It's hard for me to understand why people steal our tools, but every day I hear another story about somebody who was ripped off. And it isn't like some Robin Hood-type is out there trying to right the injustices of tool-rich contractors–distributing tools to people who need them more.

I ran into a trim carpenter last month who'd lost everything, including his truck, and was working with borrowed tools until he got squared away with his insurance company. The insurer was treating him like he was the thief, as if he hadn't paid his insurance premium every month for years without making a claim. They were making it so hard on him, demanding proofs of purchase, cash or credit receipts, dates, and serial numbers–this guy was months away from replacing his loss. But do you know what bothered him the most that first morning? Working with a borrowed tool pouch. He couldn't find the hammer (also borrowed), because the holster was in the wrong place. All of a sudden he went from being totally set up to being totally ripped off.

Every year it gets harder to protect ourselves from thieves. I remember one year that I kept putting heavier and heavier chains on my jobsite table saws–just to be outmatched by larger and larger bolt cutters. Thieves are ready to overcome any security measures you may put in place. It's almost a matter of pride for them.

Rick Schwolsky, Editor-in-Chief
Rick Schwolsky, Editor-in-Chief

Law enforcement experts suggest that most construction-site thefts are performed by pros, often by people somehow connected to someone working on the site, but almost certainly by someone who has been on site and scouted the goods.

Here's what you should do to protect yourself from losses:

First, in your office and shop:

  • File your receipts when you buy new tools (you'll need them for taxes anyway); your insurance company will ask you to produce them for each tool lost.
  • Paint a bright company color on the tools that helps you identify them quickly from a distance–like on another jobsite about a month after you last saw them.
  • Place a company ID (painted or engraved) in a hidden location on each tool.
  • Document and file your serial numbers for later reference.
  • Make an inventory of all your tools by category–and keep it updated.
  • Establish a tool-tracker system so you know who has them, where they are, and when they're returned.

On the job:

  • Keep track of tools in use–assign one man on each crew to be responsible for field tracking all your equipment. And keep an eye out for "unknowns" checking out your trucks, trailers, or toolboxes.
  • Lock–or at least close–your boxes, trucks, and trailers during work hours unless they are in sight at all times from where you're working.
  • Take everything with you at the end of the day. Don't count on chains to protect you if you leave toolboxes and trailers on site overnight. If you fail to lock your toolbox, truck, or trailer and are ripped off, don't expect much sympathy (or even coverage) from your insurance company.
  • Park locked and alarmed trucks and trailers in lighted areas. But that may only help you see that your truck is missing.

And once you've put all your security measures in place, figure out a "Plan B", which will be the best way to keep your jobs going the morning your supervisor calls with bad news.