Making Tool Shadow boards on a Budget – Your Tool Box Has Never Been So Organized!


“A place for everything and everything in its place” (w)

Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain…

If you work in any type of manufacturing industry, there is a good chance that you came across these 5 verbs that form the 5 steps of the 5S methodology. It is commonly used as a tool of the visual organization, to help with standardizing the workflow and organize the work space. The idea behind visual management is simple, really: we are more efficient when we work in a clean, safe and well-organized environment. Not spending 15 minutes looking for a screwdriver or Allen wrench not only save time, but also a lot of frustration.

The tool shadow board is one method to simplify and unclutter the work area. Each tool has its own place, where it should go back when not in use. An upper layer of thick dark foam define the place the tool, while the under layer of bright color foam makes it more apparent when a tool is missing. It is a great method to organize a tool box, but it can get expensive… A quick tour on the 5S specialized shops shows an average price for 1 drawer between $25 to $60. Easy to go over budget if you have a 10+ drawer tool box…

This article presents a method to do it without blowing the budget. It is not exactly cheap, but it is much cheaper that going with the “5s-rated” foam you can find online.

The equipment


The foam needed for this project needs to sustain years of abuse and must be relatively stable to chemical attack such as CA, fuel or the different types of grease and oil we can find in a workshop. We found the crosslinked PET well-suited for this application. We purchased ours from the Foam Factory. The full sheet of 1/2″ charcoil crosslinked PET is very large: 72″ by 48″. Most tool boxes have drawers 15″ deep and 15 to 30″ wide, so a lot of drawers can already be cut from one single sheet. At the time of the review, it only costs $35 +tax and shipping for the full sheet of 1/2″ foam. The foam needs to be between 2lb to 4lb per cubic feet to be dense enough for this type of project

The lower layer can be done with a 1/4″ thick layer of foam. We used red, but there are plenty of other colors available.

Making the Shadow board:

step 1: measure the internal dimensions of all the drawers

step 2: cut the upper (1/2″ thick) and under (1/4″ thick) layers of foam to fit inside the drawers. Cut the foam to be 1/4″ shorter than the measured internal lengths of the drawer. You will find that the foam deforms slightly when you cut it.

step 3: place the upper layer of dark foam on the bench and position the tools as you want them inside the drawers

step 4: Using a ballpoint pen (they work best), and trace the contours of all the tools. You don’t need to purchase an expensive lighter color paint pen. Even a black ink ballpoint pen shows well enough of the dark foam.

step 5: with a sharp exacto or better, a hot knife, cut out the future location of the tools.

step 6: insert your tools in the newly cut holes, and adjust if necessary. Now is a good time to see if a tool need pockets cut for your fingers, to grab it more easily.

step 7: apply M77 on the back side of the upper layer and glue to the lower layer

step 8: insert the foam in your drawer. Place your tools.

step 9: Pause to admire your work. Grab your favorite beverage, you deserve it.

step 10: move to the next drawer


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