The Tale of a Toolbox

What can you do when the world has been thrown into turmoil? My response, and I suspect that of many other people, was to pick one tiny corner of it and try to bring order to chaos.

In this case, my tool box. To the untrained eye, it might just look like an unwieldy metal cuboid, with three rattly drawers, but to me it represents much more. It’s the first toolbox I’ve had that hasn’t perpetually been overstuffed, tools and spares all piled on top of each other like sardines in a trawler. It’s like going from one bedroom in a house share to a semi-detached with a garage. Finally, everything fits: the lovely but comically unwieldy wooden-handled pedal wrench that mainly gets used for built-in bottle opener; the Profile crank tool that I’ll no doubt need again at some point, when I decide that my fifth decade of life is the perfect time to have another shot at learning to BMX.

But I’ve increasingly become haunted by a nagging feeling that just being able to store everything isn’t enough. I’ve lined the drawers with pleasingly globular foam mat to stop everything inside from rattling and sliding, but I still find myself having to furtle for a five mil far too frequently. My social media feed keeps throwing up pictures from mates who have turned their toolboxes into statements of methodical calm, neatly lined, with everything in its place like a collection of scientific instruments. I’m already a devotee of a good shadow board: maybe I need to apply the same logic to my other storage?

So off to I go to YouTube, where a helpful young chap explains that all I need is a sheet of very expensive foam. By trimming this to the size of my toolbox, then cutting out perfectly sized little holes for all my tools, I can achieve workshop organisation Nirvana.

I do some online dithering, eventually click “buy” and a couple of days later an enormous plastic bag gets unceremoniously thrown onto my doorstep, containing a table-sized sheet of unappealing waxy grey sponge. A couple of days of heady anticipation later, and the special long marker pen that I need to draw round my tools accurately also arrives. Let’s do this.

I select my sharpest pocket knife and get trimming the foam to size, but I quickly realise this ain’t as straightforward as it seems. Trying to cut neat curves in the stuff is nearly impossible, and I end up with something more ragged than an ex-smoker’s fingernails. Maybe this won’t be going on Instagram after all. I lay out all my tools, neatly spaced out, in what will be their final resting places, and another ugly realisation dawns: padded with foam, my toolbox has just a fraction of its previous capacity. As a compromise, I decide to do the top drawer and leave the others as a kind of shameful tool oubliette.

I start drawing round the tools, and realise that I’m leaving a nice black go-faster stripe on them. I toy briefly with the idea of getting out the enamel paints and turning this into even more of an artistic statement, but decide against it. I’ve still got loads of fiddly little holes to cut, but no problem – Helpful YouTube Man informs me that I can just heat up any small metal tools and drop them into the foam, where they’ll melt their own snug little pockets. I fire the oven up to 200 and pop a selection of metal doodads in there, filling the kitchen with a lovely fragrance of burning grease. Then I drop one in to its place in the foam with the barbecue tongs, and watch it sink in. And keep sinking. And sinking. The red hot tool is swiftly extracted, now with a nice tarry coating of melted plastic. Fortunately this peels off once it cools, but the result still looks more accidental than intentional.

Because of the capacity issue alluded to above, I line the lid of the toolbox with foam too, reserving this for some of my less-used tools: the chain whip, the bottom bracket extractor, and the huge adjustable that looks like a prop from a murder mystery party. 

The top drawer is now perfectly organised, with tools laid out like I was trying to sell them. The bottom three drawers are overstuffed chaos.  My kitchen looks like an excitable puppy has got the better of a cheap camping mat. 

It’s the perfect metaphor for my life. I close the toolbox, and there’s a predictable thunk as the big adjustable spanner drops out of its slot in the lid. Yep, this definitely isn’t going on Instagram. But I can probably turn it into a funny bit of writing…

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