(Kobalt's flagship stainless steel tool chest, available complete with stereo. Price: $1398 at my local Lowe's. Ouch.)
I can probably say with all certainty that I’ve always wanted a mechanic’s tool chest. Even as a kid, I looked at the shiny red boxes at Sears, taller than I was, and thought of all the stuff I could stow in there-the coins, the shiny rocks, the pocket knives, and yes, the tools-all of it would find a home in the seemingly endless array of drawers that would somehow always be cooler than my painted blue dresser. My own father’s tool box was a humble Craftsman with a carry handle on the top, and it pretty much contained every tool he owned that would fit inside. My neighbor’s father, however, was a different story.
My neighbor growing up, whom I’ll call Link (not his real name, “Link” is taken from my dad calling him The Missing Link growing up-due to his largely simian features and behavior) had a tool chest of his own at an early age. Link’s father was a mechanic of sorts-he had fixed Jeeps and tanks in Germany in the Army in the mid-60s, and always had something in his garage with the hood up. He was famous for taking an absolute piece of crap car and not only making it run like a top, but for putting a more than passable coat of paint on it as well. Link’s Dad dropped a replacement engine in my ’82 Volkswagen Rabbit after I performed a distance test with a hot engine and no coolant (Rabbit+Suburban Junkyard=FAIL). Though he had never worked on one, he only asked for the factory Bentley manual (which I had been looking for an excuse to buy anyway at the time), and $100-though that figure did grow to $125 in the end-still a steal, especially since my motor had run me less than $400. The install was flawless.
Link’s Dad was by no means a rich man, so his workshop was an extension of that-much of his shelving was from scrap wood for the actual shelves, and metal formed into brackets. His hardware and fasteners hung in old jars, their lids nailed to a board and suspended from the low rafters of his basement. I always thought they looked like specimens in a weird Hardware Museum, or some do-it-yourself wing of the Smithsonian. In the dark crannies and corners, it was obvious that many of the tools that dwelled there were hand made or repaired by the look of the welds.
(Link's Old man may have had a tool chest like this-the details are lost to memory-I just know it was freakin' cool)
Most importantly, however, was the beaten red tool chest he had as the center of his Tool Universe-I don’t even remember the manufacturer, though something tells me it was probably a Craftsman-Link’s dad would most likely have been unable to afford little else at the time. I remember looking at it as he worked, the endless supply of tools that seemed to come out as he needed them, never shy of what he needed. Even though I was none too handy as a kid, I knew I wanted that level of proficiency with tools. Sadly, my experience consisted of disassembly and then partial reassembly, which would eventually lead to my restricted access to tools (Thanks, Dad.). It would not be until much later that I would begin to accumulate my own set of tools, and, eventually, the various means of storing them. Still, I do not have the tool chest of my dreams.
(You simply cannot work on a car like this, and not have a tool chest like this.)
There is, of course, a reason or two for this. The main reason is that professional tool chests are insanely expensive. The reason for this is the same reason business phone service is insanely expensive-the provider knows you are making money, and prices their product accordingly. Manufacturers like Mac, Snap-On or Matco can talk all they want, but the truth is there is no need for anyone to have $12,000 toolbox (this is without tools, mind you), professional mechanic or not. One need only look in the garages of their friends and neighbors to see the various, garage-expedient methods of tool storage that those twin mothers of invention, Necessity and Poverty, have spawned over the years.
(True Ingenuity. This Mexican speed shop owner has taken a truck utility body, cleaved it in half, and mounted the sides on the walls of his garage (note wheel arches at bottom). The Bardahl Racing color scheme is a great touch. Brilliant in its simplicity.)
(A shot of the garage of fellow blogger and hopeless collector Mister Jalopy. Check him out-I want to go to this garage when I die. Maybe even before.)
(A particularly gross Matco in yellow. Price was $7200. It better have had tools in it.)
The second reason is the syndrome known as the Endowment Effect, that makes us feel anything we own has greater value than the same item owned by others, for no other reason than that it is ours. I personally saw this play out in my car selling days, when truck owners felt their trades commanded far greater value than what any color pricing book had to say. Sufferers of this syndrome are often easy to spot-they can be seen countless times on places like Craigslist, asking fifty dollars less than they paid for a five year-old item that originally cost $2000-thinking they are gracing someone with not only their precious hand-me-downs, but at a gracious discount!!
Sufferers of the Endowment Effect are rampant in the used tool chest market-mechanics, in hock up to their eyeballs and looking to recoup lost funds, place their eighteen month-old tool set up for just a hair less than the Tool Truck Guy sold it (or more often financed it) for. They believe that some more stupid individual will feel he’s getting a fire sale price because he’s going out of business, and take absolutely no time to check values on the Interwebs to see if he’s getting ripped off.
Before this turns into one of my trademark rants, suffice to say an inexpensive yet decent tool chest is hard to find. Sure, Craftsman always has them on sale, but you never seem to have the cash for exactly what you want when they are in the process of marking it down. I have seen killer deals like the Matco box you see here, but again, they always seem to come at the wrong time. Add to that the fact that a killer deal on an orange box always seems to coincide with a deal on a green one-you can never get lucky on a matching set.
(I missed one of these on Craigslist for a paltry $300! Although, in retrospect, I'm kinda glad I did. Mac S&S limited edition.)
It is because of this that I have decided to (ever so slightly) throw caution to the wind and jump at the first chest I find regardless of color that meets my requirements for features (low and wide, as one higher than my eyeballs makes no sense to me at all at Six-Foot-Two.) I will then strip or sand each box down and paint it to my own personal preference. Each box to come after will receive the same colors and treatments. There is no work going on in my garage shop so violent I need to worry about Rustoleum Professional Formula getting nicked, and if it does, I can sand the spot and paint it-that’s the beauty of Rustoleum (is that their slogan?)
So, on to color. At the risk of sounding effeminate, I’m so over red-while my vintage tendencies would suggest I’d gravitate towards the Original Tool Chest Color, I want something different. Couple that with the fact that my workshop is gradually turning into silver pegboard walls and grey or black trim (undecided), the idea of steering my palette into the more sedate colors available seems prudent.
Originally I thought of black-however I think the color in my garage would resemble the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would be a matter of time til Brian or someone would bash me on the back of the head with my own wrench like some crazed ape.
Silver, or more aptly, stainless steel, is becoming very popular-however, like stainless appliances, they can be hard to keep clean-not conducive to a greasy-hands environment.
Green is cool, particularly the Kennedy Machine tool chest green, or similar shades. These scream vintage in a way Snap-On doesn't-less of a salt flat, '49 Mercury vintage and more of a Shopsmith, Electronics home study course vintage, if that makes sense-it probably doesn't. It does to me, however, and I guess that's all that matters.
(This is the toolbox your fastidious grandfather would not let you within a mile of when you were a kid. Inside, enough precision tools to build a belly tank lakester, or a rocket to Mars.)
I've forgone the garish hues offered (the teal blues, Kawasaki greens, Harley oranges, etc.)and, for the time being, have settled on a gray exterior with blue drawers. Both colors (smoke gray and safety or navy blue) are available from Rustoleum in the Professional formula. Think of the old Civil War Chess set and you'll get my idea: