Best Tool Chests – Buyer’s Guide

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Best Tool ChestAny avid woodworker, craftsman, or manual laborer will eventually realize that they need something to store all their tools in. Some may just throw all their tools in a plastic bin or cardboard box, but it can be frustrating to find a specific item buried underneath other things.

To get all your tools in order, tool chests can give you a lot more organization and less of a headache when trying to look for your favorite drill or need a few loose bolts. They often come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small and portable multi-drawer chests to ones that you can roll around.

Choosing a tool chest, on the other hand, can be complicated, but we’ve taken the time to choose some of the best ones that may work for you.

Best Tool Chests of 2018

Product TypeWarrantySize, WxDxHDrawers 
Kennedy Manufacturing 520B Machinist's ChestKennedy Manufacturing 520B Machinist's ChestMachinist's ChestLimited, Lifetime20.12"x8.5"x13.62"6-11Check Price  
SPG International VRB-4211BK Tool CabinetSPG International VRB-4211BK Tool CabinetTool CabinetLimited, 5 year43.25"x20.63"x38.19"11Check Price  
Craftsman 6 Drawer Heavy Duty Top Tool ChestCraftsman 6 Drawer Heavy Duty Top Tool ChestHeavy Duty Steel Chest3 years26"x12"x15.25"6Check Price  
Excel TB2040BBSA Steel ChestExcel TB2040BBSA Steel ChestSteel Chest1 year, Parts and labor26"x12.7"x15"6Check Price  
Excel TB220XAB Steel Chest Roller CombinationExcel TB220XAB Steel Chest Roller CombinationSteel Chest-24.3"x13"x29.2"8Check Price  

1. Kennedy Manufacturing 520B Machinist’s Chest – Best Tool Chest For Garage

This machinist’s chest continues the integrity of Kennedy products with its industrial quality, security, and durability. To keep your precision tools protected and clean, the two-piece welded friction drawer slides are lined with wool-felt. Each adjustable drawer can hold up to 90 pounds which is ideal for those who work with a lot of small pieces or have a big collection of small tools.

Inside the drawers are spring clips to hold contents in place to provide slipping and mixing so you can always find what you need. The drop front panel hides and secures all your drawers when it’s not being used for extra security while the key operated lock keeps your tools safe from sticky fingers.

The top handle is made of vinyl cushioned steel for a strong yet comfortable grip so that you can carry the chest with you anywhere you go. To prevent scratches and unsightly nicks, the exterior of the tool chest is coated with a brown wrinkle-coat finish and the chest itself can fit on top of any Kennedy mid chest or bottom roller cabinet.

Some users have found that this chest is highly ideal for small tools and can withstand being bumped into things or having tools dropped on it.

Other users noticed that the drawers can stick sometimes being that they’re plane slides and not ball bearing slides, but it otherwise has enough space for fine tools and materials.

PROS:
  • Ideal for small tools
  • Strong top handle for carrying
  • Drop front handle covers drawers
CONS:
  • Drawers tend to stick
  • Feels a bit flimsy

2. SPG International VRB-4211BK Tool Cabinet – Best Tool Cabinet for Heavy Duty Use

The SPG International tool chest is Canadian-made and is popular with mechanics, woodworkers, and DIY fixers alike with its tough construction that’s built to last. It features 11 full extension, ball bearing slides for smooth opening and closing, and each drawer can hold up to 120 pounds. This can make it a great chest for those that like to have a big variety of tools.

The heavy-duty casters – two of which are swivel and two fixed with toe locks – let you maneuver the chest around with ease whether you’re working in your garage, work studio, or construction site. Its double wall construction ensures that the chest won’t get easily dented while the exterior is coated in durable and scratch resistant powder-coat paint finish.

The brushed aluminum drawer trim gives you a better grip and what’s inside each drawer is pre-cut liners to protect your tools and materials. There’s a full chrome side handle for your convenience when pulling the chest around while the aluminum corner trim provides even further protection against bumps.

One user shows favor towards how smooth the drawers move and how the top long drawers are big enough to handle many medium-sized tools. The height of the chest is mostly reinforcement, but it makes it up in depth.

Another user notes that they would prefer a handle on each side considering the size of the chest and the toe stops seem rather flimsy, but overall, it’s sturdy and can be a great starter tool chest.

PROS:
  • Each drawer has a 120-pound weight limit
  • Heavy duty caster wheel for easy mobility
  • Won’t get scratched or dented easily
CONS:
  • Packaging could be better
  • Toe stops are flimsy
  • Drawer liners are thin

3. Craftsman 6 Drawer Heavy Duty Top Tool Chest – Best for Durability

Being one of the more popular heavy-duty tool chests, the Craftsman six drawer chest is built to last you years due to its tough steel construction. It can carry up to 450 pounds of items, and for easy carrying, the chest has recessed aluminum side handles. It also allows you to expand your existing bottom chest or bench top, in which it’s compatible with any Craftsman bottom chest.

The split drawers allow you to organize smaller parts such as screwdrivers, screws, or washers and can hold up to 75 pounds with little to no sagging. The aluminum pulls fit the whole length of each drawer for a better grip and they have full extension ball bearings and DynaGlide technology for effortless opening and closing.

For more security, the keyed internal locking system makes sure that each drawer is secured after you close the top lid which can come in handy on worksites or community areas. Mind that you can only open the drawers if the lid is open which may prove to be a small inconvenience to some users who need to get to an item immediately. The hinged top storage area is ideal for stowing away bulky tools such as hammers, monkey wrenches, or rubber mallets.

A couple of users praise this chest for its great craftsmanship quality which is a big factor for those who need something more heavy duty. The bearings in the drawers make them smooth and the paint finish doesn’t scratch easily.

Others say the lock is a bit flimsy and have trouble setting it flat on a level workbench, but it can definitely take a beating. The drawers tend to squeak after a while too, but lubrication can easily fix this.

PROS:
  • Won’t dent or scratch easily
  • Drawers can hold 75 pounds
  • Secure internal locking system
CONS:
  • Lock is a little flimsy
  • Tricky when stacking on top of bottom chest

4. Excel TB2040BBSA Steel Chest – Best Budget Option

For those who like multiple drawers, this Excel 26-inch steel chest is equipped with up to six ball bearing slide drawers for smooth opening and closing. It also has recessed side handles so that you can easily pick up the chest compared to those with a handle on top which have the possibility of breaking off.

There’s a top tray for access to tools you need to get to immediately and the lid activated internal locking system ensures that your tools are secured as soon as the lid closes. The coded lock comes with two keys and the sliding locks with quick release ball bearings prevents all the drawers from opening.

The drawers themselves have full length aluminum pulls for easy access to small items along with EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) drawer liners. To top it all off, this steel chest is coated with a black industrial powder paint finish for less scratches and damage.

One user states that the steel material isn’t very thick which may throw off those who are looking for something tougher. Although, the drawers are said to close rather solidly and the sliding lock on the top lid is great for keeping all the drawers tightly closed. Another user pointed out that the lid has to be open for the drawers to open which can be a bit annoying. If you don’t mind the chest not locking, you can solve this issue by simply removing the pin from the back of the lid and stashing it in one of the drawers.

PROS:
  • Smooth ball bearing drawers
  • Light built and easy to carry
  • Sliding lock secures drawers into place
CONS:
  • Lid needs to be open to open drawers
  • Not ideal for those who want something more heavy duty
  • Shape is slightly warped due to thin steel

5. Excel TB220XAB Steel Chest Roller Combination – Best Rolling Tool Storage System

If you’re looking for something bigger to add to your workstation, the Excel TB220XAB has eight ball bearing slide drawers with aluminum side pulls to store your nuts, bolts, screws, and other important pieces. There’s also a top tray for plenty of room to store tools you don’t want to sift through drawers to get to.

Being that this is a big tool chest that you can’t just carry around by yourself, the chest is equipped with smooth rolling caster wheels on the bottom for easier maneuverability around the garage, workspace, or construction ground. It has a sturdy and tough steel construction to withstand accidental bumps or dents.

The external steel locking bars along with the key lock make for simple securing of each drawer for the top section of the chest. There are two strong steel hinges to support the top lid to prevent it from closing down on your hands and the entire chest is coated with a red powder-coat paint finish for scratch and chemical resistance.

Some users have mentioned that the drawers aren’t too smooth when trying to open and close them, and the bottom door can come off easily. The steel material also tends to get dented, especially with rough shipping and handling.

Other users like how much space the drawers provide and found that it even saved room in their workspace. The caster wheels were a huge plus considering its size and weight.

PROS:
  • Lots of room for tools and small items
  • Caster wheels allow for mobility
  • External steel locking bars secure drawers
CONS:
  • Can get dented easily
  • Drawers could be smoother
  • Steel seems a little thin

Buyer’s Guide

Tool chests are designed to help you keep track of your tools and other equipment and are often great for transporting them to and from any worksite. In general, the perfect tool chest has to cater to your personal needs. DIY home improvers, carpenters, and construction workers don’t all have the same tools, thus they need a tool chest of a certain size with either a few or plenty of drawers, different materials, different weights, etc.

Below should help you decide on what to look for in a tool chest and which kind is best for you and your work.

Why Do You Need a Tool Chest?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mechanic working on a car, a crafter who works outdoors, or a handyman that likes doing DIY home improvement projects, a tool chest is a common staple to have in anybody’s household or work site. It’s important that you choose the best tool chest for your needs, so you’ll want one that’s the right shape, size, and design.

The reasons why a tool chest is so essential to have are:

  • All your tools are more organized so you can find what you need faster
  • Having tools in a chest keeps them protected from damage
  • Your tools are securely stored away so they’re not taken
  • All your items are in one convenient chest so they can be carried anywhere

Tool Chest Drawer

Material

You can find most tool chests to be made out of steel, but they can also be made of wood, synthetic material, or cloth.

Steel chests are your best bet if you need a tool chest that’s extra strong and easy to maintain. They often have handles on the sides that make it easier for you to carry, which is especially useful for those who have to commute to a construction site and load tools in the trunk. If you want a tool chest meant for a more casual use, you can also opt for aluminum or plastic.

Synthetic tool chests are designed with a nylon or denier material cover placed over a metal or wooden frame. Sometimes they can be completely made of synthetic material and look more like a sturdy bag.

Wood is a common material for tool chests too, but they are less sought after by heavy duty craftsmen and construction laborers and are more desired by light work hobbyists or woodworkers.

Design Breakdown

When you hear the word “tool chest,” this is different than a “tool box.” A tool chest typically means a large chest with or without wheels on the bottom that mechanics or heavy-duty workers typically use. They can be stacked on top of one another as long as one is a bottom box, which is a roller cabinet that has casters underneath, and one is a mid or top box that have multiple drawers with various depths.

Top boxes usually have drawers that are only about a third of the width of the box so you can have some space to store really small items. They also have a top lid that give room for larger tools like hammers or screwdrivers or just general items you need access to most of the time.

Middle boxes add just a few more drawers to the complete chest set for those that have a large collection of tools. They’re the exact length and width of the top box with a lid that holds the top box in place, although they’re not too common since not all chest stacks are designed to have middle boxes.

Difference Between Mechanics’ and Machinists’ Tool Chest

Most of the tool chests you see on the market are mechanics’ tool chests which are slightly different than machinists’ tool chests. The layout of a mechanics’ chest makes the size of its drawers designed to hold specialty tools such as monkey wrenches, screwdrivers, sockets, and other tools that a mechanic might need to practice their profession. They can also be used as tool boxes for general use if you like to use a range of different tools.

Machinists’ chests are similar to mechanics’ chests but with two different features. Their drawers are not as deep since machinist tools aren’t as bulky, and because of this, they’re also quite handy for tools used in repairing electronics. The second difference is that the drawers are typically lined to protect smaller and finer tools that machinists tend to use.

Rolling Chest or Portable Chest?

Rolling Tool Chest

Depending on if your work station is at home or you work on the field in a construction site, you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to go for a portable or rolling tool chest.

A portable tool chest is often heavy built and gives enough storage for tools like hammers, extensions, wrenches, and even smaller items like screws and bolts in its drawer trays. They let you carry your favorite and most important tools with you everywhere you go and can help prevent your tools from rusting, tarnishing, or corroding.

A rolling tool chest is typically bigger with more than 10 drawers within the cabinet. It’s highly ideal for those who work inside their garage or workshop but have too many tools to carry by hand. The rolling chest allows you to have more mobility around your work space, although it can be rather tricky if you need to take all your tools on the field.

What to Look For

There are many factors to consider when searching for a quality tool chest.

Durability and strength are the biggest priority in a tool chest. Considering that most tools are heavy and sharp, you need to find a chest that can carry these items while protecting them from damage at the same time. If you do a lot of heavy work and use bulky tools, a lightweight chest made out of plastic or aluminum isn’t really a good choice.

The smaller parts are also important towards the integrity of a tool chest. Cheap hinges made of plastic can break very easily, especially if you use your chest almost every day. You want to look for steel hinges since these are a lot stronger and sturdy so they won’t accidentally close the lid on your hands. The same goes for larger rolling cabinets.

When it comes to material, the general rule of thumb to remember is the cheaper the price, the cheaper the material. Steel tool chests may cost a bit especially if it’s industrial grade, but plastic chests may be more affordable most of the time. Most steel tool chests are coated with a scratch and dent resistant finish since steel can often rust fast once a scratch forms on the outer layer. Plastic boxes are prone to cracking or splitting, and when exposed to cold temperatures, becomes thin and brittle.

Make sure you get the right-sized tool chest for your needs. They can be pretty heavy if you’re planning to carry them around all day which can slow you down as you’re trying to work. A tool chest that weighs more than all your tools combined isn’t ideal, but be wary that it also isn’t too lightly built to the point where it can’t handle too much weight.

For jobs that require you to waste little time, this means your tool chest needs to be easy to use. Try to stay away from chests that have plastic latches because once these are broken, you won’t be able to close your chest properly which can leave your tools exposed. The wheels (if any) should be sturdy enough to easily roll your chest around with no hesitation. Try opting for ball bearing drawer slides instead of plane ones since these are not likely to stick like plane ones.

You should highly consider getting a tool chest with a well-designed locking feature to keep your tools safe from thieves. Some chests have an internal locking system that cover up the drawers after you close the top lid. Others have a key-operated lock for extra security, although it’s recommended to copy the key so you have a spare just in case.

While not entirely necessary, you can find tool chests that have built-in sections where you can separate the smaller box from the whole chest. If you work on a construction site at night, there are certain models that allow you to attach work lights. You can additionally switch out sections to either increase storage or replace components if they become damaged or worn beyond use.

Are There any Cons to Using Tool Chests?

Tool chests can help you carry and organize all your tools for the most part, but they can also have some disadvantages you should keep in mind.

Some tool chests may not practical for the field which can render them completely useless. There are also some that may be too heavy to take with you if your job requires you to commute to different work sites. Rolling chests, for example, aren’t ideal if you need a lot of tools but don’t always go to the same construction site. In this case, you may need multiple top or mid boxes since they’re easier to load onto a truck or trunk of a car.

Many tool chests may have too many drawers so it can be frustrating to remember where you put a specific tool or item without looking through all of them. This is why sticking to a simple design can help you find your tools quickly and effortlessly to waste less time.

Conclusion

From a DIY handyman to a professional mechanic, a tool chest is an essential thing to have with you to organize, carry, and protect all your tools of the trade. Some are cheap and fulfill basic needs while others are more expensive but offer many more benefits. Whichever type of chest you choose to get depends on how many tools you have and what kind they are.

Overall, a good tool chest has enough security to protect your tools, can last you many years, is durable enough to withstand dents and scratches, gives you enough space, and is easy to use.

Ryan Chambers

I'm Ryan Chambers, an enthusiast of cars and pretty girls; I try to run, repair and equip my garage on my own. On the pages of this blog you'll find all information you'll need related to the operation and repair of a home garage.

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