It hasn’t been very long since my last “DIY vs. store-bought shop solutions” type of discussion post, but recent comments prompted the topic again.
Almost every time new storage products come out, whether garage cabinet and storage systems, workshop accessories, or tool organizers, there’s the same repeated cry – “just make it yourself!”
In response to my post on Ryobi’s latest Link system expansion, some readers commented about Ryobi’s marketing photo.
The couple shown here, presumably married homeowners that are really into DIY and maybe hobbies, have plenty of tools, so why didn’t they just build their own garage storage setup?
I like to think of myself as quite capable, and I certainly have plenty of tools, but I don’t “DIY” everything in my life.
I have a huge list of projects on my to-do list, with different motivations and priorities behind each one. Let’s say that the need for a wall cabinet comes up. Do I add the design and fabrication of such a cabinet to my to-do list, or do I just get one at the store?
Can I build something with the same material properties as something I can buy? I have access to screws, nails, rivets, and off-the-shelf adhesives, but not the equipment needed for complex working of plastic and sheet metal materials.
Might a DIY solution work better? Cost appreciably less money? Save me time or effort? Provide a source of joy? Help me develop my skills?
There are times when there are two paths – DIY and ready-made – and the right choice is going to be different for everyone.
I will sometimes post about products or workshop accessories I would definitely rather make myself than buy, and I do so because i) everyone’s needs and wants vary, and ii) I figure other DIYers or fabricators might appreciate the design inspiration.
I built my own drawer cabinets, and I like them a lot, but there are definitely compromises compared to traditional tool chests and rolling cabinets that are largely made from sheet metal.
See Also: ToolGuyd Tool Cabinet Build, Getting There, and Thinking Aloud About Drawer Sizing
I currently have Ikea kitchen wall cabinets in my office, for over-workbench storage, and I have been slowly planning a DIY replacement build. If I had held off for my DIY solution, I’d still have nothing there. Instead, the store-bought cabinets were relatively inexpensive and have served me for years.
For these needs, getting a fast and easy solution was more important to me than taking a long time to design and build a DIY setup. Plus, I now better understand what I think I need for this space, which allowed me to refine my plans over time.
I tend to defend the idea of buying store-bought solutions, not because they’re better, but because they can be better for different users on a case by case basis.
If you want a pizza, you can buy one fresh from a restaurant, pick up a frozen pizza at the supermarket, buy pre-made dough, sauce, and shredded cheese, or make your own pizza dough from scratch. You can make your own tomato sauce, and some even make their own cheese.
Some of the “everyone should make their own” comments frustrate me. Have you? Could you provide examples of comparable DIY projects? There are ways to convey DIY preferences in ways that don’t seek to shame others without the same proclivity.
“Well, why don’t you just get a welder and make your own steel workbench, storage cabinet, tool cart, etc.?”
Welding requires a fair amount of equipment, not to mention practice and skills development, and also additional tools and equipment for material prep, cutting, and finishing. Not everyone can or wants to get into welding.
As an aside, this photo of my long-ago workbench (circa 2011) reminds me that I still need to plan out a new garage workbench or assembly table. I’m not sure of the direction it will go in.
Ideally, I need two workbenches – one for woodworking, the other for assembly and maybe catch-all storage on the bottom. Maybe I can do it all with one workbench. So far, I know what I’m doing for the worktop and for the casters. I’m stuck on the frame and legs, between massive 8020 extrusions I haven’t bought yet, or laminated maple.
If I had a more urgent immediate need, indecisiveness would cost me time, and making the wrong design decisions would cost more in other ways.
I like to think that I have balanced views when it comes to DIY vs. store-bought. What’s your take on things?
I use a combination of both too. When I DIY, it is usually because I have time and think I can make something better than a pre-made solution – though sometimes I just want to save money.
There’s a place for store-bought though! DIYing takes time – and it doesn’t always save money. Sometimes a pre-made solution makes modularization easier and gives you a solution you can use right now.
For example, my pliers drawer has an organizer I made from hobby-board. I was using a wire rack before that – and thought hard about upgrading to the racks made by Ernst, Tekton or Lisle before I DIY’d.
With my hobby board rack though, I have a slot specifically-sized for each pair of pliers. They’re all stored on edge for high-density. I don’t have to leave any room to slide them out forward an back – the slot height is specific to each pair so I can grab them with my fingers and pull up. Plus it looks trick. 😄
…but that wasn’t a quick solution and if I saved money, it wasn’t much (would have been cheaper and just as functional to cut strips of plywood, but I went with the solid hobby board for looks).
All that to say – I like having premade options too. You don’t have to kit-out your entire workshop that way. It might be handy to just have a battery storage rack, for example, where the price is cheap and the DIY effort would be high.
Is there any place you have a picture posted of the above pliers rack?
Something online you modeled it after?
I don’t have an easy way to share a picture of mine, but I’d say the “Tool Sorter” pliers rack is the closest commercial product.
Mine is similar, but rather than being open at one end, the channel the pliers sit in are capped at the appropriate length for each – then another pair sits in the channel (I.e. two pliers in each row).
For the most part, by lining up on long pair with a short pair, there’s very little wasted space – where I have a little gap I’ve used it to store circlip plier tips, some Channellock 424’s and other small items.
The tray is also the size of my drawer.
Thank you sir
My time is valuable. For most of my cases as a homeowner, i’ll buy ready made or easy to assemble.
Oh, but since we are talking about storage and DIY…. does anyone have any ideas for a custom soft or hardcase that is expandable for a socket set? I have an old Craftsman set that came in a zippered softshell clamshell and the elastic that retained the sockets and tools has lost its ability to retain anything.
I look at sets with hardshell cases, but they are all blown mold and don’t see to allow for expandability. And the only custom things I have been able to find are for toolchest drawers or similar.
Thanks in advance.
A slim Packout organizer could work- just put the socket set in one or two (Metric and SAE?) and if you want to add complementary tools, just lock them into the original box. Hopefully this helps!
How much work do you want to do?
Check out the Felo 62367 XS. I would really like to replicate something like that myself, though I expect it would take considerable effort.
An easy option would be to rivet some socket rails to an existing metal toolbox – add whatever you want for extra tools. You could probably do the same with an Ernst socket tray too – maybe use the magnetic version?
Tekton and others make plastic socket rails and trays that could be fitted into a steel or plastic toolbox. Tote trays could be use with the box to hold shorter sockets. Alternatively, you could make inserts out of plywood and screw down metal socket rails sold at HF and elsewhere.
I would put all the sockets on a rail. I like Ernst rails, you can twist the socket to lock it onto the rail and you can set it up with sockets on both sides of the rail. toss that, the ratchet and extensions into a Klein canvas zippered bag and you’re all set. if there’s 1/4″ screwdriver bits in the set I think there are empty rails or holders you can get for those.
thanks everyone for the suggestions. I found some Kobalt magnetic holders at Lowes, so I bought one to try. I like it, works for smaller sockets, but won’t fit some of the larger 3/8″ sockets. So might look at these rails.
It’s very hard to be more cost effective than a factory. That’s the reason they dominate the world output. Only if the customization has great benefits or you have scrap material to use does DIY win out, or if doing it is your hobby. Stuart’s pattern of getting “good enough” for a start, to really drive home what features you want and then upgrade to that is ideal. Sure, is an “additional” up front cost, but you can justify it as amortized over the time period you use it to learn what you really need. And then buy smart.
Exactly, and a lot of times the store-bought solution is better or “good enough.”
I am also often being able to repurpose the original solution, so that time, effort, and money aren’t wasted.
Even when you have a factory and the capability to make your own – it is most often more cost efficient to buy. We had ample capability in our metal fabrication shop to build storage solutions. We built plenty custom racks and enclosures for our aircraft clients. But we had mostly Lista, Rotabins and Shadowboards in our tool and parts rooms -rather than diverting productive time to creating shop-made alternatives .
I see both sides of that which is why I try to refrain from always saying build it yourself.
take that rail – hanging system (nearly anybody’s) well one thing you’ll see people say is – gee just make a french cleat system . . . . ..
I did by the way and while it works for me I will say it costs about 400 dollars. no not in material. my time – if adjusted for my labor rate as per any normal work day for me. I chose to eat that for 2 big reasons. 1) I wanted to do it myself for the experience of it since I hadn’t before and 2) I wanted to be a custom as possible to the space I was going to use.
Something store bought stuff doesn’t always do for you.
The experience and time – well making the cleat wasn’t the hard part as that’s a table saw rip of some stuff I had. Don’t have a table saw – well shame on you . . . . no use a jig saw with the base canted or use a circ saw – etc etc. It’s a good learning experience for someone or could be. My issue was making my hanger pieces -and again I wanted to full DIY it with stuff I had. So I was challenging myself. using some left over dowel and ply to make a hanger for a rake, a shovel, etc etc.
Took me 3 hours one wednesday that I took off from work to clean and organize the garage. sure. could I have saved time with a _________ system – probably. would I have learned a jig technique for drilling for the dowels – no.
TLDR – there is a good reason for both options – sometimes a person needs to challenge themselves to a DIY project not to save money but to do it.
I completely agree with your post. I started a French Cleat wall in my external garage, but haven’t finished it yet (3/4″ plywood is expensive!). Besides the flexibility it allows, it’s the fun of creating my own tool holders and being creative /learning along the way. If it’s not perfect, that’s fine, it’s just for my shop. Plus, if we ever need to sell the house, I can take take the holders with me and just rip new wall cleats rather than having to potentially leave a tool holder system behind if it was attached to a wall.
For me it depends very much on what the specific item is.
If we’re talking a toolbox or a cabinet with drawers then I absolutely will purchase those pre-made. Likewise for most storage bins and containers.
Things like a row of hooks on the wall to hang up garden tools? I’ll happily buy hooks or clamps but it’s not going to be one of those expensive branded wall storage options from Ryobi or Milwaukee. Likewise for hanging tools on the wall behind a workbench I’ll happily buy pegboard or slat wall but again I steer away from the more modern expensive plastic options.
Workbench? If it’s light duty and I’m not going to be using it much I’ll happily buy one, unless the size makes that awkward. Anything other than light duty? Fabricate. There’s either no alternative or the alternative is impractically expensive.
Little things like doorstops, a rack to hold drill press accessories next to the drill press, a clamp holder for woodworking, a roll-around cart for lathe chucks, hooks on the wall to organize saw blades, etc? DIY.
I’m not opposed to store-bought organizational gear, only that which is overpriced and/or flimsy, but IMHO that’s an awful lot of it.
Oh, and it also depends on the person. If you don’t have the skills, tools, or the interest then clearly you aren’t going to be making your own organizational gear. On the other hand, if you have a lot of tools (as many of these garage organizational product photographs show) then I’m going to assume those tools aren’t just for show. I wouldn’t assume that the average person would make their own garage shelving. But when I see a bunch of woodworking tools in the photograph–enough to suggest that the people involved do have the skills and the interest–then it seems strange that that person would buy an overpriced solution instead.
Old filing cabinets. Always available used at low or no cost and great storage. I’ve got a couple 5-drawer “standard” cabinets and a large lateral cabinet that meet a lot of my storage needs.
I use old file cabinets for most of my storage. Paid anywhere from free to $20 depending on the size and style. Most were under $10.
Do what works for you. Simple as.
Who in their right mind would choose that green plastic Ryobi wall hanging weirdness? You can’t lump other ready made solution with that.
It’s just the most recent example.
Agreed, that green is probably outlawed by several arms control treaties.
I found that a lot of the trades guys like all this plastic storages options for being some kind of status symbol that represents being skilled because of the cost. Kinda same way mechanics can be about having a toolbox full of overpriced tool truck brands. As a carpenter/business owner of over 25 years, someone having all shiny new tools on a jobsite is a red flag for inexperience. Best advice is try to have as many of the right tools you need and it’s OK to have some lowerend tools that are not used very often and buy highend quality tools when you are making money with them. Don’t get caught up in this mindset that the tools you own are a mirror image or the reflection of your manhood. End of the day, getting job done makes you look cool, not the tools.
And machinists drool over Gerstner toolboxes.
For me, DIY project time is my free time or whatever is left after my day job and tending to the family. So usually I will buy rather than make. The only time I would make a storage item is if I couldn’t find a pre made solution.
I really love my Gladiator cabinets that I used to buy every time Sears would have a big sale on them. Certainly cheaper than making from scratch. Those days are gone though.
I built most of my workshop storage because
1. I could custom fit it to the room I had available, the things I wanted to store, and my project needs. For instance, I have a lot of sf of workbench top, because I’m rarely working on just one project, and need the room.
2. I enjoyed planning and building it.
3. I’ve found that wood shelving, pegboard, countertops are a little more flexible for me than manufactured steel, because I’m able to attach holders for power chargers, brooms, outlets, extension cords, etc, on any side and at any height.
I didn’t make everything: I have niches for two different Husky tool chests, and a portable Kreg table that usually lives the middle of the shop.
This blog post nicely sums up the tradeoffs of various tool storage systems:
Still working through this myself, but I’m pretty much to the point where I have all the tools I need (the additional tools I want are either nicer versions of what I already have, or larger, pretty much stationary things: a bandsaw, shooting plane, a Jointmaker Pro, or special-purpose: Tanos MW-1000, and a Bridge City Tools drilling jig) — and after trying to avoid it for a long while, I’m pretty much on-board w/ Systainers.
I’m going to make one last effort to make a custom fitted toolchest for my most frequently used tools — if that doesn’t work out, Systainers it is.
I think “all the tools I need” is the decisive factor. It is different for a professional that needs a certain number of tools for specific jobs and different for DIY where you can tinker with 10 different things at once and you move from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next.
In that radioactive vomit picture they have one saw, one clamp, one hammer, one rubber mallet. That is not me. When they get a second clamp they will need more plastic. In a couple of years no more of the same will be available and these would have decomposed. The color at least. If you got gardening tools… forget it.
I have an electronics workspace very similar to the picture with custom wooden shelves on the side with many ready-made small plastic containers. The rest of my works spaces are a mixture. If I get materials for fee I will put them to good use. Old garage roof caved in; made wooden chests. Replaced plumbing; old pipes turned into carts for the electric kiln I made and my tig welder and accessories.
Both but almost never buy new. More repurposed store bought stuff like file cabinets as storage. An old wire cd rack as a plyers rack. I do have a store bought tool box that was new. I inherited what I believe to be a home made wood workers bench and one my wife picked up when Home Depot was throwing out one used as a computer desk. Cabinets from somewhere i can get them used for free or cheap
If it involves drawers or doors, I buy it. Otherwise, 2x4s, heavy duty hooks from Amazon, and track shelving have done just fine.
I’m in service work. I need a lot of tools and materials. Basically I have to carry the whole warehouse and tool crib with me. So storage is critical.
If you l just stack everything in say labeled lidded storage crates I guarantege you will use minimal space but you can’t find a thing. Storage will always take up some space.DIY shelving is about the same cost if you factor in labor. DIY CAN be very high quality but depends on who does it. If it is built for the desired stuff, it takes up much less space compared to store bought.
But DIY cAn also bf
A mixture of both. I have metal rolling tool cabinets, but I often modify them by adding hooks or other structure to the side, and if they are in the open, a wood back that I can further customize . I get a lot of satisfaction taking something that mostly works and add function.
I do build all my workbenches from scratch, because I found a leg system that works great on an old episode of “The New Yankee Workshop” (S14E07). It results in a strong by light structure than can be easily moved, which is important in my shop.
While I would love to buy these ready made “LinkedVersaTradePack” systems. If I add everything up I would need It would wind up being too expensive. And while there would be a cost for me to DIY a system. It would be off set by the fact I have spare material at home that could be sourced for the project.
I never factor in “my time” to a project, because nothing I’m doing is generating income. It’s all for fun for me, and not subject to a deadline. Also, once I buy a system piece. If I discontinue it’s use, I’m either stuck with an obsolete piece or having to sell it. While my DIY piece can go back into the scrap pile to be reused again normally. For instance, when I got rid of my cordless circular saw, all the wood used in the holder for it was usable and went back to my scrap wood section.
If we could only post pictures.
I do a combination of DIY for the stuff they don’t make the way I want and off the shelf stuff to round it out storage wise. Best of both worlds.
I think Stuart’s example of a Pizza….restaurant, frozen or homemade (and homemade can have different levels), is an excellent analogy.
I worked for 15 years in restaurants and made pizza dough, sauce, grated the cheese and so on. My wife often wants me to make it at home; she figures it would be fun! The time it takes to make everything is not worth it for me. I have my favorite pizza restaurants or favorite frozen, which are good enough.
I make just about anything and everything I can, but like the pizza, sometimes what is involved is not worth the time.
Of course, anything is good and fun to try a couple of times. That is also how you end up realizing if it is worth your while to keep do this long term or to buy a finished product is better.
As always, to each their own.