Is our compact tool kit the most efficient ever...!? | Shadow Foam Skip to content
The foam inserts cut for tools and the tools out of the box demonstrating just how much can fit in there

Is our compact tool kit the most efficient ever...!?

About a year ago we made an awesome compact tool kit which was for us to use on a daily basis. Mainly as I’m not really using a big rolling toolbox anymore. So, I thought it would be nice to have a smaller, handy but protective tool kit to keep in the car. Now, 12 months on it’s time to do a review on what’s working and what’s not working in the kit. From there, we can come up with a new improved version. This tool-case has been pretty good, I’m using it at least every week and it’s held up really well. Some of the items are priceless to have and some of the items haven’t been used at all. That’s why we know we can make a better toolkit than this.

The original compact tool kit from 2020 was blue foam set into a soft black case
The original compact tool kit last year…. we thought we could make improvements!

What we had in the original compact tool kit…

Allen keys
One of the most useful items in this organiser! Whether you’re building a set of furniture or need to take the side off a machine, Allen keys are always really useful. In a compact tool-kit the temptation is to get a small folding set. We did consider this because they’d be much smaller. But typically when you want an Allen key you need a ball end and a long length handle. Also you want something that’s not tied to a set, inhibiting use. So this has been invaluable and we’ll definitely keep this in the set. Our set is by Pro Cycling. But we’ve taken the chrome Allen keys out of the Pro Cycling holder which was big, and put them into a smaller Crescent holder.

Space Pen
We love this Fisher Space Pen which is basically just a write anywhere pen so it’s quite handy to have.

Tyre Pressure Gauge
An example of one of the items that we have never had out of the kit. That’s as good a reason as any to take it out altogether.

Zippo Lighter
Very handy to just have one available.

Spirit Level
On the face of it this sounds very handy to have it. But with this not being magnetic and being so small it’s not been used very often at all.

Micro Precision Screwdriver
Ours has got the bits in the body of it and this is one of the items I’ve used a lot just around the house. Just things like putting batteries in a toy, or trying to repair something small. For those jobs, these precision micro bits are really handy. One thing that’s sad about this is that for the space it takes, there’s not many bits in the head. It comes with about four or five, so we can make an improvement on that.

Utility Key
Our Knipex Utility Key folds out and gives four different panel keys. It’s also a bit driver and a volt detector but sadly the vault detector doesn’t seem to work very well. Also because the bit driver is plastic, you can’t really get much torque without the feeling of it twisting within the within the plastic. For that reason, I don’t use it, despite thinking it was a fantastic idea when I got it due to it’s size. Also, it won’t work for a lot of the panels because every machine manufacturer has a different kind of panel key! I usually just end up carrying one in my pocket.

Six Inch Adjustable
Always fantastic to have handy. The only reservation is it’s nice to have the proper size spanner a tool kit and not to not to use an adjustable.

Permanent Marker
Aways priceless to have one of those on you.

Utility Knife
The Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife is fantastic, really nicely built. It’s also the model with the little holder for some additional blades which is great to have. It locks in position and it’s really useful for cutting all manner of things.

Leatherman Rev
Used regularly as pliers but that’s it. All of the other functions on this tool are redundant. Also you can’t get as much purchase with these as you would a regular set. As it’s not used, we will be replacing this with a proper set of pliers.

Bit Set
This is quite a low quality bit set but it’s handy to have. The reality with a bit set is that you don’t use a lot of the sizes; one or two good posi drive or a good flat head would be more than enough.

Bit Driver
We find this useful because it can get in tight spaces. Also, as it’s metal you can get more purchase on it.

3.5m Meter Tape Measure

Compact Multimeter
This is one of the tools I’ve used regularly because you can check if you’ve got a continuity or power with just a quick check. This is so small, so we’re definitely going to be keeping this.

The case
So overall, the original this Amazon bargain case has been fantastic. It’s held up to daily wear and tear, it’s got chucked around and all sorts! To say that this case cost £9 when new, and it was sold on the premise of being a GoPro case, I think we’ve really proved the point. You can take pretty much ANY any case, remove the guts from it, put a piece of Shadow Foam in it, and basically create a custom tool kit. So what we wanted to do now is improve on this with a slightly bigger version.

How do we improve from the original custom tool kit case?

I sourced a new one that’s a good two inches wider and it’s about an inch deeper as well. When it arrived, it was the exact same as the 13″ model with a moulded tray insert in the bottom. We cut that out with a utility knife and then peeled out the insert. Next, using a sharp knife, we cut all the way around the edge of the factory hot glue lines so it peeled off easily.

Next, we add a piece of Shadow Foam which would have been around £6-7 from our site, cutting radiuses on the corners so it drops straight in. Now we’ve got now a ready-to-go compact tool case! Better still, this comes with a panel similar to the 13″ original, which we can sit on top to create a second layer. So we can now fit two layers of tools in rather than one!

our soft black case is slightly bigger than the original and is ready to be organised and kitted out with foam box inserts to become a compact tool organiser
The new, slightly bigger case we got for our custom tool kit all ready for foam box inserts to go in


Which original items have made the cut in terms of going in the new case?

Allen Keys
These are the most compact form factor allen keys I can find

Tape Measure

Milwaukee Utility Knife
Because it’s one of the best utility knives out

Zippo Lighter

Fisher Space Pen

We’re going to be keeping this because it’s so compact and so useful.


Getting philosophical… is smaller always better?

The point we are making about this toolkit is that sometimes compact versions of tools are not always better. You don’t really want a compact version of a screwdriver and a compact version of a spanner. To do the job properly you usually need the full-size version, so there’s got to be a balance within the toolkit. It’s about careful selection and having having the full-size version of items that you need, just in a more compact space.

How else do we improve?

Everything else can be improved on from the original compact kit so there are some new additions here. It’s worth repeating that the thing about this set is that it’s geared towards me personally. So, if you were doing the same compact kit you could tailor this infinitely to best suit your needs. Just make sure it contains the things that YOU are most likely to be using. The most compact and efficient tool kit is the tool kit that fulfils the most tasks you’re likely to complete.

New tools!

Knipex Utility Key
To start with we’re going to be replacing original with a new one. The replacement is in two halves that magnetise and go together. This means it can open up to eight different panel doors rather than four as before.

Fluke Voltage Stick
We are changing the voltage stick that doesn’t work very well to a much more reliable model by Fluke. This makes sure we can check if cables are live quickly.

Spirit Level
We’re also going to be improving this small level to one by Milwaukee which magnetic and adjustable so it can be for horizontal or vertical levels.

Precision Screwdriver
We’re changing this out, upgrading to one which looks USB backup! But it’s actually a fantastic screwdriver set where the precision bits are magnetized into the holder. The aluminium screwdriver has also got a rotating bit on the end.

The next item we are upgrading is the torch as the original doesn’t have many other functions. We love this Big Larry torch by Nebo. Much brighter than our original torch with a couple of different brightness levels. Also, it’s got a really strong magnet on one end of it so you can attach it to things too.

One of the big letdowns of the original kit was that the only plier just wasn’t sufficient for most jobs. We wanted to change it out to something like the Knipex Cobra which is fantastic. That has a really wide jaw on it but sadly is a little bit too big for our kit. As a compromise, we went with a Knipex Grip which doesn’t go quite as wide but works as a plier and a spanner which is much better. They’re also electrically insulated because if you’re cutting a cable it’s better to have that protection.

Next we add the Knipex multitool which again provides a couple of functions so is ideal in compact kits. It’s a wire stripper, a pair of long nose pliers and a bullnose plier.

Wire cutter
Another Knipex item goes in too – a wire cutter or a bolt cutter. They make a few different models of these. We went for the shortest bolt cutter they do because we’re trying to save as much space as possible.

Adjustable spanner
I spent quite a while deciding what I was going to do for an adjustable spanner. It took a lot of research to find what we wanted. In the end, we ended up switching out one item for two. First, a Bahco 4” adjustable, and alongside it a large Stanley 10” adjustable multi function demolition bar which is also a pry bar and a nail claw as well as a hammer,

Stubby Screwdriver
New to this version of the compact case is the Weir Stubby Screwdriver. It’s a bit driver, in the base it houses 3 sizes of positive bit and three sizes of flat head, plus one in the holder. A great upgrade.

Insulated Screwdrivers
We’re also adding a Wera set of electrically insulated screwdrivers. This solves the problem I mentioned earlier about the holder for the bit being so wide and chunky you can’t typically get down holes to most screws. The Wera set is a similar system to the bit system, however the full blade is replaced, sliding into the handle and forming what is just a standard looking screwdriver to the eye.

As I mentioned, it’s my belief that if you can use the correct size spanner over an adjustable you should. But also we recognise the fact that often when you need a spanner, you actually need two; one for each side. Having an adjustable for the one side and then having the correct size spanner for the other is so handy. These are Wera Joker spanners and essentially are a good quality reversible ratchet spanner.

Socket tool
Also going in is a new adaptable socket tool. Ours has a 3/8 to 1/4 inch bit adapter on the end. I use it is for putting in eyelets and eye hooks, but it can be used for any socket up to 19mm.

Bit Driver
We’re also adding another GearWrench bit driver which is essentially just a ratcheting handle with two interchangeable heads. The first has a quarter inch bit on the end, the second head has a quarter inch square bit for sockets. There’s also an adapter that lets you extend. A big reason we like this is that this goes really well with the Tool Check set which has a full set of metric bits up to 13mm. It also has a bit adapter for a drill, so creates a full set of nut spinners, something that I use a lot.

Ratcheting Driver
We’re also going to include a small quarter inch ratcheting driver. It’s nice and small and it will go with the bit driver set to give us even more options.

Lock Picking Set
The next item that we’re going to include is this small lock picking set from Amazon. It may seem like an odd choice, but this is something that’s quite useful to me in some situations. There’s no dark reason for this but I used to work in a contractor role. Often when supporting engineering departments in different factories, a common call out would be lost or forgotten keys. To have a basic lock pick kit like this and to be able to jemmy a lock is quite invaluable. Also, these are a very low cost item taking up only a small amount of space.

When you need a pair of scissors there’s no real replacement for them. However, when you think of the typical footprint, it’s usually too big to include normal scissors in a set like this. After doing some research I found these brilliant Raptor scissors made by Leatherman which fold down into a small size.

What about the really handy, tiny bits you need?

For those, we’ve just got an Altoids tin. Originally, of course , it would have contained mints! But you often see the EDC and prepper community use tins like this to carry small items. We’re doing the same in this kit, as there are a few handy little items we can include that you wouldn’t want to individually cut into foam.

  • Piano wire
  • Wagos
  • Tiny little true utility / lighter
  • Mini telescopic pen
  • Tiny Yankee Screwdriver
  • Big paper clip
  • Safety pins
  • Tiny precision screwdriver
  • Flint and steel
  • Hairpin
  • Bottle opener / nut spinner / blade survivalist tool combi
A layout of the various Knipex, Leatherman, Nebo, Milwaukee etc tools that will be going into the custom tool kit
Next step – getting all these tools cut into the tool foam so they can fit into the new custom tool kits

How do we get all that in one compact tool kit?!

So we know what we want to include, and next is the long process of planning the layout. This is always the most difficult part! We tool time to do that before cutting the tools into the foam. Planning where to put the big items is usually trickiest. Do that first, then once that’s nailed, you can use the smaller items to fill up any gaps.

Space saving tip! One big benefit of our foam is that you can make creative use of the 3D space within it. Unlike other storage solutions, it lets you make the most of gaps and spaces underneath. We do this by cutting in ‘layers’ and stacking tools. Eg, in one location we’ve got all of the screwdriver bits for the Wera set. Then we have our bit set which can sit nicely on top of them.

Another hack is that we are also using the internal panel that came with the case This allows us to sit on a second layer of foam on top of the first layer. Again as a space-saving measure, we’ve double stacked the spanners. With another item we fitted one the adapter on the end of it then put the second replacement head underneath. It’s a case of always looking to make the most efficient use of the depth of space.

Did we achieve our goal of the most efficient compact tool kit?

That’s a lot of tools to get into one small custom compact tool kit!

For my purpose, this is definitely the most efficient compact tool kit there could be. This will give great protection to my precious tools, making them as light and portable as possible. Take a look at the full story here.

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