Introduction: CameronSS's Convertible Cross-Campus Cloister

This last summer my primary concern with college wasn't so much about classes, more about how to condense my large, noisy, smelly, flammable shop at home into something that wouldn't get me kicked out of a dorm. I think I managed it pretty well. Virtually everything I use regularly fits in my dad's old AB Dick case that he carried when working for them on service calls to repair photocopiers and the like. This case sits under my desk, and you would never guess it was anything but a suitcase unless you tried to pick it up. The case itself is a pleather-covered plywood beast, and it weighs over 30 pounds loaded up.

Not in the main case is my car tool kit, which contains virtually every tool necessary to completely disassemble my car on the side of the road. The heavy tools (crescent wrenches, etc.) stay in there, I can bring them inside if necessary. There is also a small case that sits on the closet shelf to hold a Versa-Pak-powered Wizard (Dremel-like rotary tool) and electric screwdriver, which are my compromise between keeping everything clean and quiet and having access to a Dremel and a drill.

Step 1: The Lid

This is where most of the empty space is. I only brought things that I used at home on a regular basis, so I wasn't concerned with bringing as much as I could. Up here we have:
  •  #2 Phillips
  • 3/16" Flathead
  • #1 Phillips, the screwdriver I got when I was five
  • Smallest round rat-tail file with plastic hose as a protective sleeve
  • Compact 10' Stanley tape measure
  • Small vise grips
  • Scalpel (used as a hobby knife that won't snap)
  • Slip-joint pliers
  • Compound-action wire clippers
  • Combination wire cutters/strippers/crimpers
  • My favorite machinist's hammer
  • Bicycle spoke wrench
  • Wee 1/8" flathead screwdriver

Step 2: The Flippy-out Bit

I don't know if there's a better word for this. The leather strap on top holds it out at 40° or so so that you can work from multiple parts of the case at once. Here we have:

  • Flush-cut wire snippers
  • Dental pick set
  • Triangle rat-tail file
  • Wire brush
  • Center punch
  • Hemostats, curved and straight
  • Small adjustable crescent wrench (rehabbed the first week I was down here, it was clogged with gunk)
  • Three-pronged grabby thing
  • Wide paintbrush (for brushing off dust, etc.
  • Folding metal scribe
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Allen wrench with handle (Fits both the screws that let me put my joystick together as one unit, and standard Erector/Meccano bolts)
  • Lighter

Step 3: Insert

This part has two foam-filled boxes with snap-down lids and a large space in the middle. If I had more precision measurement tools here this is where they would go.
  • Plastic vernier caliper just to have them, I thought that SOMETHING should go in that compartment and we have dozens of these things at home
  • RAGS. You can never have too many rags. When they get nasty I throw them away and replenish my supply when I go home
  • Steel vernier caliper, I'd rather have something that measures inches in thousandths but these are good for now.

Step 4: The Bottom

This is the home of the heavy stuff, and space is tight. The spread-out picture is a poorly-edited composite because the desk wasn't big enough, see full image here. Loads of stuff in here:
  • Clamp-on vise, can attach to the edge of the desk.
  • Thin baling wire. This stuff fixes everything duct tape can't. Particularly toilets that your suitemate can break better than he can fix.
  • Thin hanging wire. Great for hanging things from the suspended ceiling grid.
  • Paint scraper -- razor blade on a big handle
  • Universal power adapter with a dozen tips, fits almost everything and goes from 1.5V to 12V.
  • Little jar of 1/2" stainless sheet metal screws, these little guys are handy
  • US/metric hex key set in sleeve, 1/16" to 1/4" by 1/64s and 1.5mm to 10mm by .5mm.
  • Precision/jewelers' flathead and Phillips screwdrivers. The cheap ones but they work.
  • 100-piece security bit set. The bit I need to take apart the electronic door locks is in there...
  • 26-piece ratcheting screwdriver set, with Phillips/flathead, star, and socket bits. Also works on the security bits.
  • Bazillion-function gauge
  • Two-part epoxy with little plastic tubs to mix it in
  • 1/2" countersink bit
  • Matchbook
  • Automatic wire strippers
  • Third hand tool with the stupid bulky magnifying glass removed
  • Homemade 1.5V-12V variable power supply, uses a LM317T regulator.
  • BK 2704B multimeter
  • Needle and hook leads for the two previous
  • Seal-All tube. Stuff sticks about anything to about anything.
  • Kite string, for general tying purposes.
  • Safety glasses
  • Syringe of Browning gun oil. Very handy for applying light oil to particular points
  • WD-40 pen. It's the perfect size for a tool kit like this.
  • Smallish and largeish zip ties
  • Bottles of rubbing alcohol and trichloroethane. If the first won't take it off the second one probably will.
  • Large rat-tail file, split-loom tubing to protect it
  • Large 10" flat file, in plastic sleeve to protect it.
  • Gritty cut-through-anything blade on coping saw frame
  • Hacksaw on a compact handle.
  • New #2 Phillips, in case I need a perfect fit
  • Flat scraper (more razorness)

Step 5: The Power Tools

This case stays in the closet when not in use, and holds the Versa-Pak Wizard and electric screwdriver. Nothing to replace the drill press, bench grinder, etc, but they're still handy to have around. What's a good way to store rotary tool bits to keep them from getting lost or broken? I want to keep some in this case, but it wasn't built for either of these tools.

Step 6: The End

I leave you with the Gerber Compact Sport Multi-Plier 400 that goes in my pocket every day. Much heavier-duty than my old Squirt S4, but also a lot heavier.

You'll notice there's no soldering equipment, and this kills me. There's no rule against soldering irons in the dorms, but I'm guessing it would be looked on the same as a toaster or a candle. I need to build a very effective fume extractor before I try soldering anything. When that's built, I have a lovely innocent-looking red tin lunchbox that will likely hold everything nicely.

I hope this serves as some inspiration to makers going off to college, or living in a similar small, restricted place, as proof that you can pack a large amount of real tools in a (mostly) portable box, and that you aren't stuck with sawed-off screwdrivers in an Altoids tin. If you have any suggestions for compacting what I have, suggestions for what I should have and don't, or suggestions for what I don't need, let me know.

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