Protect Yourself with a Digital Shop Inventory
If you lost your shop or its contents to a calamity, could you put together a complete list of your tools and supplies from memory after the fact? Having a digital record of your shop's contents makes it easier to work with your insurance company.
Record the details
You probably have a digital camera in your pocket or even in your hand right now. Virtually every mobile phone shoots digital photos and video of sufficient quality for inventory. (Talk to your cellular provider about adding more storage to your phone, and your options for retrieving and storing those photos or video.) Otherwise, you can find digital cameras that shoot still photos and video for as little as $50 (plus a $10–$15 memory card). And camcorders start below $100; You'll also need at least a 16GB memory card, about $10.
Before you begin taking photos or video, remove dust and wood chips from all tools and worksurfaces to make identification easier. Properly store any potentially hazardous materials (stain, clear finish, solvents, etc.) in approved fire-resistant metal containers or cabinets.
We talked to several insurance companies, and they agreed you don't need to give them a list of your shop's contents prior to a disaster. But in case they want to see your digital inventory later to sort out a claim, avoid capturing images of potential fire hazards—overloaded electrical outlets, improperly stored finishes, mounds of sawdust—that might give them reason to deny your claim.
Place your portable and benchtop tools on an uncluttered surface, a few at a time. Shoot photos or video of each tool from several angles so they can be identified by brand and tool type, and to provide a gauge of each tool's wear. Then record the identification plate or label on each tool, as shown at top.
Repeat the process for your stationary machines and accessories. Remember to catalog dust-collection equipment, including ductwork and hoses. Finally, take photos of each workbench, tool stand, organizer, toolbox, and cabinet in your shop, opening any door, lid, or drawer to shoot the contents inside. If you can't identify each product by its model number, at least be sure to capture the brand name or its well-known color.
If you have receipts for tools, add them to your inventory. If not, don't worry about recording the prices or establishing values. You'll work with your insurance agent to do that, should a need arise.
Now store your list safely
Once you've imaged all your tools, you need to preserve those recordings in a couple of safe places. You don't want to lose your only record in the same disaster that destroys your shop!
Transfer your photos or videos onto a recordable DVD or CD, flash drive, SD card, or portable hard drive, like those shown. Make a couple of copies; store one in a fire safe in your home and the other off-site: a safe-deposit box or a fire safe in a friend's house in another town. For good measure, create a spreadsheet or slide show of your tools' photos and information, and send it to yourself via Web-based email so you can retrieve it from any computer later.
Prepare now: Don't put it off until after disaster strikes
For expert advice on this topic, we talked with woodworker Tom Iovino (shown), who works as a disaster preparedness and response director in central Florida. In his many years in this role, Tom has helped homeowners and renters recover from tornadoes, fires, and hurricanes. Tom offers the following insights into better preparing your home and shop for a potential disaster:
- A typical homeowner's insurance policy will cover most hobbyist tools against theft and disasters. But if you own higher-end tools and machines (a cabinet saw, big resaw bandsaw, 15" planer, 12" jointer, or Lie-Nielsen hand-plane collection), talk to your insurance agent about purchasing a rider attached to your policy to cover these higher-priced tools.
- You'll also need special coverage for antique, handmade, or one-of-a-kind tools that hold greater value than more common versions. Get a written appraisal to substantiate that value.
- Find out if your insurance policy provides replacement coverage, which would pay to buy the same or comparable tools at today's prices. Many policies pay only depreciated values, which could leave you short in replacing your tools.
- Renters: Check with your insurance agent to make sure your contents policy covers shop tools and materials. Most do, but find out.
- Homeowners- and renters-insurance policies do not cover flooding (including storm surge), although they cover all other natural disasters, unless declared in the policy. All flood insurance comes separately through government programs; talk to your insurance agent if you need that coverage.
- The Insurance Information Institute (iii.org) offers a variety of reference materials to help you prepare for disasters as well as recover from one afterward.