Boxx, Systainer, Sortimo, ... what about hand tools?

As a DIY enthusiast who needs to be mobile to help out family and friends; on a weekly basis my organization falls short … I have pockets of organization, but need to get better organized while becomng more flexible and mobile. Between a large vertical drawer tool chest, multiple shelf racks with bins (fasteners, parts etc) in stanley boxes, crates, … a multitude of dedicated basic plastic tool boxes (electrical, plumbing, … ) and a batch of dissimilar power tool containers and bags … it feels like I’m always chasing something.

Having seen Adam Savage’s sortimo system, some other manufacturer’s racking systems for home / truck / trailer, etc., some people’s walls of containers on slide outs, … the organizational neurons are spinning.

What has surprised me, is that these square container systems seem big at two things: small to medium parts sorting and powertool storage.

What about hand tools? For electrical, plumbing, carpentry, small engine, networking, painting, …

Are there adequate solutions to integrate those into a medium - large setup, where it isn’t just a bunch of stuff in $50-100 square box? Right now it looks like time gained in organization of boxes, diminishes due to tool access. You know compared to accessing a open rolling drawer, lift out tray inserts from a tool box … there’s all screw drivers, pliers, wrenche. With the box system if looks like a lot of square boxes and you’re on your own. Some mini drawer sets end up being $100-150-plus for just a set of three small drawers. That’s just not budget friendly.

Another thing that seems lacking is purchase options and discounts.
Any guy looking to get organized, engaged in a multitude of things, doesn’t just need one or two boxes, as if it were an emergency kit in the car or essentials kit in a rental condo). It is easily multiple dozens of containers. Yet every brand I look at seems to insist on premium pricing by the single box, with inserts and acessories like foam, separators, … as add ons.

So, my vision of downsizing, and creating two rugged rolling benches full of full extension drawers loaded with tainers that I could trailer with me; is not there yet. It seems like a yes for small parts and power tools, … but a ??? for hand tools and shopping options.

Can people fill me in how they deal with lots of hand tools?
And a multitude of parts and tools that span the gamut of a DIY book?
Any great shopping sites for this kind of stuff?

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If you Google “Duncan Phyfe Tool Chest” , “Studley Tool Chest”, and “Dutch Tool Chest” - you may get some ideas.
Now if we only had the skills of a Duncan Phyfe or H.O. Studley that would really be something.

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My grandfather, who was a carpenter, actually had several wooden tool trunks, some more intricate than others, some rather large, like 24 x 36 or more, with internal side pockets, tool and parts trays, etc. … those things were solid and heavy. No wheels!

I have seen in retail some smaller wooden chests suitable for fine wood working, carving, … Not quite the thing for a toting an arsenal of screw drivers, wrenches, …

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Hand tools vary widely, but for workshop storage, I like drawers the best.

Most hand tool storage falls into 2 categories: for on the go use, or for workshop use. There’s also pegboard.

I keep my most-used hand tools in drawers, lesser used tools in L-Boxxes or elsewhere.

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This is always a good topic for me. I am an electrician by trade but work in maintenance. You can be working on a commercial range with a 100A 3 phase breaker supplying it one day, a switch gear or motor controller the next, and later low voltage card access or similar. In other words, it is a pain in the backside to keep everything you need organised yet to hand when needed. I also agree that stationary or even semi stationary use demands different orgainsers for best use. My work is more portable so I tend to go there first.

I have looked at just about every tool bag around and think the concept of the Veto Pro Pac is about perfect. If not the execution. I carry and use regularly six and eight inch shaft screw and nut drivers. Invaluable for working in control cabinets and large commercial appliances. You need the reach. However, when I took some of my tools to the store to try them in a Veto it became obvious they do not fit correctly.

The tallest drivers should go to the back of the tool ‘wall’ in the center of the bag and then work forward with progressively shorter tools to the front. Simple. Yet the pockets are so wide and just shallow enough on the back row that the long drivers I use flop all over the place when the cover is unzipped. And I don’t like it that you need three or four tools in each pocket to keep things held snugly. And with the LC model I tried, the bag sides would not close over the 8 inch Klein drivers. Oi. Great quality bag designed for more general purpose use. Spanners, chisels, hammers, and punches may live next to each other knocking about all day but my good screwdrivers and pliers most certainly are not. And there is no way my precision drivers and insulated tools are going to be treated like that. Rough handling of insulated tools is a big no no. So I will watch this thread to see what you come up with.

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Having worked mostly out of a shop or up-fitted truck - I don’t have first-hand experience - other than seeing machinery technicians come into our shops pulling rolling toolboxes or carrying attaché type tool kits. I’m not sure if they were custom-fitted or more like off-the-shelf items.

Perhaps you might take inspiration from how some of the insulated tool kits by folks like Cementex, Salisbury or Wiha are packaged - mostly in cases - sometimes with inner dividers, trays or tool rolls:

or how some so called technician tool kits are packaged:

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Fred, thank you for the nice reply. I have looked at some of those brands before. There is something to it or they wouldn’t still be making them. The main thing I wanted with the Veto was the ability to have two tool kits in one bag. Standard elecrical/control stuff on one side and the insulated on the other along with any other more specilaised tools that need to stay a bit cleaner than the everyday use stuff.

In fact, a bag like that when full would be more of a mobile storage because if you have talked to guys who use Vetos, they get HEAVY in hurry because of capacity. So it would be taken in on jobs where you need everything close to hand but you really don’t want to tote in two or three specialty bags. A smaller pouch or bag could carry the stuff you use constantly. I currently have a Klein 5167 for that duty but it is 17 years old and nearing the end.

The attache cases are actually very good if you buy the right kind. Most of the stuff you would find somewhat locally are heavily geared toward electronics tech and similar. Loads of storage but the palettes they provide have tool pockets way too small for typical electricians tools and sometimes too delicate for industrial use… One company I found, Parat, makes some outstanding quality cases(reviews based comment there, I do not own one but would like to) attaches and some nice leather old school ‘universal’ cases as the Europeans seem to call them. But they are very spendy when you can even find them in the States. The moulded cases seem to have very well made and thoughtfully laid out tool palettes.

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The Parat cases/bags do look very nice.
God bless the Europeans from making some quality items - some of which may (as you point out) not make it to the US.
But with the internet - and - buying might be only a few clicks away (if they ship to the USA anyway)

Sort of reminds me of the high priced English bicycle saddlebags for tools:

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Absolutely great replies. Some great tool kits and ideas too. With a specific enough job and ultimate portability required, those seem like worthwile investments.

As DIY knowledge abilities and needs increased, over the years, it went from a bucket plus a variety of toolboxes, to a keter toolbox workcenter, to a multitude of toolboxes (two each for carpentry, plumbing, electrical, …), quick access bag, … Then got the garage center setup with tool drawers and lots of storage shelves. A lot of bulky tools, plus accessories, spanning multiple specialties.

I am hoping to see some “tainers” in person before too long. The cost is scary high though, when looking at festool. I like the idea of the black / dark gray Tanos ones better, which don’t scream steal me … considering they will be exposed in a vehicle or property at times (as opposed to a private shop)

I did spot the prior generation systainers for a fairer price, branded makita, at a couple online places. But of course they’re bulk empty boxes. No inserts. No wheels.

By the way. I saw a german store, with tons of options, including ordering systainers in a multitude of colors, with the same number of options for lock and handles. They had mini and micro ones too! With a winning lotto ticket one could be a kid in a candy store.
There’s even insulated tainers, …
And tainer exchange …
One could spend hours and a fortune.

Locally, I did see a toolbox system by ridgid at home depot. Wheeled bottom case, snap on different size cases and has an open basket as well. Pretty good size; rugged looking and feeling. The tainers seem more delicate, on video. Fair price, but of course not all the options.

Decisions, decisions :slight_smile:

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Icerabbit, the Systainers and the Sortimo L-Boxxes are some of the nicest inventions going. I notice that some tool manufacturers, chiefly Makita and Bosch, are starting to offer some of their power tools in L-Boxxes.

This is a most sensible approach. I would love to see all the U.S. and Euro tool manufactuers go to this. It would make customised inserts and interior orginisers compatible with any box you choose to put them in. And more importantly, it would bring on third party aftermarket suppliers of the same. Need an insert to hold your Dremel, Proxxon or Bosch rotary too? Order it up. Need one to hold your corded hammer drill and an orginiser box to store your bits? Well, how about the insert being molded for the drill but the orginser section made to hold common Plano moulding sizes of plastic boxes? Or any other major manufacturer of these sorts of boxes. There are really only two or three giants in the world making them with Plano and Akro Mills being huge in the western hemisphere. And Systainer already has an insert with, ready for it, vertical hand tool storage. Very similar to the Veto principle but in a hard plastic version. You can do much with a base system like these. Thanks for the nice links.

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In the mean time, while rummaging through the basement, I saw my old Keter Master Kart sitting there. Hard to believe now, one of those used to hold all my primary kit. And its brand new unused backup, is sitting in a corner of the basement, with the clearance sticker on it of $13.97 (originally $40). I remember buying the last two, in their big cardboard shipping box, pretty much sight unseen, after just a glance.

Cruising the internet last night, I spotted some nice 'tainer inserts people have made for hand tools and mods people have done. Right up my alley! Except for cutting into and reinforcing a $$$ tainer. Even saw several DIY ones made out of wood, including a 10 drawer wooden sort-tainer … of course lots of work involved there!

So, hand tools seem do-able with insert trays and/or a caddy.

I am actually doing an evaluation of the 'tainer sizes, what they can hold, etc. by means of some clear storage containers and a couple large wine boxes that approximate that 11x15 size. That’s actually a pretty tight squeeze for many corded and cordless tools … but do-able, probably with the intermediate sizes to have one unit per power tool type.

Just that then for the number needed and the cost per container … the price per unit, and then having to pay for accessories / dividers / inserts etc … All sorting and organizing enthusiasm drains pretty quick once you tally up a few of the different kinds.

Maybe the manufacturers could start competing a bit and drive the price down some?

Or an existing major tool brand could come to market with a dedicated series … vs always doing different mismatch bags, toolboxes, etc that never match.

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Probably about 50 years ago there was a factory fairly local to me that produced toolboxes out of fiberboard. I think their biggest customer was Ma Bell / Western Electric. The nice thing was that they would make you a custom case in almost any size to fit a tool (or two) perfectly. One color only (black) but decent handles and latches. The would also add dividers and a tray for a nominal extra cost. They actually had a factory store - and did not charge an extraordinary premium for a custom size compared to their regular boxes. I still have some of my old Porter Cable woodworking tools stored in their boxes. I knew some guys who would add a plywood base to a large one and add casters. Alas - like other industries in the US- this factory is long out of business.

FYI - we also repurposed this box with some foam inserts - to hold some of our pneumatic hail guns:

I think we had bought ours in Staples for less than $20

and Amazon sells a similar one:

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Well there’s an idea that had not occurred to me yet, and I had not seen yet: re-purposing a file holder for tool storage.

Combine that with the divider insert I pulled out of a wine bottle box to trim it to 'tainer size, and I have a silicone/adhesive/caulk carrier :slight_smile:

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We kept out caulking in a drawer that we used for it in out trucks. The upfitter we used (Dejana) had various storage options for tools, parts, caulking etc. - including stuff from Sortimo.

I’ve also seen these:>%20Grease%20Guns%20%2B%20Accessories&utm_campaign=Legacy&utm_content=40377&gclid=CNuroLv9w84CFYgfhgodg0sLCg

Lots of folks cobble their own I=ones together using short lengths of PVC pipe and/or wood.

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Fred, I have seen those cases you mentioned year ago when I was a kid! I thought they were cool then and still do. Everyone I saw was marked Western Electric. That was the hardware name that Southwestern Bell use around here. I think it was common to all the Ma Bell Babies.

Yeah, I am kind of a case/bag freak. Too many have come and gone over the years. Like most in my trade I have gone through at least a half dozen various tool holders over the years and still cannot find the perfect one.

It starts for me with the Veto principle of vertical storage. It is not new. Look at all the old telecom and utility lineman bags. Most still carried today. They are oval looking affairs with tool loops all round the inside to hold the tools upright. They’ve been used for decades.

Veto really took it to a new level but their bags have some flaws for my use. The pockets tend to be cavernous in their width and not deep enough for things like long handled screwdrivers. And I do not like it that I cannot keep the skinnier tools like drivers segregated from each other. You always see the load out videos on YouTube and the drivers are jammed in those pockets sometimes three wide. I don’t like that. And I won’t do it with any insulated or precision driver. I have a Salisbury hot kit that holds my insulated stuff in a roll and for now it suffices but I would rather have all tools in one kit close to hand.

And they keep missing the boat on this with each new edition of their bags. Their recent MC bag seemed like the ideal solution for me. Until a contractor showed up at our facility with one. He really liked it but showed me a major flaw he picked up on quickly. It was not tall enough to hold a driver with a 8 inch shaft! If you are a maintenance guy who works on everything from motor control cabinets to commercial appliances, then you know why this is a problem for me. I always have that length of 1/4 inch cabinet tip and either the 7 inch Klein or some other brand’s 8 inch Philips #2 with me at all times. You cannot work in deep cabinets without them. But the MC is too short. This isn’t the only Veto like this. The LC won’t do it either. I tried. You can kind of force the zippered top close over it but it puts some strain on it.

So what does Veto do? Why, they introduce the MCT(Tech series) of the bag which is 2 inches taller. Solved right? Not so fast. Like all the Tech series they remove a good amount of the tool pockets and replace them with larger ones for meters and other equipment. And it any case, the pockets left on one side are the same height as the originals so there is a lot of the driver shaft and of course the handle sticking out which leads to a lot of flop. Not ideal anyway.

All they would have to do is design a row of pockets along the back wall sized for one driver each. Do this on both sides of the center dividing wall. Make the top of the pockets wide enough to hold large screwdriver handles like Klein Cushion Grip, Wiha Soft Grips or Wera ergonomic and to about half of the handle length in depth. Then make the rest of the pocket quickly taper just below that to about the diameter of a 1/2 inch nut driver shaft. Now you have a pocket that will hold just about ANY screwdriver or nut driver you could imagine. At least up to the depth of the center wall of the bag. In most cases this would allow to 8 inch drivers to fit.

But what if you wanted a #1 Philips with 3 inch shat to live there? No problem. Drop it in and the taper below the handle part keeps it from falling down into the pocket and disappearing. And most handles of even smaller drivers are large enough in diameter to keep them from falling down into the shaft part of the pocket. Simple and effective but there isn’t a bag out there that I am aware of that has it. Instead you get these monstrously wide pockets that have three or four tools banging off each other all day.

I would even go so far as to make a row of single tool pockets in front of the driver pockets for 7-10 inch pliers and cutters. Then set a row driver pockets in front of that with much shorter pocket bottoms for the short shaft drivers of 4 inches or less. Then do what you want with the rest of the bag in front of that. And the first thing I would do is cut those little bit loops off the front pockets. I like my driver bits in storage cases tucked into a pocket. It is the only way keep them sorted I think. Just opinion and you know what that’s worth. Who else has their own ideas about how the manufacturers could improve things?

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PS: Satch

I agree that some standardization regarding tools and their storage would be great.
I would love for there to be a universal interlocking container system.


  • Container size. Versus what is to be in it. Seems good for small to medium tools and some accessories. Impossible for some larger tools. 3 - 4 - 5 + combo kits means multiple containers?
  • price of the container. These things are sold at the highest possible cost retail. Even on a big scale, how much does including the container elevate the price of the tool retail, when it is in a 'tainer. Vs a $1 - $10 pouch / case / tool bag … many people find there’s a half a dozen things wrong with it.
  • shipping. Thinking about some of my smaller battery and corded tools, which come in a stupid soft pouch, that may not be totally enclosed (book cover style) or be soft square with poor / broken zipper. The weight likely would go up some, but most importantly they couldn’t fit as many on a pallet any more.
  • is storage important to the customer or not?

I was having a chat with the wife about my current organizational itch, my need for sorting and storing certain quantities of dissimilar items; as well as mobility; having seen the holy grail of methodical sorting and storing. And, correctly so, she said that my storage solution I invested in last year (entire wheeled kit for sale at Sams) should satisfy most homeowners. Sure, depending on what all they engage in or hire done. If you live in a brand new house, finished to the T … you don’t need much. If however you live in 50 - 120 yr old houses in need of maintenance, repairs and upgrades … you can’t engage in certain activities without expanding, you buy some things in bulk, you hold on to leftovers for the next project, …

Anyhow. Lots of tools. Lots of parts.

Staring at my mock-up 'tainers. I think they’re a bit too small and (from online viewing) too delicate for the cost. I know they standardized on 400 x 300 mm, but an extra 50 or 100 would be considerably more practical, and reduce the outlay in number of units needed. The value is simply not there for me (at this point in time). $100 a box. $150 because it has one or more plastic drawers in it … the cost is just out of proportion for what it is.

Sortimo. I will do a quick and dirty variation of Adam Savage’s parts sorter. I already have a dozen or so stanley pro deep organizers, clear lid with yellow removable bins. Some deep. Some shallow. I picked up three more deep ones. Ordered six shallow ones. And, I will re-purpose either a pair of standing shelving racks or a pair of wheeled wire shelf racks; and instead of 5 shelves per unit, make them 10, or however many as possible; so that no bin sit atop another. I could go the cheap Harbor Freight route, like guy did, buying one bin every day with a %20 off coupon … except HF is an hour away, and I don’t have the time for that, plus I like the Stanleys better. So, that tower will save me building a custom solution, for the time being. I may build a portable carrier to slip in a couple big units (major screws, nails, lag bolts, …) at a small angle.

Tools. My Keter carts are cleaned and smell brand spanking new. Will evaluate further.

Power Tools. I have my eye on the Ridgid modular tool box on wheels. Either have them in the garage in their drawers for home use and storage. Or, for outside or away: load them in that system.

Thank you for the ongoing discussion :slight_smile:

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Icerabbit, thank you for offering up a good subject. Indeed, no two gents are going to want or need the exact same setup. I have often thought the Sortimo and Systainers were ridiculously over priced. I think they are just ABS plastic. There is no way those should cost more than $20 apiece but some of the Systainers are well over 100. Ouch. With economy of scale the manufacturers are in a much better place to add them to tool kits.

Adam Savage is one of the most fun guys to follow on the web. From his model making work to costumes, and his off the rails Sortimo collection, he has had me spending thousands of dollars in my head for years. The project of his that caught most of my OCD attention was his ‘First Order Retrieveability’ tool boxes. The vertical nature of the storage along with his idea that no tool should have to be moved to access another had my imagination going for weeks. And it coincided with my grumping about a $200 tool bag(Veto) that could not hold long drivers upright I am seriously thinking of working with a leather craftsman to make a custom version of one of the Parat tool cases.

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I ran across this when looking at CK tools - just another option/source:

More varieties at:

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I am in complete agreement with you. If 'tainers were democratized to have a fair price point per unit of $20 on avg. Let’s say $10-15 cheap and small to $25-30 larger and more complex. Sales would be through the roof. It would no longer be a niche market catering to 1:100000? 1:10000? Who would have a series of these. It would literally be world domination. Everybody would have some!

As much as I like the Sortimo thing or other organizers with all the different size bins. Let’s say one is $100. x2 = $200. Or I can buy my Stanley’s at ~17/piece. 12 units for the same price!

No variety of elongated bins, but if I were desperate, for the few I may need (let’s say I want to store drill bits in them) I am sure I could either

  • slot in a few long dividers
  • epoxy a few bins together and then take the innards out
  • create a few long ones out of thin scrap plexi.

I had not heard about Veto bags yet. Pretty nice backpacks and rugged looking tool bags.

Have you tried contacting the manufacturer with your issues and ideas. If I were the manufacturer, I would take that kind of detailed use feedback to heart, work it into the next revision of a model and send you a revised one to sample.

My primary go bag (with screwdrivers, pliers, cutters, test tools, …) these days is made by Johnson. Square bottom, loaded to the max. Wishes:

  • an inch bigger in every direction (maybe they have a rectangular one)
  • slightly taller and less floppy outside pouches (they gape open at the top vs the tightness on the bottom)
  • interior tool pouches of varied lengths versus a rubber band where some things fall through to the bottom (as I tend to put all screw drivers of one kind in a line on the rim)
  • removable vertical tool pouch or two

It is head and shoulders better and more versatile than the square husky open grab bag. Wish I never bought that thing.
It surpasses in functionality a rectangular Ridgid open bag twice its size.
But still falls a bit short.

Not that anything will ever be perfect for everyone. But certainly if you have expensive standard size tools, and you’re buying a top of the line tool bag to use for a decade plus; it better accommodate standard size tools of the trade.

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