Break Pack Toolboxes




Introduction: Break Pack Toolboxes

About: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.

We live in a containerized world. Manufactured goods are loaded onto pallets, then shipped all over the world in standardized corrugated metal boxes. Once they've landed on the other side of the world, pallets disembark into trucks and trains to run the last miles to their destinations. No matter where they end up -- grocery stores, big box retailers, urban pharmacies -- pallets face the same problem: the last 100 feet.

Break packs are the backbone of the modern retail economy. Also called round trip totes, they are sturdy, standardized plastic crates that are engineered with a stackable geometry that is modular to a standard 48" pallet. Slightly sloping sides combine with an integral two-flap, fold-flat lid that create a structurally sound box that is easy to rummage around in. Handles with finger grooves are molded into each end. Smaller quantities of merchandise are shipped loose in break packs. Workers -- often part-timers working overnight -- then manually restock store shelves one box at a time.

I've used adapted off-the-shelf break packs (available cheap!) as toolboxes for years now. They have been an easy, modular, portable tool box system that was customizable to my needs. Last year, with a new old house on my hands and a long list of renovations to work through, I pushed fixing up the basement to the bottom of the to-do list. Now, I've built a permanent landing place for my break pack collection, with better lighting, separate fastener storage and full first-order retrievability.

Best of all, it hardly cost anything to make -- I used scrap from cleaning out the basement to build all of it.

You'll need these tools:

- Circular saw

- Pencil

- Tape measure

- Square

- Drill

- Driver

- All the tools you need to store

You'll need these materials:

- Plywood, particle board, dimensional 1"x12", or similar

- Break pack totes

- 3" drywall or deck screws

- 1-1/4" x #8 Spax cabinet screws

Step 1: Demo!

The first order of business was cleaning up. Boxes and furniture were gradually redistributed to the rooms they belonged in. Old shelves and a small, closet-like room were demo-ed. I saved most of the studs and lumber and threw out the drywall. Paint cans, varnish, blinds, and other leftovers from the previous owner were thrown out.

I then de-nailed and stacked all of the salvage-able lumber for later use.

Step 2: Framing

To make the break packs more accessible, it is critical to lift them off the floor and tilt them at a slight angle so they are easy to see into.The totes I used have a 21" x 15" footprint and are 12" high. I had a pile of approximately 1" x 12" material from breaking down old shelves, a mix of particle board with plastic veneer and solid (though heavily cupped) pine.

I cut 6 plate that were 26" on the long side, tapering to 24-1/2" on the short side. This gave me an approximately 5-degree angle across the 11-1/4" width of the board. I used a circular saw without a guide -- it's not critical the the cuts are 100% accurate.

Our house was built around 1915. The foundation is natural stone. A few random studs still run along the southern wall of the room. They are full 2"x4s", old-growth pine that is probably original to the house. However, they have all twisted and buckled over time.

To keep the structure relatively straight, I struck a line 21" away and parallel to the base plate of the studs. I screwed each plate to the face of a stud with 1-1/2" drywall screws as shown, bringing the bottom front edge of the plate to the line I had struck on the floor.

I didn't have enough scrap to run a solid shelf across the top of the plates, so I just ran overlapping long boards on the top and two boards along most of the front. This locked all of the ribs together and made a solid structure.

A little lip of scrap along the front edges will keep the totes from slipping off.

Step 3: Customization

I have acquired these boxes over several years now, so some of them had already been cut into compartments. To subdivide the totes, I inserted ribs made out 3/4" plywood, cut with a 5-degree taper where the ribs met the outside wall of the break packs. A few pan-head screws through the plastic and into the ribs secures everything.

I also left three of of seven crates undivided for larger tools, like a circular saw or an angle grinder.

Step 4: Sortin'

Everyone works differently. Everyone sorts their tools differently. Everyone needs to find things in a different order to complete their work.

The first step to mapping out the organization of my toolboxes was to knoll everything. This is the only way to make a mass of dissimilar things intelligible. It allowed me to quickly identify duplicated, broken things, trash, or items that were tool-like but did not belong in a tool box (i.e. duct tape.) In that way (ruthless organization), this project is about working to code: these boxes are an expression of pure function, and any dilution of their core purpose is detrimental to the work to be produced out of them.

Once the tools had been laid out, and purged, I built out my seven boxes:

- Hand Tools 1

- Hand Tools 2

- Drills

- Saws

- Shaping

- Painting/Finishing

Each follows the core principle of first-order accessibility: nothing needs ot be displaced to find anythign else.

The boxes follow that order from right to left as you face them. The most frequently used tools begin at the right, since that is closest my workbench, the stairs, and the door to the backyard -- the three places the tools are most likely to be employed. Over time, I built a shelf above for other storage, and clipped studio lights underneath so I could see everything.

Each box is labeled with permanent marker on the lid -- this is relatively permanent, and will not wear off. However, it can be removed with acetone if the boxes change purpose or need to be re-labeled.

Last, remember that entropy is a core physical rule of the universe. Everything tends to chaos. Organization is only as good as its ongoing practice. Always work to code.



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    23 Discussions


    6 months ago

    i thought the creates there a first step in a year around a hydorponic system for freah vegtables.

    This is PERFECT - and timely. Knolling - the heart of organization


    1 year ago

    How do you keep track of what is where and who put what where?

    4 replies

    And why.

    You need to know why who put what where.

    Really? And what about When then? Just when did who do what? Who cares why?

    MingLee :D

    Everything tends to chaos! So true. Great ible.

    where are good sources for these break packs? craigslist fails me

    5 replies

    I get mine from Lowes: . Home Depot sells smaller ones in bulk as well:

    I have seen them in certain Home depot stores in the US not all of them carry them these days. I started collecting these boxes myself a couple of years ago. I use them for basic storage though. I have found labeling them with labels helps to know whats in them when you suffer from CRS. (Can't Remeber S***)

    Interesting, everytime I put up some of those for sale on craigslist, there was zero interest. I finally gave them all away... Was $5 (Canadian mind you, in Vancouver) too much of an asking price?

    Try HD, Lowe's or Walmart. I've found them there. At Walmart you can find other colors than black.


    1 year ago

    Thanks for the Knolling video link :)

    Cool. Reminds me of the "top men" quote from the lighting...

    Great minds think alike ;) But over here in Europe we only have "KLT" / Euroboxes. And they usually don't have lids. So I'm still looking on how to build a bunch of lids cheaply.

    I envy you, reaching First Order Accessibility!

    Go to your local chain convenience store 7-11 CVS, Walgreen etc.. look in the back near the dumpster or loading dock or door used for loading .

    Excellent project.

    There is just none tote missing, though - the one that is normally empty, and is used to select out the tools you are most likely to need for a particular job away from your workshop - that makes it a single trip for tools and less lugging overall.