking’s online newsletter.

2 thoughts on “The “Explody” Stage of Shop Organization

  1. antiquescopes

    The same thing can be said about wallpapering and/or painting. It looks the worst just before it looks best.
    I always have several projects going at once – usually waiting on hardware, paint/stain or whatever. It is difficult to clean while I still have things going on. Although I would like to have a clean shop, I don’t. Occasionally I just have to stop everything, clean up, and start over.

  2. WoodMom

    I make myself clean the shop at the end of every project. This got better when I quit having more than one project going at once. I found I could mix up one thing and mess up all the projects at once.
    Cleaning up is as much part of woodworking as setting up…just not as fun.
    p.s. my husband is often busy elsewhere. Any advice for that?

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