You don’t need to own a ton of tools before realizing that some kind of storage is essential. The question is, what kind? For home auto enthusiasts, a workshop tool chest often makes sense. Electricians and plumbers sometimes favor a tool bag. Yet, for most DIYers and many professionals, a portable tool box—one they can tote or wheel around the shop and to the truck—is the convenient, cost-effective answer.
Many different types of tool boxes are on today’s market. You may be tempted to choose a budget tool box, but a slightly pricier option may offer more flexibility and durability. Use this guide to learn what to look for when shopping and about some of the best portable tool boxes for a variety of different situations.
- BEST OVERALL: Keter – 241008 Masterloader Resin Rolling Tool Box
- RUNNER-UP: DEWALT Tool Box, Tough System, Large (DWST08203)
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: beyond by BLACK+DECKER Tool Box Bundle
- BEST STEEL TOOL BOX: BIG RED TB101 Torin 19″ Hip Roof Style Portable Steel
- BEST VERSATILITY: WORKPRO 17-inch Plastic Tool Box, Red Storage Box
- BEST ROLLING: Stalwart Rolling Tool Box
- BEST FOR MECHANICS: GEARWRENCH 20inch 3 Drawer Steel Tool Box, Black
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: GANCHUN 17-Inch Three-Layer Plastic Storage Box
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: RIDGID Professional Tool Storage Cart And Organizer
- BEST OVERSIZE: Milwaukee 48-22-8426 Packout, 22″, Rolling Tool Box
Choosing the best portable tool box depends on the job it’s intended for. While one individual may want a compact model for the garage that’s easy to carry, another might need a large wheeled unit to transport easily. Learn about the different factors and features to keep in mind when comparing portable tool boxes.
Generally, portable tool boxes can be divided into two types: those that can be carried and those with wheels.
On a carry box, the handle must attach securely to the body of the tool box to support its weight when full. Traditional steel tool boxes often have thin handles that can get uncomfortable. Modern plastic and rubber handles are more ergonomic, but check that the handle provides enough room to grab it with a gloved hand. Foldable handles allow other items to be stacked on top.
Rolling tool boxes generally have a larger capacity, so their wheels are their most important feature. Of course, they must be sturdy enough to support the weight of the tool box when loaded. Solid plastic wheels may be fragile and roll somewhat unpredictably over uneven surfaces. Nylon is more flexible, while rubber tires help absorb impact and usually roll quite freely.
Material and Construction
Although a few specialty portable tool boxes are constructed with wood, most are made of steel or some type of plastic, materials strong enough to hold up to regular home and job site use.
Steel is extremely tough and withstands impact well. It might dent, but breakages are rare. The downside is that steel is heavy, and if the surface finish (typically, a powder coat) gets damaged, it can rust.
Plastic often varies widely in quality, and cheap portable tool boxes may be fragile. However, those made of polypropylene or structural foam (an injection-molded plastic) can rival steel in strength and durability. Some of these models also have metal reinforcement.
Seams, joints, and hinges are potential weak points, so these warrant close inspection. If the tool box is likely to be outdoors in all types of weather, look for a waterproof or, at minimum, water-resistant tool box. An IP or IPX rating means the tool box has been independently tested to international standards.
Size and Storage Options
Also consider physical size: the external overall dimensions and its internal dimensions and how the space is organized.
External dimensions can impact storage when the tool box is not in use as well as its ease of transport. Avoid getting a box that’s too big for the space.
Organization options vary widely. Lift-out trays and containers add versatility, but sometimes these are optional extras not included in the base price. Consider not only how the existing tools will fit but also whether the tool box has enough space for additional equipment if needed.
Weight capacity is another major factor, though it’s not always provided by the manufacturer. Over-straining handles can lead to breakage. Consider the weight when fully loaded and the difficulty in lifting a portable tool box when loaded. To avoid painful back injuries, consider a rolling tool box.
On some occasions, having two or more portable tool boxes is preferable to a single large one. Users may need a compact model for DIY essentials, for example, plus a wheeled version for garage and yard tools. Other situations and work styles might make it more convenient to have one box for hand tools and another for power tools.
While much depends on the individual user, portable tool box manufacturers also produce modular systems. For example, a wheeled tool box may have an extending handle, with smaller units that stack on top.
Bolting down a tool box obviously defeats the idea of portability, yet some portable tool boxes offer no provision for security. A thief could simply walk off with an unattended smaller tool box. However, some models have space between their handles or latches to insert a padlock or cable lock.
If the contents are valuable, as are most tools, a portable tool box constructed with steel is likely more secure than a plastic one. Also consider the ability to lock the tool box and affix it to an immovable object. Cable locks are flexible and can be combined for extended reach. Tool box alarms are available, as are small trackers to conceal inside.
Our Top Picks
Armed with an understanding of portable tool box structure and configuration, you can now apply that knowledge to find the ideal product. The following tool boxes have been chosen for their versatility, durability, and value, and they’re separated into categories to help identify the best portable tool box for individual needs.
The Keter Masterloader takes the top spot for its all-around versatility. Because of its flexibility, it’s ideal for the garage, workshop, yard, or job site. A large bin at the base holds power tools and batteries. Above it, two compartments appear: one divided for hand tools and the other with removable bins to store small accessories, hardware, fasteners, and more.
The entire tool box is made of durable, weather-resistant molded polypropylene, and it has a maximum load rating of 66 pounds. It has a locking system and heavy-duty rubber wheels.
DeWalt’s large tool box is part of the company’s ToughSystem range of modular tool boxes and cases. It’s made from structural foam, an injection-molded plastic formed into a super-strong honeycomb skin. This module has a traditional tool box layout with a large main storage area and a lift-out tray. Strong steel clasps keep the lid closed, while a water seal rated IP65 helps protect the contents from the elements. It can handle a load of up to 110 pounds.
The DeWalt large tool box is stackable, and it can be interlocked with other parts of the system. A compatible wall rack and trolley are also available.
This beyond by Black & Decker tool box bundle comes from a brand trusted for quality and value for the money. It contains a set of two durable plastic tool boxes: a compact 12-inch model for screwdrivers, pliers, a small hammer, and the like, plus a 19-inch box for larger items.
Each box boasts a lift-out tray and removable upper storage with a clear lid for quick identification of the contents. A padlock eye along the rim allows users to fit a lock if desired.
The BIG RED Torin features a simple design that seems to have been around forever, and for good reason: It works. The heavy-duty steel shell provides durability, and a powder-coated finish combats rust. Full-length piano hinges are both strong and effective.
While it’s often associated with mechanics, the BIG RED can take all kinds of hand tools, and its 19-inch length offers plenty of space. A lift-out tray helps with organization and adds convenience. A metal latch ensures it won’t open accidentally, and it incorporates a loop for a padlock to thwart thieves. While the manufacturer doesn’t list a weight capacity, the BIG RED’s handle makes the tool box portable.
This WORKPRO 17-inch tool box keeps everyday hand tools, hardware, and fasteners organized. Made of polypropylene, the tool box’s lower layer contains six compartments, while the upper layer boasts 12. Not only can these hold a variety of different items, but each is removable, so they can be configured precisely to the user’s needs. Compartments can be arranged to the layout that works best for a particular task.
Metal catches prevent the contents from falling out, and the tool box has a large handle. While not large enough for a full range of tools, the WORKPRO tool box may work for home users and provide an extra storage solution for pros.
For those who frequently need to move a lot of tools, the Stalwart rolling tool box is ideal, thanks to both a large capacity and flexibility.
Its two large interlocking bins, which are made of tough polypropylene with metal reinforcements, provide the main storage. The lower box has hard-wearing wheels. The top box, which has its own handle so it can be used separately, has 24 different compartments with clear lids for easy identification of the contents. It contains two lift-out trays, and its top handle clips on for transport. Cable hooks are on the outside for power cords or extensions.
One of the leading tool chest brands for amateur and professional mechanics, GEARWRENCH built high-quality features into this 20-inch portable model. It’s made of steel with a rust-resistant powder-coated finish that wipes clean.
Three drawers for sockets, wrenches, and the like run on ball-bearing guides. Metal latches give access to a lidded upper area to store slightly larger tools (maximum depth is 2.5 inches), and a central lock secures all four areas. At 20 pounds empty, it’s on the heavy side, and rather than handles on both ends, this model has just one in the middle.
This cantilever tool box from GANCHUN is lightweight yet versatile. Although it weighs only 3.5 pounds, it’s made of durable polypropylene to resist cracking and splitting, and a ribbed underside adds strength and helps stop the box from distorting when full.
The base provides space for larger tools. The box opens wide for easy access, and two trays offer varied tool storage. The top offers compartments with clear lids for screws, screwdriver bits, and the like. Metal clasps hold it closed.
Those who need to move large amounts of gear can appreciate the capacity and strength of the heavy-duty RIDGID tool box system. Each box is made of thick, durable polypropylene, and the lid’s seal helps protect the contents from water and dust. The bottom box is fitted with hard-wearing, all-terrain wheels and an extending handle. The other two boxes stack on top and clip together with large steel clips, so they can’t come adrift and crash to the floor. Padlocks can be fitted for security.
As well as protection and portability, the RIDGID system offers flexibility. The base unit could hold power tools and batteries, the center section has a lift-out tray, and the top features small compartments for hardware and fixings. Weight capacities are 60 pounds, 50 pounds, and 25 pounds, respectively.
Some gear—a bulky circular saw, for example—demand a lot of space, so those with large tools or equipment to move can appreciate the Milwaukee Packout rolling tool box. With a 250-pound weight capacity, this 22-inch tool box is built to last.
The Milwaukee Packout boasts 9-inch all-terrain rubber-and-nylon wheels and an “industrial-strength” telescoping handle to pull the unit around the job site. The plastic has metal reinforcement at the corners, and the lid’s weather seals help protect the contents. A lift-out tray (sold separately) is available, and Milwaukee offers a range of different-size interlocking tool boxes to extend the capacity if required.
The previous sections describe the important features of the best portable tool boxes for different needs and discuss a range of current products. For more information, see the answers to these common questions.
Q. How much do portable tool boxes weigh?
With so much variety in the types and sizes of portable tool boxes, weights range widely as well. The lightest might be 3 or 4 pounds, while the largest tops out at 20 pounds. Also consider the probable contents of the tool box, since they could make a difference in the tool box’s overall weight during use.
Q. How do I organize a portable tool box?
Large, heavy items generally go in the bottom because it has the most space. In taller portable tool boxes, storing them here also helps add stability. Also consider keeping the tools or accessories you use most often readily to hand. Many portable tool boxes have convenient trays and compartments for smaller items, or they can be added. Socket and wrench organizers are also available.
Q. How do I clean a portable tool box?
Most models can be wiped down with a cloth dampened with a small amount of dish soap and water, along with a little white vinegar if desired. Be wary of abrasive cream cleansers that can scratch the surface.
For most DIYers and many professionals, a portable tool box—one they can tote or wheel around the shop and to the truck—is a convenient and cost-effective solution. Many different types of tool boxes are on today’s market, and while you may be tempted to choose a budget tool box, a slightly pricier option may offer more flexibility and durability. Choosing the best portable tool box depends on the job it’s intended for.