For tough and intelligent tool storage, it’s
hard to beat a professional mechanic’s
tool chest. It has shallow full-extension drawers
tailored to the tools inside, it rolls around,
and it’s indestructible. However, in the
woodworking shop, the mechanic’s chest
isn’t perfect: it’s expensive, it’s made of
edge-dinging metal, the drawers aren’t
sized for woodworking tools, and it’s not a
useful height. This roll-around toolbox solves
all of these problems.
One nifty feature is that it has full-extension
drawers without the premium price of
full-extension slides. Instead, you use ordinary
bottom-mount slides that are 4 in.
longer than the drawers themselves. The extra
length tucks into a pocket alongside the internal
strongback (Photo 2). This
approach easily saves you
$100. To build the box,
plan to spend about $80
on wood, and $75 on
This toolbox works
closely with your bench
(Photo 1). It keeps your
tools organized and close at hand,
but out of the way of your project. By
making the box the exact height of your
bench, it also works as an outrigger for breaking
down plywood and supporting large work.
The compartment behind the drawers accommodates
tools up to 28 in. long.
There is a tradition among woodworkers
of making extremely fine tool
cabinets, as a way for the traveling journeyman
woodworker to display his or
her abilities. There’s nothing wrong
with following that tradition. But it’s
not what I was after in this design. This
toolbox is in no way a showcase. It’s a
tough, utilitarian piece of shop furniture
featuring exposed screw heads and
naked plywood edges.
The big advantage to this design is
that it doesn’t take a lot of time or
money to make. Of course you could
edge-band the plywood, use biscuit
joints instead of screws, and
paint the plywood, but
there’s no functional reason
for any of that.
You’re the only one who
knows what tools you have,
so you have to design your
own drawer layout. If you
take a little time to do it,
you’ll be able to fit an
incredible number of tools
into the box, and you’ll have
them grouped to suit your needs.
Quick access is important, and workshop
space is precious, so think about
what tools you use together, which
ones you use all the time, and which
rarely see daylight. Make a drawer template
out of plywood or cardboard, so
you can lay out each group of tools
I like to keep my measuring tools
handy, so I put them in the top drawer,
with gauges and layout tools in the
next drawer down. Some things aren’t
compatible in the same drawer—chisels
with files, for example. Spade bits
and drill bits can lie down in a shallow
drawer, but router bits should stand up
in holes drilled into a block, so they
can’t knock together. Group like tools
together in shallow trays, with dividers
to maintain order. TIP: You’ll maximize
useful space by running dividers
from front to back instead of from side
Once you’ve planned your layout,
it’s easy to dimension the drawer parts.
To find the distance from one drawer
bottom to the next, measure the height
of the contents and add 1/2 in. for the
bottom itself plus a little clearance. The
drawer sides and ends
can be as wide as the
depth of the contents,
and they can be a lot
and other big tools sit
very well on shallow
The top drawer
should have sides that
are about 1/2-in. narrower
than the drawer
opening, so the drawer
can be tipped up for
Draw before you saw
Don’t charge into sawing your plywood
before you buy the hardware.
You can cut wood to suit the hardware,
but you can’t redesign metal
hardware to fit your wood. Get all the
hardware—drawer slides, hinges,
touch-latches and wheels—before you
start to build, then adjust your design
to suit these parts.
You’ll have to make a full-size sectional
drawing to show how the drawers
fit inside the case. The drawing
will help you avert hardware conflicts.
Pay close attention to the back-door
hinges. You might have to rearrange
the drawers to make room for them.
Magnetic touch-latches bypass the
need for drawer pulls and keep the
drawers closed while you roll the cabinet
around the shop. Single latches
won’t have enough oomph to open
deep drawers full of iron, but you can
buy double latches, or combine two or
Assemble the box
Figure B shows how to get the whole
box out of one sheet of 3/4 in. plywood.
Note that seven pieces—the
box sides, the rear doors, the strongback
sides and back—are all sawn to
the same height. Organize the plywood
breakdown and sawing so you complete all seven pieces at the same fence
setting, then trim off 1/8 in. from the rear
doors, so they’ll close easily.
Mount the drawer hardware on the plywood
sides before you assemble the box,
using the locator jig, shown in Photo 4. The
jig shown consists of a piece of plywood with
a cleat at one end. The top of the slide
should sit tight against the bottom end of the
plywood jig. Saw the depth of the next
drawer off the jig after each pair of slides, to
prepare it for the next pair. Saw the exact distance
from the bottom of one drawer to the
bottom of the next.
I assembled my toolbox with 2-1/2 in.,
No. 8 Phillips-head construction screws
spaced about 3-in. apart. Lay out the location
of the screw holes on the plywood top
and bottom, so you can drill and countersink
clearance holes with the plywood flat on the
bench. Set up the first joint with the aid of
clamps, as shown in Photo 5. Be sure to drill
the pilot holes into the second piece of plywood.
If you skip this step, the entering
screw will make the wood bulge, interfering
with a tight connection. Make the strongback
in exactly the same way.
The screws don’t make a rigid cabinet, but
the strongback takes care of that. First, however,
mount the hinges on the doors and
screw them to the box sides, because you
won’t have easy access afterward (Photo 6).
Then slide the strongback into the box and
screw it to the top and bottom (Photo 7). Its
edge sits 3/4 in. inside the box, so the doors
can close against it. Once you glue the
strongback, the box will not come apart
again, so don’t glue it until you’re sure everything
is in the right place. Add the casters
(Photo 8), and the box itself is done.
Make the drawers
The toolbox features a straightforward plywood
drawer. Saw the sides and ends from
1/2 in. uniform laminate or Baltic birch ply.
Strength and squareness comes from the
glued-on bottom, which is 1/4 in. ply.
To assemble the drawers, screw or nail the
sides and ends together. Lay down a uniform
coat of glue on the bottom edges of the
drawer, then place the bottom on the glue.
Line up the corners, and nail it all around
Close-fitting drawer fronts will help keep
shop dust out of the box. I made these drawer
fronts out of 3/8-in. MDF with a 3/16-in.
roundover; solid wood works as well. The
fronts are 3/4-in. wider than the drawer itself, and 1/8-in. higher. Because standard drawer
slides need a 1/2-in. space on either side, this gives
you 1/8 in. clearance each way. The false front fits
flush with the bottom of the drawer, so there’s also
1/8-in. top clearance.
Start attaching the false fronts around the middle
of the case (Photo 10). Position the first one by measurement
and you will be able to do the rest by eye.
Glue and clamp the fronts to the drawers; if you have
an air nailer, you can glue and nail without bothering
If you like this toolbox, consider making more than
one. You could size the drawers for portable power
tools, router bits, wrenches, screwdrivers and other
machine-maintenance tools, or for supplies like sandpaper
and finishing materials.
Cutting List, Material List, Hardware
Fig. A: Rolling Shop Cabinet
Fig. B: Plywood Layout
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Use it as a work support. If you make the box the same height as your workbench,
it’s easy to support a piece of plywood for
cutting. Because of its width, the toolbox gives
generous support to the cutoff piece. Drawers have
touch-latches so there are no protruding handles.
2. Back doors reveal storage for longer
tools in the “strongback”—a shallow box-inside-abox.
Because the drawer slides extend back alongside
the strongback, the drawers are essentially full-extension,
without the expense of full-extension slides.
3. Design the drawers to hold your tools. A piece
of cardboard the same size as the drawer bottom helps.
4. Mount the slides onto the
sides of the toolbox before assembly.
A plywood jig with a cleat will ensure
that the slides are square and at the
same height on both sides.
5. Drill and countersink the sides, and drill pilot
holes in the top and
bottom pieces. A piece
of scrap clamped
alongside ensures that
the joint is flush. Screw
the box together.
6. Hang the back doors with surface-mount
hinges. Screw them
to the doors first,
then screw the doors
to the box.
7. Insert the strongback and screw it on top
and bottom. Its
edge should be set
3/4 in. back so it
acts as a stop for
8. Mount the casters, two fixed and two
allows for easy
steering but some
rigidity if you use
the toolbox as a
9. Drawers are simple boxes, butt-joined, glued
and nailed, with a
glued and nailed
The bottom makes
the drawer rigid
10. Glue false fronts to the drawer boxes
after the slides are
screwed on. Use
clamps, nails or
screws to hold the
fronts while the