Vagabond Tool Rack

I have finally finished my portable tool rack design.  It is a tool roll, rack and box, all in one.  Maybe not really a box, but then it may be better.  Read along, and you can be the judge.

Before I let the cat out of the bag and show you the vagabond tool rack,

let me give you the background on this project.

For three years I have been working on building a better tool box.  I really like my hexagonal one,

but the truth is, I only pull it out when I want to impress someone with it’s rustic splendor.  The problem is, that it take up too much space.  Unfolded it is about a yard square.  It covers a table.   On the floor it can be quite a reach to get a tool from where you are standing.  I love it, but it just isn’t convenient.

On my journey of exploring tool box methods, I became intrigued by the  Japanese Tool Box.    Essentially this is a very convenient crate.  A simple crate is less likely to be absconded with, so the crate was a better method of protecting tools, than a fancy box would have been.

Thinking about this, I came to a critical turning point.  No fancy box, instead the modern equivalent of the crate.  The perfect container, really, the pickle bucket.   It is nondescript, common, replaceable and air tight!  That is correct, it no only makes a good stool, it protects from weather like no other tool box can.  It is waterproof.

The only flaws to the pickle bucket are it’s difficulty in opening and closing and it’s clear lack of class.  since the lack of class, helps protect tools, I have to say, it is a very real advantage.

The Gamma Seal solves the opening and closing issue as well.

This lid holds liquids, but unscrews easily.  Makes a good sorting tray as well. Closed, the tools are safe from dust, and weather. With it open, the tools inside can be reached easily enough. Especially if they are on a nice rack.

My first thought was to build a rack that could divide the tools up in the bucket and protect them. When I took it out, I could then assemble the tool rack and put the tools on it.

This design works great, and fits together nicely with a few dovetails.

It, and all of it’s brethren still take a bit of time to put together and take apart. And the multiple racks end up, once again taking up a lot of table space. You also end up setting up and arranging a lot of tools that you don’t even use that day. Cute, but far from perfect.

Finally I came up with a rack that I liked, that also shielded the cutting edge of the saws.

It also had another great advantage, it was stable. The thing absorbs blows, that would knock over a ridged rack, and just flows with it. You can knock it over, but it takes a good hit to do it.

A lot of time went into drilling holes, until I realized, I was making pegboard. Silly me.

On the next model, I started using paracord, and decided that I really liked it. I tried a lot of different knot and stitching formations to try and get it just right.

I also found that barrel locks did a perfect job of tying down tools and still letting you get them out easily. I had planned to make a bunch of leather and wood fittings, and I still plan to, but the paracord and barrel lock combo does a really nice job and remains easy to modify. You can see the knit handle for lifting the tool rack out of the bucket. My brilliant wife knit this for me. It doubles as a bit of emergency cord, as it can be easily unraveled.

The final form, is simple and hold a lot of tools conveniently. The white board improves the lighting in front of it, so it is pretty convenient to have at the back of a table.

While I do think that a darker surface looks a bit cooler,

The advantage of improved lighting might make the white version advantageous.

Planes, scissors, spare paracord and barrel locks, a try square, and a scribe.

Marking knives, bevel gauge, bevel setter, two chisels, combination square and a sharpie.

Four more chisels an aluminum bronze mallet, screwdriver, pencil and strop.

A wooden mallet, scratch awl, lighter, flashlight, knife, and chisel.  All that is missing is the cutting gauge.   There is still more than enough room for a small one.

It can also be put together using cable ties. Very tight and stable, really nice. Somehow I prefer the paracord, even though the cable ties are much cheaper and easier to use.

Finished, the vagabond tool rack is stable and has lots of room on it.

And it fits nicely into a six gallon plastic pail!

It fits on the end of a worktable and still leaves room for tools, work and a cat.


12 comments to Vagabond Tool Rack

  • Clever design! I like it. Of course, I’m a lot more of a home body, so my tools are all up on French cleat mounted pegboard on the walls, not tucked into buckets…but it is clever.

    No cats in my shop, but I do have two varieties of “bench dogs”: (1) the brass kind you buy from Lee Valley; (2) the half-Corgi / half-Australian Cattle Dog kind that make themselves at home under the lathe!

  • Bob Strawn

    Great idea, I will have to make a French Cleat attachment for the back of it.


  • Very cool. Excellent out of the “box” idea. BTW, love the cat. Ferel cats are cool. Really.

  • Bob Strawn

    Thanks, Don,

    Now I need to start thinking outside the bucket.


  • Skip J.

    Excellent design Bob! Well done!

    I do like the looks of your hex box better, but I can see it would be a bear in use….

    My compliments on sticking with it all the way to the end! It looks like it was quite an adventure……

    And, white pegboard does make the tools easier to see….. I do find it interesting that for your carry-away tools you have Japanese planes instead of western style planes. And, I recognize a lot of those tools are the ones you made yourself, or at least the handles.


  • Bob Strawn

    Thanks, Skip! I admit that I would love for this tool box to look a bit less modern, but I probably would have come up with this design much faster if I did not have that bias.

    I think portability is a rather important quality of Japanese tools. Their austerity goes a long way toward making them convenient to carry. Bling is heavy.

    I have set myself a goal to try and refine the list of tools that I carry. If I can get it down to two buckets I will be quite happy. As it is, one bucket mostly serves, so I think this is possible. As I do that, I want to make a set of tools just for this purpose.


  • This is a great idea. You should share this on It’s a great way to share projects like this. You already have all the images, etc. I’m going to have to try something like this for my tools at home. I’ve always liked using buckets for tools, but I’ve never liked the way the tools are hard to access.

  • This is genius and you should patent it and make it big!

    I have been looking for months for a good tool management solution that was both neat, compact, portable yet easy to get tools out off. As part of my search, I developed the habit of surfing Google patents just to see what people are thinking up and in particular of late I have been looking at toolboxes, tool organizers, workbenches etc and I haven’t seen anything half this creative out of the hundreds of related patents I have examined. All the other ideas boil down to variations of “box”, “tray” and “pouch”. This idea really stands out.

    This could be a very viable product if it was converted to plastic and mass marketed.

    I suppose mass markets aren’t really your cup of tea but (1) good people should be financially rewarded for good ideas so they will have the resources to produce good ideas and (2) there are tens of thousands of people out there in the world who would benefit from a neat, inexpensive and very effective solution like this.

    I mean, I plan on making several of my own but it would have been great to snag one for $10 bucks at Home Depot a few years ago. If you want to do good on a large scale, you got to go corporate big.

  • Bob Strawn

    🙂 Thanks, So far as patents go, I have spent money and gotten small return on the money spent so far. The tool bucket is a culmination of a lot of things coming together to make a rather nice combination. I do think it would be a good product for mass production, but do not have the means to produce it. Hopefully someone comes along and decides to get my help with patenting so that my prior art doesn’t cast shadows on the validity of their product. Ideally that would give me the resources to develop quite a few other ideas. 😉

    I do have a few inventions that I think are really clever and have held back to perhaps make a few bucks off of. I do in a way feel a bit guilty for not sharing them, but I too think that would be nice to make a bit of money off of my research and ideas.

    I am going to try and start up a conversation with yet another company next week. One of the inventions that I have been working on was missing a key component. The resulting product would be something that I would not dream of making a tool kit without including. However one critical component was missing from this tool. I have now found a very new product that satisfies that the need and as a result I have made my new tool. I plan to immediately make myself at least four more of them. It is a dream, and every bit as good as I expected. Sadly for me, this invention is fairly easily reproduced and their product is key to it’s being as nice as it is. Humorously, the parts to this invention in various prototypes are scattered through my blog, but as the components are useful on their own or in combination with other tools, the concept is quite well concealed.


  • Bob Strawn,

    I beg you to reconsider the formal development of this idea. I think it is truly significant and I maybe uniquely qualified to make that assertion.

    First, just let me say, I am not a professional woodworker but rather a tinkerer in many things. I made my living in computers. I grew up on a farm and have always used and loved tools of all kinds.

    I have just recently begin to recover from a serious illness of many years duration. In the course of the illness I went from being a tall, powerful and capable man to a stooped, weak, pain wracked, near-cripple. This forced a major change in my attitudes towards (among other things) my tools and their organization.

    Before, I was content to leave my tools more or less in piles in toolboxes or improvised containers. When I was hale, it was no matter to rummage through many tools and boxes to find what I wanted. I didn’t have to be efficient either because I wasn’t using the tools to make my living. After a I weakened, however, rummaging became painful, exhausting and waste of what little up time I had. I became somewhat obsessed with creating organizing systems that would let me quickly and painlessly (literally) find the tools to get a job done before I became to weak to continue.

    Much of the time I could do little but read so I kept myself occupied by researching. Over the last few years I have read well over a hundred hard copy books on tools, workshops and organization. Then I sift the internet for all kinds of resources. After Google patents came online, I have spent an embarrassing amount of time combing through thousands of patents.

    There are probably very few people in the world with my unique combination of focus on tool organization and the free time to do wide ranging research on all available solution. For example, in the last week, I have been reading through the thousands of pages of the Popular Mechanics Shop Notes from 1919-1921. According to the archive site, the book has only been downloaded less than 30 times. Most people just aren’t interested in the old but not old enough to be antique sort of stuff.

    I have become something of an amateur academic in the field of workshop solutions both current and historical. Although, I have conversed with many people with greater depth of knowledge in this or that subarea, I have yet to meet anyone, even online, who can match the breadth of my own research.

    I telling you all this to impress upon you that I believe I can honestly say that my opinion of your design carries more weight than almost anyone else. When I, personally, state that you have a unique and significant solution, I not just someone off the street saying, “that’s so cool dude!” I am saying that out of the literal thousands of solutions I have studied, this one one really stands out.

    The closest existing idea would be the sewing screen dating from the Victorian era but even that is relatively limited compared to your more compact solution.

    Your idea has a broad range of applications beyond tools. Anything that people hang on pegboard could be stored in the Vagabond rack. For example, just recently, a lot computer geeks have figured out that they could neaten their desk and gadgets by wiring hard drives, modems, routers, card readers etc. to pegboard and hanging it under or behind their desk. Combine that idea with the Vagabond tool rack and you have an easily transportable/protected device array.

    I completely understand you reluctance to go the traditional route of getting a patent and finding a manufacturer. It’s time consuming and expensive up front plus you stand a significant chance of getting ripped off when the lawyers get involved.

    However, today you don’t have to go the traditional route. This idea seems custom made for a company/service like Quirky. I think they would pounce on this idea and you could get it developed and marketed for nothing. The return will be less, of course but so is the investment.

    You could also try something like Kickstarter or a custom manufacturing service like Ponko.

    So, I urge you to develop the idea formally and get it out there. If you choose not do so, it would help others if you were to explicitly place it in the public domain via one of the open source licenses. Making an Instructable, as mentioned above, automatically attaches such a license. If you like, I can make the Instructable for you showing due credit.

    Whatever you choose, do act upon this idea. One way or the other, this idea needs to get out there. Feel free to contact me through my email (which wordpress should provide you via your admin tools) if you wish to discuss this further.

  • craig

    clever idea.

    a fellow i worked with used a similar two-panel insert in his briefcase/toolbox.

    he used the snap rings they use for loose leaf binding as hinges.

  • Bob Strawn

    Electronics tool brief cases often have panel inserts and they have been around for years. They are more of an organizer than a stand. You are better off taking them out and laying down than standing up. you could stand them up sort of, but they are going to fall down as often as stay up, if you try to take a tool out or put it back. A brief case by itself can act as a stand, so by flipping a panel, lifting a panel or lowering one, you can switch out your access to another layer. A good example would be the sets made by Xcelite.


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