If a discussion about toolboxes and whether a ShopSmith (serious multi-tool) seem like an odd pairing, relax. It’s not. Both have everything to do with how you get “the job” done.
Let’s Do Toolboxes First
It always struck me as odd: That Pappy Ure’s shop was constantly piled with tools and projects. Yet, when we were out salmon fishing, he un-erringly would say “Hand me a swivel from the tool box, second bin from right.” In what must confuse a lot of psychologists, people tend to organize things in their perceived level of importance. Or not….and that’s the confusing part.
As a tool-slut, I most likely have one of everything, two of many things, and a world-ending supply of consumables. Welding tips, how many 50-packs of 2-inch chip brushes do you need? And is having 15kg of PLA and ABS printing stock on hand a little nuts? (Don’t answer. It’d hurt my feelings…)
Tool storage, over time, ends up in one of five places: Large roll-around tool boxes…
Then we get to the meat of this discussion: Wooden versus plastic tool boxes.
Representing the plastic is this fishing tackle box from Amazon: An $11.44 Flambeau Outdoors 3 Tray – Frost Green/Black tackle box.
There are a lot of reasons to like this box for small tools. Besides price. Things like drills, small sockets, Allen wrenches, and even something heavier in the bottom. It’s not going to rust, it’s cheap, and it organized a lot of stuff.
Downsides? Well, if the bottom is lightly loaded and you have heavy items in the top bins, the stability takes a hike and it’s easy for it to fall back. Then everything is all over the place.
Meet the Competition
This is a bit more uppity, a lot more stable, plus it has that “senior craftsman” look that comes from a piece of wood. Granted, the 7 Elements Beechwood Multi-Function Artist Tool Box is $33-bucks at Amazon, but it has some pluses, as well:
As you can see, even with one of the top drawers open, the unit is not unstable. And the bin sizes are OK for up to 3-inch hex tools on the right side. Each compartment may be opened individually. And, if dropped, you don’t have 1.5 cubic feet of sorting to do.
Downside? Well, there is no finish like PLA (or that new triple-thick Varathane 3X that’s out now). It needs something more than the factory finish if you’re planning to take it out in the rain.
How to Rate Tool Storage?
Depends on what your criteria is. If you are looking for a simple, functional tool box, for something like a Dremel tool (which is where mine will be deployed) then plastic, for sure.
Put the machine, flex shaft, hanging bar, and extension cord in the bottom and load up the bins with small bits. Just hope you don’t drop it.
Years ago, I actually bought a blow-molded specialized Dremel tool box and have been disappointed in it. This is rare with a Dremel tool.
Let’s look at the features of their box: On the inside, you have room for the tool and above is a hatch, which I didn’t notice for a few months. Upon opening, some things will fit, but not some of my bit kits:
On the top of the Dremel tool box are two clear plastic pop-opens that expose lots of slots for the 1/8th inch bits to plug into. Like so:
See the problem?
When you drop this box (You don’t drop things? Right…). The end pops open and since there’s no internal lip to catch things, when you open the clear plastic part, bits are everywhere.
Blow-Mold Box Madness
Blow-molded tool boxes are both a blessing and a curse. They hide the cords and are less work to clean (with an air nozzle) than cleaning discrete tools.
But, oh my God! Do they waste space! At least with the $12 buck fishing box, everything is usable space.
DeWalt (and Milwaukee) make pretty good tools. And yet, here’s my (highly recommended DEWALT Deep Socket Set, 20-Piece, 1/4″ Drive Metric/SAE (DWMT73811) ($18.69, Amazon). (Don’t forget a 1/4″ adapter for the impact drill…) Even so, look how much of the space is actual tools and how much of the space is (useless filler)?
See how much is “boxing” and how much is tools, themselves?
Everyone does this. No idea why, except tool designers need to learn from lingerie designers: Less is more and more is less!
The ShopSmith Question
STS reader asked last Sunday:
As a kid, I was fascinated with the ShopSmith multi-tool (I think they did everything, including making julienne fries). But by the time I had the wherewithal to buy one, they had been litigated out of business.
Did you even encounter one of these beasts and if so, what was your impression? Worth chasing on CL or Ebay?
Thanks and 73’s.”
Wow – long question to answer, so let’s take it one step at a time.
While I can’t speak to past litigation, the ShopSmith tools are still being made – take a close look at the Mark 7 over here: Woodworking Tools — Shopsmith Woodworking Equipment and Supplies. Over $4,400 for the Mark 7 basic. Then addon’s will be ouch moments.
The ShopSmith is a kind of multi-tool on steroids. There’s a table saw, over and under router, sander, lathe, horizontal boring machine, and drill press. The systems gives a tremendously wide range of tooling/machine choices.
And there is still some support for the Mark V series and these do crop up on Craigslist and Offer-Up from time to time.
Whether you should buy used (or step up to new) or buy discrete machines as you need them…well, this is where the complexity comes in. The Doug Reid videos on Youtube and the ShopSmith site will give you a good feel for what the machines can do.
If I didn’t already have a very large shop with lots of tools, I would definitely take a look at the ShopSmith option. Realizing there are tradeoffs, though.
You can go through the machine list and come up with your own figures. But, for example, on the $250 class table saw I have, the rip can be up to 32″ wide. Both my existing saw and the ShopSmith use 10-inch blades. But the bore (center hole) on the ShopSmith is over 1-inch while mine is 5/8ths…so better blade attachment on the ShopSmith.
On the other hand, I have mine set up (when needed) with infeed rollers and a couple for the outfeed. So on either saw, you need to look at the material you plan to be using (like 3/4″ ply as full 8-foot sheets?) in order to see what will really work.
I am a HUGE fan of narrow kerf carbide combination blades…so they got many things spot-on.
It you’re going to be “all overs the place” with materials, the two issues that matter are the total table size (measure both sides from the blade) and then how much distance to the infeed. That is, operator side of table to saw blade.
On my cheapo saw, the distance is only about 8-inches. But, you’d want to know that distance on a ShopSmith for comparison.
Knowing the Educational Point: The further back the blade is, the greater cut stability. When the blade is back 10-12″ from the front of table is can be called a “hybrid” saw. Beyond that (over 12″ from the front) then you’re getting into cabinet saw country. Check rip widths on this point.
You’d have to do a worksheet up yourself to see if it makes sense. How big is my shop? Are your plans for cabinet work? In which case you might want a cabinet saw. But if you’re doing a wide range of “maker” projects, then it could be a good choice. Spendy. Good.
Just remember that a basic ShopSmith will likely need to be kitted out with additional add-ons. (Warning: Things get complicated here!). Because the list price (depending on machine) for their add-on planer (12″ wide) is over $1,000 and the standalones (like my Wen off Amazon) can be a third that. Maybe not as “good” in terms of quality. But am I facing off old pallet wood for a some bench project (yes) or opening a furniture factory (no)?
Before buying a used unit, I’d pop the few bucks for the owner’s manual and see what the limitations and capabilities are. The company is great on the support side with manuals available here.
Another HUGE variable is how much space do you plan on for a shop? If you don’t have at least 20X20 (e.g. a two-car garage with no cars in it) then maybe another hobby (like 3D printing or online shopping?) would be more your speed.
Have a great Easter and write when you get rich,