Pamper Your Property with Stylish Storage

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This article is from Issue 10 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Show off those treasured tools or any other coveted collection.

We woodworkers love our tools. In part, this feeling is simply a reflection of their ability to aide us in the creation of our projects; but for most of us, our feelings about our tools go a little deeper than that. We see them as beautiful objects, as bits of sculpture crafted from steel and bronze and figured wood, and we prize them the way other people prize valuable coins or jewelry or art pottery.

So it isn’t surprising that we like to display our tools, that we like to present our most valuable and/or beautiful examples the same way others might present a collection of bronze sculptures or Hummel figurines. 

A lighted tool cabinet, such as the one in this article, provides a perfect setting for the most valuable tools in our collections. I built my cabinet at a size suitable for my collection of antique woodworking planes, but it would also work very nicely for a display of coopering or cobbling tools, or a collection of early electric drills. And if the end panels were lengthened and the back panel widened, this cabinet could accommodate nearly any hand-held tool.

Prepping material

The frame for the upper and lower deck, the end panels, and the track in which the Plexiglas panels slide are all made from solid walnut.

To ensure a successful project, you should take the time to carefully prepare the solid material. Begin by selecting and then milling the stock from which you’ll cut the front side of the two decks. Flatten one side on your jointer, then make the opposite surface parallel to this flattened surface by running the stock through your thickness planer. Then rip and joint the frame material to width.

The shorter stock for the end panels is handled the same way, with the exception of the edges to be joined. Recently, I’ve been following a pass over the jointer with a pass from a good jointing plane. I do this because, no matter how carefully your (machine powered) jointer is tuned, it will always leave a slightly rippled surface, and — although I’ve glued up panels with such rippled edges for years — the silky smoothness that results from taking a single shaving with a jointing plane can’t hurt (Fig. 1). 

It’s hard to find really nice walnut anymore. Such material has become so scarce that today sawyers are cutting lumber from limbs they would have cut into firewood a generation ago. Because of this, the walnut I buy often has some pretty crazy grain in it that sometimes tears out in my thickness planer. As a result, I usually finish surfacing stock with a good smoothing plane (Fig. 2). 

Building the decks

I cut the mitered ends of the deck fronts and sides on my table saw using a cut-off box, after I had first installed a good thin-rimmed blade (Fig. 3). This could probably be done using a miter gauge instead of a cut-off box, but I think the box makes it easier to be accurate.

Clean up any saw marks using a plane and a shooting board (Fig. 4). The truth is that this step is probably unnecessary if you used a good blade on your table saw, but the shooting board step is part of my shop routine, and it doesn’t take long.

Cut the grooves for the splines using the same table saw setup you used to cut the miters. Simply drop the blade enough to yield the desired groove. Use a stop block as shown in Fig. 5 to ensure consistency in groove placement.

The spline stock should be thicknessed so that you have a moderately loose — not sloppy — fit in the grooves. If you thickness the stock so that the fit is snug, you may find the joint is impossible to assemble once the components have been glued because the water in the glue will cause the components to expand. Be sure to cut the splines so that the grain runs across their width, not along their length (Fig. 6). Otherwise the joint will have no strength. 

Apply glue to all the mating surfaces, then bring the joint together, clamping under pressure from your hands for perhaps a minute (Fig. 7). There are clamps designed to hold mitered joints in place, but a vertical, splined miter is so complex a joint, I find it easiest to use my hands as clamps. Then, after the glue has grabbed, I release my hands and find work elsewhere in the shop while this joint cures.

The birch plywood decks are held in place using glue blocks as shown in Fig. 8. These fit between the notches for the tenons on the side panels. The upper deck is attached using long strips of ¾" x ¾" material because no notches are needed for the upper deck. (See drawing.) 

I used a plane to create the moldings that surround the upper and lower decks (Fig. 9), but there are many router bits with similar profiles that could be used if that’s your preference.  Even if you’re a plane user, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a molder with the exact same profile I used. However, any plane that provides several shadow lines across the narrow width of this molding would work well here. 

I attached the moldings with 1" brads which I then set and, after finishing, filled with a matching putty stick (Fig. 10).

The corners were dressed with thin strips on adjacent edges which, together, are meant to suggest a pilaster at each corner (Fig. 11).

Wiring lights

Although I’ve done all the wiring in my shop, I’m not by any means an expert. You should, of course, consult an expert who is knowledgeable in your local codes before wiring your lights.

I bought a 10', 16-gauge, braided-wire extension cord and cut off the female plug. I cut off two short sections to run from my junction box into my light fixtures. I wire-nutted and taped all the connections inside each fixture. I then brought the power-supply line and the two leads from the two fixtures together in the junction box 

(Fig. 12) where I wire-nutted and taped all the connections before screwing down the lid of the junction box.

I held the power-supply line in place with a pair of screwed-down wooden staples, one of which is visible at the bottom of Fig. 12.

I didn’t add a switch, although it would be easy to do so, mounting it maybe on one end of the upper deck.

Fig. 13 is a close-up of one of the wooden staples that hold the power-supply line in place. Also visible in the photo is the pencil line that indicates where the front face of the ¾" plywood cabinet back will be located. If you’re wiring yours like I wired mine, be sure to keep the power-supply line inside that line.

Assembling the sections

After you’ve glued together and surfaced the two end panels, thickness the tenons on the bottom ends of each end panel on your table saw using a stack of dado cutters. If you look at the background of Fig. 14, you’ll see the completed bottom deck on a table behind me. Notice the notches through which these tenons will later pass.

Cut away the waste on the tenoned end using your bandsaw (Fig. 15). Be sure to stay clear of the finished edge. Pare your way down to that edge after you’ve completed your work at the bandsaw.

Attach the two end panels to the bottom deck by passing the tenons through their notches and then screwing the tenons fast with #6 x 1¼" drywall screws as shown in Fig. 16. Notice that I didn’t countersink the screw heads here. That would have brought the tips of the screws too close to the finished outside surface of the deck ends.

Attach the top deck to the end panels by screwing through the tops of the end panels into the ends of the upper deck.

Fasten the cabinet back in place with a row of #6 x 1¼" drywall screws that pass through the plywood lower deck and another row of drywall screws that pass through the upper deck in the same fashion.

Thickness and rip to width the stock for the track that will house the tops and bottoms of the sliding-door panels. 

To create another visual detail, I added a ¼" bead to the front of the track stock using a ¼" side bead plane. Here again there are router bead cutters that could be substituted for a molding plane. 

There are a number of elements that come together at the end of each section of sliding door track. First there is the track itself. Second there is the pilaster at the corner of the deck. And finally, there is the front edge of the end panel.

I did two things to soften the confluence of these elements. First, I rounded the tops of the pilasters. Second, I cut a little ogee shape on the end of the track. In Fig. 17, I’m paring smooth the bandsawn ogee on the end of the track.

Finishing touches

I picked Plexiglas for the sliding door panels because I didn’t like the idea of glass panels in a shop environment in which I’m often turning long boards end for end. But, quite by accident, I discovered another virtue of this material. 

The cut edges of glass panels can’t be smoothed in the shop. If you try to relieve sharp edges with a power sander, the glass heats up and shatters, and doing the work by hand takes too long. 

I followed the manufacturer’s directions for cutting the Plexiglas sheets I picked up at a home improvement store. I scored the material with a sharp utility knife, until I’d cut one-third of the way through. I then broke it against a straight edge. Most of my cuts came out pretty well. One, however, did not break cleanly. On that edge, there was a 3" x ¼" wide bit of surplus. 

I knew I couldn’t break away such a small amount, and the idea of scoring all the way through the material was daunting. So I fixed the material in my vise, picked up an old Stanley smoothing plane, and began to shave away the excess. 

The results were perfect. In fact I went back and used the plane to clean up every edge I’d cut.

I then sanded all the wood surfaces with 150-grit, followed by 220-grit, followed by 320-grit. 

Using a disposable brush, I next slathered on a coat of Waterlox, which I wiped off with scraps of old T-shirt material. You can brush the material on with anything because brush marks and runs are irrelevant, but the wiping must be done meticulously. Any areas that have not been sufficiently wiped will dry roughened, requiring additional sanding and refinishing. A good wipe can be difficult to accomplish with moldings because a hand-held ball of fabric won’t get into the recesses which provide the molding’s desirable shadow lines. Resist the temptation to use a metal tool, like a screwdriver, to get into these areas. Instead, cut some screwdriver-like implements from scraps of wood, cover the ends of these with fabric, and use them to wipe the recessed areas. 

Allow the first coat of finish to dry overnight. Then re-sand with 320-grit paper. Apply a second coat of finish and wipe thoroughly once again. If your between-coats sanding was thorough and if your second coat wipe was complete, the second coat should dry to a satiny smoothness.

Apply additional coats if you want to develop a higher gloss.

Finally, fill all the nail holes in the moldings with a putty stick.


I set my tool cabinet on the top of a pair of metal storage cabinets; however, this cabinet could be hung from the ceiling or from the wall using lag bolts in much the same way an installer of kitchen cabinets would hang top cupboards. If you’re going to do this, I would add strips of solid material to the areas through which the lag bolts will pass because ¾" birch plywood simply isn’t tough enough for such an application.

Kerry Pierce

Kerry Pierce is the author of a dozen woodworking books and more than 60 articles for woodworking magazines. His most recent book, “Authentic Shaker Furniture,” was the main selection of the Woodworker’s Book Club. 

Tools used in this project 

Jointer, thickness planer, bandsaw, clamps, table saw, dado stack, bench vise, screwdriver, square, rule,  utility knife, cut-off box or miter gauge, molding plane or router bit for molding. Optional: shooting board, jointing plane, smoothing plane, ¼" side bead plane or beading bit for router. 


1" brads
#6 x 1¼" drywall screws
Wood putty to match stock
16-gauge, 10' extension cord
18" fluorescent light fixtures & bulbs (2)
Junction box
Waterlox or other oil finish
Plexiglas sheet
Sandpaper (150-, 220-, and 320-grit)


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