Not sure where to put this... it's electronics related but it doesn't really fit cleanly into any category... so... I dunno.
Well, right now my electronics parts are in a total disorganized mess. All my ICs, LEDs, and headers are clobbered together on one "strip" breadboard, effectively making that breadboard unusable. All my resistors, capacitors, transistors, wires, etc., are mashed together in a 15-year-old box for my Radio Shack electronic project lab I got when I was 10. It's quickly deteriorating into a cardboard slab the more I lift it back and forth and sift through it. All the resistor tape-strips are getting bent up and mashed up as I sift through it and all the wires and parts get jumbled up. I mostly just go for 1k-ohm resistors since they're plentiful and easy to find (my LCD display currently runs on 4 1k-resistors in series), as opposed to sifting for a single 4.7k resistor.
Needless to say I can't stand my current system. But I can't find anything better... I spent about half an hour Googling for a solution, and finding all sorts of SMD solutions, but no... eh... DIP? Breadboard? Not sure how to refer to the stuff we do with, well... not SMD stuff So I couldn't find anything about an "electronics component organizer" or anything like that... eBay was useless as well. Guess there's a bit of a market gap there.
Any ideas? What do you "pros" use for the task?
Some people might call this "elaborate" - in its disorganization, that is
I'll describe my system, which I put into place in my workshop earlier this year. Note that this solution is anything but inexpensive; I think I spent around $400.00 USD for the storage solution alone.
First off, for large items (computer cases, and other large storage), I purchased a few "gorilla racks". These are the large, multi-shelf metal racks with MDF shelving that can hold 2-300 pounds per shelf. My old shelving solution wasn't cutting it at all, and I needed a lot of storage. I fitted the shelves in place so that the bottom shelf was high enough for my PC cases/computers to fit under, or any large items.
I then purchased many rubbermaid-style tote containers in 3 "standard" sizes (a "large size", a "medium" size, and a "small size"). For my purposes, my "large" size was a 27 quart lidded container, my medium was a 15 quart lidded container, and my small was a 7 quart lidded container (about the size of shoebox). All were "clear", all are stackable, and the lids have secure fastening mechanisms. I also have a few large "tubs" (18 gallon or so) on the bottom as well.
In the larger tubs, I have things like motherboards and other larger bulky items. In the 27 quart containers, I put in things like cables, smaller peripheral cards, and the like. In the 15 quart containers, I put things like joypads and mice, floppy and hard drives, etc. In the smallest containers go things like fans and heatsinks, stuff of that nature.
This is key: Purchase as many as you can of the sizes all at once; run the store out, if you have the room and need. The issue is this: When it comes to "storage solutions" by retailers, like everything else, there is a "fashion of the year" look to it all. What you buy this year won't be the same as next year; you want a unified look, and a unified storage solution, so that means buying it all in one shot in most cases.
Another thing to consider: Purchase a good label maker (like a ptouch), and label everything. Even though the storage boxes may be clear, things can get a bit obscure when looking at a bunch of boxes, so labeling can help avoid the confusion (I don't have all of my stuff labeled yet; I work on it as time permits).
Over my workbench, I purchased and installed a dual-track shelving standard system, mounting the rails to the studs for maximum weight holding capacity. I installed a few shelves, and on many of them I stack a bunch of the 7-quart containers; some hold things like small gearmotors, junk stuff to be taken apart, parts for construction (I have one box with plastic stuff, another with wood bits, etc), one with prototyping stuff (PCBs and the like), etc.
Finally, I have on my workbench (and above it) my electronic component drawers. I also have drawers for things like nuts, bolts, screws, springs, etc. These were a bunch of multi-drawer cabinets from a company called Stack-On:
I purchased them on Amazon (you might have better luck than I did finding them locally - I couldn't find the multi-small drawer versions like I needed for electronic component). Note that you will -need- to purchase extra dividers separately - get a bunch; double your first guess at the number you think you will need (trust me on this).
I personally like the 60 bin and 30 bin cabinets for electronic components. The key with these cabinets is, once again, to precisely label the drawers, so you can find what you are looking for inside. For electronic components, if you can dedicate a cabinet to a component grouping type (ICs, resistors, capacitors, semi-conductors, etc), or group like components together (LEDs, diodes, small transistors in one; resistors, capacitor and inductors in another; switches, potentiometers, buttons, relays in a third, etc) - it can work really well.
A note on the dividers in these cabinets (and in similar cabinets, I would suppose): Use a piece of cellophane tape to secure the divider to the bottom of the drawer - when the drawers get full, parts like to sneak underneath the dividers, and it can make a mess of things. The tape will prevent this from happening.
Be clear on your labeling: If you know the component part numbers, put them on the front, and keep spec-sheets handy elsewhere (I store PDFs and other useful files on a fileserver in my shop that I can access from any computer on my home network - including a computer on my workbench).
Finally, regarding your resistor solution - it isn't so much a solution as a "hack"; you really should invest in a proper set of resistors for prototyping. Its what I ended up doing after giving thought to what I needed. I ended up buying 100 pieces (or so) of each value, which wasn't cheap, but I knew I wouldn't run out quickly. For your purposes, consider buying 20-25 pieces of each.
What I purchased and set up for my resistor assortment, is called an EIA E24 decade series:
Ideally you would go for an E48 or higher series, but it can take a ton of room to do so if you want more than a few pieces for each part (plus the higher tolerance value means the resistors can be more expensive). the E24 series is a good compromise. It also fits well with 1/4 watt 5% tolerance carbon-film resistors, which are pretty standard and easily found components. I purchased all of mine from these two vendors:
You can also find resistor assortments on Ebay from Chinese-based vendors; one thing to be careful of, though: Some vendors sell something that is similar to an E12 or E24 series, but with 2% tolerance parts. This is bad mainly because the 2% parts don't cover the gaps left by an E12 or E24 series, so you end up "missing" values in the series which can be a pain. If however, you find a vendor selling an E48 series with 2% parts (and there aren't more than, say, 25 piece per value) cheaply, you consider purchasing it...
Once you get the parts, make sure to verify that they are all what you purchased (keep track when you order), then sort them and organize them into the pre-labeled drawers. Remove the resistors from and tape leads or other packaging as well. It will be tedious, it will be slow, it may take a couple of days to complete. It will be worth it, though, in the end.
Awh MAN you guys are awesome. Wasn't expecting such elaborate replies overnight! Surely this'll help more than just me, then. I think for my relatively small collection, a quick bin like Ian's will work just fine. I couldn't find anything like that and I was almost considering investigating manufacturing options to brainstorm, make, and sell something like that to fill the "market gap", because it's pretty much exactly what I'd envisioned as a perfect solution (for me at least)! I wonder if I can find something like that here in the USA, though... maybe if shipping is cheap enough I'll just have it shipped from there anyway...
And cr0sh... WOW! Yeah, I don't have near $400 or enough room for all that... But that's a heck of a system! Though there are some good ideas in there, like the Stack-On stuff. Oh, and believe me, I never intended to imply I had any sort of "resistor solution" I'd just bought a Radio Shack "resistor assortment" many years ago that included 10 or more of pretty much every value under the sun (including up to 100 of each of the common values like 1k, 10k, 100k, etc, but 10-25-50 of the values in between), it's just a jumbled mess though. Hopefully I can sort them out into "powers of 10" (100-1k-10k-100k-1m groups) in a storage box, that'll make life a lot easier.
Well, now with that figured, time to get shopping!
Like cr0sh, I put a lot of stuff in plastic boxes. One word of caution: if you find a style of box you like, buy lots of extras. Especially if you buy them from Wal-Mart: every couple of years, they change the designs, and the new ones usually won't stack nicely with the old ones >:(
At the moment, my favorite in the shoebox category is the $1 ones being sold at Home Depot under the "Best Plastics" brand. They're not as well-made as the Rubbermaid ones that are my all-time favorite, but fell victim to Wally World's boredom. They have thinner walls (not a problem for most electronics storage), but have a flat lid with a fairly deep recess that the next box in the stack nests in. And the lids latch more solidly than most of the low-cost shoeboxes: some of them (especially the off-brands in dollar stores) are so lame that some boxes won't really latch at all.
You can keep parts sorted inside the shoeboxes by putting them in zip-lock bags.
Sterilite (not usually one of my favorite brands) makes a similar design in a 15-quart size (could be discontinued by now, though: they're durable enough that I haven't bought any in years). I used to get them real cheap when they went on sale at Target (but not at Wal-Mart: they had a different design that's not as good). Most Sterilite boxes have poor lid latches, in my experience, but those have been an exception.
I also like the Plano tackle boxes that are about 9x12x1.5 inches. I mostly use them for Lego, but have a few for parts that others keep in drawer cabinets. If you set a plastic file crate on its side, you can make stacks of Plano boxes on open-sided shelves without having the stack go tumbling when you pull one from the middle.
Lately, I've been trying out the Rubbermaid "TakeAlongs" brand of semi-disposable imitation Tupperware. They're not super-durable, but they're cheap, and better than the drawer cabinets (imho, of course): you can bring a small subset of your parts stock to the workbench when you're building without the risk of them spilling if you bump the pile of containers. I keep my resistors in a set of several of them, split into containers by order of magnitude, with different values in tiny zip-lock bags.
For SOME things, the following is an important principle....
Don't worry about WHERE you store "it"... just give yourself a way to find it again.
The sort of thing this approach is good for is any small "one off" (or "few off") odd or end that you don't have a lot of, and is not something that you use regularly. So it is NOT, perhaps, the way to store resistors. But great for, say, the few extra 3.4v zener diodes which were left over from the blister pack of 3 that you had to buy when you only needed one.
To get started, dedicate a small rack of mini-drawers to this approach.
Give the whole rack a two letter designation... my first is called "rd", for "Red Drawers".
Letter the columns, number the rows. The second drawer in the third row is thus "rdb3".
(Lower case, e.g. not "RBB3", is easier to type, and easier to read... see how "rdb3" has a SHAPE (shape) that is lost in the all caps version? This is a general principle. Your mind really does use the shape of words wben you read things. Did you SEE "wBen" a moment ago? Probably not, it didn't change the shape of the word. WHAT ABOVT THIS SENTENCE? WOULD YOU HAVE SPOTTED THE ERROR IF YOU WEREN'T LOOKING FOR IT? Possibly... because you were working harder to read it that when reading this sentence.)
Sorry! Back to storage...
Now start putting those small odds and ends that are cluttering your "everyday" boxes in the drawers.... "nay old how". You can mix things up. You don't need, say, to keep all switches together.
As you put the components in the drawers, RECORD what went where.
Then using a database (the free Open Office contains a good database, which could do it easily), or even a spreadsheet, do a guide to what you have put where.