As usual, click any photo to bring up a larger version.
Tool Tote Organizer
NOTE: I produced a show-and-tell video about this project in 2016, and I
suggest that you visit that Updated
Web Page instead of this one!
This is a quick one-day project.
I recently inherited a collection of handtools.
Since, I already have a pretty complete selection of these basic
tools in my shop, I decided that some of them (pictured here) would
form the core of my "jobsite" tools. Now, I'm not a contractor, but I
still occasionally have a reason to bring tools to a friend's house,
or somewhere else, and gathering up a the right set of tools from my
shop was always a chore. Inevitably I would forget the one
item that I later find that I need.
I thought about making myself a fancy wooden toolbox... but only
briefly. Rather, I decided to work with this canvas tool tote that I
already owned. It's strong, and a good size, and I already own it.
(And yes, it was a freebie once when I bought some green tools...)
The downside of this tote, is that it is just one big compartment inside.
I don't want to just dump all my tools in it: That makes it hard to
find things, and can lead to damaged tools, and so on.
So I set about designing with a small tray/organizer to fit
inside this tote.
Here is one situation when a mock up in cardboard is a very
good idea. I grabbed a handy box that I had and set to work. (This
photo is post- cutting and taping, sorry.)
The tool tray could not bee too tall, as it needs to fit inside the
mouth of the tote. If you look back at the above photo, the mouth of
the tote is just a bit smaller than the dimensions of the base.
So I started with a shallow tray to fit in the bottom of the tote.
have a lot of screwdrivers, so I next mocked up a cardboard insert
down the middle, where I would drill holes to hold all those various
screwdrivers as well as a few other tools. This would also serve as
a divider, so I could keep the hammer and a few other large tools on
the one side, and have the other side open for various uses.
Here it is, inside the tote... It seemed to fit fairly well, and I
liked how the centre divider was looking, so I moved on to working in
wood from my scrap pile.
It was a good excuse to get some practise in with my box joint jig that I made last winter.
I considered using plywood for the sides, but I had some pine
available which I discovered was actually lighter than plywood. So I
planed that down to 1/2" thickness, ripped it to 3-1/2" wide, and then
milled box joints in the ends to make up a box.
Next, I turned my attention to the divider. I picked out a piece of
2x4 and ripped it to just 2" wide, which from the cardboard mockup
seemed sufficient width to allow a double row of screwdrivers. I then
marked out the locations for the screwdrivers and other things (such
as the nailset shown in the photo) to be placed in the divider.
After drilling holes in that piece and trying things out, I ended up
scrapping it and making up a second divider. This one I
notched at the ends to fit over the ends of the tray. The main
reason for this is that I realized that I wanted to hold the
screwdrivers a bit higher off the bottom of the tray -- some of the
screwdrivers are quite long.
This is also the first view of the bottom tray, after the fingers
have been glued up. I used a piece of thin and light 1/8" plywood for
the base. I knew that I would not need a thicker base, since I
have the strong fabric bottom of the tote to support it.
First look at the new divider. On the left end I planned to chop out
a large square hole as a sort of "catch-all" compartment for other
I decided to not extend the 2x4 divider right to the floor of the
tray. Instead I would use some more of that 1/8" plywood to make a
thin divider. I did want the two sides to be divided, but
I was also trying to be frugal with my space and weight.
I ripped a thin rabbet along the side of the divider, just thick enough
for the plywood divider
On the other side I ripped a stopped rabbet, since I want to box in
just the one end of the divider.
Clamped and glued, upside down, and probably looking very confusing if
you don't quite get what I'm aiming for here...
Here it is, being glued into place. You can now see the hole I cut in
the left side of the divider, which is why that end of the divider is
Here it is all filled with my inherited tools. There is a full set of
screwdrivers: three each of Phillips, Robertson, and Slotted. As well
a nail set, compass+pencil, chisel, needle-nose pliers, cutters,
adjustable wrench, a tape measure, and the all important hammer.
Everything is sorted and organized, and the other side of the tray is
still completely empty.
What you might not notice is that the divider is a touch off centre.
I purposely made the hammer compartment a bit narrower, as it only
needs to hold the hammer and wrench. As well this helps to keep the
other side as large as reasonably possible.
As you can see, it nicely fits inside the fabric tote, and holds all
my "jobsite" tools nicely organized and ready to go. Hopefully no
longer will I be somewhere only to discover I don't have the right
size/kind of screwdriver with me...