To Build a Roll-Around Shop Cabinet
Written by Ian Kirby and provided by American Woodworker magazine
For tough and intelligent tool storage, it's hard to beat a professional mechanic's tool chest. It has shallow, full-extension drawers tailored to the tools inside, it rolls around, and it's indestructible. However, in the woodworking shop, the mechanic's chest isn't perfect: it's expensive, it's made of edge-dinging metal, the drawers aren't sized for woodworking tools, and it's not a useful height. This roll-around toolbox solves all of these problems.
One nifty feature is that it has full-extension drawers without the premium price of full-extension slides. Instead, you use ordinary bottom-mount slides that are 4" longer than the drawers themselves. The extra length tucks into a pocket alongside the internal strongback. This approach easily saves you $100. To build the box, plan to spend about $80 on wood and $75 on hardware.
This toolbox works closely with your workbench. It keeps your tools organized and close at hand, but out of the way of your project. By making the box the exact height of your bench, it also works as an outrigger for breaking down plywood and supporting large work. The compartment behind the drawers accommodates tools up to 28" long.
There is a tradition among woodworkers of making extremely fine tool cabinets, as a way for the traveling journeyman woodworker to display his or her abilities. There's nothing wrong with following that tradition. But it's not what I was after in this design. This toolbox is in no way a showcase. It's a tough, utilitarian piece of shop furniture featuring exposed screw heads and naked plywood edges.
The big advantage of this design is that it doesn't take a lot of time or money to make. Of course you could edge-band the plywood, use biscuit joints instead of screws, and paint the plywood, but there's no functional reason for any of that.
Your Own Drawers
I like to keep my measuring tools handy, so I put them in the top drawer, with gauges and layout tools in the next drawer down. Some things aren't compatible in the same drawer with files, for example. Spade bits and drill bits can lie down in a shallow drawer, but router bits should stand up in holes drilled into a block, so they can't knock together. Group like tools together in shallow trays, with dividers to maintain order. TIP: You'll maximize useful space by running dividers from front to back instead of from side to side.
Once you've planned your layout, it's easy to dimension the drawer parts. To find the distance from one drawer bottom to the next, measure the height of the contents and add 1/2" for the bottom itself plus a little clearance. The drawer sides and ends can be as wide as the depth of the contents, and they can be a lot narrower too and other big tools sit very well on shallow trays.
The top drawer should have sides that are about 1/2" narrower than the drawer opening, so the drawer can be tipped up for installation.
Before You Saw
You'll have to make a full-sized sectional drawing to show how the drawers fit inside the case. The drawing will help you avert hardware conflicts. Pay close attention to the back door hinges. You might have to rearrange the drawers to make room for them.
Magnetic touch-latches bypass the need for drawer pulls and keep the drawers closed while you roll the cabinet around the shop. Single latches won't have enough oomph to open deep drawers full of iron, but you can buy double latches, or combine two or more single.
the Box (See Figure
A for detailed Assembly Instructions)
Mount the drawer hardware on the plywood sides before you assemble the box, using the locator jig, shown in Photo 4. The jig shown consists of a piece of plywood with a cleat at one end. The top of the slide should sit tight against the bottom end of the plywood jig. Saw the depth of the next drawer off the jig after each pair of slides, to prepare it for the next pair. Saw the exact distance from the bottom of one drawer to the bottom of the next.
I assembled my tool box with 2 1/2", No. 8 Phillips-head construction screws spaced about 3" apart. Lay out the location of the screw holes on the plywood top and bottom, so you can drill and countersink clearance holes with the plywood flat on the bench. Set up the first joint with the aid of clamps, as shown in Photo 5. Be sure to drill the pilot holes into the second piece of plywood. If you skip this step, the entering screw will make the wood bulge, interfering with a tight connection. Make the strongback in exactly the same way.
The screws don't make a rigid cabinet, but the strongback takes care of that. First, however, mount the hinges on the doors and screw them to the box sides, because you won't have easy access afterward (Photo 6). Then slide the strongback into the box and screw it to the top and bottom (Photo 7). It's edge sits 3/4" inside the box, so the doors can close against it. Once you glue the strongback, the box will not come apart again, so don't glue it until you're sure everything is in the right place. Add the casters (Photo 8), and the box itself is done.
To assemble the drawers, screw or nail the sides and ends together. Lay down a uniform coat of glue on the bottom edges of the drawer, then place the bottom on the glue. Line up the corners, and nail it all around (Photo 9).
Close-fitting drawer fronts will help keep the shop dust out of the box. Make these drawer fronts out of 3/8" MDF with a 3/16" roundover; solid wood works well. The fronts are 3/4" wider than the drawer itself, and 1/8" higher. Because the standard drawer slides need a 1/2" space on either side, this gives you 1/8" in clearance each way. The false front fits flush with the bottom of the drawer, so there's also 1/8" top clearance.
Start attaching the false fronts around the middle of the case (Photo 10). Position the first one by measurement and you will be able to do the rest by eye. Glue and clamp the fronts to the drawers; if you have an air nailer, you can glue and nail without bothering the clamps.
If you like this toolbox, consider making more than one. You could size the drawers for portable power tools, router bits, wrenches, screwdrivers and other machine-maintenance tools, or for the supplies like sandpaper and finishing materials.
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*Written by Ian Kirby. Provided by American Woodworker. © 1999 Home Service Publications, Inc., an affiliate of Reader's Digest Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction, in any manner, is prohibited. All woodworking activities involve a degree of risk. The reader remains responsible for the selection and use of tools and methods. Always follow manufacturer's instructions and observe safety precautions. This article appeared in American Woodworker magazine, April 1999. Reprinted with permission.