Are you packing a tool there, Bud?
When it comes to a tool belt or apron, there's no such thing as one size fits all.
Regardless of the size of my shop or the types of tools I’m using, I like having the tools that I use often close at hand. By that I mean on me, so that no matter where I am I can simply grab them. Some people prefer to keep their most-used tools on the bench, but my bench gets cluttered enough as it is. So the question is how to keep these tools on me in a way that works the way I work.
The “perfect” apron
Let’s first dispel a myth that there is a perfect apron or tool belt out there that can do the job for the masses. I’ve tried many versions of these and they always seem to have features that I don’t need or are missing the ones I want. Or maybe the pockets are too high or low on the front. Whatever the case, they continue to leave me a little disappointed and still searching.
The closest I’ve come to the perfect apron is one that I had custom made by the folks at Texas Heritage. I picked the pocket style, layout, and material. Even with this, I’ve sadly discovered that I don’t enjoy wearing an apron in the shop. I’m still glad I have it, but wearing an apron makes me feel restricted, and when I’m woodworking I need to be unencumbered. I also tend to run warm, so the added fabric just heats me up.
Customizing your tool belt
With the apron situation sorted out, the next step for me was to look at tool belts. Most tool belts are aimed at the building trades and are not designed for the type of work a furniture maker does. Some of them came close, but still weren’t what I was after. They often had cavernous pockets that tools can get lost in or bang around in, and they were usually way too big for the tools I wanted to store.
The answer was to go the custom route again, so I found a local leather worker who was also a woodworker. He instantly understood what I was after and was able to help. I gave him the tools I wanted to cart around and asked him to make the smallest possible pouch that could house them. I also wanted the tools to go in and out of the pouch without much effort. The photo above is what he came up with. It will hold everything that I like but it doesn’t have extra things like a hammer loop or nail bag.
It’s all about personal preference
Going through this process taught me a lot about tool storage. No two woodworkers want the same tools in their apron or tool belt. I personally love having a block plane on me; others do not. This speaks to that fact that we all have different preferences for tools and different workflows that will dictate which tools get used and when. My biggest piece of advice is to find someone who can do some custom work for you and design your own. That way it’s perfectly suited to the way you work with no compromises.