Updated on September 1, 2021
A tool chest, tool box, or tool cart is a personal sort of domain, and everyone has a different idea of the perfect layout for their tools. On the other hand, a little consideration for the tools involved will help you decide where they should be located in the hierarchy of tools.
See Also: Best Tool Chests and Cabinets for the Money
Rather than provide you with a blueprint for your own tools, we put together some tips and suggestions to make your tools easier to use as you need them.
Sorting Tool Types
If you have tools that come in more than one specific type, such as SAE and metric tools, keep them in separate drawers to avoid confusion.
If you have the space available, sorting drive and socket sizes will also save you time in the long run, as you will know exactly where to go for any specific size and drive of socket.
Sorting tool types is also helpful with different screwdriver sizes, allowing you to put slotted, Phillips, and screwlock drivers in their own locations. Where space is available, break up your tools accordingly, including separating punches from chisels and other fine distinctions.
Top to Bottom
Keeping your sockets in the upper drawers makes them easier to get to, read the markings, etc. A good socket organizer is a must have. Depending on the drawer height, you can go with a couple different options.
The middle drawers can be used for screwdrivers, wrenches, specialty tools, chisels, etc., or they can be put to whatever specific purposes you may have.
A well-cushioned drawer liner for at least these drawers makes a huge different. Tools stay where they’re supposed to and both them and the metal drawer bottoms stay protected.
Plastic drawer ogranizers also work well here. One of my favorites is the 6-compartment tray from Harbor Freight. Cheap and versatile. I think I have about a dozen of them total in my tool chests. You can never have too many drawer organizers.
For obvious reasons, your heavier tools should be located in the lower drawers of the tool chest. This provides more stability for the chest, and has the added benefit of keeping heavy tools near ground level for chests that are portable.
Similarly, power tools require more space for storage, and the lower drawers may be the only storage option if you keep a drill, jigsaw, portable bandsaw, or other larger tools in your tool chest.
By contrast, some craftsmen say that the best layout is to have the most commonly used tools in the center drawers. While this may make sense for some, it has a tendency to clutter those drawers as tools migrate from the other drawers to, effectively, center stage.
Unless your tool box has a lot of extra room, this method may not work out.
Easy Access with Pegboard
If you use specific tools often, save yourself time and hang them from pegboard or other hooks. This will not work if you have a mobile tool chest, but it would be an excellent way to keep commonly used tools at hand in your garage or workshop.
Because of the way many wrench sets are manufactured, the boxed ends are a perfect way to hang – and sort – your wrenches.
Do It Your Way
In the end, you should organize your tool chest to fit you and your usage, the same as a professional would setup their tool belt. Keep commonly used tools close at hand and store rarely used ones in the most out of the way places.
Sort tools by use, color, manufacturer, or age. As long as they are in a spot where you can find them when you need them.
Labeling your drawers is another option for the OCD crowd and looks great. The only rule is to make sure the heaviest items are near the bottom of the chest.
You can find a million different chest owners to give you a million different views of the best tool layout, but the only which which truly matters is going to be your own.
Above all, spend some time to plan your setup. There’s nothing worse that constantly having to change the location of tools.
12 thoughts on “How to Organize a Tool Chest Like a Pro”
These are some great ideas for organizing a tool box. It’s interesting to know that some craftsmen say that the more commonly used tools should be in the center of the drawers. I would be interested in learning more about their reasoning for this. Perhaps it’s beneficial for the balance of the box, or maybe it’s based on their type of work.
My biggest tip? Get a tool chest big enough for all your stuff so you don’t have to explain to your wife why you need another one 3 months later. Ask me how I know.
Haha. Been there… done that…
Couldn’t agree more.
Thanks for these tips. I have one very large tool chest and another smaller one, and it’s been a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what should go where. I will chime in that as a female on the shorter side, I have found that I keep the smaller bits, sockets, wrench sets ect in the middle to lower drawers so that I can see them easier. Not that the large chest is all that high, but I do have to peer inside the top drawers and the top shelf is above my eye line.
Great tips. I got a 10-drawer rolling chest from my wife for Christmas 2019, and I have a pegboard and some old wooden bookshelves I’ve been using for 20 years that have gotten very cluttered. I was wondering what I should put on the wall and what should go in the drawers. I like the “most commonly used” for the wall. This will also get me a chance to weed out extra tools (exactly how many hammers and screwdrivers do I need, anyway?!).
I think everyone will have their own preferences over time but “most commonly used” going on the pegboard is a good starting point but don’t be surprised if you start moving stuff back to your tool chest or shelves. Personally, I thought I’d use my pegboard a lot more than I actually do. Now it’s simply a place to hold larger/longer tools (level, hand saws, squares, etc.) that would take up too much space in a drawer. It doesn’t help that my tool bench is a little deeper than I’d like so reaching for tools on the pegboard behind it could be easier.
I recently upgraded to a larger box (both upper and lower). I moved all my hand tools to the larger box and kept the old one for special tools like alignment and suspension tools, clamps, spring compressors or anything that comes in a kit like tap sets and such.
Can’t go wrong with multiple cabinets. Sounds like a good setup.
I use two, smaller-size rolling tool chests, may get a third. Both about 4′ high, ~7 drawers, top lid area, and large “garage” opening in bottom for heavier tools or supplies. Sometimes on sale about $100 at Ace. First chest was for regular tools, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, cutters, etc. Justified to wife a second chest to hold automotive tools.
Multiples let you maneuver them around when you want to reorganize, or what I call double-stacking. Example: I park my auto tools chest right in front of against the doors of my auto supplies cabinet. Like items are grouped together, and I can easily move the auto tools chest out of the way if I need something from the cabinet behind it. Also, when I work on cars in driveway, I can just maneuver out my auto tools chest instead of a GIGANTIC CHEST OF ALL TOOLS.
Pegboards: new house has them, didn’t think I’d use them. Now planning to get more. Small garden tools and pruners on one pegboard by back door, now easy to grab and put them back. 8′ x 4′ pegboard for hammers, prybars, hand miter saw, hacksaw, propane torch, lug nut wrench, carpenter square, staple gun, caulking gun, hard hat, face shield, etc.
Almost like a display, hung lug nut wrench in X form, then carpenter square in bottom triangle are of it, etc. Things that I hate digging around for because I don’t use them often. Now looking to get a ceiling pulley system for bikes.
Thanks Joe for describing your setup. Lots of good info there.
i have my wife thinking you need 1 box for mechanical tools another box for home repair tools and most important a crash box that i need for my race car