Readers of my previous articles will recall that I am somewhat of a hoarder. I have lots of electronic components lying around, some of which I purchased, but many of which I stripped from old PCBs. (See Stripping PCBs to Reclaim Parts).
Very early on in my lifelong obsession with electronics, I ran into the problem of “Where do you put it all?” Along the way, I have come up with several ideas on how to store all my bits and pieces in a way that would allow me to rapidly find something I wanted for a project.
My first attempt at this, in the early 70s when I was still in my teens, involved making a miniature “Chest of Drawers” out of matchboxes. The matchboxes in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where I lived at that time were made of very thin wood and were surprisingly sturdy. The “drawers” themselves were only made of card, but the wooden outer case protected them very well and they lasted a long time. I'd make my “chests” by gluing together an array of matchboxes six across by five deep — giving 30 compartments — which could store one decade of resistors in E24 values plus presets, etc. I would wrap the whole thing in paper and paint it colour-coded for that decade of resistance (brown, red, orange, yellow…).
Other chests were used for small capacitors and transistors and integrated circuits. The fact that both my parents — and a lot of their friends — were smokers who saved their empty matchboxes for me helped me rapidly create storage for all the small components I amassed. The match company later converted to all-cardboard matchboxes that were almost useless for this purpose. Alas, I threw out my last dilapidated matchbox chest some years ago, so I have no picture to show you.
In the meantime, I had grown up some, and so had the world. Plastics technology had advanced and begun to make the ubiquitous plastic storage boxes that you now find in all shapes and sizes in $2 shops and elsewhere. On a work trip to Johannesburg in South Africa, in the local OK Bazaars department store, I found the boxes shown below.
The nice thing about these was that they would hold new resistors with full length leads — something that my matchboxes could not do. Of course, that wasn't a problem when I was scrounging resistors from old PCBs, but the fact that I was now working and could afford to buy new resistors with full-length leads caused me some heartache until the plastic boxes came along. Unfortunately, they had only five compartments in each box. This meant it was not possible to store a full decade of resistor values in a box, but I got round that by storing one value and its decade multiples (e.g., 10Ω, 100Ω, 1KΩ, 10KΩ, and 100KΩ) in one box.
With my matchboxes, I had discovered that the boxes for the E24 resistor values that were not in the E12 series were very sparsely populated, or empty, so I used only E12 values. Thus, I ended up with 12 boxes for resistors 10Ω to 820KΩ, along with a few more for values outside this range.
They were also useful for other things, such as 7805/7905/7812/7912 and “other” voltage regulators, and for small nuts and bolts and screws. I found the OK Bazaars only kept a few boxes at any time, so I nipped round to them every time I was in Johannesburg and cleaned them out. In this way, I managed to acquire enough boxes to store most of my bits, alongside my matchbox drawers, which were beginning to show their age. I still store my resistors in these boxes to this day (note the antique Dymo-tape labels on the front of the box in the image above).
One of my friends was married to a theatre nurse. One day she happened to come home with a plastic box that was used for sutures. When I remarked on it, she said she could get me lots of them, and she did. They proved useful for larger power transistors and other components like audio and RF plugs and sockets, etc., as illustrated below:
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