I am a huge fan of Festool’s Systainer organizers, but tend to favor Bosch L-Boxxes and Dewalt ToughSystem storage cases. L-Boxxes are more affordable, especially around Christmas and Father’s Day, and ToughSystem cases are larger and stronger.
Related: Which is the Best Modular Tool Box Storage System?
But when it comes to small parts storage, nothing else comes close to Festool Sortainers.
I should start off by mentioning some of the other types of storage and organizational products I own and use:
- Stanley organizers
- Bosch L-Racks with iBoxx drawers
- Bosch L-Boxx 1A’s
- Akro Mils steel organizers
- Akro Mils plastic organizers
- Schaller bins for drawers
- Quantum dividable grid containers
- Flambeau divided compartment plastic boxes
- Various other brands’ divided compartment plastic boxes
- Durham organizer drawers
- Akro Mils bins
These are just the ones out in the open or pulled from immediate memory.
Why mention the other products? Because Sortainers are currently priced at $145-160 EACH. That’s a lot of money, too much to spend on a whim. I am very familiar with what’s available, and for some of particular storage needs Festool Sortainers are simply more suitable.
If you’re looking for new storage and organizing solutions, consider less expensive options first. That’s what I did, and will continue to do. But there are certain times when I just cannot settle for less. That’s why I now have 10 Sortainers.
The 12-drawer unit is great for small parts. Each drawer is 3-1/4″ wide and about 11″ long, internally. I find this configuration to be best for holding fasteners and small parts. Drawer height is a hair under 1-3/8″.
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6-Drawer Festool 491984
The 6-drawer unit has double-width drawers that measure ~6-3/4″ wide x 11″ long x 1-3/8″ tall. I have one that Festool sent over as a test sample a while back, but tend not to favor this configuration. I plan to load one of these drawers with foam and precision screwdrivers, so maybe my opinion will eventually change.
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The 9-drawer unit is configured with (6) single-width drawers and (3) double-width drawers. If you owned one 12-drawer unit and a 6-drawer unit, you could swap the drawers to create two of these 9-drawer units.
I have more of these 9-drawer units than of the other configurations since the two drawer sizes offer greater flexibility.
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I also have a 4-drawer unit that Festool sent over for testing, and I don’t really like the super-large drawer. This would be the kit you load a cordless drill/driver, battery packs, and an assortment of drill bits in fasteners in.
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These cases have steel reinforcement between each level. This image is of the 4-drawer unit with the large drawer removed.
The drawers lock into the cases and can be easily removed when needed.
The drawers can be inserted into the cases from either the front or the back.
Sortainers can be stacked together, and if you wish you can lock them together as well. If you wish to combine them with T-Loc Systainers, Sortainers must be on the bottom.
Carrying handles allow for easier transport.
Drawer dividers are included, and additional dividers can be purchased separately.
The small and medium sized drawers can be moved around as desired. Do you want to create a 7-drawer unit with 5 medium drawers and 2 smaller ones? No problem.
Sortainers are really well built and are a pleasure to use. The drawers are made of plastic, but feel rugged and well-built. The drawer latches are rugged as well, and can be replaced if you happen to destroy them.
This is a very minor gripe, but I can never figure out why small drawers in the two bottom middle positions always seem to get a little stuck. This happened with the Sortainers I tried years ago, and is still the case with the ones I use now. If I pull up on the latch with my pointer finger and press against the Sortainer housing with my thumb, there’s no issue. If there’s a medium drawer or drawers in those positions, no issue.
Another minor gripe is how difficult it can be to clear a jammed drawer. Solution: take extra efforts reduce the likelihood of a jam by not over-filling the drawers.
Pricing is really the only major downside. Sortainers are NOT inexpensive.
How I Use Them
My Sortainers don’t get moved around too often. In fact, except for one or two, they’re all stationary most of the time.
I have found that Sortainer drawers are just the perfect sized for random small parts that cannot be grouped with other components. For instance, one of my Sortainers is holding a couple dozen 1/2″ square high-clarity acrylic cubes. Another contains all of my Wago Lever-Nuts, while an Akro Mils 64-compartment organizer is home to my other wire terminals and quick-release connectors.
Another Sortainer houses specialty woodworking fasteners, such as the kind meant to be used with dowel nuts. My Woodpeckers cross dowel jig is nearby in a larger drawer.
I do keep some often-reached-for machine screws in there as well, but most are kept in my Durham, Quantum, and Akro Mils organizers.
It might sound strange, but I also use medium sized drawers to hold small electronics projects. They have no problem housing breadboards and related components. Sometimes I won’t be able to get back to a project for a day, a week, or longer, and so a self-contained project is one that doesn’t get lost. When I’m ready to pick it up, I know exactly where it is.
Mainly, I use Sortainer drawers when I want to store or organize parts in a single lockable, removable, mobile, and dividable drawer. There’s not quite anything like it from anywhere else.
Right now I have eight Sortainers, with two more incoming. Four of these Sortainers were supplied by Festool, one was purchased from Festool Products (Tool Nut), and the rest were purchased from Amazon.
Festool Sortainers aren’t suitable for all types of users. They’re expensive, and although versatile there is limited configurability. Do you need a tall narrow drawer? Look elsewhere.
You pay a little extra for the connectivity, which does come in handy now and then when I need to take a Sortainer on-the-go or when I want to bring it closer to a project.
Sortainers are great organizers, but require a bit of extra research ahead of time. The Festool Owners Group has some great examples of what different users store in their Sortainers. Some use it for tools, others parts and supplies, and others like myself use it for unspecific workshop storage needs.
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Note: (4) Sortainers were provided by Festool for review (thank you!). I reviewed these a while ago (Make Magazine, Vol. 32) and kept them in use. As of 3/21/14, I purchased (6) additional Sortainers.
I watched a few of the live streaming demos – and video clips on Festool Connect yesterday and must say that I had mixed emotions. Not surprisingly, what I saw were folks extolling the virtues of good tools, good dust extraction, well made storage and transport solutions etc. One fellow talked about the convenience of rolling an integrated package of tools/supplies off his truck. Another talked about working in high-rise apartments and the ease of transporting Festool packages on elevators. Still another painter showed how to carry paint cans, brushes, rags etc. using a Festool products. By that point, some of it started sounding to me a bit of cult worship. Don’t get me wrong I really like the Festool products that I own (Domino 700 and Track saw ) – and I like the way the systainers/sortainers/dollies that came with them and ones that I bought separately integrate as a package – but you pay a hefty premium for this added convenience. My take is that they work well integrated together – but I’m not sure I’d pay the extra bucks for a sortainer as a standalone solution. Maybe if I had to start over – buying new sanders and routers – then maybe they might be Festool and their associated supplies and bits would be in systainers and sortainers too.
I tend to consider Festool products in the same light as industrial products – they’re solutions that cost what they cost.
Some consumers take cult-like stances because they invest a lot of money in Festool gear and feel compelled to justify their expenses. Others, like myself, are simply pleased with their experiences and seek to share them.
As always, thanks for the in-depth review.
I don’t understand why you are using the sortainers if they are stationary, especially given the premium price.
I don’t know how your garage/shop is laid out, but 10 x $150 = $1,500 could get you a huge Lista cabinet with tons of space.
Another great solution I’ve seen is people making a vertical rack for containers like Stanley or Flambeau models. Each one rests on a set of runners, so you can pull an individual container from the stack.
My workspace and what you can call my office share the same space. i) I am out of floor space, and ii) I made a point not to bring >150 lb tool cabinets up the stairs. We plan to move in the next year or so, at which time I will definitely look towards Lista to expand my drawer storage volume.
The Sortainers can be moved around, and I do move them from time to time. Right now I have 2 on my desk and the 6 others on a short cabinet stacked 2-units tall. The 2 additional ones might be moved to my desk or onto one of the workbenches.
I have 5 Stanley organizers and considered buying more and building a rack to contain them, in a Sortainer T-Boxx fashion. But I cannot see additional Stanley organizers as being helpful right now, and I don’t have a place to put a large rack for them. T-Boxxes are another option but there’s only one USA distributor who charges $90 each for them. The Stanley organizer is great for some things, but for others I find drawers to be more efficient and easy to use.
My Stanley organizers have themes, such that I usually need access to multiple bins at once for a project. My Sortainer drawers have supplies that aren’t highly related to each other.
The Sortainers are akin to Akro Mils’ heavier duty organizers, but with locakble drawers, a plastic frame instead of metal, and more flexible drawer configuration options.
Expanding my Sortainer lineup wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m glad I did. I started by buying two more, then another two, and now another two.
I also have a growing collection if mini Systainers. While the minis are also quite pricey ($25), I find them to be more useful than simpler plastic boxes.
Is the design of the drawers/container effective at preventing small parts from leaving their designated bins if this container were to get knocked around? Given what you said about overfilling and drawers jamming, I’m assuming this concern would also exist if the container got knocked around?
The dividers match the contours of the inner frame, so small parts should not leave their designated compartments.
The drawers typically only jam up when the drawers are overfilled near the brim. If the containers get knocked around, small non-directional parts shouldn’t jam the drawers. Something like 2″ x 1/4″ steel fasteners do tend to jam things up if one ends up sticking up after transport. For those types of parts I make sure not to fill the drawer more than 75% deep or so.
These are expensive but I think I will get one or two soon as I reckon they will be more convenient in the van than organiser boxes for fixings. I have also found a supplier here in the UK that sells these with their own selection of wood screws in for only slightly more than the empty sortainer, 3900 screws for an extra £15 sounds like a good deal to me.