Picture perfect

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If you lost your shop – I mean everything, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling – would you be able to accurately reconstruct its contents?

A while back I read a forum post from a woodworker who had a shop flood that covered the floor to a depth of about 2-1/2 feet. Most of his major equipment was OK, but tools in drawers and on low shelves – pretty much all of his cordless and corded power tools – were ruined. He wrote about the difficulty of compiling an inventory for insurance purposes, even noting how wet silt dripped from motor housings as he looked for model numbers.

He probably wouldn’t admit it, but he was lucky: At least he still had ruined tools to examine for model numbers. But what if the loss was from theft or, even worse, fire? Trying to accurately list shop contents based on globs of melted plastic and metal (yes, melted metal) would be hopeless.

I’ve already documented the contents of my shop, and my entire home. The inventory resides in several places. One copy is on a thumb drive I keep in the glove compartment of my car. Another is on a disc in my sock drawer, plus I have another copy of that disc in my laptop briefcase. The original copy is, of course, on my computer’s hard drive. And since I regularly back up my computer to an external drive, there’s a copy there, too. I also have a portable hard drive, and any time we go on a trip I do yet another backup on that portable drive and take it with me.

Doing the inventory was easy. I just took a half hour on a slow day, grabbed my digital camera, and walked around my shop and house, snapping everything. The beauty of modern digital cameras is that they’re fully automatic – no lighting or focusing worries, just point and click.

In the shop I took full shots of every machine, plus closer detail shots of the nameplates and/or models if I could. Smaller tools can be photographed in groups; you don’t even have to take them off the shelf or out of the drawer. Ditto with hand tools. Same thing for works-in-progress, work for customers. The idea is to create a permanent record of what’s there, burn it to disc or flash drive, make multiple copies and keep them safe. At least one copy should be outside your shop/home – in your car, in a desk drawer where you work, in a safe-deposit box. Update your master copy of the inventory as needed if you add or remove tools, then update all the copies.

Because digital cameras are so easy and automatic, this takes so little effort and time that you’d be foolish not to do it. Hopefully you’ll never need it. But if you do, it can help get you back on your feet.

Till next time,

A.J.

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