Tools That Need No Box

by | Nov 7, 2017 | 24 comments

The usual culprits on my workbench at the start of a project.

I don’t know if this is just me.

Whenever I have a jolly good tidy up, I find there’s the same old handful of tools, and odds and sods that I don’t bother to put away.

This is because if I put them away, I’d get them straight back out… again.

Off the top of my head, these are things like my trusty Stanley No. 5 with an iron or two.
A tape, pencil, marking knife and all that.

There’s always a six inch rule, a Thor mallet, combi square, and my knackered gauge, slash plane iron screwdriver, bottle opener.

I also have a panel saw precariously balanced just behind me.
I suppose you could say that one’s been put away.

These two pictures are taken from a video build that’s coming soon. They’re from completely different stages of the build, and yet the same tools are on the bench.

These are the tools that I need, day in day out. It’s also why I favour fewer tools.

For my full list of the essential hand tools, have a read here.

I’ve been having a good ponder about tool storage in the new workshop, and maybe I’m just lazy, but I’m feeling that these are certainly some tools that need no box.

If you can be bothered, take a quick picture with your head, every time you finish up working. See if there are any familiar tools that are always out.
I bet they’re the same.

Oh, and thank you for all of your comments over on the marking knife post. Particularly for the drill bit suggestions. I do read through them all, and I’m getting together all the recommended drill bits to do a bit of a test – [Edit – the test is complete. Find out which are the best drill bits for hand drills.]

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Rob Stoakley

    I tend to agree with you Richard; there are certain tools that don’t really need to be put away and mostly they’re the ones (or similar) that you mention. I still do put them away though, or rack them out on the ‘Tool Wall’, because if I didn’t I’d loose the bloody things and then have to spend the next twenty minutes trying to find them. The other useful thing to have is a bench well to store these tools; love ’em or hate ’em, but they are incredibly useful for keeping most used items and other odds n’sods which get used in the current job.

  2. Neil Christie

    I have boiled it down to a few stand by tools and keep the others out of the way until absolutely necessary. This way I don’t end up with a 18inch high heap of tools on the bench.
    Pencils and tapes are still being stolen by elves whilst I am working. I have tried the flourescent kind but I still loose those.

    • Andy Reynolds

      I (mostly) solved the disappearing pencil problem with an apron that has pockets for pencil, eraser, 6″ rule and tape.

      • Märt Viljaste

        I have similar apron but whenever I reach for pencil it seems ro be vanished into thin air

      • Robert Bollinger

        Me too. Not only is the apron a very useful storage place for often-used items, it also gives me a place to wipe glue from my fingers.

  3. Andy Reynolds

    This month’s FWW has a good piece on open-shelf storage in the shop. I’ve been thinking this way for a while, wondering whether cabinets and chests – however elegant – are really the right answer for tools in regular use in a fixed location. I use open shelves that are close enough to the bench to (theoretically!) prevent bench clutter. But they could be better organized.

    • Kevin Mello

      I tend to do a little of both, mainly out of necessity. I built a large chest for my tools, primarily because I live in Florida, and we face evacuation from time to time. Don’t want to leave my tools behind! Plus, the chest keeps everything organised and easy to find, not to mention rust free in our humid environment. But, I’ve acquired more tools than my chest will hold, so the overflow ends up on a set of shelves near the bench. I tend to keep the ones I go to most on the shelf, with the others in the chest ready when I need them.

  4. Mark Miller

    I tend to put away because of the damp in my shop, each item goes in a cabinet so there out of the cold dam pair seems to work very well in that battle. In the summer there out more as yours. My measure, square, pencil are always out and I have a tenon and panel saw on lugs on my bench so they are at hand the others are away in cupboards.
    Air conditions dictate who stays out in my space lol

  5. Richard Garrow

    Hi Richard, I tend to agree with what everyone has said one way or the other. I have an old bench that was give to me, thank the my lucky stars. It has a not sure what you call it but bucket shelf hanging off the back of the bench. While I do keep my most used tools in it I still try and keep them organized. Pencils, pens, markers are all in an old soup can I always know where to look, my other odds and ends are kept in a small open box that I do try and return everything to when done for the day. Like one of the other folks mention I must move everything from the garage to the basement now as winter is setting in here in the USA. A bit pain but I am still working on insulationing the garage. I hope to be done by the end of this winter. Thanks I enjoy your site Richard.
    Regards, Richardg

  6. Nikolaus

    Hi Richard,

    that’s a interesting Question you put here!
    I work on a Roubo bench inspired by Chris Schwarz and have a tool rack on the bench where my most used chisels, screwdrivers and combination square live. Saws are in the saw till and usually put the back there. Planes and other tools are in my ATC and get taken out if needed and stay on the shelf under the bench during work, when they get in the way. My bench is not as long as yours and I hate tool wells, as practical as they may be.
    Best Nikolaus

  7. John Walker

    Richard. Most of my hand-tools are lying around on the bench at the moment. (including an Elu 177E). I was in the middle of building shelves and racks for them, until fate intervened. The shop has been in a state of halt since; for the last three years or so, due to an illness in the family. I expected to go back in there and find tooled ruined tools ruined and rusted to the vice and the bench. (I need a new bench anyhow.) But to my utter relief there’s no rust except on the glide-bars of my spare vice, which I had stupidly left on a concrete floor in a corner. Mostly though I am glad I left the up and over metal door alone, instead of changing to wood. Because my garage door faces due south, it acts like a convector all year round, and just keeps the shop dry. What I ought to do is back it up now with an overall coat of some kind of damp-proof floor paint; but I am 79 in February… Is it worth the bother? On the bright side, what I can do today, I can do tomorrow. So I’ll start by tidying up; safely, but I am not molly-coddling tools! They have work to do!

    Cheers Richard; always enjoy your rants, and hearing the word ‘GASH’ after so long!

  8. John

    Have to agree, there are just some that are always needed and first out last away.

    My solution has been to make a small tray box about the size of a seed tray which becomes the home on the bench , easy to move about when needed or put to one side at night but always the first thing to go back on the bench in the morning with all the favourites in.

    Simple but works for me

  9. Hank Kennedy

    My tools that fall into the not put away category actually live in a shallow (so other stuff doesn’t end up in it) drawer under my bench. Close at hand, not getting dusty, not in the way.

  10. Mark Dennehy

    I generally find that even I *have* to put everything away. The workshop’s too small not to (it’s an 8’x6′ potting shed). But even at that, some crud does tend to build up and every so often, I’ll chuck it out until I get a clean bench again.

  11. Jeremy

    Putting things away is overrated. How is one supposed to find objects they’ve lost if they’re not looking for some tool they’ve misplaced.

  12. John Thomas

    To moan about my tools, 😄
    I have wall cabinets to keep most of them in. They tend to rust if I leave them out. Now I have half of a half of a two car garage. Had to move when I retired. I did have 400 Sq ft shop with AC & heat. So I do have to put up things due to lack of space.

  13. Judith

    A while ago I got tired of the mess on my bench and I fixed up a small wall for storage. My handplanes sit on open shelves in a cabinet on the wall. Everything else is hung on the wall, chisels on magnet strips, gauges and squares in slots, hammers and saws etc. I can see just about everything I use, the wall is only a couple of steps from the bench so everything is handy. I can tidy up quickly, and I love the lack of clutter on the bench. Some things I store on shelves under the bench (shooting board etc.). I can’t figure out why anyone would hide their tools in closed cabinets. I think using tools is the best guard against rust!

  14. Neil christie

    Glad to hear I am not alone in the pencil and tape famine.
    Apron eh? Maybe worth a try. I do however so enjoy picking sawdust out of my fleece top.!

    • Mark Dennehy

      Aprons can be a bit of a faff if you’re squatting down to look at winding sticks or get something from under the bench; I have a waxed bodywarmer with lots of pockets instead, it’s quite useful and didn’t cost much – about €18 off ebay. You do look like you’re off hunting when you wear it though…

  15. Gav

    The corrosion problems tend to be from our predominant sea breeze and proximity to said ocean/river etc. or introduced moisture from some other source. Being in Perth, Australia the heat tends to be more of an issue along with sweat which is great at starting corrosion. There is a large amount of edge tools shoved, carefully placed in a drawer in my bench along with abrasives and files in another and then whatever I have random in yet another. An open shelf under the bench top handles the majority of my planes and side hanging shelves the rest of the day to day, saws marking, laying out tools etc. There is also another dedicated drawer for sharpening . Most of the time there is a huge pile of crap on the bench top. I clear it ,it accumulates, I look over to the much larger unfinished workshop and then start the wheels turning as to how I actually want to work with appropriate layout . Jim Tolpins – The Toolbox Book and Scott Landis -The Workshop Book are pretty good for inspiration.

    • Jake Mullally

      My g.g.uncle always wiped off any tool we used with a soft leather towel. I’m not sure what it was impregnated with but it smelled ” green” and had a waxy feel. I never remembered seeing anything but shining metal and wood on his tools.

  16. Jake Mullally

    I am always thinking about my great great uncle John’s work barn. I’m sure that magical place has taken on grandure in my 50 years memory since the man started doing heaven’s work. The walls of that barn were filled with generations of tools, but his bench had a trough that was sectioned with cubbies and slots for his go to tools. Since it was at my eye, I’ve always had a fondness for those hand tools that he placed there, some of which are still in my possession having been “passed on”

  17. Terry Sutton

    I really love reading these posts and I’m happy to be seeing more of them! Thanks Richard.

  18. Leon

    Great posts on here, I was always a bit untidy in the workshop but always know where all preferred tools were.



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