What toolbox should I get?

What toolbox should I buy?

Mac MB1700 Box with side boxes - the resident land yacht
   This will probably be your single most expensive tool purchase.  That makes it critical that you make an informed decision about what you will purchase.  I will again try to limit my comments to the areas in which I have some expertise, I.E. aviation maintenance and home workshop.  My focus is not so much on the brand of toolbox that you buy, but what to look for in a box.  

Unidentified Mac Box
    Aviation maintenance has a number of distinctives in the tools that are required.  First off, we use almost exclusively 1/4" drive tools, and the vast majority of wrenches we use are between 5/16"-3/4".  What does that mean for buying a toolbox?  It is generally better to have more smaller drawers than to have larger, deeper, drawers and full-width top drawers often preferred by auto and diesel mechanics.  It also is not as critical for us to have the weight-bearing capacity that a diesel mechanic might need for his bigger and heavier tools.  I definitely think that aircraft mechanics would get along better with cheaper tool boxes than some other mechanic careers.

Mac MB1700 Box with top and side box and side locker
Giant toolbox sample drawer = lots of junk, little tools that get used.
    Another important consideration for A&P mechanics is that we often move toolboxes around and under airplanes.  I highly recommend skipping the top box.  Only one mechanic in our shop has a top box, and I cannot even begin to tell you how many times we have to move his box or take the long way around because it is too tall to fit underneath a wing or tail.  Skipping the top box means that buying a larger bottom box is a higher priority.  Most of the hangars that I have been in have plenty of room for  moving around, and going through doors is also usually not an issue like in some auto shops, so deep and long boxes are usually preferred in aviation.  If you don't fill your box with a whole bunch of old parts and duplicate tools, you will be shocked at how much it will hold.  The only guys who cannot fit into a 56" box have drawers that look like this.

Snap-On Classic 96 Box - Has not moved in two years
    I also believe very strongly in having the top of my box as a workbench.  It is very convenient, and in my opinion only requires a modicum of effort to keep tools and junk off of the top of the box.  If you top your box with old kitchen countertop, butcher block or whatever, you can beat on, paint, lubricate and wrench to your heart's content without having to worry about your box.  I have also seen vises mounted to the top of the box, and that seems to work very well.  The only issue I have heard with that is that other people are always using your box.  

Mac Tech 1000 Box
    I personally recommend buying a 56" long bottom box.  I would not really recommend starting out with a triple bank box.  In my experience, boxes bigger than 56" almost never move because they are such a hassle to roll around the shop.  If you find out that you need more space, you can always buy side boxes.   My own box is a 25 year old Snap-On KRL-1000b, and it is 53" long x 29" deep x 45" tall.  I like a lot of things about my box, but it isn't perfect either.  I bought mine used off of  Craigslist for $1100 (the MAC guy offered me $3000 for it on trade, I told him no thanks).  The guy had all the keys, and the original receipt!  One caveat with that is, if you buy used, have your tool guy run the serial number to make sure that your seller has it paid off, and that the box hasn't been reported stolen.  There are a lot of excellent deals on Craigslist, if you have the cash.

Craftsman Pro Box
    If you do not have the cash to buy a big box right away, I would highly recommend buying a small, cheap, box that you wouldn't mind using at home in your own shop.  You can consistently find Craftsman boxes in the $150-$250 range on craigslist in my area, some including tools, and they make great starter and home boxes.   As you make money and buy more tools, you can upgrade to a bigger box.  You will also have the advantage of time to evaluate what others have and how well it works.  The more on-the-job experience that you have before you make this decision, the more likely you will be satisfied with your final decision.  School cannot substitute for real experience.

My Snap-On KRL-1000 Box
  I will start off critiquing my own box.  What I like about it:
Lifetime warranty (shouldn't really need)
Heavy duty drawer slides (Not as important for A&Ps)
The height (45" is 6" taller than most boxes, better for use as a workbench for me as a 6' guy)
The drawer setup (lots of smaller ones with big ones at the bottom)
Heavy duty casters
The 27" deep drawers are great for space, but probably not for you if you have short arms.  
It is still easy to move.
Large bottom drawer is perfectly sized for hanging file folders.
First and last box I will ever buy.

What I don't like about it:
The drawer detents (the Snap-On  man replaced all of them under warranty, but they just don't work that well, either too stiff, or they have broken again)
Hard to find side box for a 25 year old box
Back of 27" drawers can be a long reach
That is about it.

Unidentified Waterloo Box
     I cannot comment with very much authority on the cheaper boxes because almost everything we have at work is from Mac, Snap-On, and Matco.  Unless you are going for a really cheap starter box that you will take home and replace eventually, you will for sure want ball bearing drawers.  I actually like the Craftsman grip-latch, and Snap-On slide latch as well.  Some of the new boxes have adjustable detents, but how much weight a drawer has in it really affects how the detents work, vs. the drawer latches seem unaffected by weight.  I have friends that use and like the Kobalt boxes from Lowes, Harbor Freight boxes, and Craftsman boxes as well.  I haven't used them enough to tell what the compromises are with those boxes, and whether or not you can live with them.  For me personally, I think a decent box is probably worth it if you are using it to make money.  Everyone will offer you an opinion, but don't let yourself get bullied into spending $6000 just for a name.  I don't think that you will regret buying any mid-level toolbox, and I don't think that the top of the line boxes from MAC, Snap-On, or Matco really add much value for us as A&P's because most of what they offer is a higher payload, which isn't a big consideration for our tool collection.  They are also heavier, which means that they will be more difficult to roll.  

Mac MB1500
  My experience with all the toolboxes at work has been pretty well positive. We happen to have a Mac man who is very good, so Mac has wound up as the preferred toolbox and tool set.  Matco is largely ignored because we don't have a Matco tool truck.  

    In summation, I think that any mid-level toolbox will serve well, because we as A&P's aren't in our toolboxes as much as auto and diesel mechanics, and our tools are lighter.  The more expensive toolboxes don't, in my opinion, add much value for us as mechanics.  Big bottom boxes with lots of drawers and no top box are the best option for aviation.  

I would love to hear from you guys what box or boxes you have or had, and what your experience with each was.  I am especially curious what works well for auto and diesel mechanics.


  1. I haven't used them enough to tell what the compromises are with those boxes, and whether or not you can live with them. For me personally, I think a decent box is probably toolox worth it if you are using it to make money.

  2. I feel your breakdown of different boxes was right on. I am also a A&P mechanic and totally agree with having just a bottom box with several drawers. There are are several mechanics that have all three of the major brand boxes. Yes your right about constantly moving your box to the different areas of the plane that your going to working. So it is very important to have nice caster wheels to make it easier to maneuver. I just bought my second box which is a Mac tech 1000 which I paid $1350 for...my first box was my dad's old craftsmen box which definitely did the job. I'm sure he appreciated me using it instead of getting rid of it. Thanks Dad! ☆

  3. My friend is an aviation mechanic and his wife is considering purchasing him a new toolbox. It seems like a mechanic would have very specific needs when it comes to purchasing a toolbox. I think it would be better to have him go chose a toolbox himself. http://www.servicevanequipment.com/toolboxes-adrian-crossover.php

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