Drawers To The Rescue

An installer gets organized on site, and life is good again. January 23, 2012

When I install, which is not full time, there's always one thing that makes me crazy. Reaching for and not instantly finding small items like a certain bit or impact extension, a certain screwdriver, a cache of hardware specific to the install... If there were only 20-30 small items, this would not be a problem. I could be wrong, but 200 items is a little closer to reality.

In the shop I solved the problem with 3 heavy drawer cases - 26 drawers. 16 are 3 inch front, 2 3/8 box for instant access to the small stuff. Race mechanics have been doing this small drawer thing for years. They also have a crew to roll around the 1 ton Snap-On boxes.

Every time I have the crazy notion of taking a small mechanic type chest on site, the problem of size and weight rears its ugly head. Yes, a 5 or 6 drawer chest would be great, but who's going to hoist that thing up a flight of stairs? In most situations, a 26 to 28 inch wide chest would be impossible to maneuver close to the action in a kitchen or closet.

So there have been years of buying the same plastic box with a tray on top for small stuff and everything known to man in the bottom. You might have 2 or 3 of these. The big ones get to be really heavy and you might have that plastic divider thing with the clear lid for the screws and bits where you have to reach down 3 inches for one more item.

Once you're in place, it's time to go fishing in that deep bottom well for whatever you need and try not to pull everything out and make a mess. The tray sections are full of small tools, so you dig around or just get frustrated and unload one of the sections. Oh wait, it's not there! Try again in the next one. Repeat 20 times during the day. Why did I buy this? 50 bucks! Repeat the purchase a few times for a better portable dumpster.

Sortainers - I noticed these years ago, but $127 for an 8 inch plastic box? You've got to be kidding me. I passed these off as a silly setup for rich weekend warriors. Years pass, and I look again. Still expensive. 3 drawer units and a tall storage box at the base with the dolly unit. The 11X15 girth doesn't contain much per unit, but vertically it has possibilities. A set breaks down into 2, 3, or 4 parts for transport, so stairs are not a problem. Once inside, I have a mini tower of drawers on wheels.

Can I build it cheaper and better? Wood and metal would make each box very heavy, then I add the tools to each box, make a dolly, and design some kind of system to clamp the parts together. Then there's the lock to hold each drawer in place. More metal, more weight. A small version of an existing design will be just as heavy. A waste of time.

This 42 inch tall rolling plastic thing weighs 25-30 lbs empty. It costs 12 times as much as the black box. I finally give in and buy a 4 box rig with a little dolly that snaps on the bottom. I have 30 days to change my mind, so I order just before a long installation period.

I load the small/medium/large drawers and move around a few of the small ones to locate things in some orderly fashion. Bits, screws, connectors in a row with a few dividers for sizes. Impact bodies and batteries in a drawer, etc. It will change a few times, but things begin to click as I put it together.

The test with this rolling plastic set of small drawers was a dramatically new experience. Locating was intuitive and instead of keeping lots of small parts out where I could find them, I put them back in their drawer. Instead of walking across the room to the tool box and getting on my knees, I roll the set close and open a drawer standing on my feet.

It doesn't solve everything, but it did eliminate searching for all the small stuff. Once back in the shop, instead of unloading, I just let it sit there. I don't have to take out the small tools and parts for shop work and get them back into other drawers. Unlike the black box, this thing is seeing duty in the shop.

Did someone in the US design these? No. Did the Chinese design something close and sell it cheap at Lowes? No. Perhaps I'm yet another cabinetmaker who is a little too lodged in his shop comfort zone. Yes, it costs way the hell too much, and no, I'm not giving it back.

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Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor K:
We have a similar rolling unit for refacing. For other install items, we set up a system based on process, but we also do more than just cabinets. For example, we have a color-coded system. Yellow box is for electrical items needed on installs, orange is for cabinet installs, black is for plumbing, red is for countertops, orange for cab installs, etc.

Because you have duplicate items in each box (screwdrivers, etc), each item in each box is also color tagged using colored electrical tape (placed where the hand is not likely to touch it). Makes it easier to know which box to chuck it into.

Most commonly used items on top, others underneath. Screw boxes contain items commonly used for each task (screws, brads, nails, nail punch, etc.). All of these boxes are right near the bay door on racks, ready to be grabbed on the way out.

In the shop, each bench has what it needs for that function. We've found that if you need an item that you don't have at a particular bench, you are better off just buying it again, rather than running between benches and trying to keep track of it. For these, we have workstations by number, and the tools are engraved with the station number. Makes it easy to know where things go.

Interestingly enough, even with employee idea ownership, no matter what system you put in place, there will always be someone who doesn't follow it, and things will get misplaced despite the logic or system.

From contributor C:
And here I thought I was the only one who hated going down to the truck to get that thingamabob that I thought I brought up to the worksite but didnít. Oh dargonit, I left it back at the shop! This happens to me ten times a day and I've thought of buying two of everything, but that would take the fun out of it. I often complain about the need to pack and unpack the pickup so that I can bring all the tools from the shop that I might need to the worksite.

From the original questioner:
Even though the chest is a better solution to organizing in my situation, I still screw it up after a few days and have to reset things I misplace when I'm in a rush or just tired.

Contributor K, you have my respect. It's just me and 1 or 2 guys most of the time. I couldn't imagine dealing with more people and expecting tools to stay organized. Contributor C, if I think I have enough tools for the job, I don't. If I take way too much stuff, I still forget something.

From contributor G:
Lee Valley has recently started selling the Tanos systainer system. I think their prices are a little better.

From contributor L:
I'm not a woodworker by trade, just home workshop, with auto and woodworking tools inside garage, etc. As an industrial air conditioning service technician, I totally understand what you mean about it driving you nuts, looking for a particular tool. You know you own it, but where in the heck did we put it? I like the idea of smaller toolboxes, instead of a large one. I leave the large one in shop and add to portable boxes as needed. It's amazing how fast the smaller boxes fill up with necessary tools.

From contributor R:
The Tanos stuff is actually slightly more expensive than their Festool equivalents. For example, the Systainer #3 from Tanos is $72.50 and from Festool is $69.50. Both are the same size. Had me going there for a minute because I just started with the Festool stuff myself and would love for a good quality but lesser price option.

From contributor D:
The Festool boxes are made by Tanos.

From contributor G:
Sorry to mislead you. I am in Canada and they are cheaper at Lee Valley here. Festool sys 3 is $87.89; Lee Valley is $72.50. We pay about 25% more for Festool in Canada.

From the original questioner:
The Tanos boxes have always been the same price from another supplier. There is never a deal on these from anyone (same old non comp agreement as Festool - price fix if you will).

From contributor R:
That explains why the sizes and names seemed to be exactly the same! Because they are the same except for color! I do love this system by the way, and am picking them up as I find money and need.

From contributor H:
I have had these systainer boxes for quite a while. They are a great way to organize things although the rubber tabs on the rolling frame are crap. I screwed a systainer box to the frame and use this box less frequently. That solved the only problem that I can find with this system. I have had an auxiliary benefit from these organizers... My clients love them and it adds to our already professional work appearance. My trusty laser measuring device has the same effect. When I measure closets or walls on quotation visit, the clients go gaga. The technology helps to sell the product. "If this guy's using a laser instead of a floppy tape measure he must be better."