Out of the box

You can consider this a minor rant or pet peeve; either is appropriate. Of all the things that bug me about directives in tool manuals, this one is at the top of the list.

Invariably, when you get a new tool you open the box and grab the manual, a good first move. The manual contains not only a parts list right at the front, but often includes unboxing information that can be critical – occasionally, tools with lots of parts need to be unpacked in a certain order to prevent loss or damage, or simply to make it more straightforward.

However, I have yet to find a tool manual that doesn’t include a directive to save all the boxes and packing in case it needs to be returned. To be fair these instructions are with everything that comes in a box, from table saws to cell phones, and they generally make very good sense. For small things, like the cell phone I just mentioned or perhaps a drill or small benchtop tool, this poses no issues. Same thing for tools that, again like the drill, have only a cardboard wrapping around a plastic case. But when the tool is big, like a table saw or jointer, following the directive is sometimes impossible.

Frequently, large tools are not only packed tightly in their boxes, but nestled in form-fitting molded Styrofoam packing. They drop the tools straight down into these molded foam niches at the factory easily enough I’m sure, but reversing the process can be difficult. If the tool is extremely heavy it sometimes just isn’t possible to lift it straight up, even with help. At best you’ll break off portions of the molded foam; at worst you’ll destroy most of it.

Same thing for cardboard. A tool weighing in excess of 200 lbs. just can’t be neatly lifted out of a box; sometimes you’re left with little choice but to cut the box away from the tool. The bottom line is that by the time you have the tool out and setup and discover that you might have a need to send it back, you’re often left with not much to send it back in.

I’m not sure what the solution would be, but I’m glad I’ve never needed to return a tool that required the original packaging. Not sure I’d be able to do it.

Till next time,



  • Chris Wong says:


    Could you not simply cut away the cardboard box at the corners so that it opens flat to remove the tool? That should make unboxing a snap, and if you have to rebox it, you would just tape the seams.


  • Michael says:

    I had purchased a large 37″ double drum sander several years ago. The shipping container was wood and cardboard. The trucking company that delivered it had done some obvious damage and I returned it without accepting delivery. The second time the same company attempted to delivery another damaged machine. After contacting the manufacturer, I insisted that they use another shipping company for the 3rd delivery. Third time was a charm, the machine arrived with only minor damage. Not sure if the manufacturer made any money on my sale, but I sure hope that they improved their shipping container and switched trucking companies!

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