ManMade Essential Toolbox: Why Every Man Needs a Serious (Actual) Toolbox

Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day. 

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So far in the ManMade Essential Toolbox series, we’ve named tools that actually do things; tools that cut stuff, measure stuff, tighten stuff, hold stuff, and clean stuff up. And after today, we’ll do more of the same.

But no series on toolbox essentials is complete without, you know, the actual toolbox.   After, if you’re going to invest in the right tools and keep them safe, you gotta have someplace to store them, and efficient way to pack them up and carry around when working outside the garage, basement, or shop. 

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When considering a new toolbox, there are two rules to keep in mind:

1) Don’t go to the home improvement store and get a new plastic box. Those things are basically just glorified storage bins with handles and hinges. They flex, rack, and dent and crack easily. If you ever plan to carry power tools or sharp objects, you want steel… or canvas (see below). Yep, metal is heavy, but tools are heavier, and once it’s loaded up, a pound or two won’t make much of a difference. 

2) The simpler the design, the better. Those little cases and inserts and flip-top lids and such just take up valuable storage real estate. This a tool box, not a hardware organizer. If you want a place to sort nails and screws and bolts and such by size (which you do), get a benchtop small parts organizer. 

Look for options with one removable shelf insert at the top, and a big, deep space below. If you have a standard set of tools you always use (for a particular job or project, say), you can make your own dividers or implement small boxes for tiny parts. You want the storage space to be as flexible as possible. 

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So, where to look? You can absolutely buy new metal toolboxes. They’re available online and in stores, and there are links for some recommended options at the bottom of this post. But, don’t underestimate the power of the used toolbox. These things are everywhere at flea markets, thrift shops, secondhand stores, or your uncle’s garage. Anything made before the big plastic takeover of the 80s will work well here, and probably end up costing you less money than a bright, branded PVC option from the big box store. 

When assessing used options, check the state of the hinges, locks, clasps, and other enclosures. They can always be repainting, but a solid original surface looks awesome and means there’s been little rust damage.

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And don’t underestimate other used metal boxes and storage containers, like old lunch boxes or tackle boxes. These are great for small, project specific tool kits. I have most of my standard use tools – screwdrivers, clamps, pliers, hammers, etc, stored on a pegboard system, but keep my specialized tool set in their own containers. I have one for leatherworking, bike maintenance tools, guitar repair and string changing tools, sewing supplies, print making and lino carving, even my shoe polish and boot dressing materials.  And I didn’t pay more than $8 for any of them. 

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Lastly, if you are looking for a new, lightweight option, consider the canvas and leather tool bags, particularly those from Klein Tools. They have a classic style, and the roomy interiors can fit way more than would first appear. They’re a great option for transporting a handful of specialized tools when helping a buddy with a project or when you need your stuff at an off-site location. 

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