Introduction: Precision Tool Case Organizers

If you look through my previous Instructables, you will see I really like organizing tools. Projects just go better when you have everything in one place. But keeping my 3/4" drive socket set in the same place as my precision scissors doesn't really make much sense. So like most folks, I have different types of tools in different places. Sometimes I make wooden organizers, sometimes I put tool control foam in rolling tool chest, and in this case I 3D printed stackable inserts for an 11x7 Voyager aluminum tool case from Harbor Freight.

What is covered:

How to trace tools on paper, pull into Inkscape, export to Tinkercad.

What this isn't

While all the cad and .stl files are linked, this isn't really intended to print and use. I mean you can totally do that if you want to go buy all the same tools I have. But if you already have tools you want to organized, this is more about showing you how to make your own custom organizer.


A big pile of tool clutter that needs to be organized.

A computer to run Gimp, Inkscape, and Tinkercad. They are all free.

Some kind of camera to get photos into a computer.

A 3D printer with a 20cm x 20cm bed. Something that will cut acrylic. A drill, bit, tap, die.

0.9 mm mechanical pencil

Nuts and bolts.

Step 1: Clear Out the Tool Case

This project uses a Harbor Freight Aluminum case. These come lined with foam which does a good job of holding the sides of 3D printed tool holders, but just add thickness to the top and bottom. The only reasonable solution is to tear it all down. Or at least tear out the top and bottom pieces. I won't insult your intelligence by providing step-by-step instructions on how to tear a piece of foam off of a piece of wood.

For a glimpse of the future, or me violating the sequential chronology of this Instructable, I'm showing the tool holder hot melt glued into the box after the foam is pulled. I like hot melt for arranging tools, it is reversible with alcohol so you don't have to make such a big commitment with your every decision.

Step 2: Trace Your Tools

Measure the inside of your tool case to understand the maximum dimensions of your final box. The other constraint on the geometry of the box is the capacity of your 3D printer. In my case the box is 174mm tall, my printer maxes out at 200mm. Be sure to allow for 2mm wall thickness all the way around. I tried 1mm, and it works but is really flimsy.

With a box size worked out draw the dimensions of your box on the graph paper at full scale and arrange the tools where you want and trace them. Use a 0.9mm lead, because all other lead sizes are wrong. Well not really. But unless you are sketching hair on pencil drawings, the 0.9 doesn't break as easily but is still thin enough for most shop work.

Watch that your awesome 0.9 mm pencil doesn't cut under the edge of your tool. You need enough clearance in the final vectors for your tool to fit. I had to print the crescent wrench holder multiple times because I messed this up. Details are in a later step, but you can use the 'outset' feature in Inkscape to proportionally grow the outline if it looks too tight.

Take note of the box dimensions. I wrote them inside the box in some of the photos. The dimensions will set the aspect ratio for cropping in the next step.

Step 3: Photograph the Traces

Take a photo with your phone, or digital camera. It is really important that the camera is directly over the center of the drawing and square. If the preview looks like a trapezoid, your final 3D print will be distorted. To get right over the drawing, you can lay it on the floor. But seriously, make sure the lines of the box are all parallel to the viewfinder in the camera. This is harder than it sounds, but really matters.

For the next step, tweek the contrast and brightness in Gimp, or your favorite editor, so the lines are clearly visible. Crop the image to the aspect ratio of the box from the previous step. In Gimp select 'crop' then 'fixed' for the aspect ratio, then click the box under 'fixed' and enter the size in mm of your drawing with a colon 80:173, etc. If you didn't take a centered photo, you will see the out of parallel lines in this step and should go back and do it again like I had to do several times.

At this point you should have a drawing at the same aspect ratio as your box outline, time to make it into vectors.

Step 4: Convert the Traces to Vectors

Supposedly Inkscape can trace the lines in a drawing and make vectors. While I really appreciate the free programming work that goes into Inkscape, the trace function just doesn't work very well. I mean it looks like it works, but I don't have the patience to figure it out. This step describes how to work around any deficiencies in your personality as it relates to learning complicated things, and draw the vector using the photo as a guide.

The first thing is to set the document properties to the size of your box. These photos kind of mix multiple drawings, so don't get jammed up by the dimensions of the actual photo in the previous step. Lets just say your original photo shows a box that is 80mm x 173mm, and your cropped to that exact ratio in the previous step. Now set the document properties to that same size, using units of mm.

Got the document properties? Great. Now go 'file' -> 'import' and bring in the cropped image with the default options.

To scale the image, click shift so you lock in the aspect ratio we worked so hard to create, then click on a corner of your import and drag it to exactly fit in the document that should be the same aspect ratio.

With the line drawing in hand add a new layer to the project, use 'draw bezier curves' to click around the outline of your tool, and click on the square point where you started to close the points into a single vector. Clicking and dragging in 'draw bezier curves' mode does some weird curve and loop making that offends my engineering sensibilities. All I can say is if you accidentally do that, use ctrl-z to go back and fix it. If your final vector has loops, it won't import into Tinkercad right.

Save the final file in .stl format.

Step 5: Pull the Vectors Into Tinkercad

I'll try to make this a little shorter than the Inkscape tirade.

Fire up Tinkercad. Start a new drawing, import the .stl from the previous step.

You should see the outline as a 3D object. Congrats on going from pencil and paper to an interactive cloud based three dimensional alternate reality.

Use the little black up-arrow to raise the object to the thickness of the bottom of the box you want to create. Be careful not to raise the object 2mm for a 1mm thickness, this is a good way to make plastic spaghetti with your 3D printer.

Convert the object to a 'hole'. *snicker I said a-hole. Now take the object you converted to a void, create a box the same size as your original outline, move the object where you want it, select both objects, and 'group' to make a printable box.


To create a raised outline that uses less filament to print you can take the vector in inkscape, copy it, outset by 2mm, and import both into Tinkercad. The result will be a raised wall that surrounds your tool. This is how I did the needle nose holders. I liked the looks of a solid box with 20% infill, and used that for the later boxes.

If you create a Tinkercad box the exact dimensions of your original pencil drawn box, but your tools import too big to fit, something went wrong. Maybe look a the rulers in Inkscape to see if it was exported correctly.

The flip-up bit holders are kind of complicated to describe, but the links for Tinkercad are down below so you can use the bit holders part, and modify the screwdriver holder to fit what is in your toolbox.

small torx holder

hex bit holder

vise grip crescent holder

hemostat holder

micro bit holder

scissor holder

small pliers holder

Step 6: Paint Your Prints

Ok I realize I just skipped over what could be a weeks worth of 3D printing. But I'm assuming you already know how to do that.

I used some acrylic in the bottoms to match the TPU filament on my earlier prints. I ran out of TPU, and switched to ABS. It looks pretty cool like this.

Step 7: Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

This is just a bunch of pictures of what I made. Thanks for reading.

The Tinkercad links are in an earlier step. For the .stl files, go to Thingiverse:

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