Posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
Handling and storing sheet goods is a fact of life in the sign business. Doing it efficiently takes the hassle away, speeds production and makes life easier. If you don’t already have one, a simple storage rack will pay off big time in time savings and less shop clutter.
We asked a few busy shop owners to show us how they keep their sheet stock and lumber under control and at their fingertips:
Michael Keene, Woodcraft Sign Shoppe, Richmond, Virginia:
“Material and scrap storage is always a problem in a sign shop. I made a simple storage unit that works well for my small one-person shop. It requires only 2-by-8-ft. of floor space.
“The storage rack is basically an angled upright ‘L’ against a wall. The back is a 4-by-8-ft. panel attached to 2-by-2-in. aluminum stringers for support. The base is a 2-by-4-ft. PVC panel with angled wood wedge joists. The angle holds the sheet goods flat without warping. I try to order a week’s worth of sheet goods at a time and load the rack in the order I think I will use the material.
“When router-cutting odd-shaped panels, I rout any excess material into rectangular shapes at the same time because it stores better in a rack. I also write the dimensions in the corner of the scrap to make it easier to find the size I need later.”
Noella Cotnam, Sign It Signs & Designs, Williamstown, Ontario, Canada:
“I built a lumber rack that handles sheets up to 4-by-10-ft. on end. You can see it behind my router in the photo. I also have several lumber dollies and use them all the time to hold material and get things where I need them. Now that I work alone, they are even more helpful. I can roll a sheet of material or a large sign blank up to the router or table saw then just flip the panel onto the table.
“The dollies are similar to the those used in big box lumberyards and should be available through industrial supply companies. The dollies that I use are from a company here in Canada called Kelton. They are one of those how-did-we-ever-manage-without-these items in our shop.”
Chris Lovelady, Vital Signs LLC, Thomasville, Georgia:
“Storing sheet goods by leaning them against the wall is a hassle, because you often must flip through the whole stack to find the piece you need. We built racks to store our substrates, so now we can quickly see the edge of each piece in the rack. You just slide it out to see if it is the size you need. Every shop uses their scrap sheet stock for smaller signs, and this makes doing that really easy. It saves you time and money.
“Our racks are made from triangular dividers made from 2-by-4 stock. Plywood, ACM, acrylic sheet and foamcore panels go here. The racks extend 4 feet from the wall at the floor and stand just over 8 feet tall. A 1×2 brace comes up from the back corner to support smaller pieces.
“PVC and other plastic and paper panels are stored in another rack. Smaller pieces go into bins under the benches. We cut odd-shaped off-cuts down into more common sizes and store them ready to use.”
Larry Elliott, Elliott Sign & Design, McLemoresville, Tennessee
“In my storage racks, full sheets rest on their long side, up to 10-ft. long, leaving more space for smaller pieces above that. Racks like these can be easily built from stock lumber and save a lot of floor space. Organizing your substrates like this saves time, too.
“For years, though, I tried to ‘save money’ by keeping scraps of every type of material we use. I looked at scraps as if they were made of gold. When you’re raised to make do with what you have, you don’t want to waste anything. So out of ignorance I built more storage racks—until one day I realized I had racks full of scraps that were never the right size, or if they were the right size, they were the wrong material for what I needed.
“Eventually I learned that those precious little pieces of materials can waste a lot more time than they’re worth. In a small shop, production space is very valuable—more so than all the scrap pieces that take up usable space.
“Now any substrate scrap that is less than 2-by-2-ft. goes in the trash unless it is a specialty material that’s hard to come by or extremely expensive. This makes more sense than storing those smaller pieces.”
Ray Chapman, Belton, Texas:
“In my shop, I preferred a storage rack in which the flat goods were stored vertically. It makes finding and removing just the piece you want a lot easier. I also marked the edges of HDU board with size and density for quick reference. The set of shelves to the right holds drills, sanders, routers and miscellaneous hand tools—with some tools hung on the side.”
Bob Fiddler, Johnny’s Signs, Bedford, IN
After we first posted this article, Bob Fiddler sent us a photo of his storage system so we added it to the list. Bob’s system lets the sheets lay flat, rather than standing on edge. Each 5-by-10-ft. deck is made of 2x4s on 16-in. centers, with 4mm luan plywood on top of the framing. The decks are mounted between walls built with typical 2×4 framing. A couple of small bins on the end hold off-cuts.
Besides preventing warpage, Bob’s system lets him organize a number of different substrates, each on its own deck, in roughly 12-by-10-ft. of floor space. It also handles sheets up to 5-by-10-ft. If you only typically deal with six or eight substrates, you could build just one section of the rack. If you seldom use 5-ft.-wide sheets, you could downsize it and pick up some floor space.
“We decided on this system,” says Bob, “so we could keep our materials in the same environment as our printers. Previously, our materials were on a pallet system in our warehouse without climate control and sheets had to acclimate before production. This works much better.”