The best toolbox for most people is the Milwaukee 13ʺ Jobsite Work Box (about $30). We came to this conclusion after three carpenters examined seven leading toolboxes, and once we chose the Milwaukee, I used it exclusively during an eight-month period while wrapping up a renovation. Simply put, it is the most efficient, portable, and organized toolbox we could find. The biggest difference with the Milwaukee is the way it stores tools vertically in individual slots, so they stay in place and remain easy to access. This arrangement stands in stark contrast to the “jumbled pile of tools” that you typically have with other boxes. The shape of the Milwaukee makes it easy to carry, and with its lid on, you can use it as a seat, which we found to be very convenient.
If you have limited space, as in an apartment or condo, and you need a single box for not only tools but also screws, nails, glue, tape, and picture hangers, we recommend the Stanley Click ‘N’ Connect Toolbox STST19900 (about $20). This product actually consists of two boxes that snap together; the larger one holds tools and the smaller, divided one holds accessories and smaller items. When it comes to tool storage, this Stanley box doesn’t offer much in the way of organization. All of our testers were wary of its overall durability, too. It is, however, the best all-in-one option we could find.
I’ve spent the past 15 years lugging toolboxes around. For 10 of those years, I worked in the trades as a carpenter, a foreman, and a jobsite supervisor, working on and orchestrating multimillion-dollar residential projects. I’ve been writing about tools since 2007, with articles appearing in Fine Homebuilding, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, This Old House, and Tools of the Trade, where I’m a contributing editor. During this time, I’ve seen plenty of cheap toolboxes break, and as someone who has made a living using tools, I’m well aware of the value of a nice, organized place to store equipment.
Robillard told me that the first things he looks for in a toolbox are organization and durability. Aaron Goff, one of our carpenters/testers, agreed: “In order to be efficient, my tools have to be organized. Nothing irritates me like having to dig through some big box of gear to find what I’m looking for.” Both Robillard and Goff use the highly regarded (and too expensive for home use) Veto Pro Pac XL ($180), which pioneered the idea of vertical storage, combining that design with an off-the-charts level of durability.
Oddly enough, very few toolboxes in the lower price ranges offer this style of storage. After researching the topic, we found the Milwaukee 13ʺ Jobsite Work Box. Not knowing how it would hold up, however, we also tested a wide variety of traditional toolboxes. For these products, we zeroed in on the 20- to 24-inch size range. Any smaller, and the toolbox gets too cramped; any larger, and it’s too difficult to carry around. We chose the ones to test based on company reputation and customer feedback at retailers such as Amazon and Home Depot.
In the end we decided to test the Craftsman 20-Inch Hand Tool Box ($15), the 24-inch DeWalt One Touch Tool Box ($20), the Milwaukee 13ʺ Jobsite Work Box (about $30), the Stack-On 23-Inch Pro Tool Box ($19), the Stanley Click ’N’ Connect Toolbox STST19900 (about $20), and the 23-inch Stanley FATMAX Structural Foam Toolbox ($40). Also, to satisfy our curiosity about larger toolboxes, we looked at the Milwaukee 26ʺ Jobsite Work Box ($40).
We didn’t test any low-end toolboxes like Home Depot’s Homer 19 in. Tool Box ($9) or the Kobalt 19-inch Lockable Blue Plastic Tool Box ($10). Not only are these boxes on the small side, but in my experience, boxes priced $10 or less also suffer from ill-fitting lids, flimsy hinges, and poorly lined-up latches. You might save a buck, but they’re not worth the hassle.
As for the specifics of our testing, I enlisted the aid of two fellow carpenters: Aaron Goff, who has 12 years of experience in high-end remodeling, and Mark Piersma, who has 14 years of experience. I’ve known and worked alongside these two for years, and both are particular about their tools. For our tests, they looked at the latches, the hinges, the overall durability, and any other features. They also loaded each toolbox full of tools and went through the process of working out of it. Once we decided on the Milwaukee 13ʺ Jobsite Work Box as the best of the group, I filled it with our selection of the best tools and spent eight months using it exclusively as I put the finishing touches on my three-and-a-half-year full gut and renovation of a 100-year-old farmhouse.
By providing specific areas for small, medium, and large tools, the Milwaukee proved to be the easiest toolbox to work out of in our tests, even for mundane tasks like installing a toilet-paper holder. You can grab what you need without rummaging around, and put the tool right back in place when you’re done. My tools usually end up spread out on the floor all around me—but not with this box. Beyond efficiency and organization, the design also protects more delicate tools such as torpedo levels or electronic stud finders.
The overall shape of the Milwaukee gives it a number of advantages over a traditional toolbox. Because it’s taller than it is wide, it has a compact footprint, making it perfect for the back of a closet or the corner of a garage. With the lid on, the Milwaukee is tall enough to serve as a seat, a great feature to have while you’re adjusting a doorknob.
This distinctive shape also makes the Milwaukee much easier to carry around fully loaded than a traditional toolbox. The compact design gives it a steady center of gravity, and with your tools secured in the caddy, nothing really shifts around while you carry it. With a regular toolbox, everything stays heaped in a single pile in a large open compartment, and as the tools slide and move around, the toolbox can quickly become unbalanced.
I also like the lid. It’s fully removable and has no hinges, which are usually the weakest part of a toolbox. When the handle is pivoted over to one side, the lid can come off; when it is upright or pivoted to the other side, the lid stays secured in place. The lid also has a spot for a small padlock.
As with many other construction-grade toolboxes, the lid of the Milwaukee toolbox has an angled groove that can cradle a piece of wood or a pipe, turning the toolbox into a quick-and-dirty cutting station. It offers no way to clamp the wood in place, and the groove is only 11 inches long, but I found the feature to be helpful for small tasks here and there, such as trimming little window stops for a French door that I refurbished.
According to Milwaukee, the box can withstand 1,000 drops with a 25-pound load. We didn’t confirm this last part, but we did bang the toolbox around enough to be convinced of its long-term durability.
Even while it’s holding all of your essential hand tools, the Milwaukee toolbox still has room to accommodate more gear as your needs grow. Or you can use the additional space for other supplies such as duct tape or a can of WD-40.
Because the tools sit vertically, the maximum length of a tool that can fit in the Milwaukee 13ʺ Jobsite Work Box is around 15 inches. Slightly larger ones can work if you put them in at an angle, but the box offers only so much room for you to do that. This restriction means that items such as a big drill-bit case or a long framing hammer won’t fit. With everything that this toolbox has to offer over the competition, not easily fitting a couple of larger tools is a small price to pay. Still, the Milwaukee has no problems storing all of the core hand tools like wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, and a 16-ounce hammer.
We also like the Stanley Click ’N’ Connect Toolbox STST19900 (about $20) for its modular design, but it has nowhere near the organizational capabilities or the durability of the Milwaukee 13ʺ Jobsite Work Box. The Click ’N’ Connect includes two separate boxes that you can click together for easy storage and transport. You can fill the boxes however you like, but the obvious way is to use the larger upper box for tools and the smaller, lower box as an organizer for picture hangers, nails, glue, and other accessories. Both boxes can accept the included dividers, but those pieces work better in the lower box.
The main storage basin in the upper box can comfortably fit most of our recommended essential tools but has problems with the large drill-bit case. It has a slot for three dividers the long way and three the short way, but even with some of those pieces in place, the tools pile up somewhat and need sifting through.
Like the Milwaukee, the Stanley upper box has a removable lid, not a hinged one. But on the Click ’N’ Connect the lid offers two compartments good for smaller items like pencils and a voltage tester.
The light-duty construction of the Click ’N’ Connect boxes was obvious to all three of us carpenters/testers. None of us would use it on a jobsite, but we thought it was sturdy enough for light home use. The primary weakness is that all of the clasps (the ones that hold the lids on and keep the boxes together) are plastic. In the time I’ve been testing the Click ’N’ Connect, the boxes have held up fine, and the clasps haven’t loosened (yet). Plus, the handle is very small, and overall the Stanley feels much bulkier to carry around than the Milwaukee.
We believe that the Milwaukee offers much more than the Stanley in both durability and organization, but we can also see this toolbox being a good option for an apartment dweller who has limited space and wants to keep everything—including fasteners, nuts, and bolts—in one easy-to-access container.
The Click ’N’ Connect has good customer feedback at Home Depot and Amazon (where it is often priced at almost $40). Users at both websites currently give it scores in the low to middle four-star range, with many of the negatives coming from contractors who used the Click ’N’ Connect for work and found the durability of the boxes to be a disappointment.
The other toolboxes we tested were all good, solid items, but they didn’t offer organization options beyond a single large basin and a removable tray. After we dug into the neatly arranged Milwaukee 13-inch box, we had a hard time justifying the competitors’ traditional design and the resulting giant heap of tools.
The 24-inch DeWalt One Touch Tool Box ($20) is nice due to its one-handed latch and overall durability. The 23-inch Stanley FATMAX Structural Foam Toolbox ($40) is pretty similar, but it doesn’t offer much beyond the DeWalt to justify being twice as expensive. The Stack-On 23-Inch Pro Tool Box ($19) is a basic model with a tray taking up the entire top of the basin. We liked this design because it’s nice and big, but we disliked having to remove the tray every time we needed one of the tools stored below. We also checked out the much larger Milwaukee 26ʺ Jobsite Work Box ($40), but it’s just way too big for home use.
The least expensive box we looked at, the Craftsman 20-Inch Hand Tool Box ($15), proved to be a nice, easily stackable bare-bones model. Keep it in mind if your tools and accessories grow to the point where you need to start separating them (plumbing gear, electrical gear, and so on). The Craftsman has good customer feedback, with most owners commenting that for the money, it’s a nice little toolbox (we agree).
Like Robillard and Goff, I’ve used a Veto Pro Pac XL ($180) for years. I see it as the pinnacle of tool storage due to its extreme durability and vast storage options, but with it closing in on $200, it’s way too expensive for home use.
You can find some other options that offer vertical tool storage as the Milwaukee does, but they all have their faults. Electrician’s tool pouches such as the Custom LeatherCraft 1528 ($40) don’t have lids and aren’t that big. Another style is the bucket liner, such as the Bucket Boss ($25), which basically consists of a saddle bag that fits over a 5-gallon bucket. These liners offer a ton of pockets for tools that you store vertically, but everything remains fully exposed, with some tools positioned on the outside of the bucket. This arrangement makes the bucket tough to store and carry. Secondly, a bucket with a liner goes deeper than the Milwaukee 13-inch toolbox and lacks the removable caddy, so you can easily lose tools at the bottom of the bucket. The Milwaukee toolbox’s basin is much easier to keep clean.
Finally, many high-end tool companies also sell modular storage systems. The Bosch LBOXX collection, for example, consists of boxes that you can click together and carry around on a dolly. Such systems are convenient for the professional but generally priced way out of the range of the homeowner, usually $50 and up for a single box.
(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)
Originally published: August 17, 2015
Light a match.