Make a Custom Tilt-Top Tool Caddy

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Introduction: Make a Custom Tilt-Top Tool Caddy

About: Make. Learn. Repeat! I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

This is a tool caddy I made to hold various screwdriver sets and several other small items.

One of my longtime hobbies is fixing and tinkering on old sewing machines, and these tools are primarily what I keep close at hand when I'm working on a machine.

Here are the features:

  • A tilting upper tray that holds individual custom-made tool holder blocks
  • The tool blocks simply rest in the upper tray and can be easily moved around, replaced or modified as needed
  • A lower tray to hold odd-shaped items that don't fit in the tool blocks
  • The total footprint of the tool caddy is about the size of sheet of paper
  • Made almost entirely from scrap wood

I had been keeping this collection of tools in a small plastic bin for many years, but the lack of organization always drove me nuts. I either couldn't find what I needed very quickly, OR the whole pile ended up spread out across my table taking up way too much space.

So after sketching out several different tool holder/caddy ideas, I eventually came up with this design. It takes up very little table space and works perfectly for what I need.

Supplies

A similar caddy could be made with a variety materials depending on what you have available.

I used scrap pieces of poplar, alder, and walnut to make this, but a simplified version could be made using plywood, pieces of 2x4s, no tilting option, etc.

If you want to make something similar, the specific dimensions will be based on the tools you're planning to hold. However I've included some measurements of the pieces I used to make this, which may be helpful.

I used a variety of woodworking tools like saws, sanders, drill press, brad and pin nailers, and basic finishing supplies to complete this.

Step 1: Breakdown

Here's a look at the various parts.

There is an upper tray that holds the tool blocks. This tray has threaded rods extending out the sides which sit on a pair of arms attached to a lower tray.

A pair of wooden knobs twist onto the threaded rods to pinch the upper tray in the desired position, to angle it kind of like a knife block when in use.

On the inside faces where the arms press against the upper tray there are pieces of rubber that help grip the tray. The threaded rods have a pair of plastic bushings so the rods don't wear on the notches in the arms over time.

The knobs are simple homemade plywood knobs with T-nuts epoxied into the center hole.

Step 2: Screwdriver Tool Blocks

For the individual tool holder blocks, I started with the largest set of tools I wanted to hold in a single block. This was a set of standard sized screwdrivers.

To hold this set I needed a block that was 8 1/2 inches long and about 2 3/4 inches wide. It was initially about 2 inches thick but was cut slightly thinner later on. The length of this first block dictates how long to make all of the other blocks (so in my case, 8 1/2 inches). The specific widths of additional blocks can be whatever is best suited to the tools each block will hold.

I marked out where the individual holes should go and drilled each spot with an 1/8" drill bit using a drill press to create a guide hole (so forstner bits could be used from the top and bottom, and meet halfway and make clean holes with no blow-out).

The bottom side of each block needs to have at least 1/2" clearance where the blocks will rest on the inner rails of the upper tray.

Each location for a screwdriver was then custom finished to fit each specific screwdriver. For this first block I created a recess for the blade-facing ends of the handles using a forstner bit in the drill press. Other slight modifications were then made using a Dremel-type rotary tool to sand out recesses further in to fit the shapes of the screwdriver blades.

A block to hold all my precision screwdrivers was made next (the walnut block shown 2nd from left in first image). Each hole location was marked, punched with a nail set (to provide a starting dimple so the drill bit wouldn't wander), and then drilled on the drill press to the size needed for each screwdriver.

Step 3: Oil Bottles Tool Block

I have several small bottles of oils and jars of solvents.

A simple block was made to hold a few precision oil bottles using the same techniques as outlined in the previous step.

Step 4: Miscellaneous Items Tool Block

I needed a tool block to hold a bunch of random small tools. This block holds a pick set, a tiny ratchet and group of bits, a magnetic extendable reach tool, flashlight, and a bunch of tweezers.

See photos for details. The tweezers sit on a small metal rod that was placed in a cut-out on one end of the block. It worked out very nicely!

Step 5: The Upper Tray

The upper tray was made next, after all the tool blocks were completed.

This is important because the specific measurements don't really matter - it just needs to be made to fit the blocks with a few hairs of wiggle room all around.

A simple frame was made using pieces of poplar that were cut and trimmed using a table saw, and butted together with glue and tacked together with brads. The side pieces are about 1" by 1" and the top and bottom pieces are about 3/8" by 1", with lengths as needed to fit around the blocks.

Before assembling the basic frame, two pieces of threaded rod were fastened into the midpoints along the sides of the tray frame into undersized holes so the threads would bite into the wood.

To thread a rod in place like this, spin a few nuts onto the rod until they bind against each other. The top nut is used to thread the rod in; the bottom nut will drive the rod back out.

These rods were threaded into the wood, backed out, then then re-threaded into place with the addition of a few drops of super glue.

After the four main frame pieces were tacked together, two thinner pieces were then added along the underside top and bottom edges to act as rails to hold the tool blocks. These were glued and pinned in place with a pin nailer.

Additional strips of poplar were added to the bottom sides of the frame to make the bottom edge look uniform all the way around.

Step 6: Lower Tray

The lower tray was made with alder pieces about 1/2" thick and 2" wide. This simple frame was tacked together with glue and brads.

The size of this tray is the same as the upper tray, but about 1/4" wider to account for the rubber grip pads that will be added to the inside faces of the support arms later on.

The bottom of the tray was made from thin strips of alder that were glued and pin nailed in place. All of these wood pieces were cut using a table saw and a crosscut sled for cutting pieces to length.

Step 7: Support Arms

This step was mostly for fun. Several different easier approaches could be used, but I liked the idea of using thin layers of scrap walnut to make these A shapes.

The main thing here is to choose a height that will provide enough clearance for the bottom of your longest tools when they're in place in the upper tray. In my case I needed arms that were about 8 inches tall.

I drew up a pattern I liked and then cut several 3/16" thick layers of wood using a table saw, using push sticks and a zero clearance insert. These strips were all about 1 3/4" wide.

The pattern was placed on a sacrificial board and layers of wood were glued and tacked together using a pin nailer. Be sure to offset the joints to give the piece strength. For joining the 2nd layer to the 1st, only a few pin nails should be used. Otherwise, you'll have a heck of a time prying the piece up off the sacrificial board when you're done. I made this mistake on my first A.

For the 3rd layer of wood, I used a lot more pin nails. See photos for details.

After prying a completed A from the sacrificial board, any pin nails that were protruding from the bottom face of the wood piece were clipped off. The A shapes were further trimmed as needed using a band saw, and then sanded smooth.

Step 8: Notches

Notches were cut into the top of the A pieces to hold the upper tray's threaded rods.

I had some old plastic bushings that fit the rods, so I decided to use these to protect the wood. The notches were made by drilling holes to match the bushings, and then the top section above each hole was cut out with a band saw.

Step 9: Knobs and Rubber Pads

The knobs are from a past project but perfect for what I needed here. They were made from birch plywood with T-nuts epoxied into the center holes.

Pieces from an old rubber floor mat were used to make grippy pads for the upper inside faces of the A arms. These rubber pads were trimmed as needed and glued in place using contact cement.

Step 10: Finishing

All of the pieces were sanded with 220 grit sand paper, and all the edges lightly sanded by hand to knock off the sharp corners.

The A arms were glued and tacked in place to the lower tray with brad nails. The nail holes were filled with wood filler and sanded smooth once dry.

All pieces then got several light coats of lacquer followed by a buffing with a fine white scotch-brite pad.

Step 11: Finishing Touches

I used some acrylic craft paint and mixed colors as needed to match the wood tones as best I could, and then carefully touched up the wood-filler and all the shiny pin nails.

It's important to do this after the initial coats of lacquer, so you match the coloring of the finished wood. Then a final coat of lacquer was added which really hides the matte paint touch ups very nicely.

Some rubber feet were then added to the bottom tray.

Step 12: That's It. Load It Up!

Everything was put together and loaded with tools. Done and ready to use!

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    28 Comments

    0
    JON-A-TRON
    JON-A-TRON

    4 days ago

    My tool caddy looks like something you'd find behind a dumpster at Ace Hardware compared to this classy setup. I like how it's modular- lots of possibilities!

    0
    seamster
    seamster

    Reply 3 days ago

    Thanks, it's been very handy! :)

    0
    Owl Trained ED Doc
    Owl Trained ED Doc

    7 days ago

    That will be so much nicer than the recycled hard drive magnets currently holding all the small drivers in my shop.

    0
    oragamiunicorn
    oragamiunicorn

    10 days ago

    this is excellent, the interchangable blocks are an excellent idea. my one concern with it would be that when you release the top, if not well balanced, the top could spill the contents, perhaps the addition of some stop blocks to limit its movement would be a good idea?

    0
    seamster
    seamster

    Reply 10 days ago

    I considered that, but don't think it's necessary. I don't tend to try to release both knobs at the same time. I'll loosen one side and then move to the other, and a hand will be on the tray holding it while the other hand loosens the 2nd knob.

    0
    tomatoskins
    tomatoskins

    11 days ago

    Very nice! I love making holders for my tools! Anything that keeps tools visible and accessible and out of drawers makes my life easier.

    0
    seamster
    seamster

    Reply 11 days ago

    Thanks Troy!

    0
    Maxjr758
    Maxjr758

    11 days ago on Introduction

    I to restore Vintage Sewing Machines I have accumulated several Vintage Singer machines (aprox 30), as well as a few other brands.
    I have a Featherweight disassembled, repainted,, waiting to be reassembled, and a 24-9 Leather Patcher in the same state.
    All my Sewing Machine tools are in a 3 drawer Craftsman tool box, which I drag out when working on a machine. This would allow me to have just the tools I need on the bench !
    Need any machines ? Lol
    I'm in NC

    0
    seamster
    seamster

    Reply 11 days ago

    I'm currently all stocked up on old non-working machines, which will keep me occupied for a while! : )

    I've had 100s of machines pass through my hands, and over time I've gravitated to mostly Necchi Pfaff and Bernina. But a Featherweight is always a joy to work on, so simple and so smooth!!

    0
    Bill WW
    Bill WW

    11 days ago

    Pretty nice, Sam. Having all needed tools right there in front of you while you work.
    Even the plastic (Nylon?) bushings!
    Organized I am not. Maybe this will inspire me.

    0
    Aaron Finch
    Aaron Finch

    11 days ago

    Thanks for sharing great post..

    0
    LynneDe
    LynneDe

    12 days ago

    I like this a lot! Thank you. I shall try to make one for myself at some point...the garage is too cold in Maine to be working out there this time of year, but springtime will come, and I will be out there at some point, trying. Thank you!

    0
    SR97355
    SR97355

    12 days ago on Step 2

    When I saw this project's picture, I immediately thought "Wow! That
    would work great for my sewing and drafting projects!" I have drawers
    and tackle boxes for storing and organizing my items, but only use a
    subset when working on a project. This would allow me to pull out just
    what I need at the table to do my drafting or crafting--and keep it off
    the table. I like that you described how to determine what the
    dimensions for the blocks and holes. I'm lucky...if I design
    "something", my husband is a talented woodworker who makes it for me in
    wood. Thanks for detailing this.

    0
    MrsSmartyPantsPerez
    MrsSmartyPantsPerez

    12 days ago

    Both functional AND beautiful. Nice!
    And if you found yourself needing to move it often, you could put a carry handle on it. Cut a 1” piece of thin flexible plastic and attach it at the knobs. It would pivot just like the top so you could push it down behind while it’s in “desktop mode”.

    0
    throbscottle
    throbscottle

    12 days ago

    This will be perfect for my electronics workshop - definitely going to make one! Thanks!

    0
    MichaelV232
    MichaelV232

    12 days ago on Step 12

    Wonderfully simple design. I am modifying your modular tool block and tilt tray concept such that the blocks will fit into either the top or bottom tray. With a top tray flipped over it will double as lid for a storage case using latches to hold it in place when tools are not in use.
    I use a number of leather-working tools which are nice to have out but not all the time. Have a bit of geometry to work out to permit tilt supports that will be flush with lid when in storage mode.
    Thanks for getting me going on this overdue project!

    0
    RandyPerson
    RandyPerson

    12 days ago

    When I pull finish nails, I often use the old trick of grabbing them with nippers, carefully so as to grab but not cut through, and pull them through. Most will even pull the heads through this way. Would that have worked with your protruding pins, so you wouldn't have metal shafts to cover?

    0
    AMbros Custom
    AMbros Custom

    12 days ago

    Smart idea. I will implement this to my jewellery table.

    0
    Mr sahid
    Mr sahid

    12 days ago

    Very nice, I love it

    0
    caitd3
    caitd3

    12 days ago

    This is a great idea! It would be great to add a section for drill bits too!