Introduction: Compact Shop Organizer Cart for $50! (from Scrap Wood)
My shop is always messy. I don't know about you, but I am always very excited to take out the tools for a project, but for some reason, putting them back requires much more effort... I love making projects and so as a result there is always lots of stuff everywhere. Now, my shop is the same small room where I sleep and study, and combine it with the fact that I'm a teenager, and you start to get a grasp of the scale of this problem. I have thought about various solutions for this problem, like storing many tools outside my room, but the thruth is that even then, stuff which I use in my room while making projects, tend to stay there.
So in this Instructable, I will try to partially fix the problem by making an compact organizer cart. I actually thought about just buying one of these, but I only managed to find those standard garage-type metal and plastic carts. They were quite pricey, and also seemed to have few functions beside the drawers.
I decided to design one, which should be as cheap as possible, generate as little waste as possible, and the things it will house should also be easy to access. It will be able to accomodate all my paintbrush and paint stuff, my drill, soldering iron, glue gun, all sorts of glue, pens, tweezers, files, pliers, cutters and other tools, model paints, tapes and wire, spray paints, drill bits, sandpaper AND WD-40 (very important!). It also has three drawers to store all my junk, a mount for my studio light, a hidden air compressor, a paper dispenser and a band aid holder, which is my most frequently used tool. As you can tell, this fits most needs of a Maker.
I would like to warn you that if you'd decide to make it, it would probably take longer time than expected. I spent something between 50 and 70 hours making the plans, but the actual build time is closer to four weekends.
With that out of the way, let’s get making!
12 mm (~1/2 in) thick plywood (or solid wood or MDF etc.) sheets/scraps, enough so that all the parts in the plans can be cut out.
4 sheets of 3 mm (~1/8 mm) thick 61x122 cm roofing board (other dimensions are also fine, as long as all parts can be cut from it/them)
Wood screws of various lengths
4x 1 meter long M4 threaded rods, along with 8x M4 lock nuts and 8x M4 wing nuts
A 2 meter long aluminum angle (~20x20 mm) (or 2x 1 meter lengths)
20 mm PVC pipe
16 mm PVC pipe (these dimensions can differ somewhat, as long as the small pipe can fit inside the larger, without too much extra room)
4x casters that can support the shop cart's weight
2x handles so you can move it around easier
A 3D printed band aid holder (also needs 2 springs, CAD file can be found among the plans)
Tools: screwdriwer with bits and hole saw, circular saw (possible to make with just a hacksaw, however quite tiring), a jig saw or japanese saw (for those smaller cuts), a hammer, file and sandpaper
Step 1: Design Choices
If you’d like to build this project, the plans are a great guide.The design is highly customized for my needs, and your needs might differ. As an example, you might not want to put your soldering station on top, or yours might have a completely different form factor. Still, I believe this is a great base which you can customize and fit to your needs and aside from the top section, which is highly customized, I would think the rest of the shop cart satisfies most Maker's needs. In terms of form factor, it is around 60 x 60 cm and one meter tall.
On top I have all sorts of tools, ranging from files and saws to soldering iron and airbrush.
From top to bottom on each side, it has 6 shelves for sandpaper of various coarseness, a shelf for storing/displaying smaller objects, a rack with one or two tapes on each rack, with an easy system for removing them, along with areas in the front dedicated for smaller tape sizes. Then further down, we have two levels of small pull-out boxes, which I use to house my drill bits. Below those, you can find two shelves, where I store model paint.
At the bottom, I have spray cans and other stuff in bottles.
Now, in the front, three large drawers can be found. Above those, I installed a 3D-printed band aid holder and a center-feed paper holder.
In the back, I have an access hole to the inside of the top, where all the electrical cords and extension cord along with the paper roll in another section. There is also place for sheet metal and pipes.
Inside the base at the bottom, a small compressor is hidden (behind the hole with the hose!). It is suspended with strings, so no vibrations (although the sound is still present), which I use with my airbrush
Step 2: Step 1: Let's Start Sketching and Planning!
To start off, you’ll need some wood. Preferably plywood, but MDF will also work, I just think it looks bad. I went with a 12 mm thickness, which translates to about half an inch. I mostly used scraps, but ended up purchasing one new sheet.
Your project cost will heavily depend on how much scraps you use. Depending on the prices in your area, this project can cost anywhere between $40 to $80. I used mostly scraps, so I payed around $50 for everything.
The waste amount will of course depend on which measurements your ply has, and also how you sketch the template onto the wood. Admittedly, I used one sheet of scrap MDF, used mostly for the base of the tool cart, but this won’t be very visible, and to compensate for my crime, I utilized an old solid wood shelf for the drill compartments. I also bought some ultra-cheap 3 mm roofing board for the tape separators and top sections, and while I could have used thin plywood instead. It would have looked much nicer but I just couldn’t resist the price, as all four boards’ cost was equivalent to only about 10 dollars American.
When it comes to transferring the plans on to the boards there are two methods. The first is to just draw all the lines with a ruler and measuring tape, but near the end of the project, I actually printed out the template in a one-to-one scale, and glued all the sheets onto the board, however this increases the amount of waste.
The plans took ages to make, but can be found attached to the project.
Step 3: Step 2: First Cut, Then Measure (or the Other Way Around)
To cut out the wood, I use a hand saw, a japanese saw and a circular saw. These are tools that most people have, or are cheap to buy. It is a huge failure, as literally into my second cut, I totally mess up, as the guide piece isn’t entirely secured. Anyway, measure once, cut twice. Or the other way around. I use the circular saw for most cuts.
When cutting out the insides of parts I start by using my drill with a hole saw. Some parts need a bit more attention like the cutouts for the drawer handles and other small parts, here I use my trusty japanese saw, alternatively a regular hand saw. If you have a jigsaw, great, use it here, but I don’t have one.
I need to make some recesses in the front and back parts (and in the front drawer sides) so pieces of 3 mm board can slide into them, creating shelves for sandpaper and tape separators. I use my circular saw, with the depth set to about four millimeters. You can use a regular hand saw here too.
I decide to cut up all the parts before starting the assembly process, but you can just as well cut as you go. As mentioned before, I use many scraps, such as MDF for some parts of the tool cart and OSB for others, as well as a sheet of ply (the white sheet in the pics) which I have been using for spray painting to cover the table. Of course, none of these are pretty, but I try to use as much of them as possible while still hiding the majority, or using these in a way so only the cross-sections are visible.
When it comes to the mini drill drawers, I designed the template in a way, so I can use a hole saw or spade bit to drill out two of these notches which are used to pull out the drawer in one drilling. I then used my circular saw here as well.
I initially planned on cutting out the 3 mm board parts like the sandpaper holders with the circular saw as well, but it seemed way too overkill, and the board couldn’t really support the weight of the saw as it was flimsy. Also, some tearout occured, which can be minimized by switching to a hand saw. To further minimize tearout, and also save time, I stack multiple parts of the same kind on top of each other, when drilling out holes.
Step 4: Step 3: Makers: Assemble!
With all the parts cut out, I can start the assembly. I use mostly cheap wood screws and wood glue for this job. There are probably better ways to assemble this but I start by securing this MDF piece to the central center sheet. I then secure them to the back piece. Here, I am always checking to make sure everything is square. I was also making sure that the back piece was flipped the right way, as it isn’t symmetrical from left to right. The grooves should be facing inwards. Now, I can add the MDF to the other side and to the front. I also secure the right centerpiece… and the left centerpiece.
Next, I want to make sure everything will fit, so I place the top center sheet in its place and attach the front piece, being aware that here too, that the slots should be facing inwards.
I bought four of these small caster wheels which I mount onto the bottom center board. Here, the direction doesn’t matter, as the piece is symmetrical from side to side and top to bottom. I use four wood screws to secure each wheel and use a multitool with a grinding attachment to remove the protrusions. I need to secure this base piece, but I can’t flip it upside down, as it wouldn’t be stable, so I use two chairs to support it, and secure the screws in this rather awkward fashion. The camera angle is pretty bad, too.
I have all the parts laid out for the shelves which will house my model paints. I firstly secure the left side shelf with the front and side fences, then add the front piece which also doubles as front fences for the two lower shelves. Next, I add the right shelf with the two fence pieces, and finally the two long sides for the lower shelves.
All of this is secured with screws, and especially with the particle boards, it is important to drill pilot holes of sufficient size. I messed up and manage to split some, you can see I have clamped those split ends and added some glue. Also add a few screws, alternatively hammering nails into the shelves from the inside. I secure fence pieces to the bottom section as well, which will hold the spray cans.
Step 5: Step 4: Mounting the Compressor, Stacking the Shelves
Now, the fun can begin. I manage to flip it upside down, and after drilling pilot holes into the MDF I add screws, two to each side, near the very inside. I can’t get a screwdriver into the small space, but if I drilled a big enough pilot hole, I can easily screw the screws into the sides just by holding the bit. After placing my small airbrush compressor into the compartment, I secure it in place with two lengths of strings, which I route through the holes in the compressor which had the legs on previously. The string is then looped around the front screws a few times, then the other end is pushed through two holes in the back and knotted. Remember, this is upside down so the strings will actually suspend the compressor, and the machine will hang down. I'm kinda bad at explaining (maybe I am in the wrong business doing Instructables haha), but you get the basic idea; a compressor suspended with strings.
This is all in an attempt to reduce vibration and sound levels.
In retrospect, the vibrations are all gone but the sound still remains. I could have added sound insulation inside, though it is important not to cover up the air intake holes.
I secure the top with a few screws and add the two center dividers to the sides. It is important that they are perfectly centered and square, else the shelves won’t fit perfectly. I also pay attention to the orientation, as the 34 millimeter high shelf should be on the bottom. Speaking of shelves, I’ll add them right now. I slide them in, with the smooth side upwards. I repeat this on the other side as well and I also secure a centerpiece to the right and left side. These pieces of ply will separate the shelves from the inner compartment, so that sandpaper can’t get into what will later become the housing for all the electrical cords.
On the plans, you can see that there should be a hole in the front, near the top. I’ll go ahead and drill out that hole. The exact dimension of the hole isn’t that important, although it shouldn’t be too small or too large. I secure this front center piece, and if you haven’t figured out by now, this will be a dispenser for center feed paper. I initially planned on having a door which can be opened from the front, but I don’t want to cut into it, I want to keep it clean. So instead I don’t add the piece marked X in the plans, if you want to open it from the front, you can go ahead and cut that out, else just leave it.
I also add two thin MDF pieces to the top to both sides. These will, together with the front and back sheets, act as a frame for the top section later on.
Step 6: Step 5: the Front Drawers
While those dry, I continue on.
I plan on having three drawers, so I bought 3 pairs of drawer slides. I cut out the drawer parts, two front parts from the inside of the top front part, and the rear parts from other sheets of plywood and MDF. The sides are also ply, cut from an old sheet which I have been using for painting stuff on. All of these will need to have 4 mm slots cut into them, which the bottom board will slide into. My circular saw blade is around 2.5 millimeters thick, but the board has a thickness of three millimeters, so at each cut I go back and lightly take out the edge, ensuring the bottom will be able to fit within. Speaking of the bottom boards, I cut out those next.
Now that that’s done, I can start assembly. I start by taking the front and slide the board into the slot, with the smooth face up. I add the sides and apply glue to the edges. I then place the back side on top and hammer in a few nails. This is repeated on the front as well, and the drawer is completed.
I secure one half of the drawer slides to the sides and add the other half to both sides at the same height inside the tool cart. This is repeated two more times, though this step isn’t easy. Because these drawers are so close to each other, it took me close an hour of trial and error to adjust the drawers, so that they can all slide freely. It is hard for me to explain the process, but I’m sure there must be a better way than mine. I also remove the front part, as I just can’t fit the drawers else. At last I manage, and re-mount the front.
Step 7: Step 6: the Tape Racks
With some progress done to the top, I now choose to focus on the tape holder section. I measure out where to mount the top part and secure it with wood glue and screws, while paying attention to the direction so the side with the two closer grooves is facing the front. I check so it is level and immediately start adding the separators and also the bottom piece. When securing the bottom, measurements don’t really matter, so long as the separators can slide in and out without too much force, nor should they be loose.
Next, we’ll focus on the mounting of the tape rack. My design is very simple; but quite effective. The mounting tubes won’t slide out sideways, and they can also be removed individually. This is a huge upgrade for me, as my previous design, which by the way is published on my YouTube channel, lacked this capability, the result of which is that I don’t re-rack my frequently used tapes.
I’ll now show you how to make these, step by step.
Start out with two lengths of pipe. One should be the same diameter as your holes in the separators, and it should preferably be plastic, as it will be easier to work with. The plans say 20 mm, but you can of course go with thinner or thicker tubes. The other type can be of metal, and this should also be quite a bit thinner than the previous one - it should fit inside the thicker pipe. The first step is to cut a 9 mm segment of the larger pipe. Take a pair of cutters, and cut away around one fourth of the ring.
The smaller tube should barely fit - only when tension is applied. Next, cut away a third of the removed piece as shown. This will be your stopper, so the tube won’t slide out sideways through the separator, and this is glued to the inside of the cut tube, centered but closer to one of the cuts.
This can in turn then be glued into the separator, with the cutaway part facing up and back. The small stopper should be facing down, and the segment should also protrude equally on both sides. You can now re-mount your separators, either all or leave some slots empty, to fit even wider rolls. The space between two separators is measured, and a tube of the smaller type is cut to length. Now, add a roll of tape, push in your tube section, line it up with the cuts and pull down. Your tape should now be mounted!
I cut 4x 10 cm long lengths of M4 threaded rod. I add a locking nut to one end and push it through the 4 mm holes in the front separators. Wing nuts are added for easy disassembly. These will hold smaller tapes, like electrical or cellophane tapes.
Step 8: Step 7: the Drill Bit Holders
Now, let’s do the section below, the drill bit holders:
When designing the first plans, I didn't put any thought into that the drill bit holders actually will open, so the OSB is far too wide. So I take out the circular saw, and remove some of the width with an angled setting, to give it a chamfer. For you, this won’t be an issue, as I have the updated measurements in the plans, with the added angle. This angle will stop the holders from flipping upside down. I secure these with wood glue and screws.
Another issue is that it is impossible to drill through the large pieces which will become the base for the holders. M4 rods will need to go through these, but to save both time and material, I instead want to remove around a quarter of each existing piece as shown on the 5th picture above. This way, I won’t need to cut out any new board pieces, though my approach was highly risky.
I have cut out, but not yet drilled out holes in the sides of these holders, so I’m doing that now. I stack them up and drill through several at once - saving time. The assembly is pretty straightforward. I take a front and a rear piece of the same length and secure the sides to the front with wood glue where the sides are wider. I add the rear piece and secure it with clamps. I glue bottom into place, with it touching the rear and the notch facing down in the center. I also add this small piece of board, which the drills will roll onto, also with glue, and it’s done! Now I just have to make a bunch more…
After some time, the drill holders have now dried. I cut four 62 centimeter long lengths of M4 threaded rod and set the drawers in place. The rod is driven through the hole in the front and through all the holes in the drawers’ sides. I add a lock nut to one end and a wing nut to the other. This is repeated 3 more times.
The basic idea here is that in the opened position the drill bits all roll down to the front. When they get closed, the bits roll back, and stay there, providing extra weight in the back, and should stay there. The problem is that with the holders which have smaller drills, the weight isn't sufficient, so these inevitably can't close. In this case, a small cavity can be drilled into the bottom of the back and a magnet can be secured there, with a piece of steel sheet on the bottom support. This works great for me!
Step 9: Step 8: the Side That No One Will See
The plans also include a compartment in the rear, which can be used to hold sheet metal and tubes. This is easily assembled with screws and wood glue. It’s pretty straightforward. I use the compressor access hole to clamp it in place and secure it from the top and from inside. It isn’t ideal to screw the screws that way, but since no one will see it, it’s not that big of a problem if it’s a bit rough.
I want a way to mount my studio light onto the back side, so I take this length of pipe and drill a pair of holes in it. I secure it to a piece of scrap wood and mount both to the back. The light's stand will be able to slide onto thiat pipe.
Step 10: Step 9: Some Additions to the Front
Now, I would like to have a sturdy tool cart, so I take 2 meters of aluminum diamond angle and cut it to size. I make a few cuts, so boards can still be removed, and that the outermost drill drawer can still open. I add these to the front with a few screws. The back won't need these, as it is much more sturdy since it’s one large sheet.
I also want a small band aid holder on the cart, I 3D print this with a matching wood filament. I’ll be sure to also include the file for this in the plans folder. I secure it to the front with screws and two springs are added followed by two plates. The band aids will be pushed against the front by the springs and they can be removed, one at a time, by sliding them sideways.
There are two more details we need to add to the front, then we can move on to the top section. First of all, I secure a sharp piece of metal to the paper feed hole on the inside, so the paper tears when I pull on it. The metal was unreliable, so I hammer two nails and bend them inwards, which works much better. I also add a roll of paper. Second of all, I secure two handles to the front so the shop cart can be moved easily.
Step 11: Step 10: the Top Section
Now, let’s do the top part, which consists of separators made from board, which will form the tool compartments. At this time I am sick and tired of all the marking, so I print out the plans in a 1:1 scale, on several sheets. I add glue to the board and carefully apply the sheets, always making sure that everything is lined up correctly. This was a pretty bad idea, as the removal of this paper was a worse process than anticipated.
As mentioned earlier, the circular saw is overkill, so I use my hand saw instead. These parts will interlock with each other, so most parts have cuts made into them, where they’ll meet with another piece. These cuts are made with the help of my circular saw though. I adjust the depth to 3 mm and clamp it to a piece of OSB and board. This setup is quite safe, as the gap under the saw is only 3 mm, so my fingers can’t reach the blade.
Some parts require a bit more attention, as some need cleanup. Other parts need some drilling, take the part which will hold the tweezers for example.
The base of the top is cut from the same type of board, and it needs some holes cut into it. It might look weird with all the different sized holes, but it will make sense in a moment. Now that all parts are cut, I spend the rest of the evening removing the template.
Let’s add the top section! This step is quite tedious, but I assure you, it’s pretty straight forward. Some parts fit better than others, but tight fits can be fixed with a bit of sanding. Some glueing is needed, but far from all parts require it. I add a few pieces of board, and these will support the tweezer holder and adding a few bent nails to the front creates a hidden compartment underneath, with the nails acting as latches.
I make an airbrush stand by taking this piece of tube and making an angled cut on one end. I cut into the other side and remove around half of its width. I secure it in place with glue, and the stand is complete! The hose from the compressor below can now be connected to the airbrush.
Now, it is finally finished!
Step 12: Epilogue
If you’d like to build this project, the plans are a great guide. The design is highly customized for my needs, and your needs might differ. For example, you might not want to put your soldering iron on top of this, in that case don’t drill any holes in the neighbouring separators. Still, I believe this is a great base which you can customize and fit to your needs.
I know, I could have gone crazy with the design, with different angles and overhangs, and with materials such as brass, copper or even leather, but then both the functionality per square meter and the project budget would have gotten worse. Instead, I focused on an affordable, functional execution, because when building an organizer, it needs no explaining that you obviously want maximum functionality, and it is also preferable to make it low-cost as it isn’t really a project where you need materials of high quality. After all, I will be storing spray cans and drill bits and not Rolex watches and Gucci slippers. Now, don’t let the mediocre quality fool you. For it can easily support my weight.
This wasn’t a highly technical project, consisting mostly of straight cuts. I would still think that certain steps like cutting out the parts for the top section can be a bit difficult for some.
Waste-wise the result was not much in terms of non-recyclables. Some rope, plastic packaging, aluminum, a few metal bits here and there and pieces of plastic tube. The big portion of what was left behind is from the wood. These two bags were filled, the first being this bag of sawdust and paper shreds, I would say I captured around 70% of this category, and then we have some smaller scrap wood which isn’t worth saving. What was worth saving, were some larger pieces of scrap, which can be used for signs, bases, or small enclosures for future projects. Admittedly, it looks like my planning was quite bad, as I ended up buying an extra sheet of board to fit all the parts. Fortunately, it can be used for lots of projects and I wouldn’t really call it a scrap other than that I left behind this ugly edge. Waste amount isn’t too good or too bad.
It takes around 4 weekends to build the tool cart, excluding the time it took to design it. So don’t plan on finishing this within a Friday afternoon. In terms of cost, the total is around 50 USD. It will be higher or lower for you depending if you use more or less scrap wood.
In the end, my opinion is that this tool cart outclasses the commercial ones out there. It is far cheaper than most, and also has many functions that those don’t. I think this tool cart is great for the Maker who wants to better organize his or her stuff.
I hope you enjoyed this build. I also hope that I have inspired you to make something. If you did happen to enjoy this project, I would be very happy if you would consider voting for me in the woodworking competition!
If you've made something similar, I would love if you could share your experience (you can DM me on Instagram, @pew.tech), and if you have any questions, please post them in the comment section, I'll try to answer quickly!
I will see you another weekend!
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