Tool Boards 101

5S Supply Tool Board Systems

Five Tips for Selecting the Right Tool Board

You might ask yourself “What’s there to know about tool boards?” Having a tool board that is useful is key to having the right place to hang, store and protect your tools. We cover five tips for choosing the proper tool board. Before we start, determine if a tool board is really needed. If you can get away with a single tool at a location, just use that. If the tools have to be covered or protected, consider a tool drawer or cabinet. The essential element of a useful tool board is that people use it and put tools back when they are done.

Time Wasted Searching for Tools

According to a poll we conducted, 57% of respondents stated that 15 minutes or more were wasted searching for tools each day per person. As part of 5S workplace organization, the second “S” is “Set-in-Order”. The saying is “A place for everything and everything in its place!” This ensures you have the right tool when you want it, where you want it. No time wasted looking for the right tool.

The five sections in this article are:

  1. Select the Tool Board Type
  2. Location
  3. Size
  4. Hooks and Accessories
  5. Labeling and Tool Shadows

Tip #1 Tool Board Type

There are three main types of tool board materials: 1) wood, 2) plastic, and 3) steel. Each has its pros and cons.

Wood Pegboard

Wood pegboards are those familiar ones you see at the home building centers. These are usually sold in sheets (2’ x 2’ or 2’ x 4’ or even 4’ x 8’) and can easily be cut to size on a table saw or with a circular saw. They typically come in only two colors, white or brown. These tool boards have a lower load rating than plastic or steel and are also cheaper. Wood pegboards are not resistant to oil, grease or other liquids. If you need something for occasional or light-duty use, this could be your answer.

Plastic Pegboard

Plastic pegboards offer the flexibility of the wood tool boards as they can be cut to any size. The load rating is higher than the wood boards and they are resistant to many liquids. These are good for medium-duty situations.

Steel Pegboard

Metal Tool Board with Accessories
Steel Pegboard Example

Steel tool boards have the highest load ratings and with that they also cost more. Boards cannot be cut to size because of the sturdy box construction. The steel boards are usually powdered coated and resistant to oil, grease and other liquids. If your tools are heavy or if you have a rough environment, steel tools boards are the way to go. Because of the construction, these will last for years and years and look professional too.

Tip #2 Location of Tool Boards

Workbench ergonomics

Where you decide to put your tool board can have a big impact on whether it is used correctly or not. Consider putting it at point-of-use, as close to where the work is being performed as possible – even within arm’s reach. If the tool board is located across the room or some distance away from where the team member uses it, there is a low probability that they will retrieve the correct tool needed and put it back when they are finished.

Think about which tools are used most often and have those at ready access. Tools used less often can be stored in remote access. Basically, if you use it every day, have it within reach. If you use it less often consider another location. Also, consider proper ergonomics. Make sure the employees do not have to reach too far or in an uncomfortable way to get the needed tool.

Tip #3 Size of Tool Boards

Having the right size board at point-of-use is critical to making a tool board that employees will actually use. Wood and plastic boards are the easiest to cut to the size you need. Steel boards are usually not cut to size because of their construction. The easiest piece of advice is to not go too small or go too big. You might be tempted to go small because of cost. Consider the cost of having to get another board if you are wrong. On the other hand, many people think “I’ll get the biggest one they make” which also could be a mistake. Getting a board that is way larger than your needs and growing into it can cause undue confusion, clutter and additional waste. Stick the size you need, where you need it.

Tip #4 Hooks and Accessories for Tool Boards

Tool Shadows and Stay-put Hooks
Stay-put hooks and tool shadows

Believe it or not the hooks you select do make a difference. There are a variety of sizes and styles of hooks out there. Select ones that fit your tools the best. Also consider other accessories like document holders, bins or shelves. Bins and shelves can hold parts and other items. These accessories make it convenient to have these items at point of use.

An important feature of hooks is to make sure you get the kind that stay-put or lock into the board. Some hook types just hang there. These are more problematic in that they can come off the board when you grab the tool. Another tip is considering having the tool horizontal (across two or more hooks) instead of just hanging up and down.

Tip #5 Tool Shadows and Labeling Tool Boards

This is how your tool board becomes a waste killing machine. This is probably my favorite part of making an effective and efficient tool board that people will actually use and put tools back.

Tool Board with Labels and Color-coding
Tool Board labeling
Notice the scissors are missing – this is easy to see because of the tool shadow.

Organize your tools but take it one step further – label and color-code them. These are low cost solutions versus the waste of searching or replacing lost tools. As part of the fourth “S” in 5S, “standardize” your system. By using tool shadows and labels everyone will know where the proper tool is and more importantly where it goes. When the tool is returned to the board anyone will know the correct spot to put it back. Another tip is to use Tool Tracer™ Tool Shadows with the exclusive Tool ID Band™. This way if you have multiple tool boards, you can color-code the board according to work area or process. So, if a “blue” tool is in a “red” area it is easily seen and corrected.

Don’t forget to label your board. Make the labels a nice contrasting color like black & white, black & yellow, blue & white and so on. Also, make sure the labels and printing are large enough to see from a distance. The header for the tool board should be about 1-1//2” – 2-1/2” high. The labels for the actual tools should be a minimum of 12pt font, 18pt is better. Find what works for your area.

A well labeled board with the proper tool shadows will make your workplace more productive, organized and reduce stress!


Find a tool board that works for you, one that organizes and protects your tools. By taking the small, extra steps of using hooks that stay put, labeling, color-coding, and using tool shadows will make a big difference in the utility of your tool board system. Remember “a place for everything, and everything in its place!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll Up