Friday, February 14, 2014

Tanos Mini Systainer Review

If you like gear you tend to fall into two camps--the guy that leaves his knife out in the snow for a season or the guy that cleans his knife after ever cut it makes, even in paper.  No matter how fussy you are though there comes a point in your gear purchasing that you realize that it is time to seriously consider how you store and transport those items.  Right now I am using a very cheap mini mechanic's chest.  It works well, but comes in second to a toilet in terms of transportability.  I like it, but it also lacks something in terms of expansion.  It basically is what it is and there is no way to make it hold more stuff, short of buying another chest.  Those two big problems led me to keep searching.

In addition to using and playing around with gear I also like to do woodworking.  There is only so long you can go in your woodworking before you run into Festool.  Simply put, there are no better tools at any price.  If Festool makes it, its the best there is.  My love affair with black and green started with a sander called the Rotex 90.  Then I developed a full scale disease, buying the vac, the jigsaw, and the CSX drill.  I am always dreaming of more Festool stuff, and I have had my eye on the MFT-3 for about two years now.  I am slow to pull the trigger and I like to save up (hence the year wait for an XM-18), so it will be a while.  In the meantime I can enjoy the benefits of 96% dust collection and modularity that rivals Lego (oh and I love Lego...not Legos...Lego).  But its not just the tools that are modular, the cases are as well.  In fact, the cases are a huge part of the Festool system.  They latch together with each other.  They have dimensions that work with tools (for example, the height of a medium systainer is the perfect height to be a bed extension for the Kapex Miter Saw).  And they are incredibly sturdy.

About two years ago I found out that the systainer tool case system was not limited to just Festool, but that another company made them and customized them for Festool.  That company is called Tanos.  In turn Tanos is imported in the US by Woodcraft, a woodworking tool store.  I reached out to Woodcraft and they sent me two sample Mini T-Loc Systainers, with foam inserts.

Here is the product page.  The Mini T-Loc Systainer (hereinafter "the Mini") runs a very affordable $25.  Foam inserts are cheap--between $3 and $5 for the various inserts compatible with the Mini version.  Here is a review of the T-Loc cases (as they are used on Festool gear, but they work exactly the same on the Tanos models, just different colors and contents).  Here is my video overview of the Mini:

Here is the review sample Woodcraft sent me:


On top of the Mini is the Spyderco Zulu for size reference.  I was feeling very European that day--I called soccer football, or even snootier futbol a couple of times.

The Mini is made of relatively thick ABS plastic and they are not airtight or watertight.  The Mini is not designed to compete with the Pelican cases or Otter boxes out there.  It is meant for, originally, tool and part storage.  Think of them as the modern day version of the modular Gerstner chests--a bit more techy and a lot lighter.

The trick with the Mini T-Loc comes from this:P1020757

That is a shot of the T-Loc.  It works quite well and quite elegantly.  When you are using only one container there are two positions for the T-Loc: the T position (locked) and the upside down T position (unlocked).  In the T position (seen in the picture above on the top container) the case is locked.  In the upside down T position, the case is unlocked.

All of this changes when you add another container to the mix.  The T has three positions and when you have more than one case, each of the three positions do something different.  You can have a container locked, a container latched (connected to another container), or locked AND latched.  In the photo above, the bottom container is unlocked, but latched to the top container.  That is, you can open the bottom container and still have the two containers connected together and have the top container locked closed.  That's pretty ingenious, but it gets even better.

Now the bottom container is both locked and latched to the top container.  With this arrangement you can have an infinite number of Mini T-Loc Systainers connected together in a single, locked stack.  Furthermore you can open any one container without having to remove the containers on top of it or removing it from the stack.  This flexibility is really nice, especially when you have a few Systainers (like I do in my workshop).  They do eventually become top heavy, but with the Minis, this would take quite a few.

I tried the pick and pluck foam and it worked very well.  It kept everything in place, secure, and rattle free.  It also looked very organized and clean:


I found it hard to squeeze in more than five knives and if you have a knife significantly bigger than the XM-18, you would need to change its orientation.  For flashlights, the pick and pluck foam didn't work as well.  It still kept them secure, but they were harder to retrieve.  The Mini is pretty deep, and tiny lights like my 40DD and the Aeon Mk. II got lost, even when I stood them up instead of laying them down.  Bigger lights did much better.

I did try the Mini without the pick and pluck foam and it was fine.  The gear would rattle when moved, but with the egg crate on the bottom they stayed put when stationary and were relatively well protected, just nothing compared to the pick and pluck foam set up.


The egg crates (as well as the foam on the top) are also an accessory and are sold separately for a very reasonable price of between $3-$6.

Everything was incredibly well made.  The foam inserts were cut clean and fit snug.  The Minis themsevles closed easily and locked together snuggly.  They are also durable.  I could comfortably and easily stand on the Mini without creaking or cracking.  I don't think they are anything like an Otter Box/Pelican Box, but again, these are Gerstner chest replacements, not bulletproof containers.  In that role, they are easily as good as a Gerstner chest.

In terms of portability they are amazing.  They have built in handles.


The handles are free swinging, but lay flat for latching containers together.  The hinges are flush with the box too and are durable as well.  Literally every possible detail has been thought out on these containers both in terms of design and in terms of fit and finish.

The Minis are, as I mentioned before, infinitely stackable.  They are not, however, compatible with the larger T-Loc systainers or the older non-T-Loc systainers.  There is also a MAXI systainer that is not compatible with the rest of the line (though they are compatible with other MAXI-sized units).  Once you ignore the top and the bottom, ever other systainer is compatible with each other, even T-Loc and non-T-Loc (though you cannot do the lock AND latch thing between the two different kinds of systainers).

I heartily recommend the T-Loc Systainer as a way of organizing, storing, and transporting your gear.  They are relatively inexpensive compared to similarly sized wood chests like Gerstner stuff and compared to the bullet proof boxes (and really I am not sure just how useful that bulletproofness is outside of taking gear into hostile environments).  They are also modular in a way that no other storage system is.  They are clean looking, well built, and precision made.  If you have a small collection or want to just try them out, go for a Mini.  When I switch I'll probably get a bigger T-Loc or maybe even a drawer systainer.

But if you have a knife collection that is too big or too nice for a drawer, consider the Mini.  If you are a custom maker or a dealer and go to shows, the T-Loc systainer system is the way to travel.  They even make a dolly for systainers (there is also a wheeled base).   You could roll into the Gathering or Blade with a quarter million dollars in customs and not break a sweat and you could avoid opening 500 small zippered knife cases.

The T-Loc Systainer is truly 21st century storage and the Mini is an affordable way to test the waters.  Go take a peek.  The organization freak in you will be blissfully happy.       

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