I was digging around in my bench cabinets the other day looking for my biscuit joiner and pondering the mess of Dewalt, Makita, and Milwaukee cases I own. They store one tool but take up an excess of space. It’s hard to un-case them as grabbing a half dozen cased tools for a cabinet installation is convenient. But, it’s harder to have them all portable when they are separate. Just twenty years ago you owned a portable tool box for hand tools, but now the variety of chargers and compact portable tools is redefining what our portable tool box needs are.
With that, I started looking at two categories of portable tool boxes: traditional hand tool storage and wheeled “all-in-one” tool centers for un-casing my cordless (and some corded) tools into a more portable work center.
Here’s my list of the best portable toolboxes for woodworking:
This is the tried and true. Your dad probably had a metal version of this around the house and it was filled with a variety of hand tools. Small screwdrivers, screws, and other smaller items on top in a bin and the larger wrenches, drill bit cases, and maybe a corded drill on the bottom.
A few things to consider:
- Steel vs plastic – unless you have a need for a metal box go with plastic. It’s lighter, won’t rust, and is less likely to scratch your working spaces.
- Top compartment tray – look for a tray inside the top of the tool box for storing smaller tools and hardware such as cabinet screws and hinges. However, flip-up lids on the top are a good option, but be wary of flimsy plastic catches.
- Stack-able interior compartment – there should be a lift-off tray that gives access to the compartment below.
- A comfortable, large diameter handle – portable tool organizers are heavy and a large handle will increase comfort when you are lugging it long distances.
- Lockable lids – yep, you can carry it off but you can’t open it. Or, at least not without a lot of effort.
2. Bucket Organizer Toolbox
This one is great if you need multiple portable tool boxes with quick visual access to what’s inside.
Because there is no lid these organizers offer fast access.
- Type of fabric – look for water resistant and tough fabric.
- Drop over – most organizers just drop over the lid of the pail
- Wrap-around – a few organizers wrap the entire bucket and offer a longer, strapped handle.
- Number of pockets – most offer around 20.
- Size of pockets – think about your tools – flashlights and other large diameter tools matter.
- Zippers – small screws and bits can be a mess when the bucket tips. And it will.
Looking to store your drills, reciprocating saw, or cordless drill sets? These are up for the job and exactly what the name implies: bigger, wheeled portable tool boxes that can hold everything you can fit and be portable enough to wheel around your garage or on a job site.
What’s the catch? A cavernous inside can be a downside for finding tools.
Features to look for:
- Integrated trays – for holding small screws and parts.
- Construction – cheap isn’t good. Read reviews and make sure the components (lids, hinges, wheels, etc.) all add up to something you want for the rest of your life.
- Big wheels – when you get 75-100 pounds in one of these you want wide, large diameter wheels with a solid connection to the cart.
4. Industrial Duty Portable Tool Box
Fine. Go get your metal box with big handles.
But you at least need to consider a few options only (durably) available here:
- Quality hasp for locks – metal is tough and deters at least a casual thief if locked.
- Cantilevered design – with the weight and strength of metal there are more options, like having the toolbox “un-fold” as it opens. I’d look at this as the #1 reason to look at a metal tool box.
- Ball bearing drawer slides – if it has drawers, you might as well have them work easily.
5. Mobile Work Centers
If you are really serious about all your tools in one place AND you want a way to conveniently use them then guess what? Mobile work centers offer both.
These large storage systems offer multiple level storage, wheels, and unfold themselves to offer access to the levels.
Key features to look for:
- Multiple levels – storage space for small tools and larger power tools like reciprocating saws.
- Single lock mechanism – so one lock can secure all your stuff.
- Large wheels – you know why.
- Compartment quality – these aren’t cheap and the construction of drawers, trays, handles and wheels matters.
6. Soft-sided Portable Tool Box
This type of portable tool box shines when you have a variety of smaller tools and have to carry them a longer distance. Or, if you have your hands full of other tools and need to carry some weight on your back to reduce trips.
- Quality straps – both where the strap meets the bag (rip potential) and the durability and cushiness of the strap.
- Zipper construction – a heavy tool bag puts stress on the zipper.
- Compartments – sealed storage areas are a must for loose screws and bits.
- Hard storage bin slots – a couple of spots for hard storage bins will help for small item storage.
- Stand-up base – for backpacks, they should stand upright on it’s own for ease of access.