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AW Extra - Big Capacity Storage Cabinet


Big Capacity Storage Cabinet

Restaurant storage tubs organize shop supplies for stow and go.

By Dave Olson

When I worked in a restaurant as a teenager, I hauled dirty dishes in plastic bus boxes. Using them to organize my shop is much more pleasant. Bus boxes are light in weight and strong enough to hold all kinds of shop essentials, including most of my portable power tools. This 6-ft.-long cabinet holds up to twenty 5 in. by 15 in. by 20 in. bus boxes (Fig. A, and Sources, below). I built it in a weekend, using an unusual construction method: Instead of using solid pieces of plywood for all the elements, I cut the plywood into narrow strips and glued them back together into structural frames.

This method requires less plywood, because so little is wasted. It’s also a great way to use scrap plywood, because most of the pieces are relatively short and narrow. The plywood does not have to be perfectly flat, either, for the same reason.

This method is also versatile. For example, it’s easy to change the cabinet’s height, the number of storage compartments or the spacing of the bus boxes. Vary the size of the frames to create built-in closets and bookcases. For a bedroom, upgrade to wooden drawers and replace the runners with full-extension hardware.

This cabinet is made from two 4x8 sheets of 3/4 in. plywood (I used exterior grade fir). You’ll also need a piece of 1/4 in. plywood or hardboard for the back, an 8 ft. 1x10 to face all the plywood edges and a 12 ft. 1x12 for the bus box supports.

Rip the Plywood Parts

1. Lay out all the pieces on the plywood sheets (Fig. C, Cutting List, below, and Photo 1).

2. Crosscut both plywood sheets into smaller, more manageable pieces.

3. Cut the stiles, rails and cleats for the structural frames to final size (Parts A-E, Fig. A). Make accurate rip cuts; when you add the saw kerfs, some pieces contain very little waste.

Build the Frames

4. This cabinet includes three support frames that extend to the floor and two inside frames. Build the support frames by stacking four stiles and two rails (Photo 2). Use a jig to hold the parts square during assembly (Fig. B). Glue and nail the frame’s top inside corner while holding both stiles against the long fence and the rail against the short fence. Use 2 in. nails. Secure the bottom inside joint while holding the rail against both the fence and the rail alignment block. Make sure the stiles and rails are flush on the outside when you glue and nail the outside joints. After nailing all the joints on one side, flip over the assembly and nail the joints from the opposite side. Wipe off squeezed out glue.

5. Assemble the inside frames with biscuits and glue (Photo 3). Just pull the joints together and let the frame sit; clamp pressure may distort the frame.

Make Cleats and Box Supports

6. Drill and counterbore the cleats. All of the cleats are glued and nailed to the top of the frames. The support frame cleats are also screwed to the stiles for extra strength.

7. Rip the bus box supports (F) slightly oversized, joint one edge, plane (or rip) them all to the same width and then cut them all to the same length. Assembling the cabinet is easier when the supports are interchangeable: Use a drill press with a fence and stop blocks to drill the counterbored screw holes, so they’re centered and identically located on both ends of each support.

8. Fasten the supports to the frames, using spacers for easy and accurate positioning (Photo 4). To graduate four bus boxes, use 5-3/4 in., 6-3/4 in. and 7-3/4 in. spacers. To space five boxes evenly, use a 4-3/4 in. spacer. Always use a 2 in. spacer to position the top cleat.

Fasten the Frames to the Top

9. Cut the top (G) to final size and glue fill strips (H and J) on the bottom. Mark the center of the top and the center of one support frame. Line up the marks to locate the frame, so it’s perfectly centered and perpendicular to the top’s front edge. Butt the frame against the front fill strip—the top should extend 1/4 in. beyond the frame at the back—and fasten it to the top with 1-1/4 in. screws.

10. Use a 15-3/8 in. by 22 in. spacer to locate the remaining frames—my spacer is 1/4 in. MDF (Photo 5). You have to remove the top pair of bus box supports to fasten each frame. As the supports are interchangeable, reinstalling them is a simple task.

11. Cut the stretchers (K) to final length. The Cutting List dimensions assume that plywood is exactly 3/4 in. thick, which is rarely true. So measure the actual rail-to-rail distance on your cabinet to determine the correct length for the stretchers.

12. Install the stretchers flush with the outside edges of the bottom rails and fasten them (Photo 6).

13. Use the 15-3/8 in. spacer to position the remaining frames before fastening the stretchers. Again, some supports have to be removed and reinstalled.

Final Assembly

14. Fasten the back (L) with screws (Photo 7).

15. Glue on the end panels (M and Photo 8). Complete the cabinet base by gluing on the frame faces (N and P) and foot fillers (Q).

16. Finish the top by gluing on the front and side faces (R and S). The side faces butt against the front face, which extends beyond the top.

17. Cut the doors (T) to size and round over the edges. Then saw or rout 3/8 in. by 3/8 in. rabbets on the long edges only. Install the knobs and mount all the hinges (see Sources). Then mount the doors on the cabinet; use seven or eight playing cards to create a consistent 1/16 in. gap at the top (Photo 9).

18. Bus up your shop (Photo 10).


Next Day Gourmet,, 800-328-9800, Heavy- Duty Bus Box, 5” x 15” x 20”, #810619, $11.59 each; Case of 12 Bus Boxes, #812113, $121.

Rockler,, 800-279-4441, 1-1/2” Beech Knobs, #23093, $4.49 per pair, 2 pair req.; 3/8” Inset Hinges, #32122, $2.69 per pair, 4 pair required.

Cutting List

Fig. A: Exploded View

Fig. B: Assembly Jig

Fig. C: Plywood Cutting Diagram

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker July 2008, issue #136.

July 2008, Issue #136

Purchase this back issue.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

1. This storage cabinet is primarily made from plywood— even the frames that support the bus boxes. The first step is to cut the plywood into narrow strips to make stiles and rails for the frames.

2. Stacked support frames, with rails sandwiched between the stiles, go on the ends of the cabinet and in the middle. They go together quickly, thanks to an assembly jig.

3. The two inside frames are biscuited. To keep the frames square, pull the pieces together while holding the stiles and top rail against the assembly jig’s fences.

4. Attach a cleat on the top of each frame. Then attach the bus box supports. Position all the top supports 2 in. from the cleat. The rest of the supports can go wherever you want, depending on the height of the items you’ll be storing.

5. Attach one support frame exactly centered on the top. Then use a spacer to locate and attach the remaining frames, so they’re evenly spaced and parallel. You have to remove the top bus box supports to install each frame.

6. Tie the frames together by installing the stretchers. They pass under the bottom rails of the support frames and over the inside frame rails. Use the spacer from the previous step to align the frames before fastening them to the stretchers.

7. Fasten the back after clamping it flush with the cabinet’s edges and top.

8. Install the end panels to create a flush surface (or use thinner plywood to mimic a recessed panel). Glue solid-wood faces on the fronts of each frame and plywood filler blocks in all the feet.

9. Mount the lipped doors, using a stack of playing cards to create adequate clearance between the doors and the top. Only the doors’ long edges are rabbeted, as the cabinet has solid-wood facing, rather than a traditional face frame.

10. Install the bus boxes. Durable and portable, they’re great for organizing all kinds of tools.