2020 June 8    Metal & Shop  


A while back, I bought an old metal toolbox for cheap.  The only problem was that the wire latches had no wires.

A toolbox without the latches is not much good, especially if you try to carry it by the handle on the lid.

We're not going to do a super high-precision build or anything.  This is a very basic fix involving common shop tools.

CAUTION: Metalworking can be dangerous.  Please read the Disclaimer, and make sure you wear proper safety gear.

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In This Article

The Material

The Tools

Simple In Theory

Hammering It Out

Completing The Project


The Material

For this repair project I used a scrap of steel wire that seems to have been heat-treated.  It acts like spring steel, almost:  difficult to bend.  Whatever alloy it is, it's definitely some type of hardened steel.

There's no reason why you couldn't use annealed wire for this, except that annealed wire toolbox latches would deform quite easily.  (I once used a plastic cable tie to fix a toolbox latch, so I'm sure that annealed wire would be better than that.)

If you don't mind the extra work, a slightly-hardened steel wire will give results most like the original toolbox latch wire.

Table of Contents

The Tools

You need a hammer, a pair of needlenose pliers, probably a pair of slip-joint pliers, and definitely a machinist vise.  It works best if the top edge of the vise jaws sort of round off, or slope away from the workpiece.  Very distinct, square edges on the vise jaws could make this project a bit more difficult.  (The main problem is that very crisp 90-degree edges will put nicks in the wire when you hammer it over.)

You also need something to cut the wire.  A hacksaw will work.

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Simple In Theory

Even without the wires on the toolbox, you can probably figure out what shape and size the wire latches should be.

You can add up the length of each side, which should give a rough idea of how much wire to cut. 

Then you make a series of right-angle bends in the wire.  Use a soapstone pencil to mark the exact location of each bend.

In theory, this is all very simple.

In theory.

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Hammering It Out

If you just had to make one right-angle bend in a piece of wire, it would be very easy:

But the next right-angle bend is only about 1/2 inch away from that one.  And the next one is pretty close to that one. 

Most vise jaws are the wrong shape and size to allow for that.  There is sort of a workaround, though.  Just be careful;  if you don't clamp the wire properly (and tightly enough), it could fly out of the vise.  Also, hardened steel wire may snap off from being cold-worked too much.  (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

So anyway, it is possible to form the wire this way:

It's just that by the time you're done with this, you may wish you bought a brand-new Homak or a Kennedy instead.  (The Kennedy toolboxes are still made in USA.)

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Completing The Project

There's a good chance that the latch, so far, looks something like this:

Unless you're using annealed wire, it's actually not easy to make this into a perfect rectangular shape.  When you do, make sure the wire ends are pushed together as closely as you can manage.  Otherwise, your brand-new wire latch may fall out.

You may need to take the latch out temporarily and refine the shape.  If the wire ends are already the correct length, then you might be able to fix it in-place with a pair of combination slip-joint pliers.  Squeeze on the sides of the wire latch to try forcing the sides more parallel.  (If the wire ends are still too long, they'll collide when you try this.  That's why I had to take it back out and trim them.)

When it's all done, it should look something like this:

Those wire ends are not the same length.  As long as it doesn't fall out, it's OK.


It's possible to make a new wire latch for an old toolbox.  Here, I've shown a way to do that.

I also remembered why I didn't fix this toolbox a lot sooner. 

This is one of those projects that looks easier than it is.  It's worth doing if you want to build up your metal shop skills.  But if you just want a good metal toolbox that works "right now", buy yourself a Kennedy or something. 

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Thanks for reading!


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