Every tradesman faces the same challenge: how to organize tools and arrive on site with everything needed to do the job. The solutions I've seen have run the gamut from a carpenter's heirloom-quality wooden toolbox to a plumber's old gym bag.

Over the years, I've used bucket organizers, metal tool-boxes, soft-sided fabric bags, and even plastic tackle boxes (I still run across these castoffs whenever I clean the shop). As part of my continuing search for the perfect storage solution, I agreed to evaluate organizers for TOOLS OF THE TRADE.

To do this, I tracked down about 20 of the most innovative organizers I could find and either used them on my jobs or lent them to other tradesmen and asked for their feedback. What follows is my take on the nine products we liked the most.

TYPES TESTED

We looked at hard-sided, open-top, and soft-sided organizers. Modular plastic organizers (Festool Systainers and the like) are different enough that we decided to cover them in a separate story.

Each design has its pros and cons. As the name implies, hard-sided organizers are made from rigid material — usually plastic. They have lids to protect their contents, and some have interior dividers or lift-out tool trays. These organizers come in all shapes and sizes, and many have interesting innovations.

Open-top models are good because the contents are visible, there's plenty of room in the center for bulky items, and there are places for small tools in the perimeter pockets. But the contents are not protected from the elements, and if the bag tips, tools can fall out.

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Soft-sided organizers are typically some kind of fabric over a rigid frame. Access to the interior is via one or more fabric flaps. These bags offer greater protection from the elements and against spills than other types of cases. Tools usually stow vertically, making them easier to identify and retrieve.

HARD-SIDED

STANLEY FATMAX MOBILE WORKSTATION

Stanley doesn't actually market this organizer to pro tradesmen, but our company has been using one for a couple of years and it has held up fine. We got it because we were looking for wheeled storage, and we liked this product's efficient use of space (it has a small footprint) and maneuverability.

A telescoping handle (similar to those found on roll-aboard suitcases) and a set of 7-inch wheels make it relatively easy to haul this box across just about any terrain (1). We find it particularly handy for the jobs we do that require a long walk in from the parking space. The inside of the box is divided into three compartments: a large open bin at the bottom, a center bin with dividers, and an upper bin with a lift-out tray (2). We keep cordless tools, accessories, and fasteners for window, siding, and exterior trim installations in our FatMax workstation. Web price: $100. stanleytools.com.

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1 & 2 STANLEY FATMAX

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SPEEDSEAT SPD-300

The Speedseat is an interesting product. Half organizer and half wheeled stool, it's essentially a plastic frame with casters on the bottom and storage pouches hanging from the sides (3). It allows you to sit at the correct level to install door hardware and do electrical trimout and the like.