5 Tips to Find the Best Tool Chest

A rolling tool chest yields a surprising amount of storage in a relatively small footprint.

Owning the right tools is vital to the success of any project, but your collection does little good if you can’t find the tool you need fast. The ideal solution, rolling tool chests, pack a lot of storage into a relatively small space. But with so many to choose from, how do you know which one is right?

Specialized multi-drawer marvels are available to house everything from mechanics’ tools or woodworking implements to craft supplies or photography gear. By answering a few simple questions, you’ll be able to identify your storage priorities and choose the best option without busting your budget.

How many tools will you store?

Even if you don’t own a lot of tools now, in time your collection will grow. So you’ll need to select an option that can accommodate future purchases. Start with either a chest or a rollaway cabinet that can accept additional components, and add another piece as you need it.

If you already have a lot of tools, pay attention to the cubic-inch storage capacity of each chest and cabinet. Buy components with enough capacity, but make sure they’ll fit in your space. (Some cabinets are surprisingly large.) Standard chests and cabinets are about 26 in. wide, though wider ones (36, 40 and 52 in.) are available.

A modular storage system such as this stainless steel unit from Kobalt provides an amazing amount of storage space. Note the locks that secure the individual components together.

What size are your tools?

If you need to store mostly small items such as hand tools or parts, look for a unit with a lot of shallow drawers. Some cabinets include a take-with drawer, a removable small-parts organizer that operates like a drawer but slides out for easy portability — a great feature if you’ll be transporting small tools or parts to and from a project site.

Integrated internal locks that use a single common key provide the best security with the least hassle.

For storing bulky items such as power tools, look for deep drawers or a larger bulk-storage area. And bear in mind that many cabinets offer a combination of both types of storage by utilizing a mix of shallow and deep drawers.

How much durability do you need?

Many factors influence the overall durability of tool cabinets. Obviously, the gauge of steel used in construction makes a big difference — the heavier the gauge, the stronger the cabinet. But heavier steel also means a heavier cabinet, one that might be too heavy to easily move around your shop. To minimize the overall weight yet create a strong cabinet frame, some manufacturers such as Craftsman and Waterloo use beam-construction techniques (photo, below) to create a strong, rigid box frame that surrounds lighter sheets of steel.

Beam construction techniques, as seen on this Craftsman tool chest, improve strength and rigidity while decreasing overall weight.

Structural strength and rigidity aren’t the only factors that create a strong cabinet. How the hardware is attached can also make a big difference in overall quality. For example, the way the cabinet’s casters are attached affects both strength and performance. In stronger, more expensive cabinets, the caster-mounting area is reinforced by caster channels, U-shape brackets that mount between the caster and the bottom of the rollaway. With less expensive models, a lightweight L-shape bracket may be used, or reinforcing may be nonexistent.

Though red and black remain the most common colors, many choices (such as the bright yellow Craftsman AXS tool chest shown here) are available.

How often will you use it?

If you’re on a budget, or if you won’t be putting the tool chest to rigorous use, friction drawer slides may be the best option. Though they don’t feel as smooth as ball-bearing slides, their lower price may enable you to purchase a larger cabinet.

On the other hand, if you’ll be constantly opening and closing drawers, you’ll appreciate a chest with full-extension ball-bearing drawer slides (photo, below). Built for heavy use, they’re easier to open and close (especially when storing heavy tools) and offer easy access to drawer contents because they extend fully. Keep in mind that all ball-bearing drawer slides are not alike. A quick check of the drawer load capacities will reveal the quality and durability of the slides — the greater the load rating, the heftier the slide mechanism.

Full-extension ball-bearing slides provide smooth, easy drawer operation as well as full access to the tools stored within.

Will you move the cabinet?

Even if you don’t plan to move the cabinet around the shop or garage, casters are an important consideration because they determine the overall load rating for the cabinet — the larger the caster, the more weight the cabinet will hold. For the most maneuverability and overall ruggedness, look for large, pivoting heavy-duty casters equipped with wheel locks (photo, below). Also make sure the drawers are equipped with a detent or some other mechanism that keeps them closed. This is especially important for ball-bearing slides — without a detent, the drawers can open too easily when you’re moving the cabinet.

Heavy-duty casters equipped with wheel locks can carry a heavier load than lighter, mid-price models. Check the cabinet’s overall load rating to see how much weight it can safely handle.

Bells and Whistles
In today’s high-tech world, tool cabinets have become multimedia centers for the garage or shop. From integrated power outlets (both AC and DC, as shown here) and LED lights to built-in refrigerators, stereo systems and four-caster suspension, these hot rods of storage can exceed your wildest fantasies. Top-of-the-line models start at $1,000, and the more bling you want, the more you’ll pay.