Rosewood finish gives a high-quality appearance, as do chromed latches and handles. Drawers are felt lined to provide protective storage for delicate instruments.
A replica of traditional cabinets, but imported and lacking the brand’s original handmade quality. Mostly veneered, not solid wood.
Compact design, easy to transport. Drawers stay locked between uses, safer for children. Craftsman product with reputation for quality.
Top lid must be opened to unlock other drawers. Some drawers can wobble or become unbalanced. No separate space for small tools and parts.
Solid steel construction with a secure lock. Castor wheels move smoothly under load. Drawer space is ample and drawers slide easily.
Some reports of damage upon arrival. Assembly pieces may be missing. Drawers may be shallower than expected.
Compact design makes it very portable. Most tools will lie flat in drawers. Friction slides are surprisingly smooth.
Locking mechanism seems fragile. Drawers can become misaligned and ball bearing slide drawers would be an improvement.
A nice midsize organizer at a competitive price. Full-length piano hinge is a plus, as is the locking top. Offers plenty of storage without being bulky.
Bearing drawer slides could be of better quality. Though steel, it’s not sturdy or strong enough for heavy-duty use.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
If you’ve got more than a handful of tools, you’ll soon find yourself in need of something to store them in that has more strength and versatility than a simple plastic box. If home auto repair or any kind of engineering is your thing, or you have large numbers of wrenches and sockets for work, a proper tool chest is indispensable.
There are plenty to choose from, ranging from tough, portable three-drawer cabinets up to massive workbench/storage chest combinations. In fact, there is something for every kind of mechanic and machinist, from watchmaker to boilermaker.
Having huge choice is nice, but it can be problematic. Exactly what should you be looking for? BestReviews has been finding the answers for you. We have several recommendations that showcase the variety of sizes and configurations available and give you an idea of prices. In the following buyer’s guide, we look at the features in more detail.
Descriptions can be confusing, so before we go any further, let’s clarify the terminology.
Tool box: A tool box is primarily portable — its main job is to get your tools from point A to point B. These days tool boxes are usually made of plastic. Towable tool boxes can be pretty big, and they need wheels to get them around.
Tool chest: This might be portable (this goes for tool cabinets, too), but it’s not its primary function. Tool chests are likely to spend most of their time in one place, which might be a van or truck, but it stays there. It seldom goes back and forth between home and jobsite, for example. With the exception of a few wooden models, tool chests are made of steel. They include a number of drawers so that tools can be highly organized for quick and easy access. These are the products we’re looking at here.
The quantity and type of tools you own will have a big impact on the tool chest you choose. If you have a lot of wrenches, you might need several shallow drawers. If you have several power tools, you’ll need some deeper drawers or a cabinet section. This is why you’ll see such a wide variety of designs and configurations in tool chests. In many, a top tray is sufficient for large devices, with drawers underneath for smaller tools. This is a popular layout in smaller tool chests. Others have drawers at the top with a large open cabinet below.
In our view, there’s a difference between portability and mobility. A portable chest can be lifted and carried to another location (although side handles and big muscles might be required). A mobile chest will probably stay in the same workshop, but it has wheels so it can be moved occasionally. And some are completely stationary.
As well as capacity, you’re going to want to think about where the tool chest will go. A shallow but wide chest might be your first thought, but it could require considerable real estate, taking up what might otherwise be valuable worktop space. In that case, maybe a taller, narrower cabinet would fit your workshop better.
Though not always publicized, the gauge (thickness) of steel has a direct impact on strength. Thicker steel makes for greater durability but adds weight. Top manufacturers often give a maximum load rating for the drawers, which can be anywhere from around 10 pounds up to 200 pounds.
Lining: Quality drawers are often lined, usually with ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) mats to cushion tools and protect them from the steel of the drawer and from banging into each other.
Width: While the drawers in many tool chests are full width, a combination of wide and narrow drawers might offer increased versatility.
Slides: A sticking drawer soon becomes frustrating, so you want the drawers in your tool chest to glide easily. Designs vary, but the best have slides supported by ball bearings, which are extremely resistant to wear. However, this is a more expensive option, so you probably won’t find them on cheap tool chests.
Worktop: Some larger tool chests have a wooden worktop, so you don’t necessarily lose space that would otherwise be occupied by a workbench. This type might also offer the added convenience of a built-in power strip.
Stackable: Some tool chests are designed to be stackable, or you can find some that are made up of a rolling base, midsection, and portable upper unit. If you expect to expand your tool kit over time, it might be worth buying one piece knowing there are compatible units you can add later.
We usually look at the length of a warranty as a reflection of the maker’s confidence in the quality of its products. A few offer a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects in their tool chests.
Organizer tray: Ernst Manufacturing Organizer Tray
Available in several different colors, this sturdy plastic 11 x 16-inch tray is just what you need to organize small tools, components, or spare parts. It’s tough and resists fuel and solvents.
Socket organizer: Olsa Tools Socket Storage Trays
In drawers, sockets can soon become a jumbled mess, and hunting for the right one tests your patience (and takes time)! These simple but efficient trays are the answer. They’re marked in both metric and SAE sizes, making all your sockets instantly accessible.
Inexpensive: You can find solidly built steel three- and four-drawer portable tool chests for between $60 and $100. You might find cheaper ones, but we’d advise checking the thickness of the steel and the component quality very carefully.
Mid-range: From $100 up to $500 or so, you have a wide range of high-quality fixed and mobile cabinets or cabinet/toolbox combinations. These are big enough and tough enough to satisfy the most enthusiastic home user and most tradespeople.
Expensive: Tool chest prices correspond broadly with size, so those that cost over $500 are either very large, extremely durable, or quite specialized. For the professional, these are worth the investment, but prices can exceed $1,500.
Some people have really extensive tool kits, so we also looked at a few bigger chests. The 41-inch Montezuma Triangle Toolbox is an unusual shape, but it suits a quite specific function: to provide fast, easy access to large collections of sockets and wrenches. There’s also more storage beneath the purpose-designed racks. At 46 inches wide, the Husky Extra-Deep Mobile Workbench is a great all-rounder for those who need lots of tool storage and plenty of workspace. Big, sturdy wheels give it good mobility, and there’s an integrated power strip with four outlets and two USB ports. If you need to store large tools in a hardworking environment, you’ll struggle to find anything tougher than the 60-inch JOBOX Piano Box. It’s massive in every way, very secure, and close to indestructible. Ideal for the jobsite.
Q. What is EVA?
A. Ethylene-vinyl acetate, a copolymer, is often referred to simply as “poly.” In tool chests, it’s used to make foam drawer liners that cushion your tools, helping to keep them from sliding around and damaging each other. It’s also very hard wearing and resistant to oils and common workshop chemicals.
Q. What is powder coating?
A. Basically, it’s a layer of plastic polymer applied to the steel in the form of a powder and then heated to produce a protective coating. It’s very popular because it’s inexpensive yet much tougher than paint. It also holds its color better.
Q. Most tool chests give the size in inches. What does this measurement refer to?
A. It’s the overall width, so it’s important to look at all the dimensions when making your choice. It’s easy to think a 26-inch tool chest will hold more than a 16-inch model, for example, but the latter could be much taller.