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You say toolbago and I say toolboxo

April 2012

If you want to start a lively debate, just ask a technician the best way to carry tools. That’s just what Fluke News Plus asked, in a survey of professionals from Asia, Canada, and the USA.

Bottom line: It’s different strokes for different folks. And whether they preferred a soft tool bag or a rigid tool box, the folks who responded had darn good reasons for their choices.

The results varied by country. In the USA, three out of four said they preferred a tool bag. In Canada the preference for bags was even stronger, with four votes for soft storage to each who preferred the box. In Asia it was a tossup: half of respondents liked bags, and half preferred boxes.

Most popular: The tool bag

If this was a personality contest you’d describe the winner, Mr. Bag, as easy-going, flexible, accommodating, and comfortable to be around. No hard edges on this guy, though he wouldn’t be your first choice if you need something to stand on. Our tool bag enthusiasts said bags are:

Easy - Bags are “easier to carry around on long distances with a shoulder strap,” said an American HVAC technician. “They’re easier to carry to troubleshoot equipment, easier and faster to sort, arrange and find tools,” said an equipment design engineer. “Easier to store in my office and grab when I need it,”.

“Soft-sided is easier to carry with other stuff - typically my hands are full,” said another engineer. A facilities technician agreed: a bag is “easy to carry and use with a shoulder strap and you can climb ladders easy with it!”

Bags are “easier to pack with multiple tools, fits in vehicles better, easier to carry when working on buildings,” said a US network engineer.

“I have tried them all,” added a Canadian marine electronics tech, “and I prefer an open top soft bag with compartments so that the tools stand vertically, because it is the only type where you can see all the tools at once. It helps to find the one you want and also to be sure that you have them all when you pack up to leave. Boats eat tools!”

Flexible - “Flexibility,” said a US electrical engineer. “Both (bag and box) have their strengths and weaknesses, however, the soft-sided bag can be stuffed full and carried easily even if it doesn’t close.”

“There is a certain amount of 'over-stuffing' one can do with a soft-sided bag, a flexibility option not available with a hard box,” said a design engineer. “SQUEEZE MORE INTO IT,” a biomedical engineering tech agreed.

Bags are “more practical,” said a maintenance engineer in Malaysia. “Flexible walls mean that odd-sized tools can fit inside, and when in a hurry, you can just shove everything into the bag. Also a bag can be re-shaped to fit into small enclosures. Downside is that soft material may tear easily.”

Accommodating - The bag is “less likely to cause damage if bumped into a wall, door, etc.,” said an HVAC technician. “It gives when you place it in a locker or a car trunk,” added a semiconductor product engineer.

“Soft bags don't slip off when set it down at angles,” a US test scientist pointed out, “which helps when you may be 100 feet up on the side of a power plant decking. Downside to soft bag is rummaging through bag to find right tool.”

Bags are “easy to pack-up,” said an industrial electrician from Canada. “Usually tools need to be in the precise spot for hard cases, which is fine for the tool. But cables don't like to stay put, and make it awkward to close the cover.”

Comfortable - The bag is “easier and more comfortable to carry,” said a Canadian electrician working in a wastewater plant. “It fits into smaller places easier,” a US utility technician added, “and doesn't ‘bang’ into you in tight areas of the plants.”

Runner up: The hard case

The Fluke 1600 Gear Box

The Fluke 1600 Gear Box

Mr. Hardcase may be less popular, but he works hard organizing and protecting a technician’s most valuable instruments. He’ll stand by you - and under you - in the toughest conditions. Cases are:

Protective - “Give an airline baggage handler a bag,” said a field service tech, “and watch them destroy it.” A case provides “safety for my test equipment from being kicked or stepped on,” said a US commercial HVAC technician. “Better at keeping out dirt,” added an industrial electrician. “Keeps the tools from bashing into each other,” said an auto mechanic.

“Working outdoors in all kinds of weather, a hard-side tool box keeps tools dry and clean better,” said a cathodic protection technician. “However it might be knocked about, the things in it never get harmed, crushed, or even scratched,” said a test equipment engineer. “Being made of steel, it also resists penetration by magnetic fields, it lasts forever, and I can lock it with a padlock.”

Organized - A hard case “makes finding tools faster,” said a Canadian HVAC technician, “and provides additional protection over soft bags.”

“The compartments of a tool box allow organized placement and easy access to various supplies,” said a technician in the Philippines. “It also provides protection for the expensive test instruments such as the Fluke 87V.” “I like the ability to use trays and compartments to organize tools,” said a US electronics technician.

Rigid - Hard cases “Cannot overcram with tools, can be used as seat or step, protects tools better,” said a US facility maintenance tech. “Bags have a tendency to allow things to get broken much easier,” said an industrial technician. “Also I am less likely to toss a hard case, ‘cuz I might break something in the interior of my truck, LOL!”

The hard case’s rigidity also means “durability for paperwork,” said an imaging equipment technician. And when work slows down, added an industrial engineer, “I can sit on it.”

Easier to clean - “I work in clean rooms,” said a Canadian production tech. “Rigid plastic is easier to clean and keep clean.” A biomedical equipment technician agreed, saying cases are “easy to disinfect.”

The team approach

Several respondents said they team up both bags and cases in their on-the-job arsenal: soft for hardware, hard cases to protect costly instruments.

“Soft is easier to carry on my shoulder, but hard case for all other Fluke DMMs,” said one. “Soft is easier to carry in my line of work,” said a building engineer. “I use hard cases to store the expensive tools.”

Soft cases are “FOR HAND TOOLS ONLY - NOT FOR INSTRUMENTS!” said a power systems engineer.

Whether they have a soft spot for bags or make the hard choice for a box, technicians choose their tool containers with care. After all, they’ll spend most of their day with Mr. Bag, Mr. Box…or both.

NOTE: Thank you to everyone who participated in this Fluke News Plus survey! We gave out six prizes - there were two winners in each of the three regions where the contest ran. Of course, in each of the regions, one of the winners was selected from the tool bag fans (and received a Fluke C550 Premium Tool Bag) and the other from the tool box fans (and received a Fluke C1600 Meter Gear Box).

Each month we run a new Fluke News Plus survey with prizes. Check out Fluke News Plus »