Introduction: Small Parts Cabinet

In this instructable I'll show you how to make a 28 drawer small parts cabinet for your workshop that you can use to hold small fasteners, electronic parts, etc. [1] The design features drawers that can be made from various weights of 8-1/2 x 11" paper stock (and potentially other materials). The total cost for a fully populated cabinet should be around $10 - $15.

I'll assume that you already possess some basic woodworking skills (like the ability to accurately cut materials to size, make good square cuts, etc.).

Thanks for considering a build of this instructable. Be sure to leave feedback in the comments. ;-)

Features

  • is sturdy
  • is stackable
  • has non-skid feet
  • is inexpensive
  • is sized to accommodate 28 drawers (when drawers are made per the included instructions) while at the same time minimizing the need for any additional shelf support (though such could be added if needed)
  • drawers can be made from one or more (depending on strength desired) 8-1/2" x 11" sheets of... printer paper, heavy card stock, poster board, thin cardboard and conceivably even plastic (cut from 2-liter soda bottles) or thin sheet tin (thus far I have only constructed drawers from paper based materials myself)
  • unlike with parts cabinets bought at home improvement stores, the drawers for this cabinet are replaceable if they become damaged (you only need to keep a few unfolded drawers or "blanks" on-hand for when the need arises to replace a drawer)

Materials Required

  • 1 x 6 x 6 ft lumber for cabinet frame (qty 1) [2]
  • 24" x 48" x 3/16" MDF or hardboard for backboard (qty 1)
  • 2" drywall screws for assembling cabinet frame (qty 8)
  • 1/2" brads for attaching backboard (qty ~20)
  • rubber feet (qty 4)
  • 8-1/2 x 11" heavy card stock for making drawers (qty 2 per drawer or 56 total) [3]
  • 8-1/2 x 11" standard printer paper for making templates (qty 1 per drawer or 28 total)
  • staples for assembling drawers

Tools Required

  • tape measure carpenter's square (for marking cuts to be made on miter saw)
  • table saw (for cutting backboard and shelves)
  • miter saw (for cutting cabinet frame boards to length)
  • router (for making dado cuts in side boards; can substitute table saw)
  • hammer (for attaching backboard)
  • hand drill (for drilling pilot holes and driving screws during assembly of the cabinet frame)
  • screwdriver (for attaching feet, etc.)
  • scissors (for making cuts in drawer sheets)
  • stapler (for making drawers) [4]
  • thin metal ruler (for making folds in drawer sheets)
  • four small binder clips (for holding together drawer sheets)

Time Required

This project can be completed in a single day. [5]

A Little History

I started out making four large, 70 drawer cabinets for my workshop to resolve the clutter that my small parts area had devolved into over the years partly as a result of either plastic drawers becoming broken or otherwise ruined. In addition, my original small parts cabinets were all mismatched in that I had three different types/brands of cabinets -- none of which stacked on the others which made accommodating them on limited shelf space difficult. So I set out to fix all of these issues by building my own cabinets that incorporated drawers made from paper.

Each cabinet would be a "double" in that it would have a central frame member in addition to the usual top/bottom and two sides -- with 35 drawers on each half of the cabinet. Although I built all four of the cabinet frames, I was only able to complete one cabinet fully by adding a backboard and shelves. Then along came the holidays and my wife suggested that I build a small parts cabinet as a Christmas present for our son, Evan. At the time I was somewhat dissatisfied with the design of my small parts cabinets because although each had a central member designed to cut shelf span in half (and thus reduce flex of each shelf when under load), each five-drawer shelf still required that a support be added in the center of the shelf to further reduce flexing. Although for the finished cabinet I was able to use left-over L-brackets that came with Ikea shelves that we had bought in the past, I would still need to source L-brackets for the remaining three cabinets.

Needless to say, I didn't want to use this design for Evan's Christmas present. In talking it over with my wife, she suggested that I reduce the number of drawers per shelf from 5 to 4 in the hopes that this would do away with the need for extra shelf supports and that did the trick. However, eliminating the need for extra shelf supports wasn't the only improvement made. Along the way, I also worked out a much better method of measuring the shelf spacing. In my original design the method that I had used resulted in inconsistencies that, in the end, I found unacceptable.

It wasn't long after having built Evan's cabinet, that I decided I had to build one for myself. Not only was the new cabinet better designed and built, it was well-sized and easier to carry as a result. Plus, it was my intent from the start to create an instructable to document the process of building a small parts cabinet and unfortunately, I had failed to document even a single step of the building of Evan's cabinet (which would soon be gone come Christmas)! Faced with this deadline, I began building another small parts cabinet and the result is what you see here in this instructable.

BTW, my four original 70 drawer cabinets are now in the process of being re-worked into "doubles" of this new design (each containing 56 drawers). When I get the first one completed, I'll be sure to post a photo.

___

Notes

1. As these cabinets are stackable, you could conceivably incorporate this "base" cabinet design in the construction of a much larger parts cabinet. In addition, this base design could be altered so that effectively, two side by side units are constructed that share a common side (thus for the equivalent storage space of two "base" cabinets -- 56 drawers -- this "double" cabinet would require one less vertical side member). Regardless of what alterations you might wish to make, bear in mind that the hardboard or MDF shelves should not be extended in an attempt to accommodate more than 4 drawers as from my own experience, doing so will almost certainly lead to shelves that flex too much under load.

2. When choosing a 1 x 6 board for your cabinet frame, be on the alert for any imperfections. Avoid boards having hairline cracks, too many knots, warpage, etc. Time spent choosing good material will generally pay off in the shop. I should know -- on this very project, I opted to use the last remaining 1 x 6 I had in my garden shed. You know -- that one board that you've consciously decided not to choose for a project time after time because you knew good and well that it meant trouble... Yep, that's the one I chose. At least half the board was warped across the width of the board (in industry lingo, the board was cupped). Although I was able to minimize the effects of this warpage, it's still far easier to choose quality lumber to begin with.

3. A fairly wide range of materials can be substituted for the heavy card stock requirement including: printer paper, poster board, plastic sheet, tin sheet, etc. (thus far, I've only attempted the paper options). For more details, see Step 11: Make the Drawers.

4. For the task, you'll need a fairly decent, heavy duty stapler. There are a number of very promising staplers that can be had on Amazon but many of them require special staples. One that doesn't is the Stanley Bostitch AntiJam Standard Plier Stapler. This stapler gets really good reviews on Amazon and it's definitely on my wish list. If/when I buy one, I'll be sure to post a comment regarding how well it functions.

5. Depending on a number of factors such as my ability to instruct, your skill level, etc., this rough estimate may or may not include the making of the 28 drawers. Though with practice, a single drawer can be made in about five minutes via the method shown in the video, bear in mind that you'll be starting out without any drawer making experience and so expect to spend as much as three or four hours just making the drawers. Don't be discouraged. You might consider employing any number of strategies including challenging yourself to breaking your best time record for making a drawer, paying a kid brother a quarter for every drawer he makes or just making drawers during those most annoying and despicable breaks between TV shows. ;-)

Step 1: Cut the Cabinet Top and Bottom Boards

The first order of business is to cut the cabinet's top and bottom boards from the one piece of 1 x 6 lumber. These two boards each measure 13-1/2" long.

Step 2: Cut the Cabinet Side Boards

Next, You'll need to cut the two side boards to length. These should be cut to a length of 12-1/2". On these, be especially careful that the cuts are straight and consistent. Recall from the earlier plan drawing that these side boards will butt into the top and bottom boards and therefore, a poor cut here could end up being visible when viewing the cabinet from the side.

Step 3: Mark the Desired Orientation of the Side Boards

Now that all of the cabinet boards have been cut, mark each side board near its bottom edge with a down-pointing arrow. This identifies not only the face of the board that will later receive the dado cuts, but also the board's orientation with respect to gravity (in other words, we want the dado cuts to be measured from the same end of the board and this marking makes that possible).

Step 4: Mark Dado Cuts in Cabinet Sides

In this step the dado cuts are marked on either one or both of the two side boards in preparation for cutting. Whether you need to mark both boards depends on the actual method you'll use to make the cuts. Most likely you'll need to mark only one of the boards and then each dado cut will be made to both boards before setting up the next dado cut.

Marking the boards can be done in various ways. One is to use your calculator and apply the following formula:

shelf distance = shelf no. x 1-13/16"

Here, shelf distance is the distance from the bottom of the side board (the end with the drawn arrow) to the top of the shelf and shelf no. is the number of the shelf (1 - 6) where the lowest shelf is shelf number 1. Therefore, the dado cuts can be marked according to the following table (where the first column is the shelf no. and the second is the shelf distance):

  1. | 1-13/16
  2. | 3-5/8
  3. | 5-7/16
  4. | 7-1/4
  5. | 9-1/16
  6. | 10-7/8

A more clever method of marking the dado cuts is to make use of a couple of offset jigs. Such a jig is nothing more than a piece of scrap 1 x 2 cut to exactly 1-13/16". As you may recall from the plan drawing, this offset represents the distance from the top of a shelf (including the bottom cabinet board) to the top of the next higher shelf. Applying the first jig is a matter of aligning the edge of the side board having the arrow marking on it with the edge of the jig itself. To do this, simply butt the edge of the side board and the edge of the jig against another board that has been clamped to your workbench. Once aligned in this fashion, the opposite edge of the jig should be 1-13/16" from the edge of the side board and will thus represent the first shelf's "shelf distance". Mark it with a pencil. Now, while firmly holding the offset jig in-place, position the second jig adjacent to the first and again, mark the location (for the second dado). To mark the third dado, simply "leapfrog" the second jig with the first one and mark... Repeat this leapfrogging until all the dados are thus marked.

Note that each marking made on the side boards according to the above instructions represents the top of a shelf. As such, be sure not to accidentally cut on the wrong side of this mark. It can be helpful to draw a small "x" on the side of the mark representing where the cut is to be made.

Step 5: Perform a Quality Check

After you've marked the side boards using whatever method, you may want to perform a quality check before proceeding. There's nothing worse than ruining a work piece for lack of a simple quality check.

Presumably, you've marked the dado cuts across the face of the side boards. If you subtract the thickness of the dado from the first shelf mark, the distance from the left edge of the board to this new marking should equal the distance of the last shelf mark from the right edge of the board (see photos). If the two distances are significantly different, you may need to re-mark the board before proceeding.

Step 6: Route the Dado Cuts

In this step, you'll make the dado cuts in the two side boards. Each dado cut is 3/16" wide and 3/16" deep.

Most persons following this tutorial will likely use a router to make these cuts. I would have chosen this same approach myself had my router not been DOA at the beginning of this project. As a result, I was stuck with having to cut the dados using my table saw... and without a sled.

As you can tell from the photos, I opted to mark my side boards so that I could make three dado cuts, flip the board around and then make the other three from the other side of the board.

Being as I was not using a dado blade, I had to do two cuts per dado. This I did by using a 1/8" thick metal ruler to "offset" the cut. Typically, I'd make a cut, add or remove the ruler and then make the second cut. The method wasn't quite as simple as using a router, but it worked out ok.

Step 7: Assemble the Frame

Assembly of the frame is pretty straight-forward. Taking into account the preferred orientation of the boards which you should have decided previously, simply line up any two adjacent sides, drill two pilot holes sized appropriately for the screws being used and then drive the two screws.

My situation required a little more attention given that my choice of lumber was less than ideal. Because my boards exhibited some "cupping", I found it necessary to pre-attach the adjacent sides using C-clamps and a short length of 2 x 2 and then, once everything was perfectly lined up, I could then drill the pilot holes and drive the screws. This greatly minimized the effects that cupping would have otherwise had.

Be sure your pilot bit is sized properly to maximize grip -- especially if you're dealing with warped lumber that needs "correcting". For a little extra grip, I didn't drill my pilots quite as deep as the length of the screws, forcing them to grip that much harder during final tightening. BTW, to avoid breaking screws, don't use your hand drill to drive them all the way to depth. Instead, "seat" them using a regular screwdriver.

Step 8: Add the Cabinet's Backboard

The backboard is cut from the 3/16" MDF/hardboard. You can use the completed cabinet frame itself to trace the dimensions onto the backboard for cutting; however, you might want to size each dimension about 1/8" short in order to prevent the backboard from potentially getting caught on something and separated from the frame.

Note from the photo that I chose to use pegboard for my cabinet's backboard. I chose pegboard simply because I had an ample supply of it in my shop and plus, I wanted to preserve the thicker 3/16" hardboard to use as shelves on later built cabinets.

Once you have cut the backboard to size, simply nail it to the frame using the 1/2" brad nails.

Step 9: Add the Cabinet Feet

No cabinet is complete without feet. Depending on the kind you purchase, they may attach via included wood screws or by some form of adhesive. Simply locate the feet so that they're sufficiently near each corner without interfering with the existing wood screws that attach the cabinet sides.

Step 10: Cut and Add the Shelves

Next, you'll need to cut the six shelves from the hardboard/MDF. These are probably best cut on a table saw. Each shelf's dimensions are 12-1/4" x 5-1/2".

Step 11: Make the Drawers

Making drawers for the small parts cabinet is not near as hard or expensive as it may sound. The trick is to make each one from paper, albeit a heavy card stock. Are they indestructible? Hardly, but if used as intended (for small parts, fasteners, etc.), they should last a good long time. Furthermore, if one needs to be replaced you'll no longer be at the mercy of the big plastics manufacturers, because you now know how to make your own!

If you require even more durability, there's nothing to stop you from applying this method to work with other materials like plastic (such as from a 2-liter plastic soda bottle) or even sheet tin (I've only tried the paper based options myself).

To make the drawers, first you'll need to download and print the drawer template, (to begin, simply right-click and "save" the full-size .JPG image file). [1] I've also included the original .SVG file for those who might want to make alterations to the template. Be aware that the template is designed to be printed full-size onto an 8-1/2 x 11" sheet of paper and most printers don't print to the actual edge of the paper and therefore, there will likely be a margin around the edges of the printed template. This is fine just so long as the image isn't scaled to fit completely within the margins (you want the image to be cropped instead) and given that you understand that the lines should be treated as though they extend all the way to the edge of the paper.

The template is for use with materials that are sized 8-1/2 x 11" only. A drawer produced from this template will be sized approximately 2-3/4" wide x 5-3/4" long x 1-1/2" high. Note that all solid lines in the template are meant to be cut. All dotted/dashed lines are meant to be folded.

For a demonstration showing how the template is used to produce a drawer from two 8-1/2 x 11" sheets of heavy card stock, see the video, Making a Drawer From Two Sheets of Heavy Card Stock (be sure to enable closed captioning/subtitles).

For the most part, the method demonstrated in the video will apply regardless of the weight of the paper. The main difference being that lighter paper (such as standard printer paper) requires more sheets to be used and heavier paper requires less sheets. Following are the number of sheets of "drawer stock" needed to create a drawer using some common types of paper (note that the template is assumed to always be printed on a sheet of standard printer paper):

  • Standard printer paper requires about 5 sheets total with one having a template printed on it. Due to the number of sheets, they probably ought to be glued. If this works well in practice, you could conceivably populate your entire small parts storage using mostly recycled office paper. ;-)
  • Heavy card stock requires 2 sheets plus a template sheet (no glue is required).
  • 6-ply (heavy) poster board requires just 1 sheet plus a template sheet.

___

Notes

1. If you have sufficient 8-1/2 x 11" sheets of "drawer stock" to make drawers from but just one template, there's no need to print additional templates. Simply "transfer" the template's information by placing the template onto five or six 8-1/2 x 11" sheets of printer paper (or whatever you wish to transfer the template to) and then poke holes at each template line's end points using a push pin (it helps if the "stack" sits on a piece of cardboard). Since there are no curved lines in the template, and only straight ones, you only need to transfer each straight line's end points to make additional templates (and some lines need not be transferred at all -- like the really short ones that, when cut, create the small bits of waste -- those can be approximated).

Comments

author
Captainbeaky1972 (author)2017-07-31

Simply Brilliant!

I'm fitting out an electronics workshop in the small 2.5 x 2.2 metre office in my main large open workshop. This is the only place that I can put my electronics workbench that I am able to close the door to keep workshop dust etc out.

I'll be making an instructible on it later, but I'm looking for inspiration.

I want to maximise storage, and there is a shallow space behind the door that I want to use as storage, but the little plastic drawer thingies will be pricey for the whole space - this idea is perfect.

I can create a shelving unit like you did, and have several different drawer sizes for different parts, resistors, caps, nuts and bolts etc,.

Ive got an old laser printer, so I can print on the card.

This is genius.

author
bdubu (author)Captainbeaky19722017-08-01

That sounds like a good plan. I too have a lot of electronics parts to store. Don't overlook the utility of entering the contents of all of your drawers into a software app to make it a simple matter to locate stuff... Even just having a simple text file that you can "pipe" its contents through a "find" filter is much better than nothing... After having built a couple of these units--one for my son and the other for myself--I decided to "double" any new units I build so that each unit is more or less like two of these smaller ones side-by-side (but with only one vertical board in the center that is slotted on both sides). I cut all of the boards for three or four of these new units and then got sidetracked and never assembled them. :( Your comment has me thinking about finishing these, so thanks for the reminder in addition to the compliments. Best of luck on your project!

author
Captainbeaky1972 (author)bdubu2017-08-03

Yup, I've been thinking about an "inventory" system for a while, and now is an ideal time to do it ( while I am setting up a brand new workshop).

Will probably use excel as a quick and dirty database that will run on both mac and PC - unless anyone else has an idea?
I will want to be able to search for names, descriptions and part numbers.

author
pandamopeds13 (author)2015-01-14

ive been on craigslist daily trying to track down some of the plastic drawer things but those paper boxes are an awesome idea!!!

Suggestion: For sturdier and easier boxes and probably fairly cheap... maybe balsa wood? Lightweight and can yake a beatung from whatever bolts, etc youthrow at it; plus balsa would allowthe use of some knobs or handles!

author
bdubu (author)pandamopeds132015-01-14

Thanks for the kind words! Regarding balsa wood used to make a drawer, I'd be curious to know what it costs. If it could be done easily and cheaply, there's no reason why you couldn't substitute these for the "folded" drawers... Using heavy card stock, I'm paying about 20 cents per drawer but 11 cents of that is due to the cost of printing the template itself as I'm using an office supply store (Staples) to do the printing. If you have access to a laser printer the cost per drawer can probably be cut in half. BTW, if you make the balsa wood drawers the same dimensions as the folded ones, you won't necessarily need knobs because the drawers protrude a bit from the cabinet itself. Also, a note about durability. One thing that I liked about the idea of folding the drawers is that you can use virtually any material to make them and in addition to using materials such as the plastic cut from 2-liter soda bottles or sheet tin, it should be possible to print your template onto overhead transparencies. That way, your drawers (may be), for the most part, impervious to small quantities of oil (I haven't tried this yet). Likewise, it may be possible to coat the finished paper-based drawers with something like polyurethane, but I personally don't see the need to do this for the drawers that I've made. If one were to get damaged, I could make another in just a few minutes. If you do make drawers from balsa, please post a follow up comment to let us know how it went. :-)

author
seamster (author)2014-12-26

This is an excellent project! Thank you!

author
bdubu (author)seamster2014-12-26

Thanks seamster! I'm glad you liked it!

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