After recently moving into and setting up a new shop, tool storage is on my mind. There are more ways to store hand tools than there are woodworkers, and they generally fall into two camps—in or out. Some woodworkers like to store their tools “in” something. That could be anything from a cardboard box to a tool chest on the floor. Tool cabinets are another “in” solution, whether they are pre-fab melamine or painstakingly crafted cabinets. One of the most famous of these is the Studley tool chest, which has garnered plenty of interest and has inspired many woodworkers to riff off of the design.
The reasons for storing tools in something are many, but some of the common ones make the most sense to me. Storing them this way keeps them free (relatively) from dust. There is moisture in dust and that can lead to rust. Dust rust is not the only type of rust, though. For those who don’t work in a climate-controlled shop, the unchecked humidity can wreak havoc on metal tools. I’ve never lived on either coast but I understand that areas close to salt water can be brutal on tools. If the tools are stored inside something, presumably you can mount some sort of dehumidifying product in the chest to help control the rust.
Another reason to store tools in something is to keep things organized. We’ve all seen tool cabinets that have a spot reserved for every tool. A spot for everything and everything in its spot is a beautiful thing. Again, the Studley chest is a fine example of how far one could go with this idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Studley chest, but I’m not going to be building one for myself anytime soon. Floor tool chests work for me and don’t seem as fussy about what goes where. In mine, I have a measuring till, chisel till, etc., but I don’t have a slot for every tool.
Here is what I’ve learned after 20 years of storing tools. I like to have my tools out in the open where I can see them. From a shop design perspective, I like they way all the tools look. It’s easy and functional decor. From a creativity perspective, I like seeing the tools and being inspired by them or remembering the story behind them. From a functional work perspective, I like being able to look up, spot the dividers I want, reach for them, and put them to use. I tried working out of an English-style floor chest for a couple of years and I didn’t enjoy it. That being said, I still have that chest that I inherited (it was made in the early 1800s) and I put tools that I don’t use often in there. Things like my bench chisels, measuring and marking tools, and saws all live out in the open.
I guess I’m in both camps as I speculate a lot of you are too. I’m not so worried about rust in my shop because I’m fastidious about cleaning and I oil down my often-used tools at the end of every project. Any tools that I use less often have a bit more oil on them to get them through the longer spells of not being handled. In the end, store your tools however works for you, enjoy woodworking, and don’t worry too much about the rest.
So how do you store your hand tools? Are they in, out, or a bit of both?
Check out this tour of Vic’s new shop he streamed recently:
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