I’m in a bad mood about USA tool storage products right now, and I want to vent about it.
Shown above is the Proto 550S 34″ cabinet. The company sent one over for review a few years ago, and it’s FANTASTIC.
No other brand I have ever used, tested, or handled even comes close.
I chose the Proto as the featured image because i) it’s my gold standard, and ii) I’m still talking to the brands whose disappointing products inspired this post. I’m not ready to share identifiable images of their quality issues.
The Proto’s drawers open and close smoothly and easily, even when fully loaded, the frame is rock-solid, and the casters are the easiest I’ve used.
A bad product distracts from the task-at-hand. A good product delivers an invisible experience. A great product blends into the background, serving its purpose without the user having to pay much attention to it, and – like the Proto cabinet – might even be occasionally joyous to use. Yes, it’s that good.
But, Proto cabinets are pricey, and not everyone can afford them. These typically are not personal-use products, they’re meant for industrial users and settings. Proto used to have a more affordable line (540S).
I bought one, or rather I bought a few 540S tool boxes, but only one arrived without significant damage. I wish I tried a second time to buy more when I had the chance.
My Proto 540S is still serving me well, but its design was very basic, making it a difficult recommendation. Proto has since replaced the 540S line with their new Velocity tool boxes, which are deeper, more modernized, and pricier.
What I liked about the 540S is that it prioritized function and compromised on form. No expense was put towards handle pulls, for instance, but the drawers were sturdy and well-made.
I spoke with the Proto Velocity tool storage team a while back, and thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Did you know that their smaller mobile tool boxes have different caster styles than their larger ones? Larger tool boxes tend to be moved less frequently than smaller ones, necessitating casters with different materials that are less susceptible to developing flat spots.
Premium tool storage products are the sum of many thoughtful engineering decisions.
The Proto 550S has high functionality and details that improve the user experience, such as adjustable drawer retention. It’s my gold standard.
At lower price points, I own several USA-made Craftsman tool boxes and a roller cabinet that I bought from Sears years ago.
In the middle, I have a couple of other tool boxes, and extensive experience with imported tool boxes and garage storage cabinets.
I am highly opinioned and preferential about tool storage products, but I like to think I have fair expectations.
I tested USA-made garage-style tool cabinets from a different brand last month, and they were GARBAGE.
The panels were poorly welded, there were large gaps in some places, the drawer was so warped it took considerable effort to open and close, and the internal adjustable shelf structure from an earlier imported version was thrown out in favor of holes simply stamped through the back panel.
I was – and am still – angry. It’s not the cabinets were poorly made, it’s that I cannot imagine all the problems were accidental. The USA manufacturer shipped cheaply designed and terribly assembled products. I sent them back.
I can deal with cosmetic issues, but the cabinets were so bad they were unusable. The closer I looked, the more issues I found.
It’s as if a baker rushed to bake a cake, used salt instead of sugar, dropped the cake frosting-side down on the floor, and still served it, with hairs and dirt it picked up from the floor.
The fact of the matter is that the USA supplier is not at all new to the industry, and should have done a far better job with the design and execution. The brand, to their credit, are investigating the matter.
New USA-made cabinets from another brand came in yesterday, and the designs seem compromised.
For instance, it looks like drawer handle pulls were put on cabinet doors, in order to save money through shared parts and processes.
I didn’t get a sense of “wow, I can’t wait to put this to use.” Instead, I thought “this is going to be bothersome.”
I’m a little disappointed, but we’ll see how it goes.
The quality was far better overall, however, than the samples from the other maker whose cabinets I received last month. With managed expectations, I would spend money on these. But if I’m being honest, everything still feels below-par.
If I were searching for USA-made tool and equipment cabinets today, I’m not sure what I could find or which I’d buy, and this is what put me in a bad mood.
There are some import models I could recommend, but they’re also pricey. There are some European brands that tend to be reasonably priced for what they offer, but their availability is poor and customer service virtually non-existent.
I wish there were more products like Proto’s 540S series – functional and affordable, with costs cut in ways and places I could accept. Maybe someday they’ll get into garage-style cabinet production – I’d buy ’em.