You have so many tools that you’re running out of places to store them. Your buddy recommends investing in a middle tool chest he found online. You get so excited you are ready to order one as soon as you get home. But wait. Not so fast there. You have some things to think about first.
Shopping online probably means more tool chest choices than you can possibly deal with. If you don’t go into it without at least a basic understanding of what you need, the chances of you buying something you cannot use are pretty high. So let’s start with the recommendation to buy a middle tool chest.
What is a Middle Tool Chest?
A middle tool chest is one that sits on top of an existing tool chest or between two others. Perhaps you’ve seen one at your mechanic’s garage. A mechanic has a large tool chest on wheels that makes up the bulk of his/her storage. On top of that he or she has two smaller chests stacked up. Both of those smaller chests would be considered middle tool chests.
We recommend the middle chest simply because there is no need to completely replace the one you have as long as it is still in good condition. Of course, a middle tool box is not going to do any good if you don’t have a larger chest to stack it on. So maybe you need both.
At any rate, do not buy a middle tool chest without taking a good look at what you need. Before you commit to buying a particular type, consider the following 15 things:
1. Size of the Lower Chest
Middle tool chests come in a variety of sizes. Therefore, your first consideration is the size of the lower chest you plan to stack it on. The middle tool chest should be the same width and depth or just slightly smaller. Do not make the mistake of buying something larger or you are going to have some overhang to work with. This could create problems as you’re moving your tool chest around the shop, garage, basement, shed, or other space you might keep it in.
2. The Tools You Plan to Store
Carefully consider the tools you plan to store in your new chest. Why does this matter? Because chest drawers come in different sizes. You may need deeper drawers for larger tools. On the other hand, you may prefer to put your larger tools down below and move your small hand tools up to the new chest. In such a case you can get away with shallower drawers – and perhaps a larger number of drawers as a result.
Hand-in-hand with the size of the tools is their combined weight. A middle tool chest will have a maximum weight capacity that you are going to have to keep in mind. If you have to put your tools on a scale to get an accurate weight, that’s fine. Weighing your tools is better than overloading and breaking a new tool chest.
3. Workshop Environment
What kind of environment do you normally experience in your space? We ask because the environment plays a role in the material your new middle tool box is made of. We recommend not going with anything less than steel for obvious reasons. But maybe a steel tool chest isn’t in your budget.
You might be able to get away with aluminum or plastic if your workshop environment is on the tame side. If you do any heavy-duty work though, spend the extra and go with steel. You’ll be glad you did when something happens that would otherwise destroy an aluminum or plastic tool chest.
4. Interior Storage Capacity
Next is interior storage capacity as it relates to compartments other than drawers. This may not be a consideration if you are planning to purchase a middle tool chest with drawers only. But if you want something more, you can find models with additional storage cabinets and even smaller receptacles built in to the drawers. The small receptacles are good for things like nuts and bolts, wire clips, etc.
5. Drawer Design
While you are looking at drawers, carefully consider how these are constructed. Some tool chests feature drawers that open and close on lightweight cabinetry rails. Others utilize ball bearing rails for smoother opening and closing. This comes into play based on the kinds of tools you will be storing. Heavier tools require more robust drawers with stronger rail mechanisms. If a rail mechanism looks cheap, it probably is.
Also pay attention to how far out the drawers extend. Full extension drawers are built with added support designed to carry the weight while fully extended. Drawers that do not extend fully don’t require as much support, but they are also not as easy to access.
6. Tool Security
High-end tool chests tend to feature lockable drawers. In some cases, each drawer locks separately for maximum security. In other cases there is a single mechanism that utilizes a piston to lock all of the drawers simultaneously. Neither is better or worse than the other. They are simply different choices depending on what you prefer.
7. Work Surface Material
Your average heavy-duty grade tool chest has a built-in work surface on the top. You might already have a surface you like on your primary tool chest. If so, do you want the same kind of work surface on your new chest? Some work surfaces are rubber, others are wood, still others are plastic or even bare metal. Choose your work surface wisely, as it is likely to impact your overall enjoyment of the tool chest.
8. Lid Design
You may eventually choose a middle tool chest without a work surface on top. Instead, it has a lid that opens to additional storage space underneath. Be very careful about lid design. Ideally, it is best to choose a lid with a single rear hinge and support arms on either side to keep it open while you’re working. The last thing you need is for the lid to slam on your fingers while you are reaching for a tool.
9. Handles and Casters
The largest of heavy-duty tool chests tend to have casters on the bottom. Casters make for easy moving around the space. Middle tool chests do not necessarily have casters due to the fact that they are stacked on top of larger chests. Still, you might want casters anyway. It is something to think about if you frequently separate your chests to move them around.
Along with casters, think about handles. Do you need a middle tool box that can be picked up and moved from time to time? If so, you are going to need one with heavy-duty handles. Otherwise you will be emptying the chest every time you want to move it.
As immaterial as this might sound to you, the finish on your new tool chest does matter. It matters from two different perspectives: the work environment in your space and the tool chest’s aesthetic appeal.
In terms of work environment, you again have to consider how much punishment this tool chest could potentially be up against. If you live near the coast, stainless steel might be your best bet due to the amount of salt it is going to be exposed to. Stainless steel will be more resistant to corrosion than painted, forged steel.
Perhaps salt isn’t a problem where you live. You lean more toward a steel tool chest with a painted finish. That’s great. Do yourself a favor and choose a finish that is either identical or similar to the chest that will support it. Choosing a box with of drastically different color could be visually fatiguing.
11. Brand Name
It doesn’t always follow that brand reputation equals quality. In other words, there are some particularly good middle tool chests out there whose brands you have probably never heard of. Yet you still have to pay attention to brand. If all else fails and you are unsure, it is best to stick with a brand that has a reputation for quality. Ask around among your friends. They will have definite opinions about their favorite brands.
12. Safety Issues
Any tool chests that appeal to you should be checked for safety issues. You can run a search on make and model number to see if there have been any product recalls for that particular product. Safety issues are rare for tool chests, but that doesn’t mean they are impossible. It’s better to know up front than to find out later that you bought an unsafe product.
13. Manufacturer Warranty
The best toolmakers in the business have no problem offering solid warranties on their products. This is definitely something you should look for if you are in the market for a middle tool chest. You might get lucky and find a product with a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. Maybe the best you can find is a limited 10-year warranty.
The take-away here is to do your best to find a solid warranty. That way, you will have some recourse in the event that something goes wrong down the road.
14. Return Policy
There is always a chance you will order a middle tool chest only to find it is not what you want. What will you do then? If you are smart, you will have purchased a tool chest from a manufacturer or retailer willing to accept returns. This is especially important for online shopping in that it reduces the risks of you getting stuck with something you cannot use. If you do choose to buy from a retailer or manufacturer that doesn’t accept returns, you’re on your own.
15. Purchase Price
Finally, purchase price is always a consideration. The goal is not necessarily to go as cheaply as possible. Rather, it is to get the most for your money. So establish a budget and then get as much as you can for that amount of money. If you are shopping on Amazon for example, pay attention to customer reviews. This is often where you find whether or not a product is worth the amount of money others spent on it.
A middle tool chest may be just the right solution for your growing collection of tools. There are plenty of choices out there, so shop wisely.