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I have been putting off doing a studio inventory for a long time, so I was strangely relieved when it became apparent that I really had to deal with it. I found that the whole process was relatively easy and painless using a spreadsheet and a digital camera. There are several good reasons to do a studio inventory. My immediate reason was to determine how much insurance I needed. Another, and potentially more important reason is to establish the value of things you lost if you ever have to file an insurance claim or apply for a FEMA or SBA grant.


First I shot photos of everything. I used fairly high-resolution settings so I would be able to zoom into smaller items later if necessary. I shot big things like machinery in place, opened drawers and photographed items where they were, tools and other things on shelves were laid out on the floor or a bench and photographed as a group. I shot whole stacks of lumber where they were. The idea is not to have studio-quality images, but to have good enough detail to tell clearly what is in the photo. With a little experimentation, I was able to photograph things without spending much time on lighting. It is important not to have blurry images, so a tripod could be very handy. Fortunately, most of my studio is well-lit, and I was able to get decent images hand-holding the camera. The photography went amazingly fast – it took only a few hours.

Estimate values...

The next thing was to assign values to everything. There are two values that have relevance to an insurance policy, what you paid and what it costs to replace. Insurance that is based on actual cost, pays what you actually paid less depreciation. You may be shocked to find that you cannot buy a replacement for that cost. That is why the insurance companies offer replacement value, naturally at a higher price. In an ideal world, I would have a running chart of everything in the studio and what I paid for it. Somewhere along the line, I lost track, and the time needed to reconstruct it from records would be prohibitive. I wanted to insure for replacement value, anyway, so that was an easier task. I found that I have a pretty good idea of what most things cost, and the others were easy to look up in catalogs or on the internet.

Write it down…back it up…

You could write all this down on paper, but if you have a rudimentary knowledge of spreadsheets like Excel, I think you will find it to be easier to do, and easier to back-up. This is important: whether it is on paper or in electronic form it is imperative that you have more than one copy, and that at least one of them is in a Secure Offsite Location (SOL) – a place 50-100 miles away from the studio that is unlikely to be affected by the same disaster. This could be an online backup location like Carbonite or Mozy, and/or a copy stored at a friend or family member’s home. If your only copy is in the studio when it burns down, you will really be SOL.

Here is what I have in my spreadsheet:

  • Photo name (I used the sequential number that the camera assigned)
  • Quantity – the number of like objects in the photo
  • Class – the type of object-for me it was things like “hand tools,” “machinery,” “lumber,” and so forth.
  • Item Description
  • Replacement Cost
  • I had a column for actual cost, but ended up not using it.
  • I also had columns calculating the total cost (“quantity” x “cost”) for both actual cost and replacement cost.

Where I could I estimated the unit cost of like objects (Qty. 7, Carving tools, $35 ea.) or grouped in sets (Qty. 1, Set of 7 bench chisels, $120). When I had unlike objects in the photo, I used several lines in the spreadsheet and referenced the same photo number.

Assigning values was not difficult, but it was more time-consuming than the photography. I spread it out over a week or so, and did much of it in the evening on my notebook computer. I have a lot of stuff in the studio, so if you don’t, you are lucky-it will be a breeze!

Add it up…

Now I totaled the spreadsheets, and boy, was my gut feeling right. I was grossly underinsured!

Stay tuned.


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