Read our primer for preventing breakage and misplacement in tool storage.
The way to avoid the I-can’t-find-it syndrome is to have appropriate containers for tool storage and transport. Several varieties of toolboxes and bags and belts are described below, but there are many other kinds, too. Like specialty toolboxes designed to lock securely into the bed of a pickup, or enormous storage cabinets for workshops, which are essentially closets that are built in or are too big to move readily.
However many tools you have, there’s certainly a suitable container (or containers) that will store your tools safely and securely, yet provide you with easy access when needs arise. Remember, storing and transporting your tools is every bit as important as using them with respect and care in order to avoid breakage or loss.
Tool Chests. The traditional tool chest—the size of a footlocker, with trays of neatly organized tools—is still to be found in antique shops, museums, and in the hands of craftsmen who consciously work within the heritage of hand tools. But for most people, such toolboxes are heavy, awkward, and less practical than other designs.
The nature of the work you do with your tools must determine what sort of tool containers you require, but one practical option for a medium-size selection of tools (that is, one with a couple of power tools, saws, hammers, framing square and few dozen other tools) is an all-weather plastic toolbox. One popular design has an open area in the base that functions rather like a bin for storing your electric drill and portable circular saw, and has a tray for pliers, drivers, a chisel, and a variety of other tools.
There are many tool chest options. Consider carefully what you need – not only to contain and carry your tools, but for ease of use in the spot where you’ll be using them. You will want a box that will I ill all your needs, and prove durable as well.
Tool Belts. When it comes to performing many jobs, a tool belt or tool pouch can provide easy access to the tools required. Carpentry and electrical work have specially adapted tool carriers that fasten immediately on your person, like a carpenter’s belt or an electrician’s pouch. Then you don’t have to hunt around for that pair of pliers or your tape measure; they’re right there where they belong, and come to hand like the marshal’s six-gun from its holster.
Like toolboxes, tool belts, pouches, and aprons can be purchased large and small, for light or heavy duty. You may find it necessary to have two or more for different kinds of jobs, or one of average size that you adapt for varying tasks. Tailor your purchase to your needs.
Portable Workbenches. The portable workbench has been around for barely thirty years. Created by Englishman Ron Hickman, an automobile designer by trade, it has sold in the tens of millions of units under the trade name Workmate.
One reason for its popularity is that this device fits many different needs; another is that it can do so in many, many different places. Its aluminum and steel frame folds, so it can be easily stored and transported. The Workmate is adaptable, too, as its legs can be folded up or down to provide the option of two steady working surfaces, one at workbench height, the other adapted to sawing at a lower, twenty-four-inch height. A foot board at the front allows for the worker’s weight to stabilize the bench when heavy workpieces are being worked or considerable force employed.
The Workmate’s ancestry is ancient, even if its space-age plastic hardware and laminated plywood worktop are not. It’s really a simplified workbench, one that folds up and down. The holes in its surface accommodate pegs or stops at a variety of locations, allowing for clamping of a multitude of regular or oddly shaped objects.
The top surface consists of two sturdy plywood boards that can be moved into a range of positions with one another. Cranks at each end transform the boards into jaws that can grip workpieces of a variety of thicknesses, ranging from a fraction of an inch up to about 18 inches. The edges of the plywood surfaces have V-shapes, allowing for pipes to be gripped for cutting.
The Workmate isn’t a magic solution in every workplace, but it is light, quite durable, and surprisingly flexible. Its portability is perhaps its greatest asset, as it makes it possible to perform a number of different cutting, shaping, clamping, and other tasks just about anywhere there’s room to set it up.
Keep in mind, however, that it isn’t designed to be stored outdoors, as the plywood jaws on its surface will delaminate if exposed to dampness over a period of time. The Workmate also works best if, like Dorothy’s Tin Man, its joints are given an occasional dose of lubricating oil.