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Tools

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.

Snap-On KRL7023CPBO, 19 Drawer Triple Bank Roller Cabinet

Snap-On KRL7023CPBO, 19 Drawer Triple Bank Roller Cabinet

This monster is so big it should come with an engine and a steering wheel. It has a 6,800 pound capacity. I’d hate to think what it would be like to move when fully loaded. The 72-7/8-inch cabinet has 19 drawers, with the widest measuring 50 inches wide. It’s big enough that you can use the top as a workbench… that is, if you don’t put a top chest on it. While I really think this is a bit overdone for the average home workshop, if you want the best, this one would have to be it. Being Snap-On, you know it’s built to last.

Craftsman 13628, 40 Inch Wide 14 Drawer Roller Cabinet

Craftsman 13628, 40 Inch Wide 14 Drawer Roller Cabinet

For those that don’t want the high cost of the Snap-On tool chest, Sears Craftsman line has some really nice roll around chests, like this 14 drawer unit that’s 40 inches wide. It has two stacks of drawers, one that’s wider than another, giving a nice assortment of drawer sizes for dividing up your tools however you want. It even has a couple of deep drawers, which will work well for smaller hand-held power tools. Craftsman has developed a great drawer latching system, which they call “Griplatch.” To pull any drawer open requires lifting lightly up on the drawer pull to release it. That way, drawers don’t come open by themselves.

Kobalt TRXK11426, 43 Inch 11 Drawer Steel Tool Cabinet

Kobalt TRXK11426, 43 Inch 11 Drawer Steel Tool Cabinet

Kobalt is Lowe’s (the home improvement center) answer to Craftsman. This line has been created to compete head to head with them, as an equivalent. While it is an excellent quality line of tools, the debate continues as to whether or not they are Craftsman’s equal. I think I’ll stay out of the debate. This cabinet is a touch wider than the craftsman one, with 11 drawers as opposed to the 14 on the other unit. But the real difference is that the Craftsman unit is rated at 70 pounds per drawer, while this one is rated at 50 pounds per drawer. Please don’t take that as a statement against this tool chest, as it is still an excellent product, with lots of room to store your tools.

South Bend SB1355, 11 Drawer Oak Roller Cabinet

I have to admit that when I saw this roll-around tool chest, I fell in love with it. I’ve always liked wood tool boxes, but this is the only wood roller cabinet I’ve ever seen. The only reason it isn’t higher up on the list, is that it really isn’t what most people need.

Machinists and fine woodworkers both use wood tool chests, rather than metal, in order to protect the sharp edges of their tools. A steel tool chest might nick a blade edge, causing the owner to have to resharpen it. That wasted time can be avoided by using a wood tool box. They are also excellent for storing instrumentation, such as dial calipers, micrometers and other measurement devices. With felt-lined drawers to protect the tools.

Other than being made of oak, rather than steel, this cabinet is essentially the same as any other roller cabinet. The 11 drawers are mounted on ball-bearing slides for smooth operation. Six of them are half-width, intended for storing smaller tools. A locking wood panel covers the drawer fronts when the tool chest is not in use, and hangs on the back of the box when access is needed to the tools.

Kennedy 277XB, 27 Inch 7 Drawer Roller Cabinet

Kennedy is famous amongst machinists for quality tool chests. In fact, for those that don’t use a wood tool chest, Kennedy is the number one chose. This 7 drawer unit is the “classic” style for a tool chest, with one single bank of drawers. While they also produce dual bank units, like some of the others on this list, I decided we needed at least one single bank tool chest on this list. If you want quality that will last, it’s hard to beat a Kennedy tool chest. As a machinists tool chest, the drawers are lined to prevent damage to sharp tools and bits. All 7 drawers have an internal automatic locking system, so that you can close them even after the cabinet is locked. All the drawers are snap-in, with ball-bearing slides.

Snap-On KECN843A0PBO, EPIQ Triple Bank 15 Drawer 84” Wide Top Chest

Snap-On KECN843A0PBO, EPIQ Triple Bank 15 Drawer 84” Wide Top Chest

Okay, so maybe an 84-inch wide top chest is a little big for most peoples purposes and maybe it is a bit expensive for their pockets, but this has to be the best top box around. At 84 inches wide, with 15 drawers, this one has more storage space than just about anything else youre going to find. Being Snap-On, you can be sure that its built to last. With this tool chest, your tools will be well protected, accessible and well organized. Just dont try to pick it up and carry it around.

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Craftsman 113620, 26 Inch Heavy-Duty, Ball Bearing Top Chest

Craftsman may not make the huge monsters that Snap-On does, but for the money, they make some really great tool chests. The six drawers on this one have an amazing 75 pound load rating apiece. They are ball-bearing mounted on the slides, to make them open smoothly, even when loaded. The lid opens with gas struts to support it. Its locking as well, to protect your tools. Everything about this toolboxs design says quality, and quality that will last.

Kobolt TRXK712D, 28.69 Inch Steel 7 Drawer Tool Chest

Kobolt TRXK712D, 28.69 Inch Steel 7 Drawer Tool Chest

Lowes came out with their Kobolt line of tools to compete with the Craftsman brand, and they do quite well. This is a quality tool line, with a comparable guarantee to the Craftsman one. This box is a touch wider than the Craftsman I mentioned, with 7 drawers. However, most of the drawers are deeper, as the top drawer space actually holds three narrow drawers. The drawers are also mounted on ball-bearing slides and come with liners to protect your tools. Each drawer is rated at 50 pounds, except the top row of small drawers, which are rated at a total of 50 pounds for the three. A removable tray fits in the upper compartment of the box, to store oft-used tools for quick access.

Homak BL02008410, 41 Inch Pro Series, 8 Drawer Top Chest

If youre wanting a big top chest, but dont want to pay the high price of the Snap-On one, take a look at this one from Homak. Its a 41 inch wide box, with two banks of drawers; one wider and one narrower. The drawer slides are all ball-bearing and are replaceable if needed. Drawer liners are included, as well as a mat for the top storage area. Labels are provided for the drawers, to make it easier to remember where you put things.

Excel TB2105X, 5 Drawer Ball-Bearing Tool Chest

For those on a tight budget, Excel makes a roomy tool chest for a much lower price. At 26 inches wide, with five drawers, youll have plenty of room for lots of tools. The drawers are mounted on ball-bearing slides for smooth operation. Inset side handles allow it to be carried. An internal locking bar provides security when you are away.

Buyer's Guide

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.

Size

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.

Weight Capacity

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.

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