Drawer unit, 12 large, 32 small drawers

Print: Storage Drawer Inserts

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We have… many things which demand at least some organization: screws, bolts, nuts, electronic components, gears, greeblies, adhesives, zip ties, you name it. In our ongoing quest to make things findable and (at least incrementally) categorized, we quested for an affordable, versatile storage system for certain types of stuff.

Drawers are where things go to die–but some types of things just belong in drawers, because nothing else makes much sense. The trick, then, is finding drawers that work for what you’re storing, and, at least in our case, making it as affordable as possible.

Our Current Solution

We found something that works for us (provisionally–read on!) by hitting a few key factors (and missing a few others, als0 wik). These drawers are (relatively) cheap, (relatively) sturdy, stack, have mounting holes (on the back; the should also have them on the top/bottom but that’s trivially solvable), and have three drawer configurations.

Images used without permission. Ruh-roh!

Making Them More Useful

The small drawers are small; 6″ deep, 1.75″ wide, and 1.5″ tall. Even those, however, dwarf a small pile of (say) M3 socket head bolts. The large drawers are also 6″ deep, but 4″ wide, and 2″ tall. The mixed unit mixes small drawers on the top with large drawers on the bottom.

Like every other maker we decided to whip out some drawer inserts for better part organization. This is when their major design flaw reared its ugly head.

Pro tip, drawer makers: Make. Things. Symmetrical.

For whatever reason, these drawers have a heavy radius on the back (~15mm) while every other radius (front and bottom edges) are a more-reasonable ~3mm. This creates annoyances: any insert system requires separate front and back pieces, and anything that splits the drawers along the long edge requires separate left and right pieces, and if you’re splitting across both major axes, front-back/left-right pieces.

This is dumb. Besides not just having drawer dividers as part of the kit, which is often preferable (but makes custom-sized divisions more difficult), it necessitates more work than should be required to get a “complete” set of division options. But hey: it’s pandemic, not like we can go anywhere anyway.

We Made Some Inserts

The primary goal in the inserts was to have a reasonable set of division options, along with a few more-specialized inserts for specific “types” of things (think things like resistors), make them very easy to get in and out (the loose-ish fit is loose-ish for a reason!), make them label-able, and don’t over-think it (oops).

For the small draws we really only wanted front-to-back dividers (two-box, three-box, and four-box) since the first thing we rammed into these was several trays of metric screws and bolts. (We liked the trays, but had them stacked on each other, which got annoying quickly. And we had to take an entire tray even if we just wanted one thing, and sometimes stuff was hard to get out, and…)

We also ended up needing 1/3-2/3 splits–where the asymmetric design was annoying, because we needed (well… wanted) a 2/3 front piece and a 2/3 back piece: sometimes you just want stuff where you want it. (We refrained, however, from more-esoteric combinations, like a 1/2-1/3-whatever the last one is, because COME ON.)

We also stopped them short of the drawer top, partially for convenience, but this also allows stable stacking of the drawers for moving from place-to-place.

Large Drawers

For the large drawers we ended up with seven major combos: 1×2 (1 across, 2 deep), 2×1 (2 across, 1 deep), 1×3, 2×2, 2×3, and the 1-across, 2/3 front-and-back combinations.

Small Drawers

The small drawers had fewer combinations, so we stuck with one across, two deep; one across three deep, and one across four deep, with the same 2/3 front-and-back combos. Our original small-drawer inserts were too tall for the same stable stacking so we went back and shortened them a bit.

This Is Why 3D Printing Is Great

We could have spent more money getting more-perfect drawers (other options we explored, and we explored many, weren’t necessarily hugely pricier, but we bought nearly $1k of these drawers (the usage of which will be detailed in another different blog post) and even $10 more expensive would add 30% to the total cost, and the drawers we really wanted would have nearly doubled the cost. It just wasn’t worth it–these are sufficient for our current needs, so here we are.

Our drawer inserts aren’t perfect (we’ll continue to tweak), the drawers themselves aren’t perfect, but they’re Good Enough. Having the capacity to iterate over our custom inserts and continue to make them more useful, as they are now, will likely handle 95%+ of our needs. We burned through a couple spools of filament printing out boxes, using up some colors-we-don’t-often-use that we got on sale, so all told the cost of the inserts was just print time + maybe $40. Works for us!

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