Keeping productive in your shop, garage, worksite or work vehicle is a lot easier when you are organized. Spending time looking for tools, screws, etc. is time you aren’t spending working and is time you can’t get back.
One easy solution I have found was adding portable organizers to my ever growing list of gadgets. Since adding these to my shop and work truck, finding small items for my jobs has never been easier.
I don’t even want to think about how many hours I have lost over the years searching for the right size screw for a job or finding small tools. Way too much time. Often times I just gave up searching and ran down to my local big box hardware store and bought the item again, all the while knowing I had them somewhere. Definitely a waste of time and money.
Milwaukee Portable Organizers
The Milwaukee Portable Organizers are my personal favorite and pretty much all I use at home and at work. While they are a bit pricey, I think each unit I own has already paid for itself in increased productivity and not having to run out and buy items again that I can’t find.
These organizers are very well built and include features that you won’t find on many other portable organizers.
- Rubber Seal
The lid has a thick rubber seal incorporated into the lip, making it water resistant when clamped shut. I have never tried submersing the organizer under water to see if it is actually water tight but it is definitely enough to keep humidity away from items you store in it.
- High Impact Plastic Case
The body of this organizer is extremely strong and will put up with a lot of abuse. I have dropped these organizers from around six feet and it has barely put a scratch in it.
- 4 locking clamps
The Milwaukee organizers come with 4 clamps to close them – 2 at the front and one on each side. While at first this might seem like overkill, you will appreciate these extra clamps when you drop the organizer and one or two of the clamps pop open from the impact. You won’t be crawling around the floor picking up screws or whatever you have stored in it. Trust me, this is a very useful feature. If stacking multiple organizers together, the side clamps can be used to lock the organizers together. This is great for transporting them or using the optional trolley.
- Removable containers
Each container inside the organizer is removable. This is really useful if you are working on a ladder and only want to take what you need up with you, instead of having to try to balance a bulky organizer box. It is also useful if you are on a jobsite so you only have to bring in from the truck what you need.
- Recessed lid
Another great feature of these organizers is that the lid has recesses around each of the containers. What this does is ensures that whatever you have in each container stays in that container, no matter how you carry or drop the organizer. Even upside down or sideways, nothing can move around or mix up with other containers.
So as you can see, these Milwaukee organizers have a lot of great features and I am a huge fan of them. But they are not the only game in town, so let’s take a look at some other products that might suit you better.
Dewalt Portable Organizers
The Dewalt Portable Organizers are a close second in my opinion to the Milwaukee and might be your first choice, especially if you are a Dewalt fan.
The Dewalt organizers are very strong, similar in construction to the Milwaukee and are typically a few dollars cheaper as well.
But they are missing a couple of features that the Milwaukee brand offers:
- Two locking clamps
The locking clamps on the Dewalt organizers are very strong and are unlikely to both pop open when dropped but there is a greater chance of this happening than on the Milwaukee. On the other hand, you might like the fact that you only have to pop open two clamps instead of four to get into the unit. While the Dewalt units don’t have side locking clamps, they do include locks to mate multiple organizers together for transport.
- No Rubber Seal
While the Dewalt organizers close tightly, they do not have a rubber seal in the lid, meaning that moisture and humidity can more easily enter the organizer. Whether this is important to you is going to depend on how you use these organizers, what you store in them and possibly if you live in a high humidity area. If you like the idea of using the Dewalt organizers, either for the lower price or simply because you like them better, I don’t think this missing feature would be much of a deal breaker.
- All compartments same size
The Milwaukee organizer has eight smaller, square compartments and two longer rectangular compartments for storing longer items. In the Dewalt unit, all compartments are square and the same size. Whether this is a drawback or feature for you will depend on what you need to store. I have six Milwaukee organizers and I have found that for about half the items I store I like having the larger bins, and for the rest I would have preferred all smaller containers.
Prices vary on all these organizers, but generally speaking the Dewalt ones are around $8 – $10 cheaper per unit compared to the Milwaukee. If you are planning on buying several of these organizers that price difference can add up pretty fast. Only you can decide if the feature comparison is worth the difference in cost.
Milwaukee Bucket Organizer
A bucket organizer is a great item for organization and transportation. These organizers are designed to fit around any five gallon plastic pail and can store a lot of items.
On job sites, I find a lot of different trades use these organizers. While these aren’t the perfect choice for every line of work, they are very useful for:
There are many different brands and styles of bucket organizers on the market, with each one having a different configuration of storage systems on it. How you want to use the organizer will determine which one is best for your use. I personally like the Milwaukee bucket organizer since it suits my needs very well in terms of storage but it is also built of high quality materials so I don’t need to worry about it wearing out anytime soon.
I own two of these bucket organizers, one I use for small plumbing parts and tools and the other I use for tile setting tools and equipment such as spacers and sponges. I prefer to keep each organizer dedicated to specific tasks as it’s really easy to make these organizers disorganized very quickly if you add too much stuff to them. Not to mention they can start to get very heavy if you load down the organizer and bucket with a lot of tools.
Using bucket organizers smartly is a great way to keep your work vehicle and shop organized and all the items you need for a particular job ready to go at a moments notice.
No discussion of portable organizers is complete without talking about Systainers from Festool.
As most tool nerds like me know, Festool is in a league of their own with well designed, high quality tools and a price tag to match.
One of the great features of systainers is the wide variety and sizes available, meaning you can store many different items and tools in them, depending on your needs.
Like the other organizers we have looked at, systainers also stack together easily. If you own any portable Festool tools, you will know that they each come in their own systainer so you may like the idea of keeping all your storage boxes the same brand.
On the other hand, there are a few downsides to systainers:
Like all Festool products, Systainers are higher priced than most of their competitors products. Festool also doesn’t allow their retailers to sell their products at different prices, so it is unlikely to find systainers on sale unless Festool themselves is offering a promotion, which they do from time to time.
Systainers are not designed as ruggedly as Milwaukee and Dewalt organizers and will not stand up to the abuse that the others can handle.
- Not water resistant
Systainers are not designed to be used on rugged work sites where water might be an issue. If you tend to use your organizers on outdoor job sites, these are probably not the organizers for you.
I own a few Systainers since I own several portable Festool tools such as track saw, sander and domino joiner. I have bought a couple more systainer organizers to add the miscellaneous items that I use with these tools like domino biscuits, track joiners and sandpaper. Will systainers become my go-to organizer? No. But it is nice to keep some of my items together in similar containers. It is easier to organize and definitely looks more professional on the worksite.
Label your Organizers
If you are going to use multiple tool/parts organizers and stack them for compact storage, I suggest you label your organizers like I have in this photo.
Choose the biggest font that you can fit on the label, and pick a bright color for the label material such as I have done in this photo. Adding this extra step to your storage system allows you to easily see which storage container you need to grab. Additionally it looks very professional.
If you haven’t used one of these new style label printers before, you’ll probably be surprised at not only how easy they are to use but how inexpensive they have become. The labelling material comes in many different widths and colors, making organizing not only your shop easier but these label makers have many great uses around the home as well.
The label in this photo has been on this organizer for around two years now and is stored in an unheated shed year round. I’m surprised at how well these labels hold up under tough conditions like this.
You can find a link to the label printer I use at the bottom of this article. It’s the only one I’ve used so I can’t vouch for whether it is the best label printer for this type of use but I’ve found it easy to use and it hasn’t let me down yet. I picked up a bunch of rolls of different colors and widths of label material when I bought this unit and a couple years later still have lots left.
Portable organizers are just one step in keeping your smaller items organized and in easy reach.
If you aren’t using these organizers in your shop or work truck, do yourself a favor and give one a try. I can almost guarantee that you will be adding more of these organizers to your list after giving them a try.
For most of us, keeping a tidy and organized work area can seem almost impossible. This can be especially true if your work area is small – which unfortunately is my situation. Adding a stack of these organizers has not only freed up a lot of space for me, it has allowed me to get small jobs done much quicker and more efficiently.
If you have smaller items you want to store in a portable organizer, the Milwaukee slim organizer might be the solution for you. This organizer contains much smaller compartments for smaller items but it still built with the same rugged durability as it’s bigger counterpart.
If you are on a budget, starting out with some portable organizers like these might be a good choice for you.
While these organizers don’t have all the features of some of the name brand competitors, they come at a much lower price.
Labelling your organizers as well as many other items in your shop and around your home is an easy and inexpensive way to stay organized and find your stuff quickly and efficiently.