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TM reader dgdaner asks: “I farm and ranch and keep the tools I use for fencing in a toolbox in the back of my fencing pickup. I’m too cheap to buy a full-size aluminum box that mounts permanently, so I use smaller (usually plastic) toolboxes that I can carry around. They stay out in the ND weather, and many times I go to use them I find the box half full of water. What’s your best suggestion for a replacement?”

He mentions that the best he’s seen (in his price range) was a Craftsman model which “didn’t use rivets to hold the hand on, so the lid is sealed.” We did a quick search (and looked around our local big box) and found a number of Stanley models that seem similar to the Craftsman the reader mentions. But I can think of at least one other possibility.

When I was a kid, my father brought me home a couple of smallish ammo cans, similar to the one pictured above. Not only are they quite sturdy, they’re also completely watertight. (They’ll often float if empty.) A quick Google search shows that you can buy similar cases online for around $15. There’s only one drawback: they’re a bit small for most tools.

On the other hand, I’ve seen identical cases sized for artillery shells. Even though the last time I checked the Army didn’t recycle them, I’m pretty sure they’re not available for sale — at least over the counter. But I bet you could find them pretty easily, and they’d make a great solution for the reader’s problem.

What do you think, though?


23 Responses to What’s The Best (Inexpensive) Waterproof Toolbox?

  1. Robert says:

    Ammo cans will work great as a tool box. I have lots of them. Water tight? How about air tight. If the gasket is good and you will hear it hiss when you pop the lid. They are available through military surplus stores in many sizes. I bought a pallet full of them on eBay a few years ago cheap. you can get trays and other organizers for them as well as locks. They also make pretty good cheap panniers for your motorcycle.

    Just Google for ammo can tool box to get some ideas.

  2. KG2V says:

    Pick a different size – that one is a 30 cal Can. Grab a can for a 50 cal, or for a 25mm – there are even larger ones of you look

    Would you believe that in the 90s, the Govt was classifying ammo cans as a ‘munition’ and they had to be destroyed before being sold for surplus.

  3. Mike says:

    I don’t know what it originally held, but I have a can that is roughly about 24″ tall x 24″ wide x 8″ deep. I honestly don’t know if I could carry it completely full of tools. Larger than the one pictured is definitely available.

  4. rg says:

    I don’t know if it’s the “best”, but it certainly doesn’t get much cheaper: A 5-gallon Home Depot plastic bucket ($3.97) + a lid (~$2.00?).

  5. Robert says:

    I think the best size is a SAW(Squad Automatic Weapon) box. A 50 cal box will fit inside of a SAW box.

    I’ve used plastic buckets for tools. I think they are to deep and the lids are a pain to get on and off.

  6. Blind says:

    As far as store bought tool boxes, I picked up the Fat Max tool box which has a gasket on the lip. I don’t remember if it claims water proof or water resistant… but seems like a good box. Haven’t tested it though.

    Ammo can and 5 gallon buckets sound like arguably better options though.

  7. Simon says:

    I buy these from Plano – has a gasket, tray and little holding area up top: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dsporting&field-keywords=plano+1612 Supposed to be for fishing I think.


  8. PutnamEco says:

    The Contico 3725NL is a great box to throw in the bed of a truck at around $50 It is large enough to hold a regular toolbox, a bucket of staples, tensioning gear and a spool or two of barbwire, almost as good as a gang box. The Stanley FatMax 028001L are pretty good as well, although if you tend to have a heavy box, beware the top handle, it will come loose. The Flambeau Gear Box T1418 is an even smaller option.

    I don’t’ know if it is just my area, but I do see a lot of truck saddle boxes at the local junkyards. They have found out some of the higher end ones like the Weatherguards will fetch a good buck,but there are still some bargains to be had.

    Re: 5 gallon bucket lids- look into the screw down Gamma seal Lid

  9. Eric says:

    The best place I’ve found to buy them is at a gun/knife show if you have one in your area. There is usually at least one or two vendors with huge piles of them, you have to sort through some of the bad ones to find good ones but they can go for as little as $3-$5.

  10. Cameron Watt says:

    I think that when it comes to toolboxes being great, inexpensive, and waterproof, the old adage about only being able to pick two out of those three attributes applied.

    As for finding toolboxes half full of water….drill a drain hole! Water will still get in but at least it can get out. It might make enough difference.

    How about sewing up a cover? I’ve done it for equipment but it could work just as well for a toolbox.

    I keep my tools dry by storing them in the cab of my truck….Heaven help me if I ever crash.

  11. Chris says:

    I believe Pelican makes some toolbox-style cases, if not dedicated toolboxes. Most of Pelican’s cases are pretty darn weather-resistant, although you’ll pay a heck of a lot more for a Pelican case than you would for an ammo can or five-gallon bucket (and in the case of the bucket, you almost need a tool to open it if it has a snap-on lid).


    • browndog77 says:

      Its pretty easy to make one of those snap-on lids stop snapping on! They will still seal pretty well, too!

  12. Ben Granucci says:

    In my (admittedly quick) search I came across an 81mm Ammo Can that is roughly 25x13x8. A bargain at $20. They have a pretty good selection here: http://www.colemans.com/ammocan.htm

    Pelican cases are great, but will break the bank. An ATA case with tool pallets can run several hundred dollars, however if you travel with your tools (especially via air) they are indispensable. But for a box that is going to live in the back of your truck, they are a bit of overkill. Better to go with something cheaper and less likely to scream “something expensive is inside me.”

  13. jmduler says:

    If you are at a gun show and dont see the size you want…..ask. My friend is a dealer and he would love to get rid odd sizes he has to buy from surplus. He buys 5-15 pallets at a time. My favorite, M16 cases that hold 12 guns…..great coffee table, and opens to hold DVDs and remotes. Great conversation piece. Mortar rounds = fishing rod holders and blueprints. Both are heavy! Gun case is 53lbs

  14. Casey says:

    Five gallon pail with a gamma lid.

  15. Dave says:

    Thirty-some-odd years ago I was looking to buy my first toolbox, for industrial construction in the harsh environment of brine and bromine chemical plants, and one of the people I was shopping from, who was an old Dow Chemical sparky, said what I ought to do was get myself an Igloo ice chest and just use that for a toolbox. He said it would protect my tools a lot better than the steel Waterloo boxes I was eyeballing. I ended up just making myself one out of plywood like most everybody else did, since most of the people I was working with, and I myself, were working far enough removed from ongoing operations to get away with it, but I’ve always regarded that as pretty good advice, and I’ve used ice chests as toolboxes from time to time since then.
    I’ve always liked ammo cans just fine myself as well, and I’ve got a whole bunch of different sizes and kinds of them, but for me, the big ones are just too heavy anymore to pack around.

    • Barks says:

      I’ve seen quite a few ice chests used as tool boxes ‘out in the wild’. Usually with metal hinges replacing the plastic ones that probably were the reason the chest moved from ‘ice’ to ‘tool’.

  16. John says:

    I have been using these from Northern Tool and they work well. Come in orange or green.


  17. Joe says:

    I was just looking for a way to keep some tools down by my pond, as the kids are always letting the fish swallow there hooks. I never thought of using an old ammo can to keep them dry. I have a couple of them just gathering dust in the shop.

    Thanks for the tip.

  18. Brandon M says:

    i use a 50 cal box for my hand tools. its probly water resistant but ive never needed that as i live in an arid environment. i also use it as a stool to sit on when i need to work near the ground.

  19. Bill from Maine says:

    Buy bulk ammo from Cabela’s and it comes packed in a plastic dry box. Same box as in the link to Northern above.

  20. Bob A. says:

    The Plano plastic ammo boxes from Cabela’s or BassPro are the modern version of the ammo cans. They are sturdy, watertight, and will not rust.

  21. Indyran says:

    I used to use a 5 gallon bucket with a sealed lid, as has been suggested. It worked great but, I accumulated a few to many tools and outgrew it. I then stumbled across a dumpster outside a swimming pool supply store that had several larger empty clorine buckets that still had the screw on/off seal tight lids. When I say larger, I’m guessing 7 or 8 gallon buckets. Anyhow, turned out to work perfect for what I needed. After having a tool box stolen out of the back of my truck, I wanted something a bit less obvious to put my tools in.
    I think the old buckets are a lot less conspicuous to would be tool thieves. That’s how I ended up using a bucket for a tool box in the first place.

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