A good tool storage solution is essential for the productive and efficient daily workflow of any tradesman, craftsman, or DIY expert. If you are in the market for a good tool storage solution, remember – the right toolbox for the job is the one that works for you!
Choosing the most suitable tool storage solution for your specific needs might seem like a quick and easy task, but there are certain things that need to be considered before you commit to a specific solution. Purchasing the correct toolbox or chest is based on a number of technical and economic considerations, equally important for the final decision. In this article I aim to shed some light on how to choose a tool storage solution that truly wraps around your requirements.
Types of Tool Storage Solutions – Which is the Right One for You?
At first glance, it might seem as if there are simply too many options for you to choose from when it comes to tool storage. Indeed, there is a wide range of tool storage options available on the market from a variety of proven manufacturers. If you find the whole thing a bit confusing at first (which is perfectly fine), start the selection process with the basics. Such as what do you need the tool chest for?
There are different types of tool storage solutions, each with its own characteristics and advantages. The nature of your work and the specific set of tools you require for the job will determine the size and storage capacity and number of compartments of the box you need.
The Hand Toolbox
One of the most common examples is the hand toolbox (here is a great selection at Amazon). This type of toolbox is usually small enough to be carried by hand, hence its name. It features a gripped handle, affixed on a hinged lid. Usually this type of portable toolbox utilizes a removable tote tray resting on a flange inside the lip. The main tool storage compartment of this box is located underneath the tote tray. The tray itself is typically used for storing smaller tools, or loose bits and pieces frequently used in day to day work. In some instances, the removable tote tray of a portable toolbox is replaced by a slide-out or cantilever tray. It is really up to you which of the two mechanisms you prefer as both options provide similar storage and access options.
The Tool Chest
Another common variety of the portable toolbox is a tool chest (check some great options at Amazon by clicking here). Portable tool chests are small enough to offer comfortable carrying though they feature a set of slide-out drawers much like a drawer cabinet. The slide-out drawer system offers quick and easy access to specific tools or work supplies as these are neatly organized in separate drawers. The other features of a portable tool chest are very similar to any other hand toolbox, namely the gripped handle, which is attached to a hinged lid. Some portable tool chests also feature the well-known removable tote tray. A portable tool chest is normally made up of three or four drawers, although there are also specialist models that come with larger number of slide-out drawers. These models are bulkier though and more awkward to carry around.
The Tool Chest Combo
If you require a larger tool storage solution, look beyond portable variants and into tool chest combos (Amazon has a massive collection of these; click here to see them). Tool chest combos are usually made up of a number of pieces and are considerably larger and heavier than any of their portable counterparts. The upper half of the chest combo usually features the familiar hinged lid, with a set of slide-out storage drawers immediately underneath. The so-called top chest is engineered to fit securely over the lower half of the chest combo, which is called a rolling cabinet or roll cab. The rolling cabinet is also made up of slide-out drawers, though normally these are larger and able to store heavier tools. The bottom end of this storage system is made up of four casters (swivel wheels) so that the chest can be moved from A to B with relative ease. Some casters also feature push-down brakes so that wheels can be locked and secured into place.
Tip: Rolling tool chest combos can be modified to suit your specific requirements by addition of a midsection known as an intermediate chest, which sits between the top and bottom sections. Although this will make the combo bulkier and taller, it will offer you added storage capacity and extra work convenience as more of your tools are at hand.
The Tool Cart
Perhaps the largest example of the tool chest family is the so-called tool cart (sometimes called a roll cab). These tool storage systems are considerably heavier and larger, offering storage for heavy or specialist tools and equipment normally used in transport maintenance and onsite repairs for large vehicles. Tool carts are also referred to as portable workstations, some of the heavy duty examples are actually self-propelled. These however are highly specialized pieces of kit that come at a cost. If you are interested in purchasing one of these tool carts, Amazon sells them here.
The Tool Cabinet
When there is the need to store a large number of tools, for instance in a garage or a repair workshop, you should consider larger (and less mobile) storage solutions like tool cabinets (check them out at Amazon). Similar to household wardrobes, tool cabinets feature multiple levels for enhanced storage capacity and easy access to any tool at any given time. Tool cabinets can be either rolling (set on casters) or fixed.
The Compact, Lightweight, and Wearable Options
If you are looking for more specific tool storage solutions, there are different versions of the common types listed above. Some of them are lightweight rolling toolboxes, which are a combination of drawers and tool storage bins, and there are also compact jobsite toolboxes of assorted sizes. For engineers working in confined spaces or where an essential set of tools must be carried at all times, there are also a number of wearable tool storage solutions such as tool belts, tool bags, and tool backpacks.
Manufacturing Material – What Should You Go For?
Generally, toolboxes are made of either metal or plastic, with only some high-end versions made of wood. Whether you opt for metal or plastic depends on your work requirements, budget, and personal preferences. Below I have listed some of the pros and cons of both metal and plastic toolboxes to give you a fairly good idea of which is best suited to your needs.
Metal toolboxes come in a variety of sizes. Metal examples are usually manufactured from one of two metals – namely stainless steel or aluminum. Each of these metals offers certain advantages but also some drawbacks, which need to be considered.
A stainless-steel toolbox is a good choice on many levels. As you would expect, stainless steel offers excellent durability and structural rigidity. This means that the box or chest is able to accommodate heavier tools without bending, warping or otherwise altering its shape. On the same note, stainless steel offers very good protection against bangs and bumps, which are quite common during maintenance and repair work. Having said that, stainless steel is also somewhat pliable, meaning that dents and scratches will be sustained at some point.
Stainless steel toolboxes and chests have good corrosion resistance properties and are able to adequately tolerate daily exposure to the elements (as long as their powder coating [top finish] is intact). Keep in mind that some dents, deep scratches, and gauges will eventually result in rust, despite the stainless properties of this type of steel. Stainless-steel toolboxes offer good resistance against certain chemicals and acids, which makes them suitable for work in some hazardous environments.
Perhaps one of the more notable drawbacks of stainless-steel toolboxes and chests is their weight. Although streamlined, stainless-steel boxes and chests are heavier when compared to their aluminum and plastic counterparts.
In terms of visual appeal and design, stainless-steel boxes and chests are great. Painted and lacquered stainless steel offers a fantastic look that really stands out. If you prefer a more subtle look, consider brushed steel or matt finishes.
Aluminum is a common alternative to stainless-steel toolboxes and chests. This type of metal shares some of its characteristics with stainless steel, though it has advantages and disadvantages of its own.
The most notable advantage of aluminum toolboxes and chests is their comparatively light weight. By default, aluminum is a lightweight metal, which makes it ideal for many purposes, including portable toolboxes. If weight is a factor in your line of work and you wish to increase your box payload, then aluminum should be your top choice as it is usually three times lighter than any type of stainless steel.
Aluminum is great in terms of weight, but it doesn’t offer the same strength and rigidity as stainless steel does. When aluminum is overloaded or overstressed it tends to crack or tear, depending on sheet thickness. In terms of corrosion, aluminum offers excellent resistance to rust, even better than that of stainless steel. Aluminum toolboxes and chests will sustain and survive many knocks and bangs, but this type of metal is very susceptible to punctures and gauges, so keep that in mind when making your final decision.
If you do not require a heavy-duty toolbox or tool chest, or perhaps you need something more compact, it might be worthwhile considering plastic as a suitable option. At first glance, plastic might seem weak and unfit for the job; in fact, plastic toolboxes can offer descent strength and durability at a lower price.
By far the most notable advantage of plastic toolboxes is their price. Plastic is cheaper than stainless steel and aluminum, making it an ideal budget-friendly solution. It must be noted that plastic is mostly used for small- to medium-sized toolboxes as its strength and rigidity is limited as compared to that of metal.
An obvious upside of plastic tool boxes and chests is their lightweight. If you opt for a plastic example you will increase your payload as the dead weight of the box is much less than that of any metal counterpart. This makes it a good solution if you need to work at height or in situations where excess weight might be a problem.
In terms of strength and durability, it is obvious that plastic will not tolerate the same abuse as stainless steel or aluminum, though it offers good flexibility and resilience to many bangs and grinds. Plastic does tend to crack under pressure and is affected by sunlight, extreme heat, and chemicals and acids. Having said that, plastic does not rust and is barely affected by saltwater. It does, however, tend to become brittle in subzero temperatures.
Although not as tough as metal, plastic is not to be underestimated as many modern examples of specialist plastic toolboxes and chests are made from durable, composite plastics, which offer much better strength and resistance to damage and the elements.
Tip: Metal toolboxes and chests offer good resistance to fire. When exposed to extreme heat, metal toolboxes will preserve their contents for longer; however, they are not waterproof and will flood if submerged under water. Plastic toolboxes have very little fire resistance and will be destroyed by extreme heat, but usually offer a much tighter seal that gives them good waterproof qualities, even when fully submerged.
When discussing toolboxes and tool chests, it would seem that wood is a redundant material in this day and age. This is not quite so though. Even today, you can still buy superb examples of wooden toolboxes and tool chests that offer the same convenient storage for a multitude of handheld tools.
It is obvious that wooden examples will not offer you the same durability and strength as metal or plastic toolboxes, but their coolness factor is through the roof. If you are looking for a chic example of a toolbox that oozes vintage appeal, then you should consider one of the many wooden versions available out there.
Wooden toolboxes and chests are not just for looks though. Their functionality is undisputed and they come in a variety of sizes to meet different tool storage requirements. Obviously, wooden tool chests are not suitable for outdoor use as they do not handle exposure to the elements too well. A wooden toolbox will require sealing and lacquering (or painting) to keep it looking and feeling good for longer. Wood offers good rigidity and payload capacity, so a well-built toolbox should be able to accommodate heavier tools with ease.
Extra Features and Additional Considerations
By now you should have a relatively good idea of what type of tool storage solution is right for you. There are however additional considerations that may also influence your final decision. Obviously, price is always a factor, so a trade-off between budget and features might be in order. Here are some additional things to consider:
Some toolboxes and chests give you the option to customize. For instance, adding additional trays or exchanging bins and drawers for larger/deeper or smaller ones. If convenience and flexibility is top priority for you, then look for a tool storage solution that offers you varied storage capacity.
Ergonomics is also important. If you prefer to use a toolbox or chest instead of a tool belt or tool backpack, then look for boxes that feature a shoulder strap as well as the traditional gripped handle on the top.
Some jobs require a portable toolbox to be present at arm’s length but wheeling around a heavy tool chest or caster tool cabinet is simply not an option. For such situations, you should consider a wheeled toolbox. Similar in layout to a two-wheeled (single axle) shopping trolley, this type of toolbox is nimble, compact, and easily maneuvered into place. Some examples even come with detachable wheel section.
Hazardous Environment Work
When carrying out work in tough or hazardous environments, you need to look after your own safety and that of your tools. If fire or water are a factor in your line of work, perhaps you should consider a fire-resistant, or waterproof toolbox model. These specialist versions are available at a higher price and will perform well in extreme conditions. Some toolboxes come with additional protection against chemicals and acids, again these are specialist pieces of kit that do cost more but offer you better performance when the going gets tough.
Fixing and Latching
In those situations where you prefer to have your toolbox or chest fixed, for instance attached to your work vehicle or boat, then consider a model that features fixings and latching. These types of toolboxes can be attached (and detached) with relative ease to the tray of a work vehicle or the engine bay of a boat. When attaching a toolbox to any kind of vehicle make sure you always do so according to manufacturer-provided instructions.
Security and Protection
Security is another factor to consider when choosing your toolbox or chest. A great many tools are, as you probably well know, expensive, and there are plenty of people out there who would be more than happy to liberate them from you. Give yourself extra peace of mind and keep your tools safe and secure from theft and tampering by purchasing a secured tool box. Secured toolboxes come equipped with key or combination locks or have latches for the more traditional padlock.
Tip: If you work with expensive or custom-made tools and equipment, then add an extra layer of safety and security for yourself with specialized tools and equipment insurance. Tools and equipment insurance policies are available through most insurance providers and cover theft, damage, and loss of all your equipment – including your tool storage solutions.
Just like any other product, toolboxes and tool chests come with a warranty. Get familiar with the warranty cover options of the manufacturers or products you have shortlisted. This might prove very important later on, simply because by default a tool box is exposed to a variety of risks on a daily basis. A good warranty should cover any manufacturing defects or unintentionally hidden flaws of the product, thus giving you extra peace of mind.