Hardboard Tool Crate





Introduction: Hardboard Tool Crate

I really don't like to using a 5 gallon bucket or a milk crate to carry my tools to the job site. So I needed something better. After looking around for some ideas(both online and offline). I stumbled upon it right in front of me. This design was inspired by a mandarin orange crate (you know the kind that has 5lbs of oranges at the grocery store), that I have sitting on the top of my refrigerator. The mandarin orange crate uses 1/8" hardboard with pine corners. So I'll have to beef up the design to hold up to heavy tools, but while still trying to stay true to the simplicity of the original design. If you don't feel like flipping through this whole instructable, I made a slideshow just in case.

Step 1: Parts and Tools

You will need the following materials:

  • 1qty - 4' x 8' x 1/4" Tempered Hardboard ~$11.00
  • 2qty - 1" x 4" x 8' Quality pine board ~$6.00
  • PVA glue
  • Narrow Crown Pneumatic staples


  • table saw or circular saw
  • pneumatic stapler and compressor
  • lots of clamps
  • miter box
  • drill/driver with hole saw bit
  • jigsaw
  • files
  • flux brushes

Optional Tools

  • router and pattern bit
  • glue stick
  • poster board

Step 2: Cutting the Harboard

First up lets cut the hardboard sheet. It helps to have a second person to help guide the panel on the table saw. Out of one sheet of 4' x 8' hardboard you will have enough material to make four crates. Each crate basically uses a 2' x 4' section of the hardboard. I tried to design the crate so that as little material is wasted as possible. Since I can't stand some woodworking projects that waste wood just to match up grain.

Cut List

"A" - Square ends - 1/4" x 11 7/8" x 11 7/8" - 8 pieces
"B" - Long Sides - 1/4" x 11 7/8" x 23 7/8" - 8 pieces
"C" - Bottom piece - 1/4" x 11 1/2" x 23 7/8" - 4 pieces

Attached is a cutting diagram for all the hardboard pieces. Make sure to review it before you start to cut up the hardboard.

The way that I cut the hardboard. I first set the table saw to 23 7/8" to cut the large sections for the bottom and long sides. Then I set the table saw to 11 7/8" to cut the Square ends and to cut the long sides to height. Finally I set the table saw to 11 1/2" to cut the bottom pieces. The reason that I did the cutting in this order, was to minimize the number of times that I set the table saw, which reduces the number of errors in the project.

Step 3: Cutting the Pine Corner Supports

Using two 1" x 4" x 8' pieces of standard pine board, will yield the following pieces:

Cut List

"AA" - Vertical Blocking - 3/4" x 3/4" x 12" - 16 pieces total
"BB" - Bottom long side blocking - 3/4" x 3/4" x 21.5" - 8 pieces total
"CC" - Bottom side side blocking - 3/4" x 3/4" x 9.5" - 8 pieces total

I've also attached a cutting diagram for all the pine pieces. Start by cutting the pine boards to length. After being cut to length you then need to rip the boards into the 3/4" x 3/4" square blocking. This is when you can use the thickness of the board to set the fence, as well as for setting the blade height.

You will have some pine scrap left over from the cutting.

Step 4: Cutting the Hand Holds on the Ends

I wasn't very scientific in designing the handholds. I basically looked around the house for stuff with handholds, and came up kind of short. So I basically cupped my hand and used a ruler to get a general idea of the length for a comfortable grip. Then in CAD I drew up a couple of different lengths, and tested then out on a piece of poster board. I finally ended up using a distance of 2 1/2", since it seemed the most comfortable on my hand.

When I made these the first time around I used a hole saw for the ends and a jigsaw to cut out the field. If I had to do it over again, I would have spent the 15 minutes to make a router template. And then used a pattern bit to cut out the grips. Live and learn.

I've attached a cutting diagram with a bunch of different distances for the grip. As mentioned above, I ended up using the 2 1/2" length one. But you can use which ever one works for your hand, the choice is up to you.

Step 5: First Part of the Glue Up - Bottom Supports

When gluing on the blocking to all the side pieces. I used both glue and staples, which might be overkill. But I'd rather add the insurance policy of a couple of staples, instead of having a glue joint failure and the bottom falling out when the crate is full of tools.

Make sure to center the pine support pieces across the width, also making sure that the bottom edge of the pine piece is flush with the bottom edge of the hardboard piece.

The way that I designed these boxes, is in a way that you can stack one on top of another. So when I made these the first time, I cut the bottom supports so that it was a very tight fit, maybe too tight. In this instructable, that mistake has been corrected.

Step 6: Second Part of the Glue Up - Side Supports and Final Assembly

The last part of the assembly is to attach the bottom and ends. Start by attaching the bottom first. Making sure that the bottom is flush with both side pieces. Take your time. After the bottom has been glued and stapled. Turn the partially assembled box on its short side, so that we can attach the short ends.

Now glue and staple the vertical support blocking, remember to use clamps so that you can apply the staples. Also make sure that the vertical supports are flush with the side, as well as touching the bottom panel.

After the vertical blocking has been attached. Apply glue to the vertical and bottom blocking and attach the end panels. You'll probably also need to use some clamps to apply the staples to the vertical blocking. Flip it over and repeat at the other end.

One last thing on the inside on the box, apply staples to the bottom supports on the short ends.

Step 7: All Done, Now Fill With Junk.



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    Thank you! The design is so appealing (simple, practical), the instructions are so well written, and the project is strategically set up not to waste wood, cuts, and motion. I love your approach to setting the fences, that the fewer times you reset them, the fewer mistakes you make -- this is true in so many areas of life. Not perfectionism or trying hard to do it right the first time, but figuring out the system so you can move to the end product and get out of the fussiness.

    Great instructable!

    Great article, thanks a lot! It was very helpful for my project (I made smaller non-stackable boxes out of MDF using same design). I didn't use staples at all (cause my boxes were for light stuff and I don't own staple gun) only glue. I actually found it seems better to glue pine planks on the bottom piece first, and then attach large sides, this way they can be clamped better form underneath. Then I glued vertical sticks to larger sides and finally attached sides with handles. These sides are clamped from the bottom and top. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to clamp them in the middle, but they seem to hold pretty well :)
    And you are absolutely right, you can never have too many clamps, I ran out instantly :)

    I've never seen 6mm (1/4") hardboard before, we only get 3mm over here. How does it compare to MDF? Nice thought on the stacking. I love having power tools for these sorts of jobs, makes the whole thing a breeze yet still satisfying.

    2 replies

    At my lumber yard they have 1/8" and 1/4" hardboard, so I really don't know what to tell you. I know that both Roseberg and Georgia Pacific have a product finder, so that might help you in finding a retail location. Hardboard is stronger and denser then MDF(pegboard is made out of hardboard). Also hardboard is smooth on one side and textured on another. While MDF is smooth on both sides.

    Yeah they told me at Home Depot that they never had 1/4" hardboard, so I got MDF instead. For my purpose it works just fine, I made smaller boxes for clothing.

    Nice. I knocked out 14 of these from scraps this weekend. I scaled them down to hold electronic bits rather than tools.

    Thanks for posting this. I have access to plywood panels at work that are just under 4 ft square. I've been looking for a simple storage box design.

    Great looking crates. In one of the comments you mentioned pegboard. That made me think that a possible upgrade for future plans would be to use peg board. You would have the ability to install movable dividers.

    Hi,first time commenting on this awesome site.I live in South Africa and I'm lucky enough to get loads of crates similar to this from my veggie supplier,we actually refer to it as a tomatoe crate since that's generally what gets packed into it.But it doesn't look quite as sturdy as your's thats obviously been made with love!

    1 reply

    thanks.....could you post a picture of those tomato crates, because I'm curious to what they look like. It also might help me improve the design for future models.


    That looks like a very nice storage crate! How much does this crate weigh when it is all done (without the stuff in it?)

    2 replies

    I just weighed it out today, and empty weight was just a couple of ounces over 10lbs.

    The batteries are dead on my scale, so I'll have to get back to you on the empty weight.

    This is a very nice, simple design. I like it!

    1 reply

    thanks.....I tried to make the design and construction as simple as possible.

    Very solid project. How about cutting your pine blocking/corner supports in a triangular shape--it'll be as durable and will look better.

    1 reply

    Thanks......I thought about using triangular corner blocks. But then I would have had to reset the fence on the table saw after two cuts from each pine slab. With it being 3/4" x 3/4", I could zip it all through all the blocking without resetting the fence. Saving me a lot of time and hassle.