A lot of carpenters are very lax when it comes to keeping an efficient jobsite on a daily basis. The biggest time wasters include choosing and transporting tools to and from the truck, setting up and breaking down the work area, and cleaning up dust and debris. Creating a system for handling these tasks can save time and enhance your reputation with clients as an organized professional.

There's really no secret in how to become more efficient: You need to choose a system and put it in place. The hard part is being disciplined about using it. While this requires a bit of upfront effort, it offers measurable payoffs.

A lot of guys realize this and seem to be searching for solutions. Anacortes, Wash., builder and remodeler Ron Paulk found that out two years ago when he posted a YouTube video of his  ultimate workbench—a collapsible plywood workstation with built-in tool storage and hardware for a portable table saw that sets up and breaks down in three minutes. He was inundated with calls and emails asking for the plans, which he eventually put on his website. About 10,000 people from all over the world have since downloaded them.

Setting up what amounts to a jobsite shop can seem like overkill on a small project like installing a mantle on a fireplace, but organized workers like Paulk point out that doing so consistently saves time in the long run—if you have system that's quick and easy to set up and break down.

The Basics

The basics of a good system are an easy-to-assemble workstation and a scheme for organizing and transporting tools. The workstation can be as simple as plywood and sawhorses, and there are many options for tool storage and transport. For instance, a few manufacturers make plastic toolboxes that lock together one atop the other, as well as mobile carts to haul them around. Some carpenters swear by these, while others do the job with milk crates and a hand truck.

Regardless of the type of box, the following tips will speed the process setting up and breaking down the job:

  • Get boxes with the same footprint. They will stack more neatly and be easier to transport. (Manufactured boxes have the same footprint with different depths.)
  • It's better to have fewer boxes with more tools in each.
  • To minimize trips back to the truck, pack boxes by frequency of use, with the most-used tools in boxes that you automatically grab every day. Less-used or specialty items (drywall tools, for example) should get their own boxes.
  • For small hand tools, outfit the boxes with inserts that organize the tools and keep the ones you want clearly visible.
  • If possible, keep all boxes permanently in the truck or van. "The guy who throws tools in the truck in the morning invariably ends up not having a tool he needs," says Paulk.
  • Include a tool-actuated shop vac. This can save a lot of time at the end of the day cleaning up sawdust.

Stackable boxes aren't the only option. "Taking tools in and out of plastic boxes is too time-consuming," says Paulk. Instead, he has a trailer with built-in cubbies, which he prefers because they keep all tools visible. "I put everything I need in a carpenter's bag, then spill it out on the workbench and organize it. Big tools like saw, planer, router I carry in separately." At the end of the day he repeats the process and puts each tool back in its cubby.
Another time saver is to stock a wide selection of commonly used screws, nails, and other hardware, whether they're in labeled boxes or cubbies in a trailer. "Having to leave a jobsite to pick up some small item at the hardware store is a huge time waster," says Paulk.

Whatever system you choose, take the time to put it together, and then stick with it. Paulk spent a day building his portable workbench, and nearly a week outfitting and organizing his job trailer. A lot of carpenters don't want to put that much time into something that doesn't offer an immediate payoff.

But while the payoffs may not be instant, they do mount up. Paulk says that he is 30% more efficient than he used to be, and that has translated into more money for his business. The ability to quickly set up and break down an on-site shop in mere minutes has made small jobs more profitable than he thought possible. It can do the same for your business.

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