Best Tool Chest
Anyone who uses tools is eventually faced with the need for a toolbox. While a cardboard box might work for a few miscellaneous hand tools and a cordless drill, once you get past that point you need something a little more rugged. Tools are heavy and take toll on any cardboard box it's really hard to organize them in something like that as well.
To meet this need for organization, manufacturers produce toolboxes in all shapes and sizes. They range from multi-pocket soft pouches hung over a five gallon bucket to huge multi-drawer, roll-around, tool chests big enough to need their own engine and steering wheel. What type of box you’ll need depends a lot on how many tools you have and how you’re going to be using them.
Selecting your ultimate tool chest can be a whole lot more complicated than selecting the right tool for the job. After all, there really aren't all that many choices for what tool you can use, while there are many for what kind of toolbox or tool chest. Our tool chest buyer's guide listed below can definitely can help you narrow it down.
Best Top Box Tool Chest:
Anyone who uses tools ends up need a tool box. For most of us, that quickly evolves into needing a tool box stack, consisting of a roll-around toolbox and a top box chest. This provides the most possible storage space in the least possible space, while ensuring that we have all our tools in one place, organized so that they are easy to grab and easy to use.
Buying a good toolbox can seem almost as expensive as buying good tools. Yet without it, our tools end up becoming disorganized and lost. So, you can consider a good toolbox an investment in your tools; helping ensure that you’ll always have them and that they won’t get damaged.
Unless you have a limited amount of work that you use tools for and a limited amount of tools, you’re better off buying the biggest tool chest you can reasonably afford. The more drawers your tool chest has, the easier it is to organize it. Over the long term, that will save you time. Time that you would otherwise spend searching for your tools. Studies have been done in factories, which prove that a well organized toolbox can save you as much as 30 percent of your time. That makes it worthwhile having a good toolbox that you can organize well.
The other reason to buy a big tool chest is that you’re probably going to continue collecting tools over time. I actually have two top box tool chests, one for mechanic work and one for other work. When I bought the mechanic’s one, a buddy of mine laughed, saying that there was no reason why I needed that big a tool chest for the collection of tools I had. Well, that tool chest is now full and I’m looking for places to put more tools. In case you didn't know it, tools tend to multiply.
Space isn't the only consideration though. Tools are heavy. So, you need a toolbox that can handle the weight. Cheap toolboxes just can’t. They are made of cheap, thin metal, with poorly designed drawer glides that don’t use ball bearings. When a lot of weight is put into them, the drawers stick and the drawer glides can break, leaving you with a mess and no tool storage.
Typically, when people look at top chests, they match them up with a bottom roll-around chest. Even if you aren't planning on buying one now, make sure that you take that into consideration. If you buy a big top box, you’ll need a bottom box that can support it. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a problem. The main thing to look at is the width of the box. As long as the roller cabinet is at least as wide, the depth shouldn't be a problem.
Some boxes are locking, which is nice to have, especially if you have small children around. As you probably have experienced, it’s easy to get hurt with tools. Leaving a tool box open around kids, full of shiny tools, is asking for an accident. Better to lock it up and protect the kids.
Snap-on undoubtedly makes the best top chests around, along with the best of a lot of other tools. This 84-inch wide monster may not fit on your roll-around or fit your budget, but it's nice to be able to dream. Read Full Review
Craftsman makes a great line of toolboxes, including this six drawer top chest. Each drawer is rated at a maximum of 75 pounds, so you won't have to worry about overloading it. The top uses gas struts to hold it upright, much nicer than the usual metal bracket. Read Full Review
Kobolt is Lowe's answer to the Craftsman line of tools. These are good, rugged tools, which are made to take a beating. The seven drawers on this box are rated at 50 pounds each. Read Full Review
If you need a wide chest, but can't afford the Snap-on, what about this 41-inch wide one from Homak. You could buy two of them for a lot less than the Snap-on, and have about the same width, with lots of storage space. Read Full Review
Best Roll Around Tool Chest:
Roll-around tool chests, often referred to as “mechanics tool chests” provide the most possible tool storage you can get. Because they are mounted on casters, they can be taken to right where you need to use them, allowing you the convenience of having your tools readily available while you work. They can also hold an incredible amount of weight, much more than you would want to try carrying in a portable toolbox.
When we refer to the roll-around, we’re referring to the bottom cabinet. Most mechanics and others use that lower cabinet with what is known as a “top box tool chest” sitting on it. For additional storage, a middle chest can be added; providing a couple more drawers.
Generally speaking, the more drawers a roll-around tool chest has, the better. Some only have a few drawers, with a tool storage cabinet below. Others have seven to nine drawers, allowing you lots of storage options. Tools seem to breed when you’re not looking, so if you only buy the amount of space you need, you’ll soon find that you don’t have enough. For that reason, it’s usually best to buy the biggest tool chest you can reasonably afford. If you don’t, you’ll end up like me, buying another one down the road.
Another great advantage of having a lot of drawers in your tool chest is that you can organize your tools better. The additional drawers provide you with the option of splitting up your tools, so that each category of tools has its own drawer. This makes it faster to find what you’re looking for; unless, of course, you don’t put things back where they belong.
Tools are heavy. Considering the amount of weight that a roll-around tool chest holds, you want to make sure that you buy a quality unit. Cheap roll-around boxes won’t hold much and will eventually start to break from the weight of the tools in them.
Any good tool chest will have the drawers mounted on ball bearing drawer slides, making it possible to pull the drawer out, even when it is fully loaded. Some manufacturers will actually tell you the maximum safe weight that the drawer is designed for, although most won’t. Generally speaking, the better tool chests will be able to support more weight per drawer than the cheaper tool chests can.
If you already have a top box that you are planning on using with the roll-around, be sure to check how wide both are. The top box should be just a touch narrower than the roll-around, allowing it to sit securely on the top, within the lip that is normally on the top of the roll-around. If it sits on the lip, there is a good chance that it will slip off sometime, while trying to move the roll-around.
If you're looking for the best, you don't have to look any farther than Snap-On. This monster comes with 19 drawers and has a 6,800 pound capacity. Read Full Review
While there are those who could argue, I think that Craftsman makes some of the best tool chests around. This double wide unit has a total of 14 drawers, providing lots of space for all types of tools. The automatic latching system keeps the drawers from sliding open accidentally. Read Full Review
Kobalt is Lowe's answer to the Craftsman line of tools, intended to go head-to-head with them. While I am still a Craftsman fan, they do make some nice tools. This chest is a touch wider than the Craftsman and has 11 drawers. Read Full Review
This solid oak tool chest is my absolute favorite, even though it might not be the best choice for a lot of people. It's actually a machinists chest, designed for delicate instrumentationand to keep the sharp edges of tool bits from being dulled by hitting a metal drawer. Read Full Review
Tool Chest Buyer's Guide
To start with, the tool chest you buy has to meet your needs; not your cousin Charlie or the guy down the street. Everyone has different needs and in the case of a tool chest, the needs are mostly defined by the type of work that you do and the type of tools you have.
For example, carpenters have a lot of power tools but not so many hand tools so they need something which will secure their power tools, while still keeping them accessible. Another example is mechanics that have a large number of hand tools but fewer power tools. They’ll need an option that provides a lot of organization, but minus the big space for storing large tools. Their tool storage also needs to be portable so they can take it right to the car they’re working on.
Besides just being a place to store tools, toolboxes provide two basic functions: organization and security. An organized toolbox makes it easier to find what you need, saving time and ultimately making you more productive. Whether you’re a professional or a hobbyist, spending time searching for your tools takes time away from being able to do other things. The security part of a toolbox is the ability to lock up your tools to keep others out of them. That could be because you have neighbors that never return things they “borrow” or little kids who could get hurt playing with dad’s tools.
Most people select a toolbox based upon a combination of what they can afford and how much space they need. Since toolboxes have to come out of our tool budget (whether there’s a real budget or just an “understood” one), most handymen and do-it-yourselfers try and get away with the least amount of expense on their toolbox; however, this is a mistake. Tools tend to multiply over time and if you don't buy a big enough tool
box, you're going to end up with some of your tools in those cardboard boxes.
I have two roller cabinets with top boxes (one for mechanics tools and the other for woodworking and machining tools), plus a roll-around workbench with cabinets under it (incidentally filled with power tools). In addition to this, I have two bench-mounted tools which are on cabinet with casters on them (the cabinets are filled with extra saw blades, drill bits and sanding belts). With all that, you'd think I had enough tool storage, but I still don't. No matter what, it seems I'm always looking for spaces to put more tools.
If you do any amount of work with tools, my recommendation as a true tool collector is to buy the biggest toolbox you can, without sacrificing quality; trust me, eventually, you'll eventually fill it up. Don't buy cheap toolboxes though, no matter how much the temptation. I made that mistake years ago, and ended up with broken toolboxes that I had to replace.
The one problem with large toolboxes is you lose portability. I'm actually happier with my two
roll-around cabinets, than with one big one. They also allow me to move my tools and reconfigure my shop based on what I'm working on. One big roll-around wouldn't be as portable which could cause problems for some projects. So, make sure your purchase is appropriate to your work style as well. If you’re remodeling your house, you may not need a roll-around tool chest, no matter how much you want one; your power tools aren't going to fit in it unless you’re willing to take them apart. Of course, if you have mechanics tools as well, you might need that roll-around cabinet anyway.
Breaking Down a Tool Chest
Typically, when we talk about tool chests, we mean those roll-around chests like what mechanics use. These typically consist of two separate boxes which may be sold individually or as a set. The bottom box is the roller cabinet which has casters under it to allow you to move your tools around the shop. This can contain anywhere from just a few drawers to a complete set. Typically, you'll find an assortment of different drawer depths with the shallower drawers at the top and the deeper drawers at the bottom.
The top box is also a multi-drawer affair with the same idea of providing drawers of various depths. Typically, top boxes will also have drawers that are only a third of the width of the box, giving you some spaces to stash the really small stuff. Finally, they usually have a flip-up lid, providing ample space for larger tools or just for common items you need to get to all the time.
Some mechanics and machinists also use a middle box, adding a few more drawers to their top box. These are rather rare and aren’t designed as part of the system used in all tool chest stacks. The middle box will be the exact length and width of the top box, with a lip to hold the top box in place.
Mechanics' vs. Machinists' Tool Chests
Most tool chests you see are designed to be mechanics' tool chests. The layout of the tool box and the size of the drawers is designed with the idea of holding the wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers and plethora of specialty tools a mechanic needs for plying their trade. They’re also good general use tool boxes for those of us who use a variety of different tool types.
Machinists' tool chests follow the same general idea of a mechanics' tool chest, with two notable differences. The first of these is the tool chest uses shallower drawers, designed to hold the various tools of a machinist's trade. I also found they’re extremely useful for the tools used for electronics repair. The second difference is that the drawers are lined which is done to protect the finer, precision instruments machinists use.
What about Wood Top Boxes?
There are also wood top boxes around which are about as common as machinists top boxes. These were actually the first top boxes ever and were originally used as a woodworker's or cabinet maker's tool box. When a woodworker's apprentice was ready to finish their apprenticeship and become a journeyman, the test was building their own tool box. The intricate fitting of the dovetail joints on the drawers were the true test of their skill.
Today, these wood boxes are made in factories and the dovetail joints have been replaced by other, less expensive options. They are still used by woodworkers, especially wood carvers, and by some machinists.
Selecting a Tool Chest Combination
It will probably take you more time to select your tool chest than it will to select any assortment of tools inside it. If you buy a tool chest that doesn't meet your needs, you're pretty much stuck with it. So, take your time and think things through.
The first consideration is deciding how big a tool chest you need so that you can store your tools in an organized fashion. You really don't want to skimp here, as you will find that your tool collection will grow over time. Make sure you have enough capacity for everything you need now, as well as realistic anticipated growth.
Of course, you have to balance this with the overall cost. That's the limiting factor for most of us. You don't want to spend so much that you create World War III in your home.
Roll-around, Top Box, or Both?
Most people start out with a top box and add a roll around later which allows for reasonable budgeting, as well as accounting for the growth of your tool collection. However, if you start out with the roll-around first, you add workbench space to your shop. You also end up with more storage space, as the roll-around holds considerably more than the top box.
If you’re limited for space, a top box provides a good starting place, one that is much more organized than your typical top opening tool box. Ultimately, you'll probably want to think in terms of having both, even though you’ll likely only buy one at the beginning. But by thinking in those terms, you can make your selections based on how the system will end up.
Number of Drawers
I'm the kind of guy who believes the more drawers the merrier, but that's because I like my tool boxes to be very well organized. However, if you're just going to dump everything together, you'll find all those drawers are an irritant, rather than a benefit.
The key here is to size the drawers to match the types of tools you are using. If you have a lot of small tools, you'll want a lot of small drawers; but if you have a lot of big tools, those small drawers won't work.
This is the most important single specification you can find on any tool chest. It will tell you more about how well the tool chest is built, than anything else. If a tool chest can't hold the weight, then it won't matter how many drawers it has or how it is laid out; it will break. Look for a minimum of 50 pounds weight rating on every drawer.
Ball Bearing Slides
This isn't an absolute necessity, but nonetheless important. When you put 50 pounds of tools in a drawer, that drawer gets hard to open so it’ll need a little assistance getting open. You'll be glad you paid the extra for the ball bearings, especially when you're tired and trying to open those heavy drawers to put your tools away.