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Color Coding Your Tools

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by Sheldon "Rainbow" Brown
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We use a simple color coding system for wrench sizes.

It is a great time saver around the shop.

Five colors are sufficient, arranged in rainbow order:

Red 5 mm 10 mm 15 mm 20 mm 25 mm 30 mm 35 mm 40 mm
Orange 6 mm 11mm 16 mm 21mm 26 mm 31mm 36 mm
Yellow 2mm 7 mm 12mm 17 mm 22mm 27 mm 32mm
Green 3 mm 8 mm 13 mm 18 mm 23 mm 28 mm 33 mm
Blue 4 mm 9 mm 14 mm 19 mm 24 mm 29 mm 34 mm

Every metric wrench in the shop is appropriately colored. We used to use paint, but paint doesn't stick too well to chrome plating. Now, we use Scotch plastic tape. This can be bought in most hardware stores or large supermarkets. Double ended wrenches have a band of the appropriate color tape on each end of the handle. The tape is stretchy, so it can somewhat conform to odd shapes, but it is best to wrap it around a straight sided part of the tool. Five colors are enough--it is easy to see whether the blue wrench is a 9 mm or a 14 mm.

7/16" and 5/8" wrenches also get a band of orange tape, because these two S.A.E. sizes are interchangeable with 11mm and 16 mm respectively.

The color code makes it instantly recognizable whether the wrench lying on the bench across the room is a 14 mm or a 15 mm.

When you reach for the 14 mm/15 mm box wrench, you know which end is which before you even pick it up.

This saves you a little bit of time every time you pick up a wrench, and over a period of weeks or months these little pieces of time add up to a real increase in productivity.

We keep a set of double ended box wrenches and a set of combination wrenches on hooks behind the main workbench, and under each hook is a piece of the color tape that goes with the wrench that is supposed to hang on that hook. This has caused a great improvement in the consistency with which tools are returned to their proper places.

This system also works for Allen wrenches and screwdrivers. We use red for flat blade screwdrivers and green for Phillipses.

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