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.
Should link to their stuff.
Also, Proto is a good brand and not cheap. However, a side comparison say, to SnapOn and others can show features we want, could enjoy or never knew of. A mechanic friend had a cabinet that has leds built in! And the handles l lift to unlock to pull (so in moving or transit, they won’t open). And side accessories like paper towel holder AS the handle. Plus thicker gauge steel used to not have drawers flex from loading lots of metal tools. Plus considerations for power options to charge tool or batteries. And good poly-lb-rated wheels that lock easily. Or that some include foam or tray liners (not an option).
I can seeing being moody bout quality over quantity. I also hear that some don’t care and can justify HorrorFright boxes because, cheap and just sit there. IF you plan on passing down to your daughter/son your tool boxes, might opt for something better…. right?
Harbor Freight 44” boxes are basically the standard for people not wanting to spend over 500$ on their tool box. They didn’t get there by being a “horror” and just sitting there. They make a ton of sense for people starting out as a mechanic and home gamers. They were the first to use heavier gauge sheet than the competition and similar and often higher price points. They have forced that competition to up their game and are about to release the third update of the product. Most people don’t consider a toolbox an heirloom, and use instead use it to store tools that actually get the work done. They are extremely usable and completely suitable for a majority of customers. Yes there are much nicer boxes from proto, lista, Vidmar, Rousseau, tool truck brands etc. It is possible to appreciate those products without denigrating cheaper options with juvenile name calling and tones of superiority. I am all for calling truly junk products out and warning others of issues but the US general boxes don’t qualify.
But here’s the problem. Let’s say you want a 2-door cabinet. 2 doors + 1 drawer. A taller single bay bank. A chest on leveling feet instead of wheels.
Not everyone can fit a huge HF box. A box like that also cannot easily go up or down stairs.
I’ve been working with single bay products, and there’s almost no selection anymore.
They also make a well thought out 34” single bank full depth cart and a 26” one with the same build as the 44” which of I am sure you are aware. Both are perfectly usable.
I agree with your original point and mood, my issue is was with the immature denigration and singling out of Harbor Freight, especially when the big box stores have only recently started selling alternatives that are of equal quality (meaning functional and fine for a lot of users). I have older USA made old sears craftsman boxes which while they are fine for my purposes they are objectively inferior to the modern harbor freight boxes.
Although I point to the Proto roller cab, a lot of my angst right now is due to garage-style cabinets.
New Age Pro cabinets have been around for a while, but why can’t seasoned USA makers come close to their quality?
I can forgive production issues. But bad designs plus bad production?
As for the HF US General, their 26″ is still 22″ deep with 8 drawers. It’s definitely better featured than my 26″ (or 27″) Proto 540S. Harbor Freight can no longer produce affordably-priced 18″ deep boxes due to the tariffs from a few years ago.
As a homeowner dude with five (5!!) HF toolboxes, I appreciate the support of consumers like me. Boxes for power tools, mountain bike and car accessories, misc organization and storage, plus a worktop to use on them all.
Look at the ICON boxes at H.F. Those are a different animal.
It’s really frustrating to see old guys surprised by made in the USA stuff being garbage. Do you fellas not understand capitalism or something?
American companies are keeping their margins fat by sourcing the worst materials and labor they can get away with. Same as the Chinese. It’s never going to get better so maybe think twice before you take a chance on another made in the USA product.
I’m a millennial.
There are entry priced products, mid priced products, and premium priced products.
When it comes to tool storage, there’s no entry-pricing aside from flimsy and ready to assemble options. That leaves us with mid-priced and premium.
Mid-priced imported tool storage products deliver mid-priced features and quality.
The products I’ve been testing are supposed to be mid-priced but deliver entry quality or worse. This wasn’t the case a couple of years ago.
I should’ve clarified that was more of a general statement about people in the trades/labor.
The mid-priced imported products are better because people in those countries are smarter and savvier consumers.
Here in America we’ll buy any mediocre garbage as long as it has the right brand name slapped on it. So you get a bad tool box at a mid-range price. The bad boxes you tested are going to sell to the guys and girls who would rather have a “Made in the USA” Craftsman (or whatever zombie brand) box instead of an objectively better “Horror Freight” box. I dunno I guess I’m just trying to have something more to say than “Yeah, buddy, marketing over tangible quality. Sounds like capitalism.”
I would agree. People focus far too much on COO instead of “are we actually making a good product here in the US?”. To be fair, we’ve lost a lot of our capacity and competence over the last 50 years, but them’s the facts. I won’t buy USA just for charity. All else equal, sure, I’ll buy the locally made one, but there’s a lot more that goes into that buying decision and it’s not usually “all else equal”.
The real problem is the newer generations don’t understand the economy. We have made it so expensive to produce goods here at home through regulations, taxes and unions that companies have been forced to go abroad. Levi Strauss company was the last blue jeans company to leave. They tried to make it work, but at that time, wranglers and other jeans that were made overseas were flying off the shelves at $19.99 while Levi Strauss jeans sat there at $29.99. So we the citizens have blame too. I’m not saying cut all regulations or no taxing at all, but creating an economic climate that gives incentives for new start up companies to provide competition, which is the best thing you can do for consumers.
Not being able to compete with overseas, value engineered down to the cent manufacturing is really the *point* of high quality domestic, where cost and price differences are more negligible.
I completely agree with this point. If Knipex, Wera, Stahlwille, PB Swiss, Koken, Tone, Nepros, can create a successful niche for their respective wares there is no reason that similar success couldn’t be found by an American firm producing stuff domestically. It’s just extremely difficult in an environment that sees year and year growth and increasing profits as the only metric that matters. I don’t know how many times I have witnessed a very promising company start out producing excellent products, gain a reputation and following but then attract the interests of of big capital. They proceed to sell/sell-out and the company’s products become a facsimile of what drew people to the company in the first place. Then people say “well that’s capitalism” which while true ignores the reality that short term gains that lead to long term disadvantage, decadence, and reduction of capability is also capitalism just bigger picture capitalism.
For my home – the last tool cabinets that I bought (now 11 years ago) were from Gladiator Garageworks (a Whirlpool Co.) They were made in the USA and were just so-so in quality. Worse yet – it took several attempts at shipping plus returns to get ones that had acceptably minor damage. Packaging was flimsy Styrofoam and cardboard. I haven’t tried any for the US General brand stuff from HF – as my 50- to 60-year-old Kennedy chests and rolling cabinets still meet my needs.
Now to Cristobal’s point about USA production.
I had partnered in several businesses over my working life.
One was a metal and pipe fabrication business that was purchased when it was on the rocks after the space program slowed down. We were able to return it to profitability – updating and expanding on its capabilities and ISO certifications. But, with few exceptions our customers were not retail consumers – nor did we produce goods destined for the retail market. We also did not succumb to the lure of taking the company public – with its concomitant demands from stockholders and Wall Street analysts. My partners and I thought we were investing for the long haul – that we had a good platform and skilled core workforce to build on – and were willing to forego personal income from the investment while we built the business back up. While we weathered several economic downturns – I’m told that the business is still profitable – producing some assemblies that are a bit like (in manufacturing processes) to storage cabinets. While we bid on most of our work, the customer base for what we produced were usually more interested in zero failures and exacting fit and finish than in shopping for low cost. Our workers were trained and inculcated in the philosophy that quality was everything, were onboard with our TQM-SixSigma programs and shared in the profits when we produced.
My partners and I tried to take what we learned from this business to others that we owned in the remodeling and plumbing arena – with varied success. In both areas – we were known for workmanship and quality – and probably lost many jobs based on cost. We also had a track record for employee retention – and paying salaries that were above (where we were allowed) the prevailing rates based on the skill and productivity of our employees. As far as I know, those businesses are also still profitable.
If you think it was purely regulation, unions, and taxes that caused the mass migration of production overseas you are either willfully ignoring or ignorant of the obvious role that greed, short term pursuit of ever increasing profit, cooperate raiders, touted “efficiency” consultants. I mean all you have to do is read Jack Welch’s own words to understand what a disastrous effect these policies and attitudes had on American industry. For clarity’s sake, I would make the same comment to anybody who fails to examine the role that missteps regarding regulation, taxes and unions played.
First, stop with all the absolutes. It’s never All this or that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to maximize profits,(greed) would you sell your car for less than what you could actually get for it? O course not. The governments role is to be the referee only. Making sure that the size of companies play no role in having an advantage over smaller/start-up companies. Many times a small company can control quality and cost better than a large company. But large companies can put a small company out of business by promoting (think campaign contributions) more regulations/ taxes. They have lawyers on staff, while the small company has to hire lawyers. Competition promotes not only lower pricing, but better quality also. Under the scenario I just pointed out, greedy companies would have their overpriced products gathering dust on shelves, because the consumer is going to purchase the best value when shopping.
I don’t believe I am speaking in absolutes. Perhaps you need to reread what I wrote??? I go out of my way to state that the causes of the current state of American manufacturing are multi-faceted, and state your point about regulation and taxation isn’t invalid it’s just incomplete and is the popular cover story for corporate decisions that cause long term harm to the country. As far as greed being good, go read the story about the golden goose. It’s a perfect analogy for the greed fueled short term policies and decisions that have gutted American manufacturing. It’s not that greed and profit incentive is bad or wrong in itself, it’s just that there is a danger in greed promoting short-term-gains tactics, over long term strategies that actually maximize profit through sustainable business models. I have no idea what an individual selling a private car has anything to do with a discussion of government and corporate policies on the American manufacturing landscape. The rest of your response has very little to do with anything I wrote so I am not sure how to respond. You make a good point about the advantages smaller companies often possess, but then go off on a weird tangent about lawyers and campaign donations. Also there are extremely few start ups or small companies that are domestically manufacturing goods. Let me ask you this, was it taxation, regulation, or unfair completion that caused the Craftsmen of old to flounder? Or was it the moves to make the company more “profitable” that ultimately killed it. It’s time to realize that excusing behaviors that harm the countries ability to produce things in the name of duty to the shareholders is a very dangerous strategy that fails to take into account that the geopolitics makes reducing the ability for a country to abandon its manufacturing capability extremely risky. World War II was won by American Industry. It’s simply short sighted to reduce capability in the name of short term gains both from a national interest standpoint AND a business standpoint. Once the infrastructure to compete in manufacturing is gone, there is no way to provide the competition that keeps the other actors from abusing the system.
Younger generations? How old are you? I was born in 1989 by the time I could vote everything was already made in China. Stop blaming the younger generations for not saving a problem you watched spiral out of control.
Part of the problem is a lack of taxes, that’s why so many jobs went to Mexico after NAFTA. How about some tougher regulations on cheap Chinese imports? If you cut the taxes on businesses most of the money just goes to profits, not reduced product.
Yes, all Americans want good paying jobs, in safe working environments, with benefits for OURSELVES. We the complain that our fellow American should be willing to accept substandard wages and working conditions, so that “me, me, me” can proudly buy American.
Therin lies the problem. You can’t have it both ways.
Just FYI, what you described has nothing to do with “younger generations” not understanding macroeconomics.
It has to do with a pathetic and useless import tariff structure and a political system completely and entirely corrupted by capitalist bribery to support such a failing.
IndianaJonesy (Matt J.)
I still find it hard to believe Levi’s truly tried to make it work. More likely they saw their imported jeans were generating higher margins with little to no sales falloff due to CoO and so they kept shipping more and more out until it was all gone. They still charge a ridiculous premium for their jeans as a “lifestyle brand” when Dearborn Denim, Gussett, Round House, All American and probably others are making USA-made jeans work at a similar price point. As an aside, Dearborn Denim and Gussett are both fantastic and worth your business (the others are fine, too, but not my personal favorites – Dearborn’s customer service has been top notch).
There’s also always been crap coming out of American factories alongside the legendary stuff people prefer to remember. USA-made was never an unassailable guarantee of quality, just look at some of the garbage American auto makers let roll off the lines back in the day.
I agree 100%. I don’t see Made in the USA as a proxy for quality, and honestly I never have. I remember many of the USA-made tools my father owned when I was a teenager were junk–I’m talking 1980’s vintage Stanley, Disston, etc. His well used and abused Oberg (Swedish) files cut better than a brand new Nicholson or Simonds. When I worked at Ace in the 1990’s I sold a lot of USA-made junk: Vermont American being my favorite punching bag from the time. I used to think that Hanson taps (USA made) were nice–they were the best we sold at Ace–but once I tried real machinist’s brands I now see them as junk as well. Ace touted that many of their tools were made in the USA, but just like Craftsman, the tools weren’t all that great, it was the value for money and the no-questions-asked warranty that held all the water. Now that’s not to say there weren’t and aren’t excellent USA made tools as well…but no, just because it’s made in the USA doesn’t mean it’s any good. The USA makes everything from junk to the highest end and everything in between, it’s just a question of what someone wants to pay.
Back in the day? They’re still putting out garbage. Shiny, nice looking garbage, but garbage nonetheless.
Bart I fully agree, between poor manufacturing packaging and transportation were screwed!
This right here! “Selling out for a buck” has become the trait I associate with American companies much more than “high quality.” There are admirable exceptions but they are few and pale in comparison to the number of companies that have done just that. Then they have the audacity to blame their own workers and the cheapness of American consumer for cooperate decisions that value short term profit increase against a long term sustainable company that can take pride in being quality American made goods.
You’re explaining capitalism by saying products should be inferior? You may not be the best voice on the subject.
I’m really hoping the Series 3 boxes from HF are a decent balance of quality and price. I’d love to build a monster workbench from a couple 44s but the pricing on the current boxes is more than I’m willing to pay for the quality. If the price remains the same but the quality goes up a bit I’ll gladly jump on them. COO isn’t super important to me, since most of the tools going in the boxes aren’t USA-made and I can’t afford to stuff them with USA made tools anyway.
I doubt the pricing will be lower, but it’s hard to say. A lot of times brands will update products to coincide with price increases, that way customers have to spend more, but they get a little more.
That’s my expectation. I remember Series 2 44″ boxes going for $450 regularly, and now they’re up to $580. I recognize that steel prices and shipping prices have risen dramatically, but hopefully a small bump in quality is on the horizon. We’ll see, perhaps I’ll just have to save up for something nicer. Or figure out how to work sheet metal and make my own.
It would be helpful if the name/model of the “garbage” tool boxes were mentioned.
I’ve been talking with them and still hope they remedy the issues.
If I’m being optimistic, I’d say the seasoned OEM cut corners and the brand whose name on the products didn’t know they were delivering substandard quality.
Even if that’s the case it doesn’t speak well to the brands ownership over the product and quality control if it made it all the way to a customer.
If the brand makes it right with you, that’s still no assurance that the rest of us will have a similar experience. Especially since you’re likely to get a higher tier of customer service than the rest of us as a reviewer/media.
Agreed. The plan is for me to buy a retail model in a few months to see if the quality has improved.
Still, this company sent me the samples via retail order. There was no way for the retailer or their supplier to think I was anything but a customer.
Enough of this %#@$.
I’ve been wrestling with 3 companies whose products turned out to be of lesser quality than they touted, and who basic performance has been dismal. We’re at the “blame stage” where they’re blaming suppliers, shippers, their own warehouse personnel and the neighbor’s dog for design and delivery failures.
I am not interested in dealing with any of the outfits whose plan is to “fix it after the sale” because it means “if we can get away with it we don’t have to do anything and that’s cheaper.”
RE: tool storage, specifically. I’ve spent 2 years researching larger replacement for my 53-year-old MAC MB910 and 920 and absolutely nothing I’ve found, at any price, from any seller or supplier, is worth anything near what they’re charging, and none of it meets my needs. And, yes, I’m picky; I want stuff to do the job I need it to do and refuse to completely alter the way I work to accommodate shortcomings in design and manufacture.
I have no problem paying an appropriate price for value, I will pay what it it worth, but from what I’ve seen there’s nothing available that’s worth what they’re asking, no matter where it’s made.
And, quite unfortuntely, that applies to a great many more things than tool storage equipment.
Love my Snap-on boxes. The fit and finish are impeccable. Yeah you pay the price but you get what you paid for.
I’ve looked at rolling tool carts for along time. For my usage I want something light & portable. Craftsman carts are around 150 pounds compared to many that are 300# plus. I have been pretty much relying on Packout for everything. They have the portability that I’m looking for. I have been intrigued by Menards Masterforce 41” rolling cart w/ toolbox. It’s a monster for size, but they really appeal to me.
I’m not sure they’d work for everyone, but I use a selection of steel flatfiles and lateral file drawers for my hardware and flammables storage (a proper fire cabinet would be better but they’re not within reach financially) and they’ve been absolutely fantastic. The lateral cabinets are by KI, the flatfiles I believe are Mayline, and both companies manufacture products in Wisconsin (though I can’t be 100% sure these specific products are made there). I put a basic caster-base on the stack of flatfiles, the laterals are stationary (I can pop them up on a dolly easily enough when I need to move them).
High-end office storage isn’t cheap new, but they are extremely common at surplus auctions and warehouses, which is how I collected all of mine. They don’t tend to get beatup the same way a used Lista or Proto cabinet might so there’s a pretty consistent stock.
I used to manage a university lab and in doing so I had opportunity to buy many Flammable goods safety cabinets. I’m of the opinion that the pricing on them–and a lot of other associated safety equipment, like racks for compressed gas bottles, is a huge scam. The cost of that equipment is far out of line for its complexity, but hey, safety rules say you have to have it so pay up $$$$.
Just to be clear, I’m not disagreeing with the idea of flammable storage cabinets or racks to stop compressed gas bottles falling over–I’m just complaining about the exorbitant cost of those things.
I’m a retired toolmaker and the toolbox and roller cabinet of choice were the Kennedy boxes , both toolmaker and machinist. My set at work and in my garage at home lasted me 40 years and I still have them. Will probably end up with my great grandsons! I have yet to see them mentioned on your site. You get what you pay for!
I mentioned my Kennedy Kits stuff above. Two chests, two bas cabinets and 2 rolling cabinets bought over a period from something like 1968 to 1976. Mine are crinkled-finish brown. Not a brand that gets a lot of attention – so I don’t know how their modern stuff compares.
The same may be true about Lista and Vidmar. We had Lista and Rotabins at our metal fabrication plant. We had Vidmar at our cabinet shop. I think I liked what I saw of the Lista better. Now, I think they are both part of SBD – so I have no idea how they compare.
I have a Kennedy box that my grandfather bought roughly 100 years ago when he was a mechanic. Considering its age and history, it’s held up very well, and is still filled with his tools from that era that I use quite often (always with a smile of fond remembrance on my face).
Fred– just wanted to let you know that I really treasure reading your comments. Whenever I finish one of Stuart’s posts, I always scan the comments to see if you have anything to add.
Have you ever considered writing a memoir of your professional life? I know that I would love to read it. Even just a retrospective on your dealings with different tool manufacturers would be a great “historical buyer’s guide” as it were. Cheers!
BTW, our machinist has a Kennedy tool chest. I believe it’s his personal tool chest. It’s crinkled-finish brown.
We don’t have anything fancy, just a really old Craftsman and another old one (not sure of the brand). If we get any new ones, we won’t get expensive ones, most likely Harbor Freight or Husky (I’m thinking about a storage cabinet with wood top).
I’ve always thought many of the toolbox things you see in stores are not really meant to be moved. by moved here I mean locked up in place – then put on the back of a truck and moved away with stuff in them. They seem too flimsy for that – especially the latch and lock mechanisms.
In fairness, a lot of what is in big stores is probably aimed at the home gamer market. As a home gamer…I just need a latch good enough to keep my kids out, and keep things closed during an occasional roll around the garage. I’m on a budget, and that’s not necessarily where I’d put my money.
I spent a long time looking at tool boxes last year before eventually deciding to go with a 44″ Harbor Freight cabinet (and even then I waited for a real sale). For my purposes, it’s worked well so far. I’m not a professional, and just need a solid place to store tools in the garage that can occasionally be moved. I looked at Craftsman, Kobalt, and few others (Ace, Lowes and Walmart were the only big stores around me that I could look in person), but the basic versions always seemed flimsy or had giant drawers at the bottom which was less important for me since it would hold hand tools. I would agree that it’s unfortunate that the USA made boxes aren’t better. Hopefully Harbor Freight doesn’t decrease the quality of the tool chest that goes on top. That’s the next big tool purchase I’m planning on.
And on a side note, while not the deciding factor, I really enjoy having an orange cart!
There were plenty of less-than-great made in USA products back in the Good Old Days(tm). Snap On has always been expensive and heavy duty, Craftsman sold plenty of flimsy USA made boxes in addition to nicer units, Kennedy / Waterloo / Stack On and others had USA made products of varying quality at various price points. Many/most of the flimsier products have gone to the junk heap. Of the better products, which weren’t cheap back then, some are still around distorting our view of typical old time quality. Yes, I want quality USA made products where the workers are paid living wages and the items are affordable and….oh yeah, the businesses make a decent return on their investment. We’re at the end of the chain and whining about things doesn’t change anything. Vote with your pocketbooks, choose quality over quanity if you want quality. Our consumer culture created the mess and only a shift will make it better. However, as a skeptic I wouldn’t encourage you to think that positive overall change is forthcoming.
I think the old Craftsman machinist/tool cabinets that my father and grandfather had are what turned me off from that entire product category. They were all garbage, even the ones that were from the hayday and had been reasonably well-maintained.
I want to add a least one rolling cabinet in 2023. It has reached the point I am thinking seriously about buying 4″ casters, Grade A 3/4″ plywood, 250+ pound drawer slides, and making a few rolling cabinets. It will be able to hold more weight than I will ever put in it.
Before crossing that bridge I will make an wooden tool chest (lid lifts up with slides inside) to hold woodworking hand tools. Have one that my Grandfather made and I appreciate it more every year.
I am done with drawers in plastic cases and about done with drawers in metal cases.
I’m not a pro, but I have been perplexed why wood cabinets are not more popular for tool storage. One reason may be that, to my knowledge, there are no commercially available wooden tool cabinets. But I don’t understand why this is so.
So DIY may be the best (only?) way to get wood tool cabinets. I have made a lot of custom cabinetry at my home, including for tools specifically. I like that I can make many shallow drawers to maximize storage. I have saved big money (and time) by forgoing metal drawer slides. Instead, I simply make the drawer bottom wider than the drawer sides; the bottom then fits into dados in the side of the cabinet. It is surprising how much weight these drawers hold, and how easily they slide. They are also better than “full extension” slides IMO because they can easily slide out entirely and be transported to the workbench, tools and all. I use real Baltic Birch plywood which is a pleasure to work with.
I love wood, but it is a far more variable material. It swells and moves and cracks, even plywood . There are ways to deal with it’s inherent volatility, and you can make something nearly as reliable as steel, but those methods are difficult and expensive. Part of why you see so much particleboard/melamine isn’t just that the raw material is cheaper, but that it’s a more consistent and stable material meaning you can manufacture things to a tighter tolerance far more simply and efficiently using it.
Also of note is the environments where these cabinets are intended to be used. Often non- or minimally-conditioned spaces where they’ll be exposed to oil, moisture swings, solvents, etc. All sorts of things that metal is far better at surviving and dealing with than wood. Nobody wants to try and get to their ratchets in a muggy summer and find the drawer has swelled stuck, or spill some acetone on the top and find the glue joints popping open the next day.
Baltic Birch is also no longer affordable or even reliably available, since almost all of it comes out of Russia. You can get similar enough metal from a lot of different sources, while wood products tend to be regional and thus more volatile in pricing.
Like the idea of a wider drawer bottom. Heavy duty slides are expensive.
Wood that can withstand the weight of a lot of metal items gets pretty heavy, and nowadays also quite expensive compared to the cost of sheet metal…also much more labor intensive to build. Then there are issues with humidity and such down the road.
Gerstner has a full line of wooden chests, carts, and boxes…has for about a hundred years now and they are excellent. They are located in the same place along the river in Dayton, Ohio where they have been forever. The pricing will make your eyes water, however. They brought out a line of import chests that are still nearly top quality, but a bit less expensive (only one eye will water…).
There are some knockoffs in the smaller chest sizes, most of which are borderline junk except for lightweight cargo. If you look around the professional jewelers’ markets (which these days mostly encompasses watchmakers as well) you can find some other wooden cabinets/storage (and benches of course).
If you can get your hands on Finnish Birch you’ll be amazed at the quality and qualities it has over the typical Baltic. Basically higher quality veneers and twice the plies as Baltic…expensive but bombproof and a joy to work with. Anderson Int’l Trading keeps it in stock…Aircraft Spruce & Specialty may also still stock it.
I have two Gerstner cabinets. I would never even think about replacing them.
As a hobby, I’ve made my share of furniture over the last 60 years. As I got better at it – I gravitated toward using 18th and 19th century reproductions – that obviously do not employ ball bearings or full extension slides. Wood on wood sliding drawers have their place – hold up OK for things like chest of drawers that store clothing. But I question how well they would work over years or use with heavy tools – even with regular waxing of the sliding elements.
As I’ve also noted – when we acquired our cabinet shop it was equipped with Vidmar storage components. When we bought our metal fabrication business – the prior owners had chosen Lista. Despite bot – probably having the capabilities of building their own storage solutions – with only a few exceptions they had chosen to buy from others who specialized in that business. They probably found that more cost-efficient allowing them to stick to their knitting.
I have an online auction business near me. I’ve watched many tool storage items get sold there. Steel items seem to go much higher than wood storage. My thoughts are that wood is porous, you don’t know if toxic chemicals were stored in them.
In addition to what others have mentioned there is another concern: space efficiency. A sheet metal drawer bottom takes up a lot less volume in a chest compared to a board or panel with some thickness. With many drawers this adds up to a lot of wasted volume.
Good, older boxes are on Marketplace (at least here) all of the time. That’s how I’d go if I didn’t like what’s available new. That’s actually how I go most of the time anyway.
I didn’t know Proto made tool boxes. I have their 3/4″ and 1″ drive socket sets and they are FANTASTIC, bought used, of course.
I wish there more products like Proto’s 540S series…
I wish there were more products like Proto’s 540S series…
I have a (north) American made Tekton box and it is great. From what I can tell it’s made by Rousseau in Canada. The strength and quality are every bit of, if not more than my (15-20 year old) Mac and Matco boxes.
I feel your pain Stuart. When I bought the house I live in now I was looking for some garage cabinet storage. It didn’t take very long to realize that what was available on the market was absolute garbage quality. Particle board or flimsy sheet metal and expensive. They did look nice from a far; decent paint, aluminum diamond plate accents, various colors and hardware schemes available. Sounds like affordable reasonable quality “garage cabinets” still really aren’t a thing?
On a flat pack shipped, assemble yourself product one would think a US manufacture would have a shipping and thus a cost advantage? I guess it’s not a profitable venture because no one makes a heavy duty metal garage cabinet at the $200 price point. And when I say quality I’m not talking vidmar or snap on I’m talking harbor freight toolboxes where the welds are not perfect, there might be some dimples on the sheet metal but it’s going to hold up and overall looks pretty decent.
Speaking of Harbor freight they are about 7/8 of the way with their side lockers. Just needs to be a little bit taller and wider. I wonder if they could get the price point down to 200 from 350 now if it was flatpack shipped and you had to assemble it on site?
I had the opportunity to install some custom garage cabinets for a customer a few years back. They were made by Baldhead Cabinets in Bend Oregon. They were very heavy duty and the fit and finish were top notch. If I remember correctly, I installed about $50000 worth of them. We built out his workshop in the “barn”. I also outfitted a 10 x 15 alcove in the house garage. If someone had the budget and wanted some really nice storage, I would recommend. My personal garage workshop is a hodgepodge of hand built wooden cabinets, some of which are repurposed. I also have 2 top boxes that sit on top of workbenches. One is an old craftsman and is pretty nice. I bought a 56”Husky mechanics chest that has been great for my home mechanics. My son stole an older and not as amazing quality craftsman bottom chest from me for his Legos. I told him that I am taking it back when he moves out. They certainly are good for more then tools!
Proto 560 series is my gold standard.
I scored a 30″ one like this for a good price at an auction house that handles Grainger returns. It’s a rebadged Vidmar cabinet and is more solid than anything else I’ve owned.
I dont mean this to be a jerk or anything bit I find posts like this frustrating because you go on to talk about a product that ended up being total garbage, but you won’t tell us what the product is so that we can avoid it. So now out there in the pool of toolboxes I may buy at some point is a land mine that could have been avoided.
I need to give them time to fix things, and then I will verify.
I was motived 60% by a need to vent, and 40% hope someone might offer a recommendation for a brand or line I hadn’t considered.
In the back of my mind, I’m also hoping brands verify that their licensed and OEM products accurately represent the quality they strive for, although they should already be checking regularly.
All of the name brand rolling tool boxes that I have seen, including that expensive Proto, have two non-swivelling, non-locking casters. I guess that is what most customers prefer. I prefer four swivelling, locking casters for my cluttered shop. My full bank Harbor Freight service cart is equipped like that out of the box. I am really happy with it.
2 locking swivel casters and 2 fixed are the norm.
Sometimes you can order replacement casters of your choosing.
A new Husky came in, and I am 100% loving the fact that i) it has only 4 casters instead of 2, and ii) they all swivel and lock.
Longer cabinets with swivel casters at the ends and fixed at the middle are still a chore to move around.
Service carts and the line typically do have all-swivel casters.
All-swivel casters can also be harder to navigate. Supermarket carts are easier to navigate with fixed casters in front and swivel at the rear. Some – such as at Ikea – are all-swivel and can get out of control if you’re not careful.
The same with moving carts and dollies.
I feel that tool brands try to choose for majority needs (or to cut costs).
What model husky? About to pull the trigger on. 52” model tomorrow I have been looking at.
You might still be able to get different casters for the 52″.
I really like my 540S box. I got it because it was an affordable made in USA box with just enough features (it’s got nice roller bearing slides, but nothing else fancy) in a size that works for my DIY needs. It would be on my short list if I needed another one and they still existed.
For what it’s worth, mine arrived in perfect shape and I think in one day after I ordered it from Zoro. I do live in Ohio and I think they’re made in-state so maybe mine just didn’t have as many opportunities to get abused by the freight companies as yours did.
Although this rant is about
What class of USA made toolboxes are you addressing? I have built toolboxes for one of the larger flags and these proto boxes are not in that conversation. Snap on. Mac. Matco. All USA made.
Harbor freight is all overseas. While a cheaper alternative they also are in a different class.
Stuart, what can your readers do to alleviate your bad mood so that there’s new articles?
One difference – U.S. Made of Global Materials yes are garbage. Even the lower line MAC and Cornwell boxes (U.S. Made of Global Materials) aren’t very good – for the price you pay.
Fortunately I have Craftsman Professional (Made by Waterloo) boxes. Unfortunately when they were on the market (Through about 2006), Hutches weren’t the thing.
I wish I could find, the Craftsman Professional boxes made by SPG International in Canada, that were offered for a couple years after the Waterloo sourcing ended. Those were awesome – quality – with better layout and features than the Waterloos I have.
I just can’t get over how many of the You Tube channels praise brands that are Made in China. Taiwan is now held up as the standard for Mechanics tools.
Praising some of the Taiwan brands is not praising China. Taiwan is not China, and it never has been. Though their proximity to each other makes high volumes of trade inevitable. Unfortunately that means Taiwan will often source raw materials from across the straight. Still, the quality is real. Taiwan’s quick rise to meet that sweet spot of low to medium price but medium to high quality has included partnerships and training with a few German firms. It it’s not produced in the US or Germany/the neighbors they contract manufacturing with, I’ll happily walk away with a Taiwanese tool.
This reminds me of folks talking about the good old days of made in the USA Craftsman ratchets. Which, honestly, were never that great to begin with. Every recent made in Taiwan ratchet of whatever brand I’ve used in the last tens years has been so much better, smoother and trouble free compared to those crappy USA craftsman ratchets.
You want a decent tool box these days, either pony up the $1300-2500 to buy a used truck brand box being sold at 15-25% of its current retail value or spend $450-600 on a husky or us general box to get that new car smell and shiny paint, or spend $250-350 on a used Husky or HF box.
But be honest with yourself and just admit/realize that no box Craftsman will ever make again will be anything other than cheap sheetmetal garbage any more.
I have one of the Craftsman EDGE “premium” tool boxes from maybe 10 years ago – LIFETIME WARRANTY, according to the paperwork. Called the 800 number to try to resolve some bad slides and was told I was out of luck as they had changed suppliers.
That edge box, though part of their premium lineup is still basically a piece of crap, thin metal, lightweight slides with casters attached with large self tap sheetmetal screws.
The Craftsman raised panel ratchets and wrenches were usable. Sure they were short-pattern, and the ratchets coarse-toothed, but there was nothing wrong with them.
They were inexpensive, but not cheap.
I can understand cost-cutting measures to make something less expensive. I can understand that humans are fallible and that no production line is 100% perfect.
Cheapness and either negligent or incompetent production by experienced industry leaders are far less excusable.
Imagine if Snap-on made a ratchet for another brand, and the 3/8″ square drive didn’t fit 3/8″ sockets and could only ratchet in one direction. That’s how bad these issues were.
Negligent shipping seems to be yet another problem in the US. It almost seems like a random but pervasive problem. Heavy item shipments from Zoro have been some that have caused me angst. But I’ve had issues with stuff that came from HD and Acme and others as well. During the early days of the pandemic – I was regularly ordering household, food and pantry items from Walmart. They were very good on speed and response/credits for problems. But a high percentage of cartons arrived with damaged contents. Some were minor like dented cans – others were more annoying like tomato sauce or pickles scattered about the interior. Some of it was clearly bad shipping packing. Others were probably related to UPS or Fedex. Packages with UP arrows would sometime arrive upside down – others with gashes in the boxes – and missing contents.
I took a look at Zoro’s offering of the Kennedy setup that look somewhat similar to the two 3-piece ones that I’ve owned for 50+ years. There are just a few comments about them on the Zoro webpage – but some of the really negative ones – complain about shipping damage. If I paid several thousands or the 3-piece setup, I’m sure that I’d scream if they arrived all bashed in.
Hmmm. I’m a buy once/cry once guy, esp for something like a tool cart/chest that’s going to support all kinds of projects. I had an old Kobalt combo (<38”, something kind of narrow) for years that wasn’t horrible. Upgraded to 46” Milwaukee high capacity combo and couldn’t be happier. Construction is first rate and I’ve never once been bothered by some defect or oddity. In fact, every single time I use it (almost daily) I’m glad I spent the money I did on it.
Bill E Bob
I’m with you, Mark. I couldn’t be happier with my Milwaukee High Capacity 56 in. 10-Drawer Rolling Tool Chest Cabinet. Top quality, precision, excellent design features and functionality, and sturdy.
Don’t know why this article and responses seem oblivious to their good stuff.
Bill E Bob
…AND they even threw in a handy vintage-style bottle opener on one end!
Because that type of rolling cabinet is 2x to 3x larger than the kind I’m talking about.
I was fed this ad on YouTube after reading this article. Wierd…since I turned off tracking. Anywho, Dragonfire workbenches is the brand. The owner and company is American but there’s no indication on the site of where it’s made. The selling point appears to be industrial quality at affordable prices.
I’m still a little skeptical given the quality of the website and the owner’s claim to be a former head of marketing. I hope it’s not s fly by night rebranded products. What do you guys think?
I’ve never heard of that brand before, but the same is true for a lot of smaller brands.
Nothing on the website suggests they manufacture anything themselves or in the USA. That’s not bad, if the products suit you and the company stands behind their products.
It looks like the company has been around for a couple of years; it doesn’t look like they’re “fly by night.”
The same forces that drove crappy imported products drive crappy domestic products.
Imported products got better over time. Workers could demand higher pay, and shipping hasn’t gotten any cheaper either. With those forces at play, it’s no wonder that crappy box manufacturing came back to the USA.
Use less skilled labor, compromise design details, cut corners, and demand rapid turnaround cause your new factory needs to turn a profit ASAP. Doesn’t matter: that “MADE IN THS USA from foreign and domestic components” sticker will buy ya just enough goodwill to get away with selling disposable crap for a bit.
It hits a price point, but it shatters the illusion that “made in America” means a thing in regards to quality. In truth, we’ve always made crap here alongside the good stuff. Just…nowadays that good stuff seems to be a little harder to find…
I feel your pain here. I’d love to see these companies take pride in their products. But at the end of the day…meh. Nothing in this world lasts. Toolboxes? Doubly so. You’re only supposed to open those drawers like three times max, bro. Seriously.
Great article, thanks! Im about to purchase a used Proto 560S box, but the one I’m looking at has different casters and different drawer locking mechanisms than the most current model (they are located inside the drawer face instead of inbetween frame and drawer). Anybody know where I can try to research this Proto model? Called Proto and they just said it’s likely an older model. Would like to know what it is prior to purchase… wish I could post a picture here….
I’m sorry – I don’t know of any such reference. Brands do change tool box designs on occasion, but it’s usually only consumer models with large followings that are community-tracked.
Kennedy Tool boxes are some of the best made in the USA. They’re mostly for machinist but I like them for all kinds of work. Super well made. SnapOn is outrageous with their pricing. Way too much. Jeez. It’s not gold plated.
Snap-On does offer their revolving credit payment plans and may also deliver their boxes to your shop. So, that may be worth something – just maybe not the premium they charge. In the businesses I was involved with – we bought most if not all of the tools used on the job. Our workers did not have to go into debt over tools – unless they wanted to for some other reason than working for us. For our fabrication business where we bought the most MRO tools – for mechanic’s tools – we bought brands like Armstrong, Martin, Proto, and Williams – not Cornwell, Mac, Matco or SnapOn.
One interesting thing about Snap-On is that they are very generous with their toolbox trade-up policy. I spoke with a Snap-On dealer about two years ago and they were willing to give me 100% of current retail as trade-in credit for my ~18 year old roll cab if I upgraded to a larger model.
If you won’t name bad products, your site is just irrelevant.
I’m choosing to give them time to fix things. This isn’t a popular line, and the OEM is more known in industrial spaces.
If you ask for recommendations, these aren’t included, and there are others I can point to as capable of delivering consistently good experiences.
I rarely post about bad products, but these experiences especially frustrated me.
When I post about USA-made products, some commentors complain about the price. When I post about import products, some commentors complain about politics and China. Here, I wanted to vent about how there’s a scarcity of USA-made products in this space and how the ones I tried were shoddily made.
Specifics will come when I can be sure this wasn’t a one-time issue.
I’ve commented before that I believe that it is pretty hard to produce quality consumer goods at low price and consistently high quality. Implementing and following through on on something like a
DMAIC (V) process, likely means that you will find and reject or rework some product before it reaches your customer. If you have a robust inspection QA/QC and involve all of your staff (from the guy who sweeps the floor up to the top manager) you might succeed – but only if you have buy-in and involvement with your customers. That’s not trivial for consumer goods. Maybe you have taken the first step with your feedback to the as yet unnamed manufacturer. Let’s hope that rather than brushing you off as a crank – they take a look at their processes and some root cause analysis of the defects that you encountered.
Ive had a US General/Harbor Freight 1st gen box for 10+ years. Rolled down the driveway into the car trailer and thousands of miles bouncing around full of tools. Zero complaints from me or my tools. Id rather spend the money on some better tools than a toolbox. For the money they are hard to beat.
I bought a craftsman stainless steel usa made drawers open up without opening them up if you walk close to drawers your cloths will get caught on drawer edges and get shredded up my shorts ,pants ,shirts ,sweaters all have taken a hit ….