ITDG 7: A joiner’s carrying equipment

In Britain there are two types of joiners, the tradesmen (or occasionally women) who make things out of wood. ‘Shop joiners’ work in a workshop, where they make windows, doors and doorframes, staircases, custom-designed units for kitchens, bathrooms etc. They have their own hand tools in the workshop, as well as machinery. ‘Site joiners’ work on building sites, where they build anything from floors, walls to roofs, make shuttering for forming concrete, and install the doors, staircases and windows etc. that are put together in a workshop. There is also a separate but related trade, ‘cabinet makers’. These tend to specialise in making furniture.

In the course of a day a site joiner might need to use a wide variety of tools.

Edge tools (those with a sharp edge that has to be protected)
This includes saws, chisels, bradawls, planes, and axes.

Non-edge tools
Hammers, screwdrivers, files, tape measure, pencils, squares, pincers, pliers etc. Some of these can be quite heavy - such as a lump-hammer, nail-bars (crowbars), and spirit levels.

Power tools
Most joiners will use a variety of electric tools - screwdriver, drill, jigsaw, circular saw, planer and possibly a Hilti gun (for fixing nails into concrete). Normally these are carried in plastic boxes that are supplied with the tool. On a larger site where they might have to do a lot of cutting, they will take a circular saw fixed to a metal table. They usually have to carry a transformer to reduce the power supply to 110V (for safety reasons) and electric cables.

Nails and screws
Most joiners also take with them a nail box, which is an open ‘tray’ with partitions, for carrying different sorts of nails. They also take a variety of screws and other fittings.

Safety equipment
Many joiners also carry heavy-duty gloves, safety goggles and face masks. Another popular item is a leather belt with a loop to sling a hammer and various partitions for nails etc.

Lots of tools
Typically a joiner will carry more than one size of most tools - they might have three or four saws, three hammers of different weights and designs, three planes (jack, smoothing and block) and so on.

Most joiners use a van or pick-up truck to get themselves, their tools and materials to the site. (There is an interesting possible design context here for a customised rickshaw or bicycle trailer for joiners.) Sometimes they can park the van on the site and get tools and materials, as they need them during the day. But more often the van is needed for other purposes during they day, so the joiners have to unload everything and carry it to where they are working. If they are working upstairs they will have to carry everything up, and down again at the end of the day.

The problems
The main problem stems from the fact that joiners might not know in advance which tools they are likely to need, so they tend to bring everything with them onto the site. Since the tools are made mainly from steel, with plastic handles, this means they have to carry large loads. A second problem is how to protect the edge tools. If a saw rubs against a hammer the teeth can be bent or blunted. A third problem is finding the tool that you actually need. If you have a joiner’s bag or box, you sometimes have to root around in it to locate smaller tools. At the end of the day you need to make sure that you have collected up all your tools. There is an overriding health and safety issue: the tool boxes not only have to be carried; they have to be lifted on and off vans or trucks. It is easy to twist and hurt one’s back if the load is too heavy.

Existing solutions
In the past joiners used a bag and a toolbox. The joiner’s bag had no partitions. It was usually made from hessian or canvas with a rope handle, and tended to wear out fairly quickly. The toolbox was large and cumbersome, and was made of wood.

Joiner’s hessian bag
Joiner’s wooden toolbox

More recently joiners used large, canvas bags with two handles and a zip on top. The problem here was that they were hard to carry, especially if all the tools went to one end. Again the edge tools would get blunted and / or make holes, so that the smaller tools fell out.

The Zag box that joiners use today

The most widely used current solution is the ‘Zag’ box. These are moulded from heavy duty plastics (usually HDPE or PP). There is a hinge along one side, a recessed handle and two clips to hold the lid down. Inside there is a removable tray with partitions for small items. Larger tools are carried underneath. One advantage of the Zag box is that you can sit on it during tea breaks and lunch.

But none of these is the ideal solution. Boxes still have to be carried, sometimes up ladders or through trap doors. Edge tools still get damaged, and in the normal 26” box there is not room for larger saws. Small tools can be hard to find. And when they go, the Zag boxes tend to break on the hinge or clips, rendering them useless, although the actual shell is still sound.


Old Zag box with clips broken off Zag box, tools and nail/screw box

Is there a better solution? Is it possible to redesign the joiner’s carrying equipment so that there is a place for everything? This will make it easier to find things, and to check that everything has been gathered up. How can edge tools, especially saws, be protected? Since boxes are not easy to carry: might it be possible for a joiner to have two or even three containers that can be carried rucksack style? Can anything be done to design something with more sustainable materials, or which is more durable?

How do you carry it up a ladder?

Finding a client
There are joiners in every town. You might find a company or individual joiner who is willing to act as your client by looking in the Yellow Pages. Discuss with them their needs, and how their activities or products could be made more efficient and more sustainable. You can find out from the joiner the exact nature of the tools they carry every day (types of tool, sizes and weights, and whether they need to be protected).

ITDG subjects
Design Contexts
Developing design briefs
Images to stimulate students’ thinking (images still to come)
Advice on finding clients
Generic design contexts
Advice on specific design briefs
CAT specific design briefs
Loughborough University specific design briefs
ITDG specific design briefs
CAT support information
Loughborough University support information
ITDG support information