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Shop Setup and Tool Usage

Sturdy, well lit work benches

Area for classroom style instruction

  • This can be the same area as the workshop, but chairs should be put away when the area becomes a workshop again.
    • Chairs get in the way when people are in the workshop
    • A bike is not a piece of paper on a desk. In order work on it and effectively learn by watching someone else work on it you have to be able to move around it constantly. This activity is not the same as a class where you sit in front of a computer or desk.
    • It is hard enough to encourage youth to move around . If you are asking someone to get up out of a chair they are sitting in to do a particular job because it is theoretically possible to do some of the jobs on a bike while sitting in a chair, you will spend a more time doing poorer work.
    • you might want to allow people to sit down when using the truing stand, but be aware that this discourages looking at the work from different angles.
  • At NBW we have had success with students sitting in rows and in a circle. If an instructor is working on a bike a semi-circle is good because people are equidistant from the demonstration.
  • Chalkboard or dry erase board is a great idea; no problem in a school
  • In theory could be a different room, perhaps a more comfortable room that cannot be dirtied up with bike grease like the main workshop.

Place to wash hands

  • pre-washing hands—separate sinks for hand cleaner and for conventional soap and water are good

Secure bike storage

  • Locks that work… NBW has lost bikes in Philadelphia schools when cheaper locks were sawn though. We thought it was enough to deter impulsive thieves; we were wrong. We don’t know who had the resources to get a hacksaw and cut thought the cables we were using, but it must have taken resources and planning we were not expecting from the students at the school. It is best to have complete control over your bike storage space.
  • Hanging bikes from walls—this is a safe way to store bikes used by almost all bike shops, but it is very unlikely any school administrator is going to believe this, so you’re going to have to suck it up and use some of your floor space for bike storage
  • Working around other people’s needs—bikes don’t take up that much room but you will almost certainly have to share space with other programs

Rag storage bins

  • It is essential to have airtight bins for the storage of oily rags. They can and do spontaneously combust.
  • Schools often already have some bins like this in shop class
  • A regular trash can is not enough, unless the rags are disposed of (outdoors) after each class.

Tool Storage

  • Secure
  • Easily set up
  • Set up in a way that tools can be counted in and out
  • NBW has used the following types of tool storage
    • Tool Board. Advantages—tools easy to see, shadow board easily tells youth name of tool and instructor can see if tool is missing. Cheap—only cost is nails if lumber is donated or salvaged. The fastest tool storage method to use when you have to find a tool. Familiar and easy to learn the way around it. Disadvantage—theft easy since all tools always on display. Not that versatile once all area has been used up. Not portable; in fact, should be very sturdily built.
    • Toolbox. Advantages—containers can be coded to match tools so it is easy to make sure that the tools are there. Toolbox can be equipped with a sign in sheet on laminated paper so that tools can be checked before and after class. Easiest form of tool storage to put tools away in. Highly portable. Can contain compartments for parts too. Disadvantages: Tools not visible once put away. Tools hard to find if the box is crowded. More expensive than tool board. Non zero cost. Portability=ease of theft as an entire unit!
    • Tool Wrap. Advantages: Portable. Displays tools like a tool board and stores them like a tool box. Can be easily color coded. Portable. Can be custom made for the needs of particular workshops or tool sets. Flexible shape can be installed on fences, tables, anyplace for off-site events. Secure—usually has to be untied, and in that sense easier to secure than tool box. Disadvantages: Fabric construction is often hard to clean and rapidly becomes disgusting looking. Fairly expensive—more so than tool boxes. Finite durability. Portability=ease of theft as tool box…

Tool Security

  • Engrave, paint and tape your tools. Even though they can still be stolen, they can be identified by vigilant parents. Plenty of paint is hard to remove from everything. Also, if things look a little ugly they are thought of as less desirable.
  • You can use a tool check system for each youth entering and leaving the work place. They are each issued a particular set of tools. They are responsible for the return of that set or they will loose hours, or suffer some other sanction.
  • Expensive or especially desirable shop tools can be kept on the person of the instructor.
  • Issue students with their own tools to take home. Especially useful ones are 6” adjustable wrenches, allen key sets, cable cutters, chain tools and spoke wrenches. These are the items most commonly missing from NBW, with the exception of 6” adjustables which we just can’t keep at all so we gave up having them on site. We use single size wrenches in the shop because they are better tools and because they don’t get stolen so often. A good 6” adjustable is a good bicycle tool for someone who does not use it every day, though.
  • NBW has experimented with tying some tools down—pumps and chain tools, for instance. This has had limited success.
  • Using a compressor instead of floor pumps. Compressor can’t be stolen
  • Don’t allow students to bring their own tools to class, which creates a situation where no tool is ever supposed to leave the workshop.
  • Ask students to help with security. If there are any students willing to take a leadership role in the bike project, this is one thing that is bound to come up. The tools are for their use, and bikes and bike parts are even more obviously their property, so there will be a sense of ownership among some of the participants.

Parts storage

  • Valuable and less valuable parts stored in different ways
  • Nobody steals helmets! Yippee!
  • There’s no such thing as too many containers
  • Philosophies of organization you will want to experiment with:
    1. Ease of accessibility based on frequency of use
    2. Ease of accessibility inversely based on desirability to theft
    3. Similar genre of parts together
    4. Parts of the same type of assembly together
  • Try to keep containers no more than 2/3 full
  • Use containers that are appropriate for the size of the object being stored
  • There are many cheap or free parts storage solutions.
    1. NBW uses many donated filing cabinets
    2. Coffee cans are great for many parts
    3. Five gallon buckets are good for larger parts
    4. A lot of bike parts can be hung up—handlebars, wheels, frames, chainrings, etc. Hooks and nails are cheap, and items are easily seen
  • Involving youth in storage solutions is a great way to build ownership in the program.
  • When items are donated, enter them in an inventory system that includes information on where the parts are being stored!

Repair stands

These are used by professional bike shops to hold bikes off the floor. Functions are to position bike so that it fan be worked on at a convenient height by a variety of mechanics. Position the bike in a continuously variable orientation so that all parts of the bike are equally accessible. Position the bike so that the wheels can be rotated. Repair stands are not essential for your class, but they make some jobs enormously easier.


  • Bikes can be set up at optimum height for each mechanic
  • Bikes can be positioned upside down, etc, with ease
  • Wheels and other components can be spun easily
  • Creates a professional atmosphere—people feel as if something is taking place that is qualitatively different to when they fix a bike by turning it upside down on the sidewalk.
  • Can be used to define exactly where a bike is to be worked on in a shop and to limit the number of bikes in the shop—i.e. three stands = three bikes, etc


  • Quite expensive
  • Can be dangerous—clamps can spring out breaking jaws and fingers, bikes can fall. Also gives youth the opportunity to spin wheels as fast as they can, creating dangerous situation
  • People start to think that you can’t work on a bike if you don’t have one
  • If not correctly used the repair stand can seriously and permanently damage a bike, especially an expensive one with a frame that is light weight.

Use of repair stand Safety first. If the stand is of the type that the clamp jaw can fall out of the stand, make sure that people understand the conditions that will allow that. Demonstrate using the Earth’s gravity. People tend to remember a falling three kilogram hunk of steel. Also, if the clamp is spring loaded demonstrate how it can break someone’s face if released next to the head. Alternatively, if the clamp is the somewhat safer turnbuckle kind, show that it can crush objects similar to fingers such as carrots or twigs. Finally, demonstrate that the bike can fall or swivel and hit someone like a guillotine if the stand is not correctly used. Happily, some of the cheaper and lower quality stands are better in these safety areas. The ones that cost a fortune are not quite so idiot-proof.

Using the common tools, and teaching how to do so.

Use a tool identification sheet with example of the common tools. People should be able to name all the tools in the box. Items such as cone wrenches which have a special purpose will be harder to remember at this point, but will be remembered better once the material is covered in which they have a role

Screw fasteners on bikes are nuts and bolts. Nuts have a threaded hole in them, bolts have a threaded rod.

Which way does a screw turn? Most screws tighten clockwise and loosen counterclockwise as you look along the axis of the item that you are working on. I.e., look straight on at the bolt or nut. If you want to tighten, turn clockwise, loosen turn counterclockwise. After 25 years as a bike technician I have yet to understand how one of these rotational directions is “right” and one of them is “left,” except in so far as that is the way that you must move the wrench when it is at the top of the arc. The best thing is to demonstrate and let people try it

Now… the trouble is that there are some exceptions to the above. Most common is the left pedal, which has a left hand or reverse thread

The nuts and bolts of the matter: Fine screw threads can become cross threaded if a nut or bolt is forced in at an angle. Avoid this by being emphatic that people should gently join fasteners. Think of someone trying to crack a safe by gently turning the combination lock—that is how you should start turning a screw. .

Pretty much all nuts and bolts should be lubricated with grease. Similarly, washers are a good idea in almost any situation.

The Park book is good where it talks about the correct torque on a bolt, but its ideas on leverage are not put so clearly.

Use of pliers and vise grips

As little as possible! Use pliers only to hold or turn things that are not able to be held by a wrench. Likewise with vise grips. They will ruin nuts and bolts.

Use of adjustable wrenches.

Adjustable wrenches are not able to grip a nut or bolt as well as a wrench made to the correct size. As such they are more likely to damage the fastener. They should only be used when a wrench of the correct size is not available, when you only want to carry one wrench (they are useful for on the road repairs) or when you cannot afford to buy or store a full set of wrenches. They are also not so bad for occasional use. NBW only uses large size adjustables (12” and 15”) because they are useful for the plethora of different sized headset, bottom bracket and specialty tool sizes.

Always use an adjustable wrench so that the adjustable jaw is in compression; that way it is less likely to slip.

Use of wrenches in general

Do whatever you can to avoid having the wrench slip so that you punch something hard or sharp. If a fastener is hard to loosen try using a scissors grip, or try moving around the work to get better leverage. When you need the most power, pulling towards yourself with the biceps is best. If you use your weight to push on a wrench you might have more power at your disposal, but you have very little control if the wrench slips.