Introduction: Functional and Sturdy Wooden Toolbox

About: I'm a maker who loves to try new things and experiment. Building my own 3D printer has been a great project, and it allows me to stretch my own horizons- looking forward to more projects in the future!

This instructable embodies the principle of "portable workstations" because a toolbox allows you to work about anywhere by bringing your tools along with you. Although the exact type and nature of the tools can vary from one hobby to another and one profession to another, this sturdy toolbox can be used to transport almost any piece of equipment. This toolbox is something that can be used for a long time, even if your interests change.

Not only is versatility a key feature of this toolbox, but sturdy construction is also important. With 8 metal corners, and weatherproof wood glue, this toolbox can stand up to rough handling and a tough environment.

Finally, the last main feature of this toolbox is its price. The total cost for me was less than $75, including some tool purchases. The amount of scrap wood from the project is also very small.

Overall, this toolbox is a project that will further your woodworking skills and allow you to create something that will be useful and long-lasting.

Step 1: Design

Originally, I set up the model for the toolbox in FreeCAD, a CAD program. However, I ended up changing the dimensions by lowering the wood thickness from 23/32 inches to 1/2 inches in order to decrease the total weight of the toolbox. After many other small changes, the original CAD file was not useful anymore. I began to create sketches and mockups of the final product instead, transitioning away from the CAD software.

I decided to use poplar wood to construct the toolbox because of its strength and light weight. After I decided that I would definitely be going with poplar wood, I sketched out the locations of the cuts for the parts of the toolbox on a piece of paper. Home Depot stocked perfect poplar panels for this toolbox, so I worked off of their sizes to create the dimensions in this project.

In terms of hardware, I knew that I wanted to go with sturdy, load-bearing hinges, hasps, and handles. I've had good experience with McMaster-Carr in the past, so I decided to order the hardware from them.

Lastly, I had to choose a stain color that I thought would look appealing. After testing out Minwax's Cherry stain, I thought that it would be a good fit for this project. Of course, you can choose any stain color that you like if you decide to try this project.

Step 2: Tools and Materials

Tools needed:


  • 2 large bar clamps
  • 2 pinch clamps
  • 2 large c-clamps
  • 2 corner clamps


  • Combination square
  • Long ruler or yardstick


  • Work gloves
  • Latex/nitrile gloves (at least 5 pairs)
  • Hearing protection
  • N95 dust mask (if you are working indoors)
  • Safety glasses

Power tools:

  • Power drill
  • Saw (any powered saw will work)


  • Sanding block
  • 40-grit sandpaper
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • 150-grit sandpaper
  • 200-grit sandpaper

Drill attachments:

  • Phillips-head bit
  • #6 countersink attachment (9/64)
  • #8 pre-drill bit (11/64)
  • (optional) Rapid-Load/Quick-Change drill attachment (this makes switching from the countersink bit to the phillips bit much quicker)


  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Hammer
  • Needlenose pliers
  • (optional) Compressed/canned air (to remove sawdust more efficiently)

Materials needed:

Step 3: Sawing

Put on your safety glasses- it's time to build a toolbox! In all seriousness, however, please be sure to wear safety glasses while building this. Putting on safety glasses takes just a second, but blindness lasts forever.

The exact method of sawing depends on what sort of saw you use to cut the poplar boards. I used a power saw, because it is the only sort of saw that I own. However, a table saw or any other sort of wood saw can definitely be used as well.

The sawing itself is fairly easy. For a power saw, set the guard to be the correct distance so that the blade will cut just deeply enough, and make sure to draw a line to follow with the fence so that the blade lines up in the correct spot. Make sure to label the pieces with painter's tape and a pen, or use whatever is on hand (paper, sticky notes, stone tablets, etc.)

Do the cuts that go across the entire board first. Then do the smaller cuts and work your way towards getting to the final pieces. For example, start with the 1/4" cut on the tray board before you cut the board in half. It will save you time and energy making cuts. Once you are done cutting out all of the pieces, lay them out as if the box was assembled to get a feel for where they will go.

Step 4: Bottom Assembly- Front and Back

Now that you have all of the pieces cut out, start marking the toolbox pieces as to where the holes should be drilled. On the front and back base panels, make 5 marks along the longer side that are 3-1/4" apart and 1/4" in. An easy way to do this is to drag the combination square along the side of the box at 1/4" with the pencil pressed in it to create short tick marks where the holes need to be.

Once you have the holes lined up, grab a scrap piece of paper or cardboard and use it to wipe a very thin amount of glue on one of the long edges of the "base bottom" piece. A little glue goes a long way, and sanding the glue off after you put on extra is no fun at all.

Now that one side has been glued, grab the front or the back base piece and stick the edge with the hole marks to the bottom base edge. Put on corner clamps on both sides, and clamp the whole project to the work area. Quickly grab the countersink bit and drill holes that are the correct (1-1/2") depth. You want to make a small angled area in the wood for the screw head.

Once all the screw holes have been drilled, switch the drill bit to the Phillips head attachment and sink all of the five #6 1-1/4" screws in. In fact, only use the #6 screws for the toolbox assembly- the #8 screws are for hardware attachment. After you finish putting in the screws, you can now remove the corner clamps. Now switch to the back (or front) of the toolbox and repeat the same steps as you followed here.

Step 5: Bottom Assembly- Tray Rails

This step is one of the easiest parts of this project- there is only glueing and no drilling at all. All that you need to do is glue the tray rails to the base sides, 1-1/4" down. Make some small pencil marks at the mounting location, wipe glue on the rail, and glue the rail in. I just used some small clamps to make sure that the rails stayed put when I glued them on.

After the glue has set, you are almost finished with the bottom of the box!

Step 6: Bottom Assembly- Sides

The sides of the box will only be screwed in on the sides, not the bottom. This step is a little tricky, just because the side needs to be slipped inside the box shape, but it should not be too much of an issue. First, make 3 marks for drilling starting 1" from the top of the box edge on the front. Space the next 2 marks 1-3/4" away. Make of the marks 1/4" in towards the center of the box. Repeat this process 4 times- once for the front left side, once for the front right side, once for the back left side, and once for the back right side.

Now paint one long side and two of the short sides on a "base side" piece with glue and slip it into the side of the box. Get at least one corner clamp holding it in place, and also try to use a bar clamp to push the side down towards the bottom. Don't forget to also secure the project to the table or work area.

Now, simply drill out the holes and put in the screws. Repeat this process for the other side.

Step 7: Top Assembly- Front and Back

The top assembly is very similar to the bottom assembly, but the front and back pieces are smaller. To attach the front and back, paint on glue on one of the long sides of the top piece and use the corner clamps to position the front or back once you have marked where to drill.

The 5 countersunk holes should be 3-1/4" apart from each other and 1/4" in on the front and back. Once they have been drilled, put in the screws and repeat the process for the other side.

Step 8: Top Assembly- Sides

For the sides on the top, only 4 screws are needed that go through the front and back. Each screw is 1/4" in and 1" from the bottom of the front or back piece. Glue 3 edges of the side pieces, slip them into the top, clamp them, and drill out the holes. Put in the 4 screws, and you have now finished the main part of the toolbox! You can stack the top on top of the bottom to see what it will look like when it is finished.

Step 9: Tray Assembly- Front and Back

The tray pieces are a little different because they sit on top of the main piece, not next to the main piece. Make sure to keep that in mind here- many holes will be drilled in the tray bottom for the sides, dividers, and the front and back.

Start out by marking 5 holes on the tray bottom that are 1/2" in and spaced 2-3/4" apart on the long sides. Once you have completed that, wipe glue on the bottom of the front or the back tray piece, set the piece in, and add corner clamps. Flip the entire tray piece over to drill the holes and put in the screws. Repeat this for the other front or back piece.

Step 10: Tray Assembly- Sides, Dividers, and Handle

One of the most tricky parts of this project is assembling the rest of the tray. Let's start with marking the bottom with 3 holes that are 1-1/4" apart starting at 1/4" in on one side and 1/4" in on the other side. Also, make marks that are 6-1/8" in from each side, that are also 1-1/4" apart on the bottom. Also, make marks demonstrating where the divider pieces will go on the top- at 5-7/8" and 6-3/8" from each corner inward, leaving 1/2" for the dividers to sit (8 marks total). Finally, make 8 marks total on the tray front and back at 1/4" inwards and 6-1/8" inwards from each edge, 1-1/8" from the top or bottom. I know that this sounds really complex, but if you take a peek at the pictures above it should make more sense.

That's a lot of marks, huh? We will soon be drilling them all out! But first, let's slap on some glue on 3 sides of one of the "tray side" pieces, and let's position it on the side, corner clamp it, and drill out the 5 marks and screw in the 5 screws. Repeat this for the other end of the toolbox.

Now put in a divider that is glued on 3 sides, at the one of the locations that you marked on the top. Try to get in at least one corner clamp, and drill out all of the holes and put in screws. Now complete the other divider in the same way.

Keep it up, you are almost done constructing the box. All you have to do is put in the tray handle. On the top of the handle, make 4 marks that are 3/8" from the sides and 1/4" from the edges. It takes a little effort, but as you can see in the pictures above, you just have to line up the c-clamps to get the handle in perfectly once it is glued. Drill out the holes that are diagonal from each other, and put screws in. Now you can remove the clamps, drill out the other diagonal holes, and put screws in them. Once you have completed this step, you are done constructing the box! Let the glue dry for a couple hours, and then we can move on to the next step.

Step 11: Hardware- Drilling

Drilling out the hardware holes is pretty easy. We will drill them out and complete the box otherwise until the very end, where we will install the hardware. First, put a piece of tape on the 11/64 bit that is 3/8" up. This way you will know when to stop drilling, so you will not create unsightly holes in the sides of the box.

Let's start with the top handle first. It is about 6" from the sides of the top and about 4" from the front and back. Make sure it is centered by aligning your combination square to be just the correct length so that the handle sits in the same spot if you use that length on either side. Once the handle is in the right position, use a pencil to lightly draw circles inside of the screw holes. Remove the handle, and use the drill to make a hole in the circles you made, but stop at the tape on the bit.

Clamp the top and the base of the box together to do the hasps, and lay the box on its back. Measure 2-3/4" in from the sides of the top and bottom on the front, and draw lines there to lien up the hasp top and bottom. Arrange them just slightly away from the line where the top and base of the toolbox meet. Hold these pieces in place, and draw circles inside the screw mounting holes. Remove the hasp pieces, and drill out the 12 holes 3/8" deep.

Now flip the box over to do the hinges- they should be 2-1/4" from the sides and aligned perfectly on the split between the top and the bottom. The hinges must be lined up or your box will not open. Once they are lined up, draw circles in the mounting holes (again), but also draw X marks inside the circles to mark where the drill bit will go. Drill out the 12 holes on the X marks this time, but stop at the tape. Now you have finished with the markings- the corners will not need holes drilled.

Step 12: Sanding

When you sand the toolbox, you want to remove any pencil marks, any raised joints, and any marks or dents that you have put in the wood as you have been working on it. I recommend working outside and/or wearing an N95 dust mask for this step, because there is a lot of sawdust flying around.

Make sure that you only sand with the grain of the wood. Start in any especially blemished locations with 20 grit sandpaper, and work your way up to 200 grit sandpaper until the wood looks good and smooth. It is important that you sand the entire toolbox with 200 grit sandpaper- get a slip of sandpaper in your fingertips and rub it in the corners and near the joints if you have not reached them. I find that the sanding block is better for large areas.

Once the entire toolbox has been sanded- the tray, the lid, and the base- then use canned air to blow out the sawdust. Make sure to keep a clean shop and vacuum up the mess you have made. :)

Step 13: Staining

Staining is one of the harder steps in this Instructable, but it is forgiving, even if it takes a while. First, you will need to wipe out the entire toolbox with a damp cloth to pick up any sawdust particles. Then, put on nitrile or latex gloves. You do not want to get stain on your hands. Bring the stain can, the toolbox, a rag, a hammer, and a flathead screwdriver outside or to a well-ventilated area. Oil-based stain contains alphatic hydrocarbons, which cause permanent brain and nervous system damage if inhaled. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area while doing this step and the next one. Also, N95 dust masks will not provide protection from stain or polyurethane fumes.

Once you have set up the toolbox and the stain outside, shake the can of stain vigorously to ensure that the contents are mixed well. If the stain is not mixed correctly, the finish will come out very weakly and will require more coats to get a cherry finish. Open the can with the screwdriver. Dip the rag in the stain can, and get it really soaked with stain. Leave a thick layer of stain sitting on the wood as you wipe the rag onto the toolbox pieces. In fact, there should be a visible liquid layer on top of the wood as you wipe the rag across it. Let this layer sit on the wood for about 5 minutes, then make sure to wipe it off with the rag. After that, move on to the sides or the back of the toolbox. Once the first layer has been completed, let the toolbox air out in a well-ventilated area.

Once the first layer of stain feels dry to the touch, it is necessary to sand the entire toolbox lightly with 200 grit sandpaper. Wipe out the wood dust with a damp rag. Now, complete the second layer in exactly the same way as the first. You will see the wood become darker as you apply more stain, which is what should happen. You might notice that the end grain is darker that the surface of the wood, but that is a normal condition and is nothing to worry about. Again, let the wood dry and sand it.

Don't forget to dispose of the stain rags carefully and appropriately. Stain rags will spontaneously combust if disposed of incorrectly. Let them dry laid flat on a non-flammable surface and throw them in an outdoor garbage can, or permanently submerge the rags in a water-filled paint can and dispose of the can as hazardous waste.

Step 14: Finishing

I used clear polyurethane to finish my toolbox. Polyurethane not only makes the wood feel smooth, but it also provides a beautiful and durable glossy coat, and it is very easy to apply. Other finishes don't always have all of these qualities, but polyurethane provides a good balance of application skill, visual appeal, and durability. Of course, you can decide to go with a lacquer or an oil finish if you wish, but I would recommend polyurethane.

Before you do any of the finishing, I would like to warn you again that polyurethane contains alphatic hydrocarbons (just like oil-based stain), which can cause permanent brain and nervous system damage. Work outside or in a well ventilated area. Also, don't forget to wear nitrile or latex gloves. Once you have put polyurethane on the toolbox, I recommend washing your hands just to be safe.

Once you have paper or a shop cloth laid out, polyurethane application is very simple. Just pour some of the liquid onto one of the clean, lint free rags, and wipe the rag onto the wood, following the grain. Make sure the rag has quite a bit of polyurethane on it, but do not leave puddles of polyurethane on the wood. For the first coat, you should see only a faint shine on the wood after wiping the polyurethane on. Make sure that you get polyurethane in the corners and under the handle in the tray. Let the toolbox sit in a ventilated area for 2-3 hours after you have applied the first coat (the wood should feel dry to the touch).

Once you have completed the first coat, sand the entire toolbox again with 200 grit sandpaper. Wipe out the dust from sanding. Again, wet the rag with polyurethane and wipe it on the entire toolbox. Let it dry and sand it another time. If you want, you can do a third coat, but don't forget to sand afterwards.

When you have completed the polyurethane application, let the toolbox air out for a day or two (the fumes will still remain for a little while). Dispose of the rags safely- they will spontaneously combust if wadded up or thrown out when soaked with polyurethane.

Step 15: Hardware- Installation

Grab the box of #8 1/2" screws- they are the only type that we will be using from now onwards.

Line up the top handle on the top piece of the box, and put in all four screws with the drill using the Phillips-head bit. Lift up the top with the handle. Feels good, right?

Clamp the top of the box vertically to the table, and clamp a hinge so that the screw holes line up. Put in 3 of the screws, and repeat this on the other side. Now flip the top piece over again so that a hasp top can be clamped on. Put in 3 screws for both of those pieces also.

Now clamp the top and the base of the box together, and make sure that they are lined up correctly.

Make sure that all of the hinge mounting holes line up with the holes that you drilled earlier. Put in the last 3 screws on the hinge. Repeat this on the other hinge.

Let's move onto the hasps. Flip the clamped box over, line up the bottom hasp piece, and leave it open. Once it is lined up, clamp it down, but do not close it. Put in the 3 screws that hold it in place, and repeat this on both sides.

You can now undo the clamps that have been holding everything together. Test out the box, and see how well it opens and closes. Try out the hasps, too.

Finally, we need to put on the box corners. Line up the metal piece on the corner of the box, and hold one of the small mounting screws with the needlenose pliers. Tap the screw lightly to get it started in the wood, and then use a Phillips-head screwdriver to get it to grab into the wood and screw in. Once you have installed the corners, you are finished with the toolbox.

Step 16: Final Product

In terms of my expectations for this project, I was surprised that it came together so easily (and that I didn't make any huge mistakes). If you make this toolbox, just take your time and pay attention to what you are doing, and you will have a great outcome.

Looking at the finished product, I wanted to point out some important things to know about the completed toolbox.

  • The tray can be removed and left at home in order to carry more tools in the main toolbox area. The tray rails don't really get in the way when you do this.
  • The hasps don't need to be flipped up all of the way when you take off the lid. If you just lightly pull up on them, and then lift the lid, it is a lot easier to open.
  • Don't drag the toolbox around on a floor that will get marked. Setting it down on one of these floors is okay, but the metal corners will make marks on the floor if the toolbox is dragged (the corners are for protecting the toolbox, not the floor).
  • Even when the toolbox is empty, the lid can be opened completely and the toolbox will not tip over.

Step 17: Conclusion

I was very happy with the final result of my toolbox- it holds all of my tools comfortably. Most importantly, it has enough room to add more tools when needed.

A neat addition that came to mind was the possibility of woodburning my initials or other designs onto the wood of the toolbox. If anyone tries that out, I would love to see the results. In fact, I would love to see any builds of this toolbox- just post an image in the comments below.

If you have any suggestions, corrections, or tips, please let me know what you think in the comments section. I would love to hear any feedback on my first Instructable.

Thanks for reading, and best of luck to the other contest participants. May the greatest Instructable win!

Portable Workstations Contest

Finalist in the
Portable Workstations Contest

Full Spectrum Laser Contest

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest