Introduction: Flight-case Toolbox and Workstation

About: Robb was once an Artist-in-Residence at Autodesk's Pier 9. they went to Carnegie Mellon to study Art. they mostly do tangible artifacts that are often complex. they can be reached at

My toolbox is an expression of my making practice. It has developed over the past 5 years as my needs and abilities have changed as a fabricator and artist. Some of the tools are specific to the kind of work I generally do, which is usually a blend of mechanical and electronic. It includes LEDs, a electrical system with a power tool charger, benchtop power supply, and soldering iron. It has a mirror and an anvil. It is heavy and I love it. I hope you do too.

If you are reading this, maybe you want to make your own box. Yours won’t look like mine, because you will put different objects, ideas, and feelings into it. Also, stickers. Different stickers. Post a photo of your toolbox!

Step 1: Your Toolboxes

One of the best things about the internet is being able to reference the work of others so easily. Here are some of my favorite toolboxes on the internet. Post yours in the comments!

Step 2: The Box Itself

What is a toolbox without a box? A pile of tools. No one wants that. I got lucky and snagged a road case from Apex Electronics Surplus in Los Angeles for about $30. It is a wonderland of a junkyard, with an incredible blend of entertainment industry garbage and aviation industry garbage. They have props (both kinds) galore, a ton of weird electronics, and a pile of oscilloscopes so tall it would crush you if you sneezed. Don’t buy too big, or it will weigh too much to move.I would strongly recommend a road case, but there are lots of boxes out there. There are great resources for making your own, which could be really fun. Video tutorials.

Things I looked for in my box:

  • Airline-checkable :airplane:
    • My box is likely a flight-compliant ATA spec 300 class I container. This means:
      • Reusable for a minimum of 100 round-trips as a checked bag, which is essentially a death sentence for most objects.
      • Capable of sustaining 60 drops at 21"(54cm) from ground
      • The TSA sees them all the time and is unlikely to blow up my box in a show of security theater.
      • Something airlines and freight companies are used to shipping
  • Lightweight when empty
  • Easily modifiable
  • Stackable
  • Cool-looking

Step 3: Cutters

Make one thing into two things! A classic trick that is hard to reverse. Here's what I carry to get the job done in a pinch.
  • Scissors • Often looked down upon in the tool world by curmudgeonly macho folk, the scissors are without a doubt my most used tool in the box. If I open the box for one tool, it is often the scissors. I also carry a sharpener. • $5-20
  • Mega-scissors (Aviation shears) • These things are super great. They can cut thin sheet metal, large bundles of electrical wire, plastic blister packaging, and lots of other things too. •$10
  • Side cutters/flush cutters/dikes • Rated for copper only, but I’ve used them for my toenails without issue • $5
  • Hackzall • This little guy is a lot more useful than one would think. It takes regular Sawzall blades and can cut steel, aluminum, wood, plastic, foam, and more. It is small enough to fit in my box, which is why I bought it. •$74
  • Dremel • Before I had the hackzall, I had a dremel. While they are great for detail work, I almost never used it, as it is very hard to cut with unless your work is very small. I no longer keep it in the box. • $20-100
  • OLFA snap knife • My favorite kind of utility knife. Blades snap off to stay sharp. •$7
  • X-ACTO knife • Great for details • $4
  • Japanese flush cut wood saw • great for little wood cuts • $20
  • Awl • These are so useful I carry 2 or 3. It is essentially a nail, but with a nice handle. One of mine was my grandfather’s, the other is a japanese woodworking tool. Use them to line up holes, peel the back off stickers, scratch your name into things, poke holes in leather, ect. • $5-20

Step 4: Smashers, Pounders, Convincers, Twackers

  • Hammer, Ball-peen • My grandfather’s hammer. It it good for pounding, and the ball end is good for forming round things or work hardening a bent metal part. •$5-20
  • Anvil, tiny and red • I will admit, I bought this as a joke. Joke is on me, as I use it all the time. I use it to pound against when I am flattening something out. I use it as a paper weight. I use it as a base for my helping-hands when I am soldering. Mine was $3, but I can’t find it online.
  • Also, tiny magnetic helping hands! I use my anvil as a base.

Step 5: Pliers, Squeezers

  • Knipex 6" pliers wrench• These are a prized possession. The jaws are always parallel and the holding force is extreme. They can be used to bend wire and small sheet and to crimp electrical connections. They were outrageously expensive. •$43 (!)
  • Round-nose pliers • For making tiny things out of wire •$7
  • Grandfathers pliers • still got it after all these years

Step 6: Clamps

Without clamps you are going to be very frustrated trying to hold things you wish to cut and drill. I have a thing for clamps.
  • C-Clamps • 1" and 2" sizes. Bigger won’t fit. •$11
  • Irwin Quick-Grip 6" • This guy is adorable and pretty hefty. • $9
  • I wish I had a small flat vice mounted to the top. Working without a vice is dangerous and frustrating. Usually the shop I am working in has one.

Step 7: Drills

  • 1/2" Drill/Driver/Impact Driver • 12 volt tools have come a long way. I have used this thing with a huge hole saw to drill into steel. I would recommend getting the 1/2" chuck size.
  • Regular drill bit set. Mine goes from 1/16" (1.5mm) to 1/2" (13mm)
  • UniBit • A stepped drill bit for thin materials. If you work with sheet metal ever, get one of these. So many bits in one. Easily enlarge holes. Also deburrs as it cuts.
  • Hole saw set • I used to keep this in the box, but no longer. I didn’t use it enough, it was cheap in both ways • $8
  • A Tap set with appropriate drill bits • When I tapped my first hole in 2011, it changed my life. The possibilities of creating threads inside of holes is simply endless. It allows projects to be executed with a permanence and elegance that is otherwise impossible. You have gotta try it if you haven’t already. Don’t bother buying a tap + die set unless you are sure you will use the dies. • $20
  • Lubricants • Tap Magic and Household 3-in-1 Oil • These will help with drilling and make tapping possible. Tap Magic is my favorite, as it works well and smells like cinnamon. The household 3-in-1 oil is great for steel and for sticker removal and oiling machines. WD-40 is a useless lie. •$10 + $10

Step 8: Screwers, Wrenchers

  • Crescent Wrench, 2x • I carry 2x 6" (150mm) of the cheapest ones I could find. Useful for nut-bolt combos and when you lose one. •$5-10
  • Vice-Grips • Amazing locking pliers, good for everything from bending, to wrenching, to taking off rusty screws.•$12
  • 6-in-One Screwdriver • #1 + #2 Phillips, little + big slotted, 1/4" + 5/16" hex socket. I use the core as a driver bit in my drill all the time. It is long and hard to use.
  • Screwdrivers , large • just 4. #1 + #2 Phillips, little + big slotted. I splurged and got these fancy ones with textured laser tips. I like them. • $40
  • Tiny Screw Drivers • Little bitty ones for little bitty things • $4, get two, your friends will steal them.
  • Allen Wrenches • Metric and SAE. I have a little flat set. Usually what is needed. Pro tip: 4mm = 5/32"in. You can use one allen key. It is super common in both systems, IKEA furniture and bikes.
  • Hex socket set • Smallest I could find. I hate socket sets, they are huge expensive, and never complete • $20

Step 9: Glueing, Taping • Make Two Things Into One!

  • 3M VHB Tape • Double Stick tape that is the stuff of dreams. Can be permanent, use with care. •$11
  • 3M Dual-Lock • VHB with an ungendered velcro that is mad-strong. •$11
  • Stick of epoxy putty • Super useful for patching holes and making weird parts
  • 5 minute epoxy • The last glue you will ever need (That is a lie, but it is close enough)
  • Tiny Roll of Gorilla tape • Like duct tape, but stickier and thicker. I love having tapes, but they take up a ton of space. I keep a tiny amount in my box. If I need to carry all my tapes, I use a tape strap.
  • Electrical tape • Keep your connections safe! I hate getting electrocuted. Shocking, I know.

Step 10: ¼"-20 • the Bolt of the Gods

I am a simple person. I like the little pleasures. I am a ¼"-20 fetishist. Quarter-twenty is an imperial coarse (UNC) bolt and screw size. It has an outer diameter of 0.250"in, or 6.35mm. It has 20 threads per inch. It is the thread found on the bottom of your camera, as well as in a trillion other places. It is strong and a healthy medium size. I collect it obsessively. I see it on the street, and I pick it up. I find it in the backyard. I find extra bits in the thing I just assembled. I pull it from trash on the side of new york streets. I steal it from furniture. I see it everywhere I go. I have about 20 lbs(9 kg) of it. I keep a handful in my box.

It includes, at the very least:

  • Thumb screws
  • Wing nuts
  • t-nuts
  • bolts
  • carriage bolts
  • Socket cap machine screws
  • Button head socket cap machine screws
  • Flat head socket cap machine screw

Some people like variety. I only carry ¼"-20. Some people like metric. I like ¼"-20.

Step 11: Misc Hardware

  • Hose Clamps • I keep 4 or 5 around. They are like zip ties, but they are reusable and incredibly strong. Structurally, they can make to things into one thing in a permanent, adjustable, and rust-proof way. • $1.4 each
  • Hanging strap perforated steel tape • Nice to mount things with. Can be used as mending plate. • $5
  • Zip ties • Tiny and regular • $9
  • Various wood screws

Step 12: Mark and Measure

  • Digital Calipers • accurate easy measurement of exterior size, interior size, and depth. Accurate to 0.001"in and 0.01mm. Great for picking drill bits, figuring out what thickness steel you have, or as a desk companion when doing CAD of a project. •$30
  • Tape Measure • 25’ (8 meters, but mine doesn’t have metric, so I guess it is actually 0 meters long )
  • Twin Tip Sharpies • Best of both worlds. Love to death.
  • Pencils, pens • Draw it once or build it twice. I always try to draw out my plan before a build. It saves so much time.
  • Steel scribe • Pointy piece of carbide that lets you scratch lines into steel. Like an awl, but harder.
  • Center Punch • Pointy piece of carbide that you hammer dents with. The dent keeps your drill bit from dancing when you start your holes. I think the auto-punch style is garbage. They wear out and don’t stay sharp.
  • Ruler/square • Mine is a 30°•60°•90° Architects triangle with a circle template on it. Useful as a ruler and a square. I don’t use the triangle that often, but it makes my box look fancy. (Not pictured) • $6

Step 13: Clean and Safe • Keep Your Eyes and Your Pride!

  • Tiny broom and dustpan • For sweeping away dust, not in photos • $7 (Dustpan not pictured)
  • Squeeze blower • Clears chips and debris out of drilled holes, dust from surfaces, and fun to use • $6
  • Wraparound safety glasses • Saved my vision more times than I can count. Every single time, no matter what, put em on. •$3
  • Ear plugs • Keeps my comfy and allows me to focus on the loud and dangerous task at hand • $0.5
  • First Aid Kit • Band Aids, hand sanitizer, stuff like that

Step 14: Electrical Tools

I do a ton of :electrical work. My box has a lot of electrical tools in it. Some are in the next step.

  • WAGO 5-way WireNuts • These are a life-changer. Imagine wire-nuts that can take 5 wires of differing thicknesses, that is so strong and so safe you will scream. •$1 each
  • Multimeter • A must-have for electrical work. Intimidating at first, but amazing at second. Tests resistance, voltage, continuity, and more. I regret getting the fluke, as it is giant and was expensive. A cheaper smaller one would have sufficed.
  • Wire Strippers / Crimpers / Non-contact voltage detector • I love these. The little sensor chirps like a bird when a wire is live, allowing me to be safe when working with AC wires. It also makes finding power faults a breeze, or determining that your extension cord isn’t plugged in so very easy. •$24
  • I want a portable oscilloscope • but I don’t have one. One day! • $70+

Step 15: Electrical System

My box has a bunch of electrical components.

  • AC power inlet, IEC type • Same as on the back of an old computer. Easy to find cables, but technically supports only 10 Amps of current.• $3
  • Ammeter, 20 amp • Used to determine how much power I am using (how likely I am to blow the breaker I am plugged into, which can take an hour to find and unflip) I don’t like the one I have in there, I intend to replace it with a digital kill-a-watt. •$37
  • LED Lighting • I have a strip of 12v LED lights that runs along the divider of the case. It provides enough light to work by in emergencies, and supplemental light to read labels with when working normally. I plug it into the power supply• $9
  • A mirror • Not electrical, but I didn’t know where to categorize it. A mirror sits on the back of one of the cabinets to remind me to remember that I am pretty and that people like me.
  • Homemade Powerstrip with GCFI • A GCFI is a lifesaving device that measures the power being used and ensures that 100% is coming back through the plug. If the output is larger than the return, it shuts off, potentially saving your life if your fleshy salty body is the bridge to ground. It has 4 outlets on the front of the case and 3 behind to power the soldering iron, the Milwaukee M12 battery charger, and the variable power supply.
  • Variable power supply • goes up to 36 volts dc and 3 amps. Amazing to have around for testing, as you can view and change the voltage. The current display is useful as you can determine what kind of PSU to use for the project when it is finished. Also, if you short-out a benchtop power supply, it doesn’t get damaged. I cut mine apart to get it to fit. •$100
  • Soldering Iron with stand • Mid-range hakko. Has a sleek base with tip cleaning. I moved my switch to the front so it would fit in my box. $5-500, mine is ~$100, but I solder almost every week. They have tiny cheap ones that take up less space.

Step 16: Wheels, Handles, Grips

This thing weighs 70 lbs (32kg) when full. Without wheels, it is a horrible thing to travel with. I had it for 3 years without wheels. When I added them, it was a game changer. I bought a wheel kit online, as well as an extendable handle. The ones I bought are not available anymore, but the links are close. That site has everything you need to build your own road case, which would be an amazing way to go. It is now a fashionable peice of rolling luggage! I also added grip tape to the edges I squeeze when I bear-hug the beast on and off the table. It makes it a lot easier, but still quite heavy. I try to grunt as much as possible so people know I am working hard. Thats how you get paid more, strategic grunting.

Step 17: Wishlist

It has so much room to grow!

  • Bluetooth Speakers • Keep me from going crazy while working late. I might add them in my next retrofit.
  • Ultimate ToolBox by VeXX MacDread has batteries and a bluetooth speaker, as well as several USB ports for charging. I love it.
  • Batteries and an inverter • If I am off-the-grid and need power. Maybe too heavy.
  • More better lighting! Lights are compact and a neat addition. Soon, I hope!
  • Legs • I think the coolest thing about Adam Savage’s toolbox is the scissor lift legs. It looks wickedly-unstable, but cool none the less. I would think outstretched legs like on a saw horse. Telescoping tubes with spring buttons? I have no idea. It’s a dream.
  • A vice • Oh man I want a vice so bad on this thing. I dont think it is stable enough, but what a dream that would be.
  • Pocket Reference • with the internet, this is sorta moot, but if the big one goes off it would be nice to remember a knot or two.
  • Cup Holder • I am always pretty thirsty, and it would be nice to know where my water bottle is.

Step 18: Magnets! Magnets Everywhere!

I love magnets.

Many of my tools are held to the wall with magnets. I have some sheet, some rail, and some spot magnets. I also have a little magnetic hardware tray and a wrist mounted one too. They are mounted to the box with a variety of hardware. The holes that go all the way through the box mostly use carriage bolts, which have a smooth round head. These keep the outside sleek and snag-resistant. Some of them use flat-head screws, which are countersunk so the head is flush with the case. I like this system better than pegboard, as the tool is not likely to fall when moving and I can mix and match easily. It has a lot of flexibility.

Step 19: Perforated Steel Sheet

This is new stuff for me. I love it. It is lighter than regular steel, super duper cool looking, and it is covered in holes! No need to drill! Easily reposition things bolted to it, magnets stick to it, and it looks so good. I used a bent piece for my screwdriver rack and it hold them well. I bent it with a vice as shown. I used another piece for the swinging cupboard, which was ideal as it is sorta transparent. I can check what is inside without opening it.

The hole size is 1/4"in. so it works with my favorite fasteners.

Step 20: The Steel Belt

Not all tools will stick to a magnet. Some are plastic, or just too heavy. Presenting the steel belt! A thick bar of steel roughly the shape of a pants-belt is bent and positioned so that chippy things can be clipped! My drill gets used every day, so it is important to have it on the quick draw. My tape measure has a sturdy home! My knife can live there sometimes too!