I’ve been building stuff with electronics for years, and I’ve come to find that storage and organization of my materials can make or break a project. Here I share my method for storing resistors, which I arrived at after years of suffering through other methods. Maybe I can save you the trouble!
My workspace is small, shared and multipurpose, which puts unexpected constraints on storage. For years I used a well-labeled set of multi-compartment boxes, but resistors are so tiny that the boxes were mostly empty space. They also had hinged lids so when I put one on the workbench I needed to clear space for the box and the lid behind it. Then if I needed a resistor from a different box I might end up with a stack of open boxes balanced on top of eachother.
Removable drawer systems would keep the workbench tidier (since several drawers could be on the bench simultaneously) but they are also mostly empty space, and I don’t have wall space to mount the drawers.
Quick Access & Cleanup
A well-labeled storage system makes it easy to find the part you need, but it took me years to learn that quick cleanup is harder to accomplish than quick access. I leave a trail of unused parts behind as I prototype, since I often breadboard many options before deciding on a final circuit. With multi-compartment boxes it takes a lot of time to return the unused resistors to their homes. Drawers are a little easier because you can leave them out, but that starts taking up a lot of space.
The Solution: Bags in a Box
The Right Resistors
Inexpensive carbon resistors are 5% tolerance and have 4 color bands. I also use metal film for lower noise in audio circuits. They are 1% tolerance (5 bands). I wanted to keep them in the same bags but the common values for 5% are not the same as 1%. (For example, a typical 560 Ω 1% resistor is actually 562 Ω.) Luckily, Chinese 1% metal film assortments are common on eBay and many match the E12 series values that are more typically associated with 5% resistors.
The Right Labels
Color labels are an important tool to solve the cleanup problem. If I have a pile of resistors on the bench I can match them to the color codes and get them back in their bags. The labels have color codes for both 5% and 1% resistors, as well as SMD codes in case I throw some of those in there.
I used Avery 5260 labels, folded over the edge of the bags to provide a nice edge for flipping through the index. Here are my files in case you want to print your own:
2020 update: Martin Stumpf wrote a Python script to generate Avery 5260 labels for any resistor value!
The Right Bags
The system uses on “press-to-close” (AKA Zip-Loc) bags. Some resistor assortments are even packed in these already, but the included bags are always thin (2mil) plastic so it’s really hard to get them open/closed and the resistors get jammed inside. I used 3″x4″ 6mil bags which are rigid enough to stay open and big enough to get your fingers into. I leave the open bags on the workbench so I can either return unused resistors directly, or at least have fewer possible matches when I’m cleaning up my pile of discards after a long build.
The Right Box
I happened to have a cardboard box that fit my bags perfectly, but you can probably come up with something better, like this wonderful 3D-printed modular system that Chris Ward designed.