As a commercial and industrial electrician on the West Coast of British Columbia I spent several years servicing customers in remote locations that were accessible only by a long boat ride, float plane or helicopter. Under conditions like this it was critically important that I pack every tool that I was likely to need to complete the job ahead, while also anticipating and packing for the inevitable ‘unexpected’ problems that would come up. This led me to develop a system of packing tools that was both efficient and thorough, a system I still use to this day as a full-time woodworker, both in my shop and for the portable tools I take on the road.
When I began using this system, the only containers I had available to use were Rubbermaid totes, track bags and an old beat up metal toolbox. Storing and sorting my tools was a challenge, at best. Now there is a myriad of options for taking tools on the road in an orderly fashion. When I put together a tool bag, I group tools together according to what they do. For example, the first dedicated tool bag I saw was made of heavy-duty leather for electricians. After many years of use toting a complete set of electrical tools to thousands of jobs, it is still going strong. Most importantly, since I started using this system, I’ve not accidentally left any tools behind after a long day.
Almost every tool company has a tool bag or tote in their product line and they all have different features, from the basic soft-side bags like the Samona and Irwin to the more specialized bags like the Veto XL. There is a solution for everyone from the casual woodworker to the serious professional. Before you pick up a bag you should have a clear idea of what you want to use it for. A bag used to haul hand tools such as pliers, screwdrivers and wire cutters will need to have different features than one used to haul carpenters tools, such as a framing square, hand saws and hammers. Hauling small power tools like sanders and drills requires yet another configuration.
When you show up at a customer’s house with all of your tools neatly laid out in a tool tote it will leave a favourable impression that will be reinforced every time you can quickly access every tool you need as the job progresses. And you’ll be less likely to leave a tool behind.
Tool bags come in a wide range of sizes, and the largest of these bags will virtually hold a shop full of tools. A closed top design will keep the contents from spilling out should the bag tip over or roll about in your trunk. This was the major weakness of the first tool bag I bought – it was as tall as it was wide and long, and every time it tipped, the contents would end up all over the place.
When packing your bag, try to group similar function tools together, and then always return them to the same place. If they always occupy the same space then the bag will soon relax to accommodate them more easily. Over time the location of each tool will become imprinted in your memory – you’ll be able to quickly access the right tool without having to search through the whole bag. At the end of the day you’ll quickly be able to see if anything is missing.
The Samona 32113 (samona.com), soft side bag is an open design great for jobs that will require hand tools or renovations that you’ll need some small power tools for. This bag is arranged in a tool tote format with a rigid handle over an open 16″ wide central space that is great for holding sanders, drills and other small power tools. Around the outside it also has 13 generous pockets, a 12 piece drill bit compartment, a saw slot and straps to hold a level. There are five pockets inside with eight straps for secure storage. It also comes in a kit (Item 32100) that includes both drill/driver and cell phone holsters.
The Irwin 4402013 (irwin.com), soft side bag is a semi-closed design that leaves an open space around the carrying handle. This feature allows you to carry longer items such as saws and rulers that would otherwise not fit. The Irwin bag is much more compartmentalized than the Samona version. There is an 18″ wide central tool well. On the outside front of the bag there is a zippered pouch and when the bag is opened there is a clear pouch on the inside as well, great for holding smaller items that are easily misplaced. The interior is divided into 13 pockets with 22 straps and there is storage for a level on top.
The Veto XL (vetopropac.com), is a closed hard-side bag that is, without question, the top of the line. It is built tough to withstand years of service work by professional contractors; in fact, it even comes with a five year warranty. The snaps and loops are all metal with the bottom three inches of the bag made of a hard polypropylene to provide water resistance. The bag itself is made of PVC impregnated denier with the seams all solidly backed up. My favourite aspect of this bag is the closed format that is a better option for long-term storage as well as frequent transport; the closed top keeps stray items from falling into the bag in storage and transport and the closed format keeps everything contained in the event of a spill. Open the bag and the Veto XL is fully loaded with 67 heavy duty pockets. These allow you to arrange all of your tools in an orderly way keeping everything you are likely to need at your fingertips, which will increase your efficiency on the jobsite. Fully loaded with tools, a bag such as this represents a considerable investment and it should offer the tools protection as well. A tool that is abused during transport will arrive on the job in poor condition, unfit for the task at hand. The Veto line was developed by a contractor for professionals in the trades and products built to these standards naturally cost more – think of these as another tool, not just a bag. They also offer the advantage that they are specifically targeted at certain uses, providing specialized products for specific niches. Of the six models that Veto makes you’re sure to find one that suites all your tool carrying needs.
Tool bags might not be large enough to hold all the tools you need for on-site work, particularly if you need access to several power tools in addition to a range of hand tools. For those who live in a small house, condo, or apartment and don’t have space for a shop with proper tool storage, stuffing you tools into half a dozen tool bags might not be the way to go.
The Stanley Fat Max 020800R (stanleytools.com), four-in-one mobile work station provides an efficient alternative. Pull it out when needed for full access to all your tools and then simply park it away until next time. When closed the Stanley measures a mere 22″ wide by 17″ deep and 29″ high, small enough to fit into a closet or under a workbench. Opened, it provides four storage options – a 6″ deep top box; a removable tool tray; a parts bin with eight 4″ x 5″ x 4 ½” compartments; and 14 ½” deep lower box. The Stanley uses an innovative cantilever multi-level system that allows access to all the four storage areas at the same time. Ball bearing slides ensure the compartments move smoothly even under load. A telescopic handle and large thick 7″ rubber coated wheels make it easy to move the box, which is made of a durable, impact resistant plastic. There are large, heavy-duty metal latches with padlockable eyelets. The Stanley has enough room to carry a full-sized router, circular saw, drill/driver and sander, along with load of hand tools and a goodly assortment of hardware.
Keeping your valuable tools in a protective bag will not only protect your investment, by keeping everything together, it will ensure you have what you need for the job at hand. Whichever style of tote you choose, you can take your tools with you, at least to your next job.