“There is a lot you can tell about a person just by looking at their shoes.” If this saying is really true, I believe there is a lot you can tell about mechanics by looking at their shops. Recently, I was buying some used equipment and ended up making a drive to Middleton, Idaho. There, I purchased a used diesel engine for a good price. I was excited about the buy, but even more excited when the seller took me into his shop to show me the engine.

I have been in many shops over the years. This one was impressive, to say the least. What made this shop so impressive? It was clean, organized and quality equipment was in use.

If this man was a mechanic for hire, I would want him to work on my equipment. In this article, I would like to discuss various pieces of equipment and the overall appearance and setup of any great mechanic shop.

Air compressors
The first thing I usually notice when walking into any shop is the air compressor. So many tools used by mechanics today are powered by air.

The real question is: How much air does a shop need? Some air tools require a very small amount of air consumption, measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) at a rated PSI (pounds per square inch).


Most mechanics see a need for 3/8-inch, ½-inch and ¾-inch impact guns. These tools use very low amounts of air, have great torque and spin up to 10,000 RPMs.

Technicians also love to use air ratchets ranging in size from ¼-inch to ½-inch drives. Although these tend to move slower, have less power and use more air than the impact guns, they are very low-profile and can fit in many places an impact gun cannot.

Air compressors also serve a great purpose for blowing off equipment and inflating tires. They are rated a lot like air tools – by the CFM the compressor will deliver at a rated PSI.

They are also rated by the engine or motor’s horsepower. Lastly, compressors are rated by their holding capacity or storage tank size.

The larger the compressor head and motor, the more air the unit can deliver. The larger the storage capacity, the more air available before the compressor must turn on again and enter its duty cycle.

Most air compressors will have descriptions and guides intended to inform the consumer of what uses the compressor has been designed for.

Every great shop needs an air compressor matched to the shop’s demand and uses of compressed air.

Tool storage and toolboxes
The way tools are stored is another thing I notice when I walk into a shop. Are all the tools stored in a tool room? Is there any organization to the tool storage?

On one of my many outings, I was asked to fix some equipment for an individual near Burley, Idaho. I walked into an impressive shop, immediately noticing the tool organization.

Against one wall was an impressive Cornwell double-bay toolbox and beside it was a tool cart. This farmer kept most of his small tools in his toolbox to roll from job to job in the shop. His less-used and larger tools were kept in an organized tool room.

Toolboxes range from small hobbyist-style chests to multi-drawer mansions. Four questions to consider when purchasing a box are: How much tool storage do I need?

Do the drawers have ball-bearing slides? Does the box have a good substructure or skeleton? How big of a footprint do I want this box to leave on the shop floor?

In determining necessary tool storage, a mechanic must first see how many tools they have and categorize them. Toolbox storage capacity is measured in cubic feet, but also by the number of drawers.

The bigger the box, the better you can categorize tools and work more efficiently. The smaller the box, the more prone a mechanic is to losing a tool in the mess.

When the drawers have ball-bearing slides they are a lot easier to pull. A technician may not believe this is important but, after opening and closing the drawers over a hundred times a day, it pays to have ball-bearing slides.

Toolboxes come in an array of sizes and shapes. Some are long, narrow chests while others are tall and skinny. Choose a toolbox your shop has room for and that moves around easily.

It is important to also consider the gauge or thickness of metal the box is made from. One 54-inch double-bay box may cost $1,200 while another may cost more than $4,000.

It usually comes down to the material thickness, drawer construction and, inevitably, the brand. A smart mechanic will purchase a quality box and their tools will be organized.

Last but not least, I look at the personal cleanliness of the establishment. While on one of my adventures picking up some parts from a reputed transmission parts dealer in town, I walked through the doors into a jungle of transmission parts.

Old shop rags were laying everywhere, dirty parts and tools adorned the walls, ground and even the ceiling. I believe I even saw the remains of yesterday’s lunch on the ground in front of the main entry to the office.

Clean environments encourage clean work. I truly believe a lot can be said about a technician’s work by how clean he keeps his area.

If he is a perfectionist and clean with his area, he is usually a perfectionist and clean with his work.

Take a look around the next time you enter a shop and see what you can tell about the mechanic’s work from the appearance of the shop and the tools being used. PD


Levi Perkins
Diesel Technology Program
College of Southern Idaho