First Order Retrievability Toolbag




About: Proud member of Newcastle Makerspace!

You're doing a job. It'll only take five minutes, all i need is that tool, hmm, where is it, i've only just seen it, it was in my toolbox right here for goodness sake!

...and by the time you've emptied out your toolbox to find the right screwdriver, it's taken four times longer than the actual job.

Sound familiar? Happens to me all the time.


Step 1:

A few years ago I was looking at Adam Savage's website, and was intrigued by his concept of "first order retrieveability": you can get to any object without having to move anything else. Here's a picture of one of his fantastically ridiculous toolboxes. Notice how almost all the tools are standing vertically so you can find them and take them out instantly.

Step 2:

I thought the idea was superb, and decided to give it a go myself. Using some small plastic shelf boxes rescued from a skip, and plastic hose cable tied to the outside wall of the box I modified my oil can toolbox. It worked very well. I could reach my pliers, craft knife, screwdriver, whatever, right away. Instantly and frustration free!

Step 3:

I've recently got a new toolbag for work and after a few months of chucking random junk in it, I was starting to feel a bit frustrated with it. Here's how I added first order retrievability to it!

Step 4:

40mm plastic drainpipe is the right diameter to take most of the shafts or handles of my tools. a 2m length is cheap too. After measuring the shortest tools in my kit (a stanley knife and permanent marker) I cut the drainpipe into 13cm lengths. This is long enough so tools are properly held upright, but not so long you can't get the short tools out.

The toolbag, being a bag and all, is too floppy to hold the tubes neatly upright, so i cut a baseboard out of 6mm ply to hold them on. As I also have other tools such as a spanner roll and cans of WD-40 and degreaser to keep in the bag I used more 6mm ply to make partitions. One long one for the spanner roll and long tools and a smaller one to store cans, bottles and tape.

The corners are chamfered so the baseboard fits into the bottom of the bag easily and to avoid damage to the bag (or me) from the sharp corners.

This photo shows the baseboard and partitions. The partitions are held in place with triangles of 40x40 wood, screwed into through the ply. The tubes are epoxied into place with copious amounts of araldite on the base of the tubes and along the lines of contact between other tubes and the wood. They're pretty sturdy, but may need reinforcing over time.

Here's the bag with the board in it. You can see the partitions and tubes in place.

Step 5:

The bag loaded up. All the tools are neat and easily accessible. Five minute jobs will now take five minutes, and my life will be smooth and frustration free again! 

Further mods I might try: using different size pipes for different tubes i.e. big square 67mm drain pipe, or thin electrical conduit for different size tools, and more partitions.

If you this this is a good idea, I can't recommend trying it out enough. Even cutting up some pipe into equal lengths, duct taping it together and dropping it into a toolbox makes a quick and easy toolbox organiser. 

If this has inspired you, go for it, take some photos, and post them on here, i'd love to see what you come up with.

Thanks for reading!



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27 Discussions

Cool! that looks really good! especially like the drill holster section. fast access! Have you considered mounting some multigang sockets into the bag so you can plug in your chargers in and just have one cable coming out so you can plug in easily when you get home or on site and charge your stuff?


3 months ago

I've been toying with an idea like this myself for an electronics toolbox and a toolbox for guitar stuff. Tackle boxes just don't do it for me (as they're not wide enough) and drawer system's just take up too much room when all you're basically storing is screwdrivers and files. Thanks for the idea and sharing.


11 months ago

Just did my bag. Poly sheet and abs pipes from HDepot. Wish I'd found this sooner! Thanks for the great info


4 years ago

I was just designing my own organization for my bag but thought I wpuld check here first and im glad I did yours is superior in desigm to what I had thanks for posting.


6 years ago on Introduction

Theirs number 2.I think that's gonna be it for now. I need a couple empty bags for miscellaneous stuff

2 replies

awesome tool layout !! i have those same harbor freight screw/phillips drivers -- they feel great !! im deff gonna do this thanks for the ideas on this one -- what bag is this you show


6 years ago on Introduction

My handbag is the scariest place anyone can put there hand in...this is great! must see if I can add bag gets tossed about :-)


6 years ago on Introduction

I really like the result. And Adam Savage is the the gold standard in this case. Below is how it look on my new FOR Toolbag !


6 years ago on Introduction

You are a genius. First order retrievablility- now THERE'S a concept made for us ADHD/scattered/project and tool obsessed people! AWESOME! Thanks a TON for posting this!!!

1 reply

Cheers, but the idea is Adam Savage's, from Mythbusters. I wish i could organise my thoughts and ideas like this too! it would be quite useful.


6 years ago on Introduction

I pretty much did; I put a multi tap in the bag.

Also, I'm halfway done with bag #2
2 left. Although, you never can have enough tools. I'm sure I'll need to buy more

Not sure why the pics are crooked. Sorry


6 years ago on Step 5

Yes in deed the vertical spaces are more eficient to put tools like screwdrivers, pliers or cutters, I have use this already in a very messy box, currently used for keep the tools from a graco foam machine on hand. Works great. We got solvents, scratchers, screwdrivers, cover plastics, and its quite handy.
Thanks for the tutorial.

1 reply