Hand Tool Holders

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This article is from Issue 61 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Custom storage for convenience and protection

Every woodworker needs a safe haven for well-loved, much-used hand tools. Whether enclosed in a cabinet, drawers, or simply hung on a wall, they deserve protection and organization. The challenge is fabricating holders for items that come in a vast array of shapes and sizes. Here, we’ll look at clever designs from several notable craftsmen, as well as some gems of my own. Most of these can be fashioned in short order from leftover wood and plywood. Although they represent only a fraction of the tools in most woodworkers’ hand-tool arsenals, I hope they’ll also serve as a springboard for your own designs.


Creating a safe spot for your hand planes within a tool cabinet means metal bodies won’t make inadvertant contact with other planes or any other metal tools and, most importantly, your keen edges are protected. A plane gallery (right) with individualized compartments, or cubbies, provides this sanctuary and lets you see at a glance which plane is which. Scooped dividers separate planes and allow easy hand access to the totes.

Because of its limited depth, a plane gallery is more suited to storing smoothing planes (No. 4s), as well as smaller bench planes, block planes, and shoulder planes. To protect sharp blades, incorporate a strip rest, as shown in the drawing, to raise the plane sole at its rear. Alternatively, line the bottom of the cubbies with indoor/outdoor carpeting.

Storage of long truing planes (Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8) can be problematic because they’re too long to nose into most wall cabinets. (A No. 8 spans two feet!) Yes, you can place them sideways in a cabinet (parallel to the back), but then the ones in the front impede access to those in the rear. Also, standing these tall-handled tools on their soles can rob you of precious cabinet space above.

One answer is to make plane shelves (right) by laying long planes on their sides, positioning them horizontally against the back of a cabinet or on a wall shelf. To dress up a shelf, you can make it a replica of the plane’s side profile. As an added benefit, customizing each shelf in this way helps you put your planes back in the correct order.

Design Tips

To determine suitable holder designs, first organize your tools in a sensible fashion on your bench, clustering similar items like hammers together while leaving enough grasping room between them. To conserve space, nestle smaller items between larger ones. Determine which tools can be grouped in a single rack and which ones require their own holder. If something is to be mounted on a cabinet door, consider that it will need restraint of some sort. And don’t forget to allow enough space for lifting a tool upward out of its holder where necessary. Also, try to incorporate protection for sharp edges to prevent injuring them or your hands.

When possible, make holders adjustable, since your collection is bound to grow and change over the years. Mechanical joints that don’t need glue–dry dovetails or simple butt joints with screws–allow you to alter the holder as your tool assortment evolves. And plan on more space than you need with any particular holder. Hand tools have a sneaky habit of multiplying (all by themselves, it seems), so it pays to leave extra room for unexpected additions. Finally, take care crafting your holders. While they serve to organize and protect, their beauty also proudly advertises your woodworking skills.


A responsible tool holder allows for easy retrieval and replacement of its particular charges. A cabinet-mounted chisel rack (upper left) takes its job seriously. By offering up your chisels in a row, organized by size, a rack like this allows you to quickly select the right chisel for the job at hand and just as quickly put it away. As an added benefit, any waylaid tool will be conspicuous by its absence. The rack can be mounted to a deep “clamshell” cabinet door in one of two ways. Both designs are removable–an important feature that allows you to alter or replace the rack shelf to accommodate new recruits.

A bench-mounted rack (center left) makes sense when you want your tools within arm’s reach. A 5⁄8"-wide slot, conveniently located at the back of the bench, lets you store a variety of chisels as well as other straight-handled tools such as screwdrivers. The only downside is that you may have to remove the tools from the rack in order to work with large panels on your benchtop.

When working on a project that requires a number of chisels at the bench, consider a portable rack (lower left)to prevent all those loose, sharp implements from rolling around. The rack shown here holds six chisels to keep them stable and protected while you work. If you’re a carver who needs to keep even more tools at hand, you can make a longer rack or even multiple racks.


Because of the variety of their shapes, sizes, and styles, handsaws can benefit from a couple of safe-storage solutions that offer easy accessibility. Enclosed-grip saws, such as tenon saws and Western panel saws, can live comfortably in horizontal fashion on a “saw ledge” (upper right) screwed to a wall or case back. In this design, the teeth rest in a grooved wooden block while the grip encircles an infill of wood that incorporates a spinning turnbuckle to keep the saw securely in place.

To save space and store almost all of the saws in your shop at a bargain, consider a saw shelf (center right). With this design, 20 or more saws–from panel saws and backsaws to straight-handled Japanese saws and various specialty saws–can live harmoniously in a space no longer than two feet wide. Angled cuts in the shelf translate into longer slots, allowing you to double- and triple-up on smaller saws, again saving space.

Coping saws, fretsaws, and other frame saws require a slightly different approach because their shapes don’t lend themselves to storage within slots. One simple solution is to hang a saw on a pair of dowels, snugging each against a corner of the frame to prevent swinging. A more refined and secure method–especially for door-mounted saws–is to fit the frame into grooves cut into two blocks that are spread apart to stabilize the saw (lower right). One word of advice about saws and saw teeth: Whenever possible, face the teeth away from you in the saw’s holder, or pointed toward the back of a cabinet, to keep saw bites to a minimum.

Measuring and Marking Tools

Marking gauges can be particularly gawky tools with their odd-shaped fences, intersecting angles, and movable parts. Because of this, their designs require some head-scratching for safe storage, especially if held on a door. The gauge’s fence can rest reliably on a shelf fixed to a wall or case, while a lower bracket captures the beam and holds it secure via a turnbuckle (upper left). Be sure to leave enough space above and below your gauge for its neighbors, as the length of the beam relative to its fence will change depending on the work at hand.

Many a try-square is beautifully made, and it only seems fitting to mount such a tool in a holder that minimizes itself while showing off the square and, at the same time, securing it to its wall, case, or door (center left). Shapely brackets, made from a dense wood such as ebony, can be set into notches in a small shelf with the assembly then mortised into the cabinet back or other mounting surface. The rounded, protruding tips of the brackets retain the square’s fence, yet allow you to easily lift the tool up. A keeper at the bottom bolsters the back of the blade for stability.

Pliers Rack

Some of the best designs are simple designs, and this rack certainly qualifies. Instead of all your pliers, nippers, and other grabbing and prying tools jumbled in a pile or laid flat in a drawer, this rack lets you stand them up at attention, providing a quick inventory and offering up one of the handles on each tool for easy grasping. Compartment spacers prevent sideways tipping, and a lower ledge prevents pliers and wrenches (as well as any screwdrivers or other straight tools) from falling through the slots.

Tapping Tools

In a contest of odd-shaped tools, hammers would be in the running. Even a typical claw hammer has a weird-shaped head that doesn’t make mounting easy. Sure, you can hang a hammer on two 8d nails, but that’s not a very elegant solution inside a nicely crafted tool cabinet.

Here’s an approach that looks classy and provides solid mounting without latches. Use blocks shaped to the profile of the hammer head’s underside to securely mount the tool on a door, wall, or cabinet back (upper right). A fixed tab glued to each block protrudes upward to restrain the tool, while allowing a quick lift to retrieve it. This organic-looking design can accommodate many types and styles of hammers.

Hanging mallets and other pounders with symmetrical heads is an easier matter. This pegged mallet manager can accommodate 6 to 10 mallets (depending on their sizes) and can be built in no time using a short 2×4 and some dowel stock (center right). Lay out the dowel locations to suit your collection, grouping hammers by common sizes in order to offset the dowel pairs to consolidate space.


This stacker is all about providing instant access to your scraper collection while protecting the tools’ edges from damage. It holds six scrapers of various shapes, sizes and thicknesses and stacks them at an impressively steep angle of 20° for a clear view, allowing you to grab the right scraper without fuss. Screw the block to a wall, cabinet, or above a shelf in a spot near the bench.  


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