Proto, Stanley Black & Decker’s industrial and aerospace-focused line of professional hand tools, makes some very nice tools. I’ve bought quite a few Proto tools in recent years, mainly ratcheting wrenches, pliers, ratchets, and some minor mechanics tools and accessories.
A word of warning – this is a long straight-from-my-head post. I went down at 5:30am last night (this morning?), and was up at 7:15am. This isn’t so much a review as an unfiltered “everything I have to say about this product” mind dump. A more structured review will come. If you make it to the end, do you like the “rawness” of posts like this?
A few months ago, I had been wondering about some differences between 2 lines of Proto tool cabinets, and after some begging, nudging, and nagging (maybe I’m exaggerating), they sent over a Proto 550S 34″ tool cabinet for testing.
I still don’t have my garage workspace set up to my liking, so different tools have been going in and out of this box. I think it’s almost how I like it, and I’ll be sure to take some photos for a full review at that point.
I freakin’ love this thing.
Before I go into the why’s and how’s, let me first tell you why it’s at the top of my mind. It all started a few days ago, when I saw that certain NewAge Pro Series garage cabinets went on sale. I’ve been curious about their Pro line, and whether they’re heavy duty enough for enthusiast users’ demands.
So I started going back and forth between the garage, my tape measure, my phone, and my computer.
My workshop has been in limbo. It needs more shelving, more cabinets, and more stuff put away. In a perfect world, everything will be enclosed and tidy, aside from some equipment on mobile bases that will be stowed… somewhere.
Some heavy duty garage cabinets seem to be in order, hence my interest in NewAge and their Pro line, made from thicker-gauge steel and some bells and whistles such as soft-close doors and drawers.
So I was measuring just one more time, and then I thought about where the Proto test unit would go. It’s pretty big, with a ~41″ top height (I haven’t added a wood worktop yet), 34″ width, and ~25″ depth. Its casters are wonderfully monsterous.
I’m not in the mood to crawl on the floor to check, but I remember reading a label on the casters and finding them to be made by a USA maker. They’re top-notch and are the kind of product you can’t exactly order from Amazon, or any other public-facing website.
The Proto arrived with one of the top corners bent in from shipping damage, and it took a bit of elbow grease to straighten it out.
It’s quite heavy too. Even with its drawers removed, it’s a bear to move up even 3 stairs.
I also tried to remove the drawer slides to shed some more weight, but I could only get one or two out easily. The rest could probably be persuaded out with a mallet, and while it’s good to know the slides will be user-replaceable if needed, I wasn’t about to risk damaging them.
It’s a beautifully sturdy tool cabinet that almost makes me want to recycle my Craftsman tool cabinets. Heck, it even puts my much-loved Beta tool cabinet to shame.
Even the keys are overbuilt! I broke one of my Beta tool box’s keys when I left it in the lock and banged into it. That seems highly impossible with Proto’s key.
The drawers slide out with minimal effort, and pop in with a satisfying snap. A fantastic amount of effort must have been put into designing the draw retention just right.
I love that the drawers and their handle pulls are fully recessed. I’ve scratched myself on Craftsman, Husky, and Milwaukee drawer pulls, but not on these!
So when I was measuring for the potential NewAge garage cabinets purchase, I had the idea that I could buy some Proto units instead. They’re made in the USA, and would give me added configuration options.
When I started to look up pricing, I learned something – the drawers have adjustable retention strength! Would quick turns of knobs on either side, I could set the drawers to be harder to open!
Boy did I get excited about this.
My son, nearly 3 now, likes to open up tool box drawers. When he’s in my office workspace, I’m right there will him. Eventually I’ll design some kind of lock bar or electronic lock for my DIY cabinet, documented most recently here.
But in the garage, he likes to watch me work. Not all of my tools are properly organized yet, and I find him sneaking to a tool box to peer into its drawers. Maybe this came about because I closely examine new tool cabinets when I come across them in stores.
If I upgraded to Proto tool boxes to hold more of my tools, and used some of the long-term Husky and Milwaukee test samples to instead hold equipment, it might be safer.
Soft-close drawers are wonderfully convenient, but post a hazard to small fingers and hands that can pull a drawer partially open before snapping closed. So when everything is set up and I’m working in the garage more, soft-close drawers will be locked. The Proto test sample will be adjusted so that the drawers require adult-level strength.
When looking at some of the pricing for a couple of more Proto tool cabinets to join my test sample, my thoughts drifted – if I’m spending this kind of money, and would seek to build a stationary base for some units using aluminum, steel, and leveling feet, maybe I should turn my attention to Lista.
I’ve been dreaming about Lista cabinets for so long, and their 24″ x 24″ drawers with 440 lb load ratings. There are also some wider and shallower units, and also benchtop-height units, and somewhat pricey mobile boxes with configurations I don’t really find appealing.
Lista, now opened by Stanley Black & Decker, builds a safety feature into their cabinets where only one drawer can be opened at a time. Their incredibly high storage density would allow me to load up drawers with hardware and parts, and I would be less worried of having a cabinet or row of cabinets tumble.
So here I am now, thinking of saving up and splurging on a few garage cabinets, a Proto tool box or two, and some Lista cabinets. If I can buy the garage cabinets on sale, or downgrade to a lesser line, snag a Proto tool box or two from MSC during a coupon savings event, and be on the lookout for used or scratched and dented Lista boxes, maybe I can actually afford this.
Sorry, I went off on a tangent there, didn’t I?
Here’s my point – I am so thoroughly impressed with the Proto tool cabinet that I now plan to buy more. Unless of course someone at Stanley Black & Decker is reading this and wants to throw some overstock units my way for long term testing (hint, hint, nudge, nudge).
Proto tool boxes are made in the USA, using global materials, but made in the USA nonetheless. It arrived with a quality control checklist.
I didn’t bring up the smushed corner with my contacts at Proto because 1) it was shipping damage I thought to be outside their control, and 2) it was easily fixed with some Knipex parallel pliers and some elbow grease. The metal lip has been straightened and is ready to accept a wood top, although there’s some damage to the powder coat. Once I have a top on it, you’d be hard pressed to find the damage if I didn’t point it out.
Yes, this box costs quite a bit more than what you can buy from Kobalt, Craftsman, Husky, Milwaukee, and Dewalt. So you don’t get quite as high bang for the buck. But you get greater capabilities, nicer drawer slides, greater capacity per drawer, and superior quality.
The inside of the box is powder coated, and the last I checked flawlessly too.
The casters are just crazy smooth, and with huge locking and unlocking levers.
Previously, I had dreamed of Lista but was determined to eventually compromise and go with a Strictly ToolBoxes Tool Vault. The hell with that. Even if it means scrimping and saving to grow my tool budget, I need more of these Proto cabinets.
Lista? Eh, that can wait. I’m nowhere near ready to organize the years of small fasteners, parts, and misc. supplies that I have bought and accumulated for various projects. Right now most are in organizers, small industrial bins, small totes, or large tote boxes.
For tools, I want to work out of Proto tool boxes.
I’m also considering buying some Proto 540S tool boxes for the basement storage space. It’s hard getting tool cabinets or cabinets of any kind down there, due to the narrow staircase and small ceiling. My 26″ Craftsman cabinets were about the most that could be safely taken down there. Proto’s lower line of 540S cabinets are narrower (27″ vs. 34″), shallower (18″ vs. ~25″), and a lot lighter than the 550S sample I’ve been testing. They cost a lot less, and so I might buy a few of those once I’m ready to organize my lesser used tools and parts. They’re still somewhat pricey though, so maybe this will be something I try to budget for 5 years from now.
The Proto test box really has me spoiled. I have been testing Husky, Milwaukee, and Dewalt tool storage products, and have been working out of my Beta box. They’re all great units, but crummy in comparison. Some Husky drawers don’t open as fluidly as I’d like, one Milwaukee drawer rubs when it closes, another Husky drawer only closes most of the way and stick out enough hairs for me to notice.
Not that I was so perfectly in love with the Proto when it first showed up. I was impressed with its quality and construction, but wasn’t so thrilled with the 2-textured paint/powder coat job. I have the red and grey sample, with the red being glossy and the grey being very textured.
Proto offers the 550S line with your choice of 2-texture or glossy finish. If you want blue or red, you can only go glossy. If you want “safety red and gray” as shown above, or “dual gray,” you can only go 2-texture. You can go either way if you want an all-black box.
Despite all the praise I’m throwing at this Proto tool box, let me just say this – you don’t need one. I’m sure you can get by with something less. I sure can.
If you’re an enthusiast that works with tools a lot, you might be able to justify purchasing one or two. (Proto also makes top boxes, if you were wondering, but with limited configuration choice.)
Me? Working with tools has become my business. I’m evaluating and testing things out constantly, and even more so now that my workspace is coming together nicely. And once I can my workshop storage and organization under control, I’ll be working on more projects. It’ll be nice to be able to spend more time working on a project than hunting down tools that I haven’t unpacked or organized yet.
But that tool organizational problem, that’s complicated and because of several things. We moved somewhat recently, we had another baby, we had some remodeling done, I had my workspace emptied and updated, and I have been having a tough time adjusting to a new schedule. I’m finally checking off things on my to-do list.
And now my attention comes back to tool and parts storage. My goal is to save time and effort, without spending an unjustifiable amount of money. I am in and out of my tool boxes on a daily basis, and some drawers are either loaded with heavy tools, or they will be.
Higher-end consumer tool storage has been working for me just fine, but I’m at a time where I need more storage and I have different needs. If my son is watching me work on something, or helping, but wanders to a drawer, will he open it and access something dangerous? Since I’m in and out of boxes all the time, locking and unlocking them is not the best option.
Side note – Lista somewhat recently came out with keypad locks and retrofit kits for their cabinets, but they’re likely pricey.
So that’s what’s been on my mind last night and today.
I’ve been evaluating what I could and should budget for, and will spend some more time seeing if I can balance my needs and wants with a reasonable budget, even if it means purchasing things in stages.
Just talking about this Proto 550S 34″ 8-drawer box, and not even talking about their other configurations or sizes, it can hold more than other tool boxes that come close to its size, and in some cases each drawer can hold a LOT more.
Maybe you don’t want that. I sometimes work better with shallower drawers. In a drawer this deep (I have to measure it again, but with the outer depth being ~25″, it’s safe to figure 22″), some tools can get lost in the space.
Once I have things the way I like it, I might make one drawer for screwdrivers, sectioned left to right or perhaps front to back, and another for all my hex tools. Lower down, wrenches, then ratchets drive tools and sockets. One drawer might be for pliers, another for locking pliers, c-clamps, and bar clamps.
I think that top drawer will eventually hold all of my utility knives, precision knives, misc. blades, center punches, picks, probes, hooks, and all kinds of sharp stuff. And then I’ll dial the drawer retention adjustment to MAX.
Thank you to Proto for sending over this review sample unconditionally. *Shakes fist* at giving me a taste of superb quality. How can I go back to anything else?
I never considered a professional tool storage cabinet, such as from Snap-on, Matco, or Mac, because of their cost, but also their inaccessibility. I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve seen a Snap-on truck in the past few years.
(Remember when I saw a Snap-on truck parked at Home Depot during on Black Friday a few years ago!? Hehe, even Snap-on drivers like a good deal.)
I find Proto to be an accessible brand, and that makes these boxes even more tempting.
When I say that I need to balance my needs and wants with my budget, I’m really saying that I KNOW another Proto 550S box or two will serve my tool storage needs. But spending a couple thousand dollars on tool storage? I don’t want to jump into that too hastily. Buying something like this is a big commitment.
On the bright side, I’m very pleased to say that the price is the only hesitation I have.
The Proto 550S is an excellent product, with no compromises that I can find.
Specs As Configured
- 15,134 cu in storage capacity
- 8 drawers
- Made from 14, 16, 18 gauge steel
- 125 lb load rating per drawer
- Adjustable detent strength for drawer retention
- Heavy duty tubular locks
- Recessed aluminum drawer pulls
- Full extension drawers
- Vinyl top liner and drawer liners are included
- Poly casters are 6″ x 2″, with 900 lb load rating EACH
Street Price: $1725+, less for other color options and fewer drawers
(I’ve seen other colors for ~$1500, and the one I ordered following this post came to $1150 after coupon at Zoro.)
More Info(via Proto)
I very highly recommend the Proto 550S product line. It’s so amazing I’m preparing to buy more.
Questions? I’ll try to also field those not related to this size or configuration, as I have read just about every ounce of literature Proto published about the 550S lineup.
Thank you to Proto for supplying the review sample unconditionally.