Tool Storage Vs. Tool Staging

When I hear the word storage, I think packing tape, mothballs, and padlocks. I prefer to think of my tools as staged. They are where they belong, but ready for action at a moments notice.

Shop organization is hard for me. It’s hard for most people, but I put self-imposed constraints on top of that. I’d really like to build an English tool chest – specifically the Anarchist’s Tool Chest as popularized by Chris Schwarz . Additionally I’d really like to build a Dutch tool chest also popularized by Chris Schwarz. However I’d never use them. Why?

First Order Retrievability

A view from the bench

I believe this term was coined by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame (at least that is where I first heard it). My approach is simple. First, I tier my tools. Tier I tools are ones I use on almost every project, and often multiple times. Some examples would be

  • Measuring and marking tools
  • Bench Planes
  • Rip, Crosscut, and joinery saws
  • Chisels
  • Scrapers
  • Sharpening/Honing
  • Hammers/mallets
  • Bench Appliances

As seen in the picture, these are all on the “Wall”. My rule for Tier I tools is one-touch access. No doors to open, no drawers to open, no lids to open, no latches to move, and nothing else to move out of the way. All of the Tier I tools are 10 steps from my bench. They are as easy to put back as they are to retrieve. This is important because it’s just as easy to put that chisel back on the rack as it is to set it on the corner of the bench. And I find I do follow the “rules” and put things away when I am done.

Chisels kept low to avoid contact with the edges

One of the challenges is my tool collection is still evolving. As such my storage needs change. Rather than make nice, dedicated fixtures (which I plan to some day), I keep it to screws, dowels, and hardwood plywood.

The Tier II Tools

I define my Tier II tools as tools used on some projects but not all; or tools only used once or twice at a small stage in a project. Some examples of Tier II tools for me include:

  • Rasps and files
  • Joinery planes (*exception to the router plane, my 71 1/2 is tier 1)
  • Carving chisels
  • Specialty measuring/marking (digital protractor)
  • Veneer hammer and Veneer saw
  • Scratch stocks

These tools are kept in a chest right next to my bench

2016-04-11 22.55.49
The problem with chests – I keep forgetting I have that spoon plane


I chose a simple to make Japanese style box for this. I store my bench hooks on it as I don’t need to open it very often. It’s simple on the inside as well. 2 trays and a center divided floor.

Overall I like this system. Mostly because it’s easier to just put something away than it is to leave it laying around where it should’t be. I haven’t lost a tape measure or even a pencil in 3 years. Speaking of which,  the pencils and some marking knives are in my first and last experiment with sewing. Not for lack of interest – but lack of time


I really like hearing about other people’s storage strategies and would enjoy reading about yours in the comments below. It’s one thing to see pictures of beautiful chests, but another to hear the reasoning behind them. I’ve gotten some great ideas that way




One thought on “Tool Storage Vs. Tool Staging

  1. After finally getting my bench in shape, I’m getting around to tool organizing. I was thinking a machinist type tool box but it is going to take up a lot of space. I framed out a hanging wall that I’m going to do something along the lines of what you are doing. It is more logical to have them it in the open. Really good read! Thank you.


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