New Workstations

Professional Grade Workstation Coolness

I am SO excited to get to talk about this project. Something that had been in the works for so long, and mostly kept under wraps the entire time. When we opened, we knew that the tool sets and workstation setup in the bay would change, we just weren’t sure exactly when. Last year in about May we started to talk about exactly what we wanted to do to make the bays better and what we wanted the final version to be. Our goals were to increase organization, reduce time spent looking for tools, and save you more money.

We started by working on an entirely new tool set, one optimized for use. We wanted tools that were used often and not tools that would get in the way. This started with removing all SAE tools from the box and going with a separate SAE rolling box to supplement the workstation box. Next we analyzed the tools that were constantly being checked out of the tool room. After going over months of data we determined the tools that were being checked out so often they had to be put into the box. We also knew quality of the tools needed an upgrade.

Once we had the new list of what we wanted, finding which company to get the tools from took center stage. I met with a couple different tool companies, including an in person meeting with one in Atlanta. After we were unable to come up with any sort of partnership agreement with any tool company, we decided we would create our own tool set out of whatever brand we felt was best.

I also had to decide on a workstation to order. This proved to be a new challenge for me since I hadn’t ever experienced a professional grade workstation. I met with multiple different companies’ sales reps, received many pitches, and quotes. We decided to go with Shark Professional in the end as it’s a local company and it was also the highest quality product we saw. You’ll find their products in many dealerships and in many high end performance shops. This was probably the most exciting thing for me, providing a truly professional quality workstation in every bay. I want you to feel you are getting a ton of value out of your rental. These workstations have a 10 foot long continuous stainless steel work top that is also almost 3 feet deep. I know you will love having the increased work space.

Enter a massive Amazon order of tools. We have a total of 7 bays, but must carry an 8th set as spares so if something gets lost or broken we can replace it immediately. This means we had a ton of tools upstairs, not literally, but I had you there for a second. The vast majority of the tools are from Gear Wrench, a quality tool even though they aren’t made in the USA. We chose Gear Wrench for their high quality at a fair price. 

We did reduce the total number of tools in the box from slightly over 450 down to just over 400. Though with the reduction comes a better selection of tools. The main reduction comes from no longer having SAE tools in the box, which accounted for approximately 200 of the tools in the old set. The new set includes a larger variety of pliers, vice grips, hammers, wrenches, and significantly better ratchets. So while the count is less, it’s a much higher count of useful tools for the majority of projects. The new ratchets in the box are AMAZING –  ratchets I would give as gifts to people. I’m not kidding, I discovered these ratchets about 7 years ago and everyone who used them wanted a set. So I started to give ratchet sets as gifts to my wrenching friends. These are the Gear Wrench 120xp ratchets, which are 120 tooth ratchets with the strength of a 60 tooth. To give you an idea, the old Craftsman ratchets were 40 tooth, a third of the teeth.

Why did we get rid of the SAE tools in the box? Quite simply put – they were being misused. The vast majority of cars that come in use metric fasteners, which meant when people used the SAE sockets they were prone to rounding off bolts and nuts; wasting time and money. So we took matters into our own hands. We still have SAE tools though! We just bring over the supplemental box if you have a car that uses SAE fasteners.

With the new tool set decided, it was time to figure out the organization. We knew we wanted to do the foam organizers like all the top tool sets are coming in. We actually tested a foam organizer from a tool company we considered ordering sets from but ultimately decided to go the hard way, and designed the organizers ourselves. Enter the skills of Solidworks from Steve. Steve modeled every drawer in the box in CAD by measuring the majority of tools and then using scaled pictures of the tools. This was a long process, but well worth it in the end. So big shout out to Steve, he really rose above on this one to knock it out of the park. 

Once Steve finalized a drawer’s design in Solidworks he passed the file off to me, where I then imported it into Fusion 360 to create the CAM for the drawer. CAM is computer aided machining, which means I made the code for the CNC router to use to cut the organizers. We spent a lot of time reworking the CAD files, figuring out how to optimize the cutting times, and getting everything just right. 

When a drawer was in testing, we cut them out of pink rigid insulation since it was fairly cheap. It was also very easy for the machine to cut and vacuum up, so it was great for testing. We would take every tool slot and fit the tool noting how much or more we needed to add on each face. Sometimes this was in fractions of millimeters. After multiple cut revisions, we finally got a piece that didn’t need any changes, and the final code was saved as a final edition. 

We also needed to test cut into the actual foam to get the cut settings dialed in perfectly. This process meant using the samples the foam company sent us, which turned out to be different than what we ended up receiving. More on that later. Once I had done some testing in the actual foam using a specially designed test code, we were ready to begin cutting final versions.

Not going to lie, we were down to the absolute wire on getting these organizers done. The foam we ordered ended up being the wrong foam, it’s way softer than what we were sent as a sample. Because of this, the wrench drawer absolutely would not cut. This ended up being a costly problem and ultimately means we will need to redo the wrench drawers. The last foam came off the machine at 2am Thursday the 19th, once again shout out to Steve for staying super late to get that last foam cut done. 

Install day! What a crazy day, and a long one at that. John, Rick, Seth, Shawn, Steve, and I unloaded the container, organized, and assembled every workstation within the day. We had only Wednesday to get this complete change over done as Thursday we had multiple full day reservations and a packed schedule. 

The truck was scheduled to arrive at 9am Wednesday morning but, as expected, showed up just before 10am. Unfortunately getting the semi and 40ft container into the parking lot and in place was going to prove to be a real challenge. 1 hour, 4 cars moved by hand, 5 cars moved under their own power, 1 trailer moved, and 2 dumpsters moved later we had the container in place for unloading. Exhausted before we started, it was time to get going. I cut the seal lock off the trailer, and the moment we had been waiting for was upon us. The container door opened, and I crawled in to see a container full of boxed up workstations ready to be unloaded and installed. 

John was the forklift expert while we assisted by bringing the pallets in the container to the forklift and then taking the pallets away from the forklift on the ground. We staged every bay with the boxes and then began un-crating them. The moment of truth was here, we were finally going to see the custom powder coated Stew’s Blue work stations in person. The box was stunning and better than I expected. They are also absolutely massive, with each drawer being 43″ wide and 26″ deep. A single bank of 6 drawers also makes them significantly easier to navigate, which is awesome and time saving.

All the components of the workstation were finally ready to assemble, which meant arranging and leveling. Each workstation is tilted back a degree to insure that it CANNOT tip over. Yes, unlike the old toolboxes, these boxes don’t tip over. Once every component was leveled, the tops were placed and secured. We also installed the power outlets into the tops. There are now 2 banks of 3 outlets with 2 USB ports. These stainless steel tops are serious business, they weigh well over 150 pounds, and are extremely solid. 

Boxes assembled, it’s now about 12:30am, Steve, and I have been there all day. Foam organizers and tools have been going in the boxes all night, we are busting our butts to get these ready. Shawn had also returned at about 9:30pm to continue helping. Exhaustion is upon us, but there are still foams to be cut. Steve volunteers to stay behind for sacrifice – I mean to cut the last foams. I depart at 1am, not knowing if I’ll find a sleeping Steve upstairs next to a running CNC router in the morning. Fortunately Steve left around 2am, only to return at 7:30 later that morning to pick right back up.

Thursday morning 7:30, Steve, Shawn, and I are back at the shop to finish loading tools into bays, which we do at 9am. Time to open the doors and reveal all the months of work. Success! Reception to these boxes has been AWESOME. Honestly, better than I ever expected. For that I thank you, for all of us who put so many hours and effort into making this possible. 

What I do on a daily basis

Of course, I want to continue my trend of something about me personally. That was part of the inspiration of writing this blog monthly!

I do a lot of different things on a daily basis, depending on what’s going on in the background. I have to wear a bunch of different hats as a small business owner, trying to be a master of all trades. Typically my daily happenings center around projects we have going on in the shop. There’s always something happening in the background, as my motto is “always improving.” 

Over the past 6+ months working on this upgrade, my presence at the desk and in the shop had decreased greatly. I had to learn how to do CAD and CAM work, which I sure spent a lot of time on. On average I work around 100 hours a week, which is the standard life of a business owner. My day starts at 8am and goes until about 1am, with most of that time consisting of working on something for Stew’s Self Service Garage. Lately it had been spending 10+ hours per day working in Fusion 360 learning the CAM side of the program and then picking up on the CAD side of it. Within a couple weeks I had logged just under 200 hours, going on to log about 1000 hours by the end of the project in mid April.

I have always been very interested in CNC work, but it was always just a little bit away from feasibility for me. I have to spend my hours carefully in a day, so before this project it just didn’t make sense to pick up this skill. I decided to learn this skill as the price to have a CNC shop make these organizers was going to be astronomical. I also had a ton of fun doing it, which is ultimately what counts. 

People will ask what I do, or if I like what I do. My response is almost always, “I have a lot of fun.” This might not be the answer they were looking for, but to me it’s the important one. Having fun in life is living, so I try and make that my focus. 

I have some more tricks up my sleeve for this year, so be on the look out for the latest. In the mean time, click that book now button up top on the menu to check out these new workstations! 

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