Messy Toolbox, Tidy Toolbox

Starting in college, I began slowly  amassing a tool collection.  At first, it was just duct tape, a rubber mallet and screwdriver to handle dorm room projects.  Over the years, as more projects presented themselves, I’d head off to the hardware store to buy the necessary tools.  This scattershot approach occasionally enabled me to buy some good quality tools even when I was broke because I wasn’t buying everything at once.

“The toolbox was what we called a big ‘un. It had three levels, the top two removable, all three containing little drawers as cunning as Chinese boxes.  It was handmade, of course.  Dark wooden slats were bound together by tiny nails and strips of brass.  The lid was held down by big latches; to my child’s eye, they looked like the latches on a giant’s lunchbox.  Inside the top was a silk lining, rather odd in such a context and made more striking still by the pattern, which was pinkish-red cabbage roses fading into a smog of grease and dirt.  On the sides were big grabhandles.  You never saw a toolbox like this on sale at Wal-mart or Western Auto, believe me. . . . When Dave and I tried to lift it from its place on the garage floor, each of us holding one of the handles, we could barely budge it.  Of course we were just little kids back then, but even so I’d guess Fazza’s fully loaded toolbox weighed between eighty and a hundred and twenty pounds.”
Stephen King “On Writing

It also meant that I wasn’t very deliberate in storing my tool collection.  At some point, all of my tools ended up in an old cleaning tote.  This was less than ideal, but mostly got the job of schlepping everything from point A to point B.  One day, while carrying the tote, which had become quite heavily loaded, the handle broke off.  My tools crashed to the floor while I stood staring dumbly at the hot pink handle in my hand.

Since that day, I’ve been determined to find a proper house for my tools.  Because I love old things, I spent time scouring online auctions sites, yard sales, and even my grandpa’s workshop looking for just the right toolbox.  I was hoping for something with patina (you know, rust) and lots of storage for my tools.  I wanted something a bit like Stephen King describes.  Something … manly.

But then I read something that changed my approach drastically.

“You gotta have four things to tackle any project (1) a plan, (2) tools, (3) materials, and (4) the skills to put the first three together. . . . A few tools (e.g. tape measure, a hammer, and a drill) are no-brainers when it comes to must-have tools.  But in my 30 years as a carpenter I’ve found myself consistently reaching for a few slightly out-of-the-ordinary tools; some I keep in my tool belt (in fact, one is my tool belt), others in a bucket close by (another must-have, slightly offbeat tool. . . . 5-gallon bucket organizer).  I keep my most frequently used tools in a 5-gallon bucket organizer rather than a toolbox.  This is a fabric organizer with pockets and compartments that fits over a standard 5-gallon plastic bucket.  It’s especially handy when I’m working outside or away from my workshop.  With a bucket, I can see everything in a single glance.  The dozens of pockets keep all of the tools organized.  And if I find an empty pocket at the end of the day, I know a tool is hiding someplace it shouldn’t be.  I can easily stash long tools like 2-foot levels, framing squares, and handsaws in the bucket.  There are also a few small pockets for stashing little things I use (and lose) a lot, like driver bits and drill bits.”
Spike Carlsen “The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects

Though it seems obvious in hindsight, I had never considered there might be a better way to store tools than in an old-fashioned toolbox, with most things piled into the bottom and smaller things laid in an open tray on top.  But as soon as I saw the 5-gallon bucket organizer, I knew that is the home I wanted for my tools.  Since I do not have the luxury of a workshop, being able to store my tools in a way that also displays them was very appealing.  I also love not having to take everything out of the toolbox to get to the tool I need, which somehow always ends up at the very bottom.

Husky Bucket Jockey 5-gallon tool organizer


There are a ton of different bucket organizers available.  I simply went to Home Depot, grabbed a $3 white 5-gallon bucket and a Husky Bucket Jockey for $8.  The material feels durable and I like that there are pockets both inside and out.  Run a quick search and find a bucket organizer that suits your needs.  This is an easy and affordable way to upgrade your toolbox.  And having an organized toolbox means that you won’t hesitate next time you feel the urge to start a project or tackle a home repair.


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