Posted by: wrmcnutt | April 10, 2009

Shop Security Part II – The Basics

This is the second in a series of articles on shop security and the steps that I have taken to secure my workshop after the second break-in cost me roughly $5000.00 in tools and equipment.


My tools were stolen, once a year, for five years straight.  Each time, Dad and I made the assumption that it was over.  We’d been robbed, and got on with our lives.  But we were wrong.  Thieves are like cockroaches. As long as you feed them, they keep coming back. Alarms and video systems can get expensive, and if you’re like me, you would rather spend that money on tools, or hardwoods.  But there is a lot you can do to reduce your chances of being robbed that involve spending very little money.  In this article I’m going to talk mostly about the quick, easy fixes.  More involved more complicated security projects will be for later articles.


I know, I know . . . It doesn’t speak well to my learning curve.  Part of it, though is that I’ve not been out that much money.  You see, half of the tools that were stolen were my father’s.  Dad’s in his early 70’s this year, and doesn’t work much, but when this started he was only in his late 60’s, and more active that he is now.  Early in his retirement, Dad made the unfortunate decision to hire some of the local indigents for general labor and construction work around his rental properties.  Shortly after this staff was hired, tools began to disappear from the workshop and from job sites. Most of the thefts have occurred by having tools walk off during the work day, or when my father trusted someone with the keys that shouldn’t have them.  And the solution to that particular problem is to quit handing out our damn keys. 


In a broader sense, I have started practicing security by obscurity.  If they don’t know it exists, they can’t steal it.  I do not invite anybody into my shop that I don’t know well.  Be aware that giving access to your shop is kind of like having unprotected sex.  You’re not just letting your neighbor know what tools you have, but everyone he knows who might be interested, including his dodgy brother-in-law who always seems to be unemployed, but can afford beer and cigarettes all the time. I’ve started keeping the curtains closed unless I’m working, and, when it’s possible to do and avoid heatstroke, the door stays closed.  If I ever have the luxury of laying out my own shop, I’ll make sure that the door doesn’t face the street.  When I buy new equipment, I cut up the boxes and discard them some place away from the shop.  Large, bright yellow DeWalt boxes by the side of the street announce to the local bums that my workshop just got in something that can be pawned for a case of cheap liquor.


Like many woodworkers, I was proud of my tool collection, and displayed them on open shelves or hung them from pegboards.  This makes it easy for someone who has penetrated your shop security to make off with things.  Thieves are always in a hurry, so I try to make them have to take more time.  The longer it takes to steal my stuff, the less of my stuff they are going to steal.  Now I keep all of my tools out of sight. I’ve put locking cabinets into the interior of the shop to hold my more portable tools, but even just placing them in drawers out of sight is useful.  Any time spent looking for my tools is time not spent loading them into cars.  In addition to breaking into my shop, thieves now have to take the time to defeat the locks on my cabinets.  We’ll talk more about locks later. Even if you can’t afford metal cabinets and boxes, wooden cabinets and boxes keep your tools out of site, and force thieves to have to hunt for things to steal, rather than just turn on the lights and start grabbing things.


Where possible, I bolt my boxes down.   Any box or case that only needs to be moved on rare occasions gets bolted to the floor and then locked from the outside.  Not only does this prevent the box from being convenient to load into a car and drive off, I get the very pleasant experience of picturing a thief grabbing the toolbox and trying to heft it, and jerking himself off of his thieving little feet.


I’ve locked up my pry bars and my bolt cutters.  There’s only one thing that will make you feel stupider than thieves using your own tools to rip you off.  I’ll reveal that in a future article.  I used to hang my bolt cutters and pry bars on the wall, rather than take up space in my tool boxes.  So, of course, the amateur socialists used my own pry bars and bolt cutters to break into what few items I had that were, at the time, locked up.


The basic principles of cheap security start with information security:  keep people who don’t need to know about your tools from knowing about them.  Related to that is the idea of storing your tools out of sight rather than displaying them.  If they have to hunt for them, they’re going to leave tools behind in their haste.  Or better yet, they’ll stick around long enough to get caught.  And, finally, it’s rather foolish to leave cutting, prying, and grinding tools conveniently out where amateur socialists can get hold of them.


I am advised that I’ve used a term with which some readers may not be familiar.  Amateur socialists use stealth or force to take things that don’t belong to them, and give or sell them to other people.  They differ from professional socialists, who use the power and authority of the government to do the same thing.

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  1. […] Will’s Miscellanous Musings Just another weblog « Shop Security Part II – The Basics […]

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