Over the years I have accumulated so many tools that every nook and cranny in the garage has one in it. It was time to get a roll-around tool chest; the kind mechanics use to store their tools.
I was surprised to find that tool chests are either expensive or complete trash. $5k for a Snap-on is overkill for the enthusiast and the entry level craftsman chests are inadequate in almost every aspect. Most useful tool chest start at around $1000.
A good Tool Chest
My criteria for purchase were:
- High-quality, heavy case construction
- Quality drawer slides that last
I was looking for solid quality that would last a lifetime and not break the bank. The boxes sold at home stores and Sears did not fit the bill. They all used thin wall construction, didn't come with ball bearing drawer slides, and cost well in excess of $500. Online the situation was equally bleak. All quality tool cabinets cost well in excess of $1000.
US General Tool Chest
After a lot of searching I eventually found a US General 13 drawer tool chest at Harbor Freight of all places. At $320 at the time of writing I consider this the best tool chest for the enthusiast. It's price/quality ratio is so good that I could not find a comparable chest for under $800.
The cabinet comes packaged in a shipping crate made of wood and card board. The packaging will prevent almost all damage during shipping. Accidental racking the chest in transit is very unlikely. Mine arrived without a scratch.
After unpacking I checked the corners and drawers. The cabinet was perfectly square and plumb. All drawers had the same reveal all around. Nothing was misaligned. The drawer opening were also square; the diagonals were equal. Considering the source of the chest I expected some defect. There were none.
The drawers on this chest ride on ball bearing slides. The quality of these slides is not the best, but still adequate. Don't expect the drawers to open and glide as easily as the ones in your kitchen do. The drawers open, close, and stay closed. Opening a drawer requires some force, but not a lot. Lubricating the slides did the trick for me. All drawers extend just beyond the cabinet when fully opened.
The cabinet comes with mats pre-installed in all drawers. The top is covered with a thick plastic mat. Purchasing these mats extra would add another $20 to the price of the cabinet.
Unlike most chests sold at Sears, this one is powder coated. The finish gives the walls of the chest a much more solid feel compared to painted sides. I consider the powder coat finish to be superior.
Solid as can be
Rated for over 2500 lbs the cabinet had no problem supporting my weight. The wheels are large diameter steel wheels with a solid plastic tire surface. The chest is easy to roll around with a 500 lbs load (as high as I have tested it so far).
The locking mechanism is merely adequate. I would not be surprised if all chest of this kind use the same key. When the chest is locked the drawers remain locked. Casual thieves will be deterred. Others will take some time to get at your tools.
The tool cabinet is part of a larger system. It can be expanded with a tool chest and two kinds of cabinet attachments. All of the attachments are similarly priced.
Overall I consider the US general tool cabinet the only choice for the hobbyist in the current market. None of the competitors match its quality up to the $1000 level. That's too much money to pay for most of us. Granted, Harbor Freight does not have the best reputation for quality, but this tool cabinet is a true gem.