Custom Hand Tool Cabinet

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This article is from Issue 66 of Woodcraft Magazine.

This full-service shop in a box sports sliding doors, shelves, tool holders, and drawers.

Designed and built by Tom Whalley

Overall dimensions: 481⁄4"w × 11"d × 391⁄2"h

Save all kinds of shop time by keeping your go-to hand tools, glue, and choice hardware in this dedicated wall-hung cabinet. Two bypass doors spaced 3" apart provide handy surfaces for attaching specialty tool holders, while a perforated hardboard panel at center offers even more hanging options. Adjustable shelves serve as parking places for planes, bottles, and miscellaneous. Added to this are 11 drawers along the cabinet’s bottom for dowels, screws, nails, and other often-used hardware.

You’ll find building the cabinet an exercise in basic tablesaw work. Assembly boils down to gluing and screwing the carcase parts together. And while the sliding doors rely on stub tenon joinery and a unique roller mechanism, the simple drawers draw their strength from butt-jointed parts that are glued and nailed together.

Cut the runner grooves on the tablesaw with fence and featherboard.
Cut the dadoes for the drawer dividers using an auxiliary miter-gauge fence and stop.

Clamp corner braces at the corners to keep adjacent parts at 90° to each other, snug the parts with clamps, and then glue and screw the assembly together.

Start with the carcase

1 From 3⁄4" plywood (I used birch), cut the carcase sides (A), top, shelf, and bottom (B), and case dividers (C) to the sizes in the Cut List. Apply heat-sensitive veneer edge banding to the front edges of the case dividers. Trim and sand the edging. You could also cut thin strips of solid stock and glue them to the fronts of the plywood supports.

2 Cut the dadoes and rabbets on the inside faces of both sides (A). Drill counterbored holes in the outside of the sides, where shown in Figures 1 and 2. You’ll plug the counterbored holes after assembling the carcase parts.

3 Mark the locations and cut the grooves (Photo A) in the bottom face of the top and the top face of the shelf (B) for adding the top runners (G) and aluminum flat bar later (Figure 2). (I used a Forrest Woodworker II 40T #1 Grind for a flat-bottomed cut.)

4 Cut the drawer dividers (D, E, F) to size, notching the front corners of E and F, where shown in Figure 2.

5 Mark the locations for the drawer dividers (E, F) on the front edge of the bottom (B) using Figure 2 for reference. With a 1⁄8" blade in your tablesaw, cut the dadoes where marked 1⁄4" in from the ends. (To keep the dadoes evenly spaced, I cut and attached an auxiliary wood fence to my tablesaw miter gauge.) Cut dadoes in the top face of the bottom and bottom face of the shelf (Photo B). Using a stop on the tablesaw auxiliary fence allows you to cut four dadoes on the two pieces with a single setup. Adjust the stop for each sequence of four cuts.

6 Switch to a 1⁄2" dado set, and cut the dadoes for the center drawer dividers (F).

7 Mark the centerpoints (Figure 2), and drill the screw-mounting holes in the bottom face of the top and top face of the shelf (B) for attaching the case dividers (C) later. Drill screw-mounting holes through the shelf and bottom centered in the 1⁄2" dadoes.

8 Dry-clamp the sides, top, and shelf (A, B) and case dividers (C) to check the fit of the mating pieces. Once the fit has been verified, glue and screw the assembly together, checking for square (Photo C). We’ll add the bottom (B) later.

9 Finish the top of the bottom (B) now. (I used a lacquer sanding sealer and sprayed on a semi-gloss lacquer, sanding between coats with 320-grit sandpaper.) The drawers will slide easier on a finished surface. Glue and clamp the bottom (B) and the two center drawer dividers (F) to the carcase assembly (A/B/C).

10 Cut the top runners (G) to size. Glue and clamp the runners in place.

11 Cut the carcase front trim pieces (H, I, J) to size from solid stock. Glue and clamp the trim pieces to the cabinet carcase. (See Figure 3.)

12 Insert 3⁄8" plugs in the sides (A), where shown in Figure 1. Then, trim the plugs flush and sand them smooth.

13 From 1⁄4" perforated hardboard (Peg-Board), cut the shelf-pin hole template (Figure 4) to size. Cover the holes you don’t need with painter’s tape. Add a pair of stops to the template, where shown on the drawing. Use the template as a guide to drill 1⁄4" holes 3⁄8" deep in the carcase, where shown in Figures 1 and 2, for adding the shelves later (Photo D).

14 Finish-sand the carcase and apply a finish.

15 Using a hacksaw, crosscut 1⁄8 × 1⁄2" aluminum flat bar to length. Insert (friction fit) the bars into the 1⁄8" grooves in the shelf (B). The bars act as tracks for the sliding screen door tension rollers to ride on later. If the bars fit loosely, add a few drops of instant glue.

Use a perforated hardboard piece to serve as a shelf-pin hole template to ensure consistently spaced shelf-pin holes.
Use a miter gauge, dado set, and stop to cut consistent tenon shoulders on the ends of the door stiles.

Build two sliding doors

1 To create the two sliding doors, start by cutting the stiles (K) and rails (L) to the sizes in the Cut List.

2 Cut 1⁄4" grooves 1⁄2" deep centered along the inside edges of K and L. Now, rabbet the ends of the rails (L) to create tenons that fit into the grooves in K (Photo E).

3 Mark the hole centerpoints on each stile (K) for the 1" finger pulls and drill the holes at the drill press. Sand the holes if necessary to remove any sharp edges or roughness.

Glue and clamp the door stiles, rails, and panel together. Repeat for the remaining door. If needed, wipe up any squeeze-out with a dampened cloth.

Use a tablesaw, dado set, featherboard, and rip-fence saddle to cut the centered groove along the bottom edge of the door.

Drill the pilot holes, and then screw the rollers in place in the door bottom grooves.

4 Cut the door panels (M) to size. Cut a 1⁄2" rabbet 1⁄4" deep along the front edges of both door panels. This allows the front edge of the panels to be flush with the front edge of the stiles and rails. The flat door fronts create maximum space for securing tool holders and tools later. Dry-clamp the pieces to check the fit. Then, glue and clamp the doors together (Photo F).

5 Cut a 3⁄8" groove 11⁄16" deep (Figure 5) centered along the bottom edge of each door, as shown in Photo G, to house the roller track and filler (N). I used a tall rip-fence saddle and featherboard on my tablesaw for maximum stability of the door when cutting the groove. Before making the cut, I scored the top trailing edge of the stile where the blade would exit the stock to prevent chip-out.

6 Cut the fillers (N) to size and glue them in place, centered end-to-end in the groove. Now, position the sliding screen door tension rollers against the filler. Screw them in place (Photo H).

7 Finish-sand both doors, mask off the rollers, and apply finish to the doors.

Cut the back pieces

1 Cut the back pieces (O-R) from the materials and sizes noted in the Cut List.

2 Position the two back panels (O) into the carcase rabbets, and draw a light line around the inside locating the area available for displaying tools. Mask off the area to remain unfinished (outside the marked lines), and apply finish to the front faces of the back panels.

3 Mark and drill the countersunk mounting holes through the back panels (O) for mounting to the carcase later. Sand and finish all but the back panel (R).

After gluing the pull blank to the drawer front blank, crosscut the drawer fronts to final length at the tablesaw.
Use a standard saw blade and a stop clamped to the auxiliary miter gauge fence to cut the rabbets in the ends of the drawer fronts. (Note: Half of the cuts are made with the miter gauge in the left-hand table slot, and the other half in the right-hand slot.)

Using a drawer side as a spacer to flush the drawer back, bottom, and front rabbeted edges, glue and pin-nail the parts together. Then permanently add the sides.

Make the drawers and shelves

1 Cut the 22 drawer sides (S) to the dimensions shown in the Cut List.

2 For the small and large drawer fronts (T, U), cut a 1⁄2"-thick piece of solid stock to 23⁄4" wide by 60" long. Cut a 1⁄4" rabbet 1⁄4" deep along one edge, where shown in Figure 6, for adding the pulls (V, W) later. On the opposite surface, cut a 1⁄2" rabbet 1⁄4" deep along the bottom edge.

3 Cut a 3⁄4 × 11⁄8 × 60" blank for the drawer pulls (V, W). Rout a 1⁄4" round-over along one edge of the blank. Continue with the pull blank sequence by following steps 3 and 4 in the Pull Blank Cutting Detail in Figure 6 to create a 3⁄4" rabbet 1⁄2" deep along the back edge of the blank. Then, glue and clamp the drawer front blank to the door handle blank. I used a scrap piece of 1⁄2"-thick stock under the pull to serve as a spacer to hold the handle blank square to the drawer front blank until the glue dried.

4 Crosscut the drawer fronts (T, U) and attached blank for the pulls (V, W) to length, as shown in Photo I. Number the blanks so you can install the drawers in the same order later. This ensures that you’ll have the grain flowing along the drawer fronts.

5 Cut a 1⁄8" rabbet 1⁄4" deep along the ends of each drawer front assembly (Photo J) for fitting against the drawer sides.

6 Cut the drawer backs (X, Y) and the drawer bottoms (Z, AA) to size from 1⁄2” plywood. Glue, clamp, and pin-nail the drawers together, as shown in Photo K.

7 Cut the shelves (BB) to fit the cabinet and apply heat tape to the shelf fronts. Trim the excess.

8 Sand and apply finish to the drawers and shelves.

After deciding what tools you want to hang, build the appropriate holders and test-fit your layout on a panel or door face, adjusting the spacing as needed.

Add the tool holders next

The plywood back panels (O), perforated hardboard panel (R), and shelves (BB) give you three different options for organizing your tools. Start the process by laying out your tools on the back panels, keeping in mind the location of any shelves you intend to use. Once you’ve located where you want your tools, consider taking a picture for reference later. Now, using the drawings for reference in Figure 7, build the tool holders that best fit your particular needs. Lay out the tools again with the tool holders on a back panel (or door front), as shown in Photo L. Using the holes in the holders as guides, drill pilot holes in the back panels and doors for mounting the tool holders later. Use the specialized store-bought hardware available to mount tools on the perforated hardboard (R).

Add the backs and hang the cabinet

1 With the back panels (O) laid out and holes drilled, glue and screw them to the back of the carcase.

2 Glue and screw the upper back (P) and lower back (Q) to the top (B) and dividers (C). Flip the cabinet over, and screw the center panel (R) to the carcase.

3 Locate the studs in the wall where the cabinet is to be hung. Mark screw-hole locations on the back panels (O), and drill holes for securing the cabinet to the studs. With the aid of a helper, hang the cabinet, making sure it is level.

4 Install the doors by inserting the top of one door between the middle and back top runners (G) and dropping it onto the metal track on the shelf (B). Repeat the process by inserting the other door into the front space between the front trim and front runner (G).

5 Screw the tool hangers to the back panels (O) and door fronts and use perforated hardboard hooks for hanging tools on the center panel. Drop in the adjustable shelves, and stock your cabinet, making it ready and available for all of your woodworking needs.  

About the Project Team

With more than 70 combined years of woodworking, Iowans Tom Whalley and Marlen Kemmet serve as frequent contributors to Woodcraft Magazine. They collaborate on the designing, building, and writing of each magazine assignment.


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