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Good Storage keeps everything secure, goods are packed densely without wasting space, and its easy to locate and get to items.

IME poor storage is worse than not having the thing at all. There's little point owning something if you can't find it, or it takes excessive work to get to it.


Shelving Units

  • Full height shelving is a very effectve way to achieve high storage density

Cardboard boxes

  • When stacked on shelf units these work well.
  • Cost nothing
  • Better storage efficiency if you stick to a standard box size. 11"x15" is a common and convenient size.
  • Boxes make poor storage when stacked with no shelves, as they make access very difficult.
  • Boxes deform on impact, providing some protection to items stored inside.
  • Vulnerable to water, rodents & insects
  • Replace the parcel tape holding the base with duct tape to avoid a burst.

Mini drawer units

  • Space hungry when wall mounted
  • An accident waiting to happen when not wall mounted
  • Good if wall mounted where you have a small space in which nothing bigger fits.
  • Useful for small quantities of small items
  • Access as easy as it gets

Tool chests

  • A good way to move quite a lot of tools in one go to any location in the workshop
  • If the castors or wheels are large, enable easy moving of lots of tools anywhere in a single floor house or flat. Not as useful for multi-floor houses
  • Look professional
  • Relatively expensive

Plastic Storage Boxes

Compared to cardboard boxes, they are:

  • higher cost
  • give less impact protection
  • less ideally shaped, containing less goods per external size
  • matching replacements may be unavailable when some are broken or deteriorate in time
  • waterproof: ones with tight fitting lids can protect items from flood
  • ratproof
  • insectproof
  • vulnerable to some solvents
  • some are see-through, which is handy when no effective content information is stored.

Melamine drawer units

  • Standard domestic white chipboard drawer units store tools, and look reasonable in the house.
  • Their weakpoint is drawer load rating. It is a good idea to add extra fixings to the drawer rails to make them more robust, and glue the drawer bottoms in place. (don't do that with real wood drawers.)
  • Don't pull the drawers fully out in use, as it would put a lot of force onto a small part of the plastic rails

Multicompartment trays

Very useful for storage of small parts.

Multicompartment trays are a good way to take a range of things with you, such as screws, nails, plugs, washers etc.

Burstproof latches are a must IME. Many multicompartment trays lack these, and the first time you drop one the stuff goes everywhere. I would not consider buying multicompartment trays without seeing them properly first, and knowing they were burstproof.

I'd also reject the very few trays I've seen made of hard brittle plastics, as they would be vulnerable to breakage.

Small multicompartment trays are of limited use. Large ones with small divisions give easy access to a wide range of items, hold a useful quantity and are practical to stack.

Some 1 week pill trays are usable as miniature multicompartment trays with tiny compartments. Good for storing the smallest of items. Pick the ones with secure snap shut lids.

Place open multicompartment cases with care, a single knock can make a real mess.

Tool holders

Various types of tool holders are useful where you need instant access to a very limited range of tools, and don't mind space-inefficient storage.

Tool holders come in various forms, such as:

  • Row of clips
  • Piece of sheet material with holes in for various tools
  • Strip of gutter for standing tools in
  • Horizontal strip of elastic stapled at many points along its length
  • Blocks for knives, bits & small tools

Where you need quick access to more tools, or need to store more in a given space, trays usually work better.

One idea that has not been tested is that it might be possible to store a lot more tools in a given space by having several hinged toolholding strips, so that some are pushed aside to reach the wanted rack, somewhat like a hinged poster rack. A bumper piece on the outer edge of each rack would prevent tools interlocking, stopping rack movement.

Drill bits


Commercial drill bit cases hold a pre-decided set of bits. These are a good starting point for storing & carrying drill bits, but the bits in the cases are too often not the ones you'll want, and such cases have no expansion room, and no ability to change their internal storage arrangements.

It is easy to make something better. Make a Drill Bit Case


Cloth rolls may also be used to carry drill bits. These are very simple to make on a sewing machine. Ensure there is a flap that is folded over before the roll is rolled up, else the bits fall out!

Heavy Bits

Large heavy bits are best stored separate to the lighter ones. This makes the case light & easy to carry when the big boys aren't needed.

Portable Tool Storage


  • The Cloth toolbag is a traditional tool carrier
  • Does not protect contents against bumps
  • Bag & owner are vulnerable to sharp tools within the bag
  • Lightweight yet durable
  • minimum weight makes it ideal where a lot of tool moving is involved.
  • Less thief interest than toolboxes, simply because most people aren't familiar with toolbags, and don't realise what the contents are.
  • A good quality toolbag can last a lifetime, whereas cheap ones wear out quickly.


  • Steel, plastic & wooden toolboxes available
  • Heavier than other carriable options
  • Some open several trays out when opened, making access much better
  • Compartments make things easier to find, and reduce risk of minor injury on sharp tools
  • Container gives some protection to tools against bumps, but does the opposite for the person carrying it.
  • thin carpet or felt in the drawers reduces noise
  • Some are lockable. The security this offers is limited, but better than nothing.

Carrier bag

  • A basic free tool carrying bag
  • Weak; pointed tools poke their way out very quickly
  • Using bags placed one inside the other improves strength & bag survival to some extent
  • Tougher paid-for bags are a good deal stronger than thin freebies
  • Poor appearance minimises thief interest

Rolling Toolchest

  • Chest of drawers on wheels, traditionally painted red
  • A heavyweight option
  • A high price option
  • Showy appearance attracts thieves
  • Not carryable, which makes moving it a fair bit more difficult than carryable options.
  • These often come with inserts moulded to fit a pre-decided set of tools, which is unlikly to be the selection you want in the chest.
  • Foam sheet can be cut to take any new tool arrangement

Flight Cases

  • Aluminium cases with foam inserts or thin wood dividers
  • Practical for all but heavy tools
  • Lighter than traditional steel toolbox but higher cost
  • A non-trades-like appearance


Being able to find the item quickly is almost as important as having it. Something is no use if you fail to find it, in fact it has only wasted time & space.

Shelf Labelling

Labelling the shelf fronts is a quick simple way to make things easier to find.

White parcel tape and whiteboard markers give a wipeable labelling system. Good where the writing wont be rubbed off. For more robust marking, a waterproof pen can be cleaned off with solvents.

Computerised inventory

This is the King of record keeping. With a computer text file, the wanted item can be searched in a second or so. IME the most effective of all systems by far.

Boxes must be numbered (or otherwise labelled) for this to work effectively. The file needs updating when things are moved. Always keep proper backups of the data.

It does take time to inventory everything, but IME the time saved far outweighs this.

Having the file on a portable computer such as a palmtop is a lot more convenient than on the desktop IME.

Data Storage

Access to data is useful for information you've forgotten, to check things, look up tables, to help work out how to do a difficult job, or to tell someone where to look to find a widget in storage (when you didn't bring the widget widja didja).

A laptop is a practical way to make a database available away from home (as well as outdoors etc). It also means that you can if necessary connect to internet via dialup from any premises with a phone socket, which can be useful on occasion.

A nice shiny laptop amid a work site is a recipe for accident and cost, as well as a security problem. An old laptop such as a 486 or P1 does the job without the downsides. Displaying a Win 3.1 or 95 splash screen is a good way to put thieves off.

See Tool Theft for more security info

See Also

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