Get to Work with a Tool Stool

This mini workbench is a workhorse you can pack with carpentry tools.

There’s no shortage of readymade toolboxes, buckets and bags designed to hold all kinds of carpentry gear. But there are advantages to building your own toolbox. One is that you can customize your box to store exactly what you need. Even better: You can create dedicated parking spots for tools that get the most use, eliminating the aggravation of fumbling around.

That was the main idea behind this project. But as the design developed, my toolbox morphed into a stool that can also provide a work surface, a helpful step, or a seat for lunch. The design shown here offers ample opportunities to trick out end and back surfaces based on your own go-to tools. And by building your own tool tote, you’ll be adding to a tradition as old as carpentry itself.
It doesn’t take much in the way of hardware to build the tool stool (see Buyer’s Guide below). But it might be worth spending some money up front to acquire all the tools you want to store. My remodeler’s tool kit (see that article here) offers some useful suggestions, but you’ll probably have some other items you want to include in your own stool.

Order of Work

  • Cut the plywood case parts, and drill holes in ends for drawer slide hardware.
  • Assemble the case, and paint it with a durable outdoor finish.
  • Build and finish the leg assemblies, then fasten them to the case.
  • Make the top, hinge it to the case, and attach the chain stay.
  • Make the drawer boxes, and attach the slide hardware to them.
  • Make the false fronts for the drawers, then attach them to the drawer boxes.
  • Trick out the end and back of your box to hold your favorite tools.

Simple, sturdy construction

The tool stool is a collection of subassemblies: a plywood case, leg assemblies, and two drawers. I used 1/2" hardwood plywood to make the case and drawers. The top is made from 3/4" plywood, edged with maple. The leg assemblies are made from maple. For long-term strength and durability, I joined parts together with Titebond II and galvanized, flathead screws. Make sure to drill pilot holes for all screws to avoid splitting the wood.

Use rabbet and dado joints to assemble the case

Cut a dado and rabbet in each case end, as shown in the drawing. I did this work on the router table, but you can get the same results using your table saw and a dado cutter. Before assembling the case, it’s smart to install the receiving half of your drawer slides. Measure carefully to mark centerlines for the screws to install this hardware (see drawing), so your slides will be properly aligned when the case is assembled. Join the sides to the tray panel and bottom with glue and 1-1/4" screws (3 screws per joint should do fine). Make sure that case sides and crosspieces stay square as you attach the case back and front panel. For appearance and durability, I took the time to prime and finish-coat the completed case before adding the legs. I like the look of the tools and their holders set against the painted backdrop.

Make the leg assemblies to fit the case

Like the case, the leg assemblies go together with rabbet and dado joints that are glued and screwed. Size your parts and cut these joints so that the leg assembly crosspieces will fit the case as shown in the drawing. Rabbet the legs to fit over the edges of the case, and note that the lower crosspieces need to extend under the bottom of the case, providing good support when you stand or sit on your stool. Drill countersunk pilot holes for a pair of 1-1/4" galvanized screws at each joint. Once your leg assemblies are together, fasten them to the case, driving screws at the locations shown in the drawing.

Get the top done with edging, T-track, hinges, and a chain stay

Cut a piece of 3/4" hardwood plywood to size, and attach hardwood edging with glue and finish nails. Then rout a chamfer along the top edges to make the top a more comfortable seat. Install a length of T-track in a routed groove with epoxy and short, flathead screws. The screws I used showed their points on the underside of my top, so I cut them flush with a Dremel tool. With the top complete and protected with a coat of polyurethane, I hinged it to the top crosspiece of a leg assembly, then attached a light chain stay with screw eyes to prevent the top from flipping back and stressing the hinges.

Build drawers with flush-fit handles

The drawers are simple and strong in construction. The upper drawer in my stool is 3" deep (3-1/2"-wide sides); the lower is 5" deep; (5-1/2"-wide sides). But feel free to adjust these sizes to better fit the tools you want to store. The important thing is to get the finished width right: an inch narrower than the opening, to allow for a pair of ½"-thick drawer slides. Once you’ve got the boxes built and the slide hardware attached, slide the boxes into their openings and get to work on the false fronts. After cutting the fronts to their finished sizes, you’ll find the flush-fitting drawer pulls easy to make. Just drill holes through the false front as shown in the drawing, then chisel out recesses for the bar stock pulls. I use double-stick tape to hold each false front in place on its drawer box until it can be permanently secured with screws driven from inside.

Buyer's Guide

  • Knape & Vogt 10" Full Extension Drawer Slide RV-StayClose ANO, 2 Pairs needed —, $12.98 per pair
  • Incra T-Track, 18" Length — #142803, $10.99
  • Woodpeckers Deluxe Hold-Down Clamp — #142603 $10.99
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