Tommy’s Tool Cabinet

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This article is from Issue 43 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Build a wall’s worth of storage in a weekend

Project Designer: Thomas J. MacDonald

Overall dimensions: 88"w × 83⁄4"d × 36"h

When the credits roll at the end of an episode of Rough Cut – Woodworking with Tommy Mac, Tommy’s workshop may not receive a mention, but there’s little doubt that this supporting co-star has its share of fans. A former textile mill, it has become one of the country’s most visited (and envied) workshops.

Most viewers do not realize that the shop started out as an empty space, not unlike a garage or basement. Out of necessity, Tommy designed a basic wall cabinet that not only keeps his most used tools in easy reach, but is also handsome enough for the occasional TV close-up.

Tommy’s cabinet is a perfect addition to any workshop. Simple joinery makes the case quick and easy to build. While its size might seem out of proportion in a small shop, the cabinet offers as much storage space as a wall’s worth of miscellaneous boxes. Dividers within the main box establish separate spaces for chisels, planes, and reference materials, establishing order and convenience where it’s needed most.

Note: Tommy sized his plane and chisel ramps for his tools. To size these sections to suit your collection, arrange your chisels and planes on your workbench, spacing them apart by 1⁄2", and measure the total width. If you need more room, adjust the locations of the dividers.

Start with the case

1 Cut the sides (A), top and bottom (B), and dividers (C) to the sizes in the Cut List.

2 Referring to Figure 1, lay out the rabbets on the ends and inside back edges of the sides (A). Verify the space needed for your tools, and then lay out the dado locations on the top and bottom (B) for the dividers (C). Similarly, lay out the dadoes on the dividers and sides for the shelves (D, E).

3 Outfit a handheld router with a 3⁄8"- or 1⁄2"-diameter straight bit, and then rout the 3⁄4" end rabbets and dadoes 1⁄4" deep. Then attach an edge guide to your router, or use a rabbeting bit, and rout the 1⁄2"-wide by 1⁄4"-deep rabbet along the back edges of the sides.

4 Working on a flat surface, glue, clamp, and screw the sides (A) between the top and bottom (B). Brush glue into the dadoes, and then slide in the dividers (C). Make sure that all of the front edges are flush. Take diagonal measurements from the cabinet’s opposing corners to check it for square. Adjust the assembly as needed so that the two measurements are equal.

5 Check the dado-to-dado lengths for the long and short shelves (D, E) and cut them to size. Apply glue to the dadoes and slide the shelves in place. Clamp between the dividers or tack them in place with finish nails.

6 Cut the back (F) to fit the assembled case. Apply glue to the side (A) rabbets and to the back edges of the top and bottom (B), and the dividers (C). Now lay the back in place, further securing to the top, bottom, and dividers with 11⁄4" screws.

7 Cut 1⁄4"-thick edge-banding strips (G) from 3⁄4" stock. Attach the strips to the visible plywood edges on the front of the case with glue and pin nails. Trim the edging flush, using a router outfitted with a flush-trim bit. Use a chisel to finish inside corners.

Use planes as spacers and install the dividers to the ramp with finish nails.

Make the chisel rack

1 Cut the chisel ramp (H) to size, adjusting the width to fit your cabinet. Adjust your tablesaw’s bevel angle to 30°, and cut the bottom edge where shown in Figure 2. To cut the top edge, attach an auxiliary fence to your saw’s rip fence, and run the panel vertically over the blade.

2 Cut the chisel divider (I) and chisel stop (J) to the thickness and width listed in the Cut List. When ripping the stop to width, bevel-cut the long edge at 30°. Now crosscut both parts to fit your ramp. To lay out the notches on the divider, position your chisels or carving tools on top, space them about 1⁄2" apart, and trace the locations of the blades on the divider. Outfit your tablesaw with a dado blade, and then cut out the material in a series of passes.

3 Fasten the chisel divider and stop to the ramp with pin nails. To attach the chisel ramp to the case, set the ramp against the back panel; then drive 11⁄4"-long screws through the adjacent dividers (C).

Now make the plane gallery

1 Cut the plane ramp (K) to fit the case, and then bevel-cut the bottom edge at 23° as shown in Figure 2. Without adjusting the blade, use an auxiliary fence and runner and cut the top edge.

2 Referring to the Cut List, rip the plane stops (L) and plane dividers (M), but leave the divider strips long. Note that the stops are also bevel-cut along one edge.

3 Attach the stops to the bottom edge of both ramps. Now arrange your planes. Cut the divider strips to fit, and then, using finish nails or a pin nailer, attach the dividers to the ramp as shown in Photo A.

4 Position the ramp between the dividers (C). Drive 11⁄4"-long screws through the adjacent divider and side into the edges of the ramp to secure it in place.

Tool board and final touches

1 Finish the inside and outside of the cabinet with the finish of your choice.

2 To install the cabinet directly to the wall, screw a temporary support to your wall to support it during installation. Using a helper, rest the cabinet on the cleat, and then drive 3"-long cabinet hanging screws through the back and into the wall studs.

If you plan to hang your cabinet on cleats as shown in Figure 1, glue and screw a top cleat and spacer to the cabinet back where shown. Attach the mating wall cleat to the wall at the desired height, using two 3"-long screws per stud. Lift the cabinet, and rest it on the upper wall cleat.

3 Cut tool board backers (N) and tool board (O) to fit. Attach the backers to the side (A) and divider (C) 33⁄4" in from the front edge with 11⁄4" screws; then attach the tool board with 11⁄2" finish nails.

4 Outfit your tool board with hangers and hooks to hold your most-used hand tools. (Tommy hung his marking tools on 1⁄4"- and 5⁄16"-diameter dowels.) 


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