Introduction: Beginning Woodworking Part 2: Fall Front Wooden Toolbox

About: Interested in making stuff

I had actually started this build before I built my bench bull work surface which you can see here. I realised pretty quickly that I needed something better than a workmate for this project! As well as a safe place to keep my tools, the aim of this build was to try new techniques and practice existing skills.

As with most things like this, there's an overwhelming number of design options out there. My requirements were:

1. Big enough to fit all my hand tools. I don't have a huge amount but there's enough to get in the way if not stored properly - saws, chisels, planes, marking tools, mallet etc.

2. Small enough to be portable so I can move it around and keep it out of the the way. It's going to have to be a bit nomadic due to general space limitations.

3. (Reasonably) pleasing to the eye. I'm not attempting fine cabinet making but it would be nice to end up with something decent to look at.

4. Achievable - complicated enough to be challenging without being impossible to finish at my current skill level.

After looking around, I settled on a slightly modified version of the old fashioned joiner's box, based on a Paul Sellers design. These were originally portable wooden tool boxes with a fall front lid and one or more drawers inside. They were designed to accompany full sized workshop tool chests for when work had do be done away on a site. Traditionally painted matte black, they were built to various standards of construction, from glue and nails to fine dovetails. My version would simply be slightly larger than normal, being built to hold almost all my tool collection instead of being a carrier accessory for a larger stationary toolbox.

Paul Sellers describes building his version of this style of box here and covers some useful techniques. I was also fortunate enough to be able to get a good look at an original in the flesh and see how it was put together. The final design was straightforward while at the same time containing some challenging elements - dovetailing, rebating, resawing, hardware installation and finishing.

Spoiler alert - I made a good number of classic beginners mistakes along the way with this project, all of which I will share. At least they ended up being good learning experiences - nothing like wasting a few hours of work to help you remember to do it right next time!

Step 1: Step 1: Materials and Design


Having settled on the form, I measured out and selected materials. The finished article is essentially just a basic rectangular box skinned with plywood.

I did get a bit fancy and used the golden ratio (1.618) to get the front face measurements though. Based on a height selection of 430mm, the width was supposed to be 695mm or so - pleasing to the eye! Depth is 210mm, dictated by the width of the board used. Unfortunately things went a bit wrong further on, so actual final dimensions ended up (mm) H430 x W675 x D210.

Edit 4/11/2017: Added pdfs. (Measurements are as originally intended before the dovetailing incident!)


Materials are a pretty short list. I bought 2.4m of 210 x 18 planed pine for the frame to allow for some loss from cutting and squaring. I used a spare piece of floorboard offcut for the till which I resawed to a thinner size, it ended up around 9mm thick, the base was 6mm.

The frame size is thick as I was going for a larger and less portable version. For a smaller or more portable version, 16mm or less would probably be better.

The skin is 6mm plywood. As I intended to paint the finished article I bought a fairly low grade of ply. I would have used a nicer faced baltic birch if I'd been going for a natural looking finish. Two panels of slightly less than 430 x695 were all that was needed.

Two strips of wood are also needed for the hinge rails. I used a strip of 18mmx32mm white pine. I used two offcuts for the till rails.


Brass for looks - 75mm hinges x2, latches x 2. I couldn't find a comfortable brass carry handle so I ended up using a black pressed steel gate handle instead - strong, comfortable and very affordable. The finished box is big enough for lifting handles either end and is quite heavy when full so might end up adding them later.


Aside from standard basic tools, I used an old Record 048 rebate plane and a homemade shooting board. Making a rebate for the plywood skin to sit into is optional - it could simply be surface mounted to the edge of the pine board. The boards for carcass construction needed to be square for dovetailing so I put together a basic shooting board out of an offcut of Ikea countertop and a spare mdf shelf rescued from a skip..

I use hand tools for noise and dust considerations (I do most of my work at our kitchen table!) but mainly because I just like the feel of doing it that way. Any or all of this can of course be done with power tools if desired.

  • Crosscut saw
  • Ripsaw
  • no.4 Stanley plane
  • Rebate plane (Optional)
  • Tape measure
  • Chisels
  • Marking knife, pencils
  • Coping saw
  • Paint and brushes etc
  • Hammer
  • Pins
  • Filler
  • Wood glue

Step 2: Step 2: the Frame

The frame is just four boards cut to the selected length and dovetailed together. There is a rebate/rabbet cut into the edge of each board to accept the plywood skin when the frame is complete (This is optional, the skins could just be pinned and glued on). I bought the wood a few weeks before starting and let it acclimatise before getting started.

1. Cut the board into the four pieces that make up the frame. In this case 430mm long and 695mm long. I marked and cut a few mm longer to allow them to be squared up to the right size. I also marked up each board with where it was going to go and which face would be pointing where e.g. bottom outer face, top inner face etc. This is important to make sure the rebates and dovetails go in the right places and match up.

2. Flatten and remove any twist with the stanley plane. Lots of good guides to how to do this around the web which explain better than I could so I won't repeat here. A sharp plane and possibly winding sticks are needed. I was starting with fairly smooth, straight stock so wasn't much to do.

3. Square up the ends with the shooting board if necessary. The ends will be planed flush so a rough finish is OK but everything needs to be square.

4. Cut the rebate into the edge to accept the skin when the frame is assembled. Paul Sellers recommends cutting the rebate in one go on the board before it's cut up into the four sections but I didn't have the space for that so I just did them individually. I cut each one down to about 2/3 the thickness of the 18mm thick boards.

The plywood is glued and pinned into place so the depth of the rebate needs to expose enough of the board edge to accept pins without splitting. The lip left behind is mainly to hide the edge of the plywood, so doesn's need to be very thick. The width of the rebate is detemined by the thickness of the plywood e.g. 6mm plywood needs at least a 6mm width to make sure it's down flush with the frame. I went a few mm wider again to 8mm with the intention of flattening the resulting 2mm pine lip down to the plywood level. The rebates also create a gap where the boards meet that will need to be filled later.

5. Dovetail the boards. Again, a great many excellent guides exist on how to do this by hand so I won't go into great detail except to say I used the Paul Sellers method from his book. This is also where I made my first big mistake which resulted in shortening the frame width from 695mm to 675mm. Again, the boards could be simply butt jointed or screwed together to make things easier but I wanted to have a go at dovetails.

I spaced the dovetails slightly differently so that there would be one large dovetail in the centre of the lid edge and two spaced evenly in the body. The cut for the lid passes in between these two sets.

My mistake was getting the front and back of one of the long pieces mixed up while cutting the pins, despite having marked them. I didn't discover the problem until I went to test fit everything and found that I had cut the pins on one end of a long edge backwards - meaning they wouldn't accept the dovetails (The fat end of the dovetail was trying to squeeze into the thin part of the pins if that makes it clearer)

The only thing to do was cut off the faulty pins along with the corresponding set of perfectly good pins on the other long edge to keep them the same length. This took an extra evening of work to correct and of course meant I lost about 20mm width from the final product. Definitely a mistake I won't make again though!

6. Glue together and clamp. I did one corner as a test run then applied glue and clamped up the rest in one go. I made sure that the frame was square by checking that the diagonal measurement was equal across all four corners and kept it on a flat level surface while the glue dried. I gave it a few days to dry completely and avoided disturbing it. Once dry, I trimmed and planed the joints flush.

7. Cut the lid curve. Once the skin is on it would be much harder to cut the curve for the fall front lid. I drew on the lid dimensions and cut a 90° curve for the lid in both short ends using a coping saw. This could also be a straight line of course but the curve looks good.

Step 3: Step 3: Skinning the Frame, Cutting the Lid

1. Size the skins. I cut the plywood roughly to size and planed it down to fit closely. I still managed to end up with some small gaps but these would be filled so weren't a problem.

2. Attach the skins. I used glue and 10mm panel pins to attach them and sank the pins below the level of the plywood with a punch. Once everything was dry, I planed down the pine lip to the level of the plywood and filled in the pin holes with wood filler. I also filled any gaps between the plywood and pine lip of which there were a few. As I was going to paint everything afterwards, I wasn't worried about using filler.

2. Fill the rebate gaps. I cut small scraps and glued them into the 8 rebate gaps where the boards meet on the corners. Once dried, I cut them close with a saw then pared them flush with a chsiel..

3. Release the lid. Finally, I marked the lid by joining the curves cut at either end with a long steel ruler. I then cut along the top, down the sides and along the plywood front to release the lid. I smoothed the cut surfaces down a bit to remove saw marks but not too much as I didn't want to create gaps.

4. Install the hinge rails. The plywood alone wouldn't be strong enough for the lid hinges so a hinge rail was needed. I cut two lengths of the 18x32mm strip slightly oversize then used the shooting board to square the ends and bring them down to a tight fit.They were then glued flush with the edges on both sides of the hinge join..

Step 4: Step 4: Hardware

Hardware installation was straightforward. I drilled pilot holes for everything and waxed the screws before driving them, splitting something at this point would have been disastrous!

1. Hinges. Positions for the brass hinges were marked onto the rails and then rebates cut to the thickness of the flanges with a chisel.The lid was installed and everything checked for level. It was slightly out on one end as the rebate on one of the rails wasn't quite deep enough, this was easily corrected though.

2. Handle. Bolts for the handle couldn't protrude down as they would interfere with the till. Bolt heads were countersunk into the inside of the top surface, the handle attached to them on the outside and the nuts tightened. I was going trim off the bolts but they weren't long enough to get in the way so I just left them.

3. Catches. With the lid fitted it was just a case of marking and then screwing them on.

Step 5: Step 5: Till and Saw Holders

1. The Till. I decided on a single till in the end. I had a piece of leftover pine floorboard which I resawed down to two thinner boards. I measured the interior of the frame to get the actual dimensions needed then cut and squared the four pieces for the till.

For the base, I resawed a thinner piece and book matched it togethr. It won't really be seen on the finished article but it was good practice with thinner pieces and I like knowing it's there!

I dovetailed the till walls together and made my next mistake by not marking my waste. I accidentally cut on the wrong side of the line for one set of pins resulting in a loose fitting joint. I didn't discover this until I came to assemble. Luckily, I had been using a thin kerf saw and was able to get it together with plenty of glue- the white glue swells the joint together a bit as well which helped matters - even a bad dovetail is still very strong! After the outside was together I glued on the base. Once it was all dry, I trimmed off the excess base with a saw leaving about a three mm lip before planing everything flush.

I cut and glued in two small rails for the till using offcuts from the hinge rails . The front of each is slightly sloped to help locating the till back in after taking it out. I sanded and waxed the rails and ends of the till to smooth things out.

Test fit looked good and no major adjustment needed. Final step was fitting two small brass pulls to the front. I got a spare pair of pulls to match the ones I installed just in case I ever add a second till below the first.

2. Saw holders. I experimented with a few options but ended up doing magnetic holders paired with a wooden locating slot. The magnets were glued into holes drilled into strips which were glued onto the lid with the magnets face down. No chance of them escaping or marking the saws and still plenty of pull to hold everything in place.

Step 6: Step 6: Painting and Finishing

This type of toolbox was traditionally painted matte black but since mine was going to have an easier life than it's ancestors, I went with a different option.

I took off the hardware and after sanding down the outside and easing the edges and corners a bit, I painted on a coat of Rustoleum All Surface racing green which promises paint and primer in one. I was pleasantly surprised by the coverage and colour saturation, one coat was indeed all that was needed. I still have half a tin left so may add a second coat at some point, but it's not really needed.

Other than the raiI and the ends of the till I didn't add any finish to the interior in order to let the bare wood surfaces breathe. It's likely to get a bit grimy over time but I shall consider that to be development of character.

And that's it! The finished article holds all my hand tools together in one place (Well, almost, I have a few planes which are never going to fit!) and seems to keep everything nice and dry. Looks good and was a great learning experience. Only downside is the extra weight that comes with the extra size, especially with the amount of iron kept in it.

I hope you have enjoyed this instructable and wish you luck with all your making endeavours!