Like many folks who use tools, I'm curious about where they come from and how they are made, so before my last trip to the Midwest I arranged to visit the Knaack and Weather Guard factory in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Knaack produces a variety of secure jobsite storage boxes: piano-hinged and top-hinged chests, lockable work benches and cabinets, field stations, and more. Made from steel, most of the company's products have a distinctive tan/brown powder coat finish, immediately recognizable to anyone who has worked in the trades. Weather Guard makes professional truck and van storage equipment: truck boxes, ladder racks, bulkheads, shelving, and the like. The day I was at the Crystal Lake plant I saw them making aluminium truck boxes.

Click the slideshow on the left to see what I saw during my tour of the factory. Be sure to check out the captions; they explain what's going on and contain links to video that show things that couldn't be captured in photos.

As for the companies, the first thing I learned when I arrived at the plant was that for 25 years I've been mispronouncing Knaack. I said "nack" when it's actually "k-nack". Knaack was founded in 1960 by an Illinois farmer and dairy company employee named Howard Knaack. The idea for the company grew out of a request by some friends to build heavy-duty boxes for storing their tools and dies.

Knaack began making boxes in a one-room shop and sold them through a regional distributor. In the late 1960s, he bought the rights to produce Weather Guard truck equipment from a sheet-metal contractor in St. Louis and opened a 16,000-square-foot plant at the current location in Crystal Lake. After several expansions, the plant now measures 400,000 square feet.

In 2000, Howard Knaack sold the company to Emerson, the St. Louis-based conglomerate that owns the Ridgid brand. In 2012, Emerson sold Knaack and Weather Guard to the Werner Company (Werner Ladders), which is headquartered in Greenville, Pa.

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