Adventures in Reestablishing a Lab

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This year, my wife and I decided it was time for a change of scenery. So, when I was hired by another company, we packed our camper, loaded our children, two dogs, and three chickens, and set off from Missouri to North Carolina feeling somewhat like the Beverly Hillbillies. When we arrived and I started work, I found many things in the lab that needed attention because the space and equipment had not been used for regular fabrication in several years. In this article, I share a few of the changes and repairs I made to give you some ideas if you find yourself in a similar situation.

First, I took stock of the existing inventory of tools and materials. I organized the hand tools into categories I like to call twisty/pokies (screwdrivers, awls, etc.) and squeezy/pinchies (pliers, clamps, etc.), and other random tools. I picked a centrally located bench for my main workbench. I went through every parts bin and organization drawer in the lab to determine what I had to work with. To have an efficient lab, I think it is important to know what you have and the location of all tools and materials.

I took the hooks off the pegboard and chose the tools I use regularly that would fit on the board. I like my pegs to be lined up horizontally, if possible, as it looks more organized. (Figure 1). After hanging the tools on the pegboard, I found a couple of organization bins and mounted them to the wall on either side of it. To improve workflow and confine the plaster mess to one area, I removed the plaster pipe clamps from the bench and moved them near the sink. The vise was near the sink so I moved that to the workbench, which was a more logical choice for the fabrication process (Figure 2).

Next I had to revitalize the glue pots. Even a brush that is stuck in the pot can be saved if it's not set too deep. One was solid, so I had to replace the brush. The other was salvageable, so I filled the pot with thinner. Over the course of a few days, I was able to peel the glue out of the pot using a screwdriver and brush the glue out of the bristles with an awl.

There was a separate bench that had become a catch-all space. It was blocking the door to the HVAC system, but luckily there was enough room that I was able to rotate the table (Figure 3).

I added a pegboard above it and hung some tools on it, which created a second workstation that is accessible from both sides. To prevent having a can of pens take up space on a workbench, I put a strip of sticky hook Velcro® on the wall and wrapped my writing utensils in sticky loop Velcro. This way I can hang them on the wall and the loop doesn't feel scratchy on my hand.

The air compressor in the lab was chewing up belts and after investigating possible causes, I found the motor was not lined up with the pulley. I loosened the motor mounts and used a square to properly line up the two pullies and then tightened the motor back down. I also found that the inline oil trap burst disc was gone, so I removed the trap, as it is not a necessary component if you are only using the compressor for air and not paint. Always remember to check the oil in the pump.

Next on the list was an examination of the vacuum system. While I was setting up the lab, I was also fabricating devices. As I was pulling an AFO, the vacuum pipe clogged, causing a failure. Upon inspecting it, I found that the line going into the pipe was very small and a piece of plaster was caught in the opening, which prevented proper pulling. I upgraded the ball valve and hose to a one-half-inch inner diameter. This increases the initial pulling power and ensures that no small piece of plaster can clog the pipe (Figure 4).

The air compressor and vacuum pump are kept in a shed behind the lab and I found it inefficient to go outside to turn on the pump. As an alternative, I followed the electrical conduit into the building and found the junction box where the line came inside and into the breaker box. The compressor was on a 220-volt hardline, and the vacuum was on a 110  outlet on a separate breaker. So on the junction box, I installed a light switch inline on the hot wire (black) to the outlet for an easy way to turn the pump on and off.

I find it interesting to see pictures of other people's workspaces and I hope you get a couple of ideas from mine. Email me if you have any questions about the changes I made to this lab.

Travis Petersen, BOCP, COA, works at A.O.P. Orthotics and Prosthetics, Fayetteville, North Carolina, as a practitioner and clinic manager. He has also worked as a practitioner and technician for companies in Missouri. He can be contacted at