Craftsman’s Toolbox

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This article is from Issue 26 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Store chisels, marking tools, or whatever you like in this portable organizer.

Designer/Builder: Tim Birkeland

Box overall dimensions: 16"w × 7 7/8"d × 7 1/4"h

Toolboxes take a world of abuse over the years. Corners encounter dings, sides get scratched, and joints bust apart if the box falls hard on an unforgiving concrete floor. That’s why the choices of wood and joint type are critical. For this practical design, we went with ash for its toughness and secured the box, lid, and lift-out tray with dovetail corner rabbets shown in the Dovetail Rabbet Joint Detail in Figure 1. The mechanical advantage of this joint over a standard rabbet joint is that dovetail parts grip each other, creating a more powerful bond. If you like, you can further enhance the joint—as we did—with 1/8" epoxied brass pins. 

Begin with a nicely sized box

1 Plane enough stock to ½" thick for the box sides (A) and (B), box ends (C), lid parts (F), (G), (H), (I), (J), and tray parts (K) and (L). See the Cutting Diagram and Cut List. Set aside a 12"-long piece of ¾" stock for the tray supports (E). 

2 Using part of the planed stock, joint one edge and rip it to 4¼" wide. Now crosscut two sides to 16" long and two ends to 7½" long. (Machine extra pieces to the dimensions of the sides and ends for tool setups.) Finally, rip back side (B) to the finished width of 4".

3 Chuck a 14º dovetail bit in your router table and raise it just over one-half of the stock thickness of sides (A) and (B) and ends (C). Position the edge of the fence over the center of the bit. For testing, cut one half-dovetail end with the face of the extra end piece held to the fence as shown in Photo A. Cut the mating half dovetail with the side piece face down on the table as shown in Photo B. Test-fit of the pieces together, and adjust the bit depth and fence until the joint is flush. See the Dovetail Rabbet Joint Detail in Figure 1. Now rout the ends of sides (A) and (B) and ends (C). 

4 With a dado set IN YOUR TABLE SAW, cut a ¼" rabbet 3/16" deep. Adjust the fence ¼" from the cutter, and low enough to clear the half dovetail on the sides (A) and (B) and ends (C). Now cut the grooves for the box bottom where shown in Figure 1. 

5 Add a sacrificial fence to your table saw’s fence and switch to a 3/8" dado set. Slide your sacrificial fence partially over the lowered dado set, lock it in place, and then turn on the saw, raising the dado set into the fence to ¼" high. Now adjust the fence to cut a ¼" rabbet ¼" deep along the top outside faces of the front side (A) and the ends (C). Make the cut as shown in Photo C.

6 Cut the box bottom (D) to the dimensions in the Cut List. Test-fit the box assembly with the bottom in the grooves. If the joints remain tight all around, apply glue to the corners and permanently assemble the box as shown in Photo D. Otherwise, trim the bottom (D) to fit.

7 Finally, retrieve the 12" length of ¾" stock, joint one edge, and bevel-rip the opposite edge at 45°. Adjust the blade to 90°, move the fence ¾" from the blade, and rip a beveled strip from the stock. Crosscut four 2¾"-long pieces from the strip for tray supports (E). Glue one support in each inside corner of the box where shown in Figure 1, using spring clamps.

ADJUST THE DOVETAIL BIT height and fence for a snug-fitting joint, using test pieces. Employ backer boards to prevent tear-out. Keep the test pieces handy for later setups.

Now for the five-sided lid

1 From ½" stock, cut two pieces to 3×7½" and adhere them together with double-faced tape. Using either a mitersaw or table saw and miter gauge set at a 45° angle, angle-cut the top corners of the blanks 1½" up from the bottom edge to make the lid ends (F). Use a stopblock to guarantee identical cuts at each end.

2 Separate the lid ends (F) and cut a ¼" rabbet ¼" deep along their bottom edges where shown in Figure 2.

Using an auxiliary fence attached to the table saw fence, cut the rabbets on the outside faces of the box front side and ends.

Glue and clamp the box sides, ends, and bottom as shown, checking for square.

3 Cut the front vertical stave (G), back vertical stave (H), angled staves (I), and the top stave (J) to the lengths in the Cut List and 1/4"  wider to allow you to sneak up on beveled edges when fitting the pieces in place. 

4 Mark the inside faces of opposing parts and rout mating half-dovetail ends on the lid ends (F) and the ends of vertical staves (G) and (H) where shown in Figure 2, using the 14° dovetail bit and setup as before. 

5 With a dado set In your table saw, cut a ¼" rabbet ¼" deep along the inside bottom edge of front vertical stave (G). Now, switch to a wider dado set, and cut ½" rabbets ¼" deep on the inside ends of angled staves (I) and top stave (J). Note: Adjust the bit cut depth to achieve an end-grain seam that’s identical with that of the box.

6 Replace the dado set with a fine-tooth combination blade and angle it at 22½°. Next, with the piece face down, carefully bevel-rip the top edges of the vertical staves (G and H), holding the parts to the angle-cut ends (F) to check the fit. The heels of the bevels should intersect the end angles exactly. Temporarily tape the parts to the ends.

7 Bevel-RIP both edges of the angled staves (I) at 22½°. Sneak up on the cuts until the heels of the bevels perfectly intersect with the angled cuts on the angle-cut ends (F). Test-fit the parts and tape them in place when satisfied. Finally, bevel-rip both edges of the top stave (J) and fit it in place where shown in Figure 2. 

8 Glue-assemble the vertical staves (G, H) to the angle-cut ends (F) and let the half dovetails interlock. Check for square and let dry. Glue and fit the angled staves (I) in place, then, while the glue remains wet, glue and fit the centered top stave (J) in place. Secure these parts to the assembly with blue painter’s tape as shown in Photo E to form the lid. Later, remove the tape and use a chisel to remove excess glue before it completely hardens. After the glue dries, sand the assembly to 220 grit.

Apply glue in the rabbets and on the beveled edges and fit the lid parts tightly together using blue painter’s tape.

Construct a handy tray

1 Cut the tray sides (K) and ends (L) from ash, and the divider/handle (M) from a contrasting wood (we used zebrawood) to the dimensions in the Cut List. Plane to ½" thick. Set the divider/handle (M) aside for now.

2 Using the router-table setup for the box and lid, cut the half dovetails for the ends of the tray sides (K) and ends (L) and test the fit of the dovetail joints at all four corners. Adjust if needed.

3 Cut ¼" grooves 3/16" deep along the inside faces of the tray sides (K) and ends (L) for the bottom (N) where shown in Figure 3. 

Use a mallet and 1" chisel to define the shoulders of the 3/16" -deep dadoes; go with a ¼" chisel to establish the end of the stopped dadoes and to clean out the waste.

4 Mark and cut out the centered ¼"-wide, 3/16"-deep stopped dadoes on the ends (L) with a pair of sharp  chisels as shown in Photo F. 

5 Make a copy of the Tray Divider/Handle Full-sized Half Pattern on page 74. Trace it onto a  ½"-thick blank of contrasting wood. Flop it over at the centerline and trace again for a “whole” pattern.

6 Bandsaw the outside top edge of the divider/handle (M) to shape, staying just outside the cut line. Sand to the line (we used an oscillating spindle sander), and ease the edges. 

7 Drill the two 1"-diameter holes in the handle opening on the pattern using a Forstner bit. Scrollsaw out the waste between the holes and sand the opening smooth, easing the edges.

8 Cut the tenons on the ends of the divider/handle (M) to shape on a table saw or router table, referring to the pattern on page 74.

9 Cut the bottom to the dimensions in the Cut List and dry-fit the tray pieces together. Now, glue-assemble the tray as shown in Photo G and clamp.

Brush glue on all of the joints and clamp the tray parts together, checking for square. Later, remove squeeze-out, and sand the tray smooth, easing the edges.

Add the handle and hardware

1 Plane enough hardwood stock to ¼"-thick for an eye-catching handle. You’ll need one 2×9" piece of ash, and two 2×9" pieces of a contrasting wood (we used zebrawood). Now, align and laminate the pieces to form the handle blank.

2 Spray-adhere the Toolbox Handle Full-sized Pattern from page 74 to one face of the blank.

3 Using the pattern as a guide, drill ¼"-holes 1½" deep in the ends of the blank where indicated by Step 1 on the pattern and as shown in Photo H.

4 Following the remaining five steps in the pattern and Photos I and J, complete forming the laminated handle (O) and handle holders (P). 

5 Hand-sand or machine-sand the bottom-most edges of the handle (O) where shown to allow it to rotate freely when secured to the lid. Test-fit with the ¼" brass pins in place. See Step 5 on the pattern.

6 Cut two ¼" brass pins to 1½" long and epoxy them into the holes in the handle holders (P), leaving the outside pin ends proud. After the epoxy cures, sand or file the outside edges of the pins flush with the outside edges of the handle holders (P). Next, fit the protruding ends of the pins into the holes at each end of the handle (O). Now, center, glue, and screw the handle (O) and handle holders (P) assembly to the lid where shown in Figure 2 using #6×3/4  brass round head screws.

7 Cut a 14¼" length of 11/16"-wide continuous (piano) brass hinge. Using the hinge length as a guide, center and mark the location of the hinge on the bottom edge of the back vertical stave (H). Now, set up your router table with a 3/8" straight bit raised 5/8" and set the fence 3/16"  from the front edge of the bit. Set up the fence stops and, with the lid on edge (part H face down), cut the stopped notch where shown in Figure 4. Square the corners of the notch with a sharp chisel.

We used a hand screw clamp to hold the blank upright while drilling in the ends.

Scrollsaw just outside the cut line on the handle blank’s pattern, then sand to the line.

Rout ¼" edges on the handle (O) and top and end edges of the handle holders (P). Don’t rout the lower edge of the holders.

8 Temporarily install the hinge to the box and lid. Test the fit and adjust if needed. Temporarily add the latch hardware. Remove the hinge and latches and finish-sand the toolbox to 220 grit.

9 Optional: Drill 22 holes into the ends of the box and lid where shown in Figure 2. Now, cut 22 pins 1" long from a 1/8" diameter brass rod and epoxy them in place, sanding them flush. Doing this adds both an aesthetic touch and strength.

10 Finish the box. (We used Arm-R-Seal Oil and Urethane Topcoat.) Now reattach the hardware.

11 Optional: Line the box and tray bottoms with adhesive-backed felt to protect prized tools and add class to a well-made project. 

About our Designer/Builder

Tim Birkeland began woodworking over 30 years ago with a primary interest in cabinetry and furniture. For the past 20 years he has worked in woodworking tool sales, currently as a part-time sale associate and instructor at the Parkersburg, West Virginia, Woodcraft store. Tim also raises Navajo-Churro sheep on his Washington County, Ohio, farm and serves as a county trustee for the Ohio Farm Bureau Board.


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