The Origin of My Model-Making Toolboxes

By Adam Savage

Adam explains how he designed his unique metal toolboxes and why they suit his building style.

Back when I was a professional model-maker at Industrial Light & Magic, my specialty was hard-edged construction—spaceships, miniature sets, and architectural stuff. These objects were sometimes just 12 inches across yet needed enough detail to fill a movie screen. One, for example, was the background I made of the Tipoca City building for the Obi-Wan-Jango Fett fight in episode two of Star Wars.

This work required a fine eye for detail—and tons of tools. By the time I moved to MythBusters in 2003, I had well over 300 items in my model-making kit. Of course, I love tools. I also love arranging them, to the point where I came up with a name for my organizing metric: first-order retrievability. It’s a function of two particular parts of my personality.

One: I like to work fast. I despise not having the right tool or, worse, knowing I have it but not being able to find it. It’s a pointless delay that wrecks my pace—and mood.

Two: I’m obsessed with the form of a toolbox. The idea of a portable kit that has everything you might need ignites something inside me. It’s like Batman’s utility belt.

The setup you see here started out as two old doctor’s bags. I like the image of the traveling doctor, and I love antiques. But 50-year-old leather was no match for 50 pounds of tools. The bags failed soon after I started working at ILM.

I wanted to make an impression at my new job, so I spent an entire weekend remaking the bags out of aluminum. My supervisor suggested scissor lifts to keep them even with me when I was seated. He might have been joking, but I added them.

The finished boxes housed everything I needed, but I repeatedly rebuilt the insides until finally no tool had to be moved out of the way to get to another. That’s first-order retrievability. While I was enjoying the heaven that was the ILM model shop, it allowed me to be as fast, creative, and efficient as I wanted to be.

(This post originally ran on in September 2012)

Editor's Note: This awesome thread on The Replica Prop Forum documents one maker's quest to recreate Adam's toolbox. Adam drops by to offer more photos and some tips.