Tool storage

Tool boxes 1.jpg

Carrying tools in a vehicle is always a balancing act. 

First you have to decide how many to bring. Do you go with some screwdrivers and a pair of pliers, or do you go the one-case-tool-kit route discussed here in the past, and wind up with a comprehensively stocked but 62-pound-heavy Pelican case? 

Then you have to decide how to carry them. A hard case such as the Pelican is durable and easy to secure, while a soft case saves weight and can be quieter. You can go with a steel chest with a top compartment and drawers, which is excellent for organization but very difficult to keep from rattling. 

Some months ago I began assembling a tool kit that went the middle route in terms of contents. I tried to include everything I would want to do minor repairs up to and including such things as replacing a serpentine or timing belt, an alternator, or a water pump, and fit it all in a Blue Ridge Overland Gear Tool Bag (see here). After some experimentation that kit now comprises:

  • Set of screwdrivers
  • Combination wrenches from 8mm to 19mm
  • 3/8” socket/ratchet set, standard sockets 8mm-19mm, deep sockets 10mm-19mm
  • 1/4” socket/ratchet set, standard sockets 5mm-15mm
  • Channel-lock pliers, Knipex pliers, needle-nose pliers
  • Side cutters and wire stripper/crimper
  • Ball pein hammer
  • Box knife with spare blades (which function as gasket scrapers, etc.)
  • Hex keys

That totals 15.4 pounds with the bag—not bad at all. And it has been working very well for minor repairs. However, it is near capacity. I could fit in a few cold chisels and a circlip plier, for example, but that would be it. If I wanted or needed to carry more tools I’d need another solution. Of course I could add another Blue Ridge bag, but I’d still be limited in my tool selection by things that simply wouldn’t fit—a hacksaw, for example, or my 18-inch 1/2” Snap-on ratchet, or a big no-bounce hammer such as the Park model here

Alternatives? A smaller Pelican case than the 1550 is an obvious and excellent choice, but I wanted to try something different.

I’ve always been attracted to cantilever tool boxes. I like the elegant way they bloom open, and the organization offered by the trays, whether it’s a two- or four-tray model. Perusing the usual sites revealed lots of Chinese-made versions for under $30, but the innate complexity of a cantilever box made me leery, and one I inspected at a hardware store did nothing to relieve my prejudice. So I landed on an $80 Italian-made Beta C20 four-tray box on Amazon (“Tools not included”), in can’t-miss orange. I was impressed with the quality, which seemed a definite step up from the cheaper models. 

Tool boxes 2.jpg

Compromises immediately became apparent compared to the soft case. Noise, chiefly—I could strap down the Blue Ridge bag so it barely tinkled; not so the steel box. I’d need to use One-Wrap velcro straps to bind wrenches and things to cut down on the racket on a bumpy road with the box in the back of the FJ40 (in the bed of a pickup or elsewhere more isolated it wouldn’t be a problem). Weight was also an issue—with the same contents as the Blue Ridge bag it was eight pounds heavier. Since I always secure tool cases with a ratchet strap, I don’t consider the steel box to be significantly more of a hazard in an accident—you wouldn’t want to be hit in the head with a “soft” case filled with 15 pounds of steel—but it does need more of its own space, and could conceivably gouge other equipment if not packed carefully.

On the other hand, the organization of those top trays is a wonderful feature: Grabbing frequently used tools such as screwdrivers or wrenches is easy. And the capacity is vastly up on the bag; my long ratchet, hacksaw, and hammer fit lengthwise easily, and the volume in the main compartment would allow me to carry significantly more tools if I wanted or needed to. It wouldn’t match the capacity of the Pelican 1550, but then I couldn’t stuff enough into it to match the weight either. So I call it a viable alternative for a mid-sized tool kit, and worth considering depending on your own needs.

 The four-tray cantilever box containing the tools from the Blue Ridge bag. Plenty of room left over. 

The four-tray cantilever box containing the tools from the Blue Ridge bag. Plenty of room left over.