Introduction: Small Tool Chest With Smiles

I made a small tool chest to hold some of my electronics tools which was great and does its job.

In order to fit into a confined space the handles on those drawers were pieces of ribbon, an idea I stole from a 1930s safe. They worked fine, but closing a drawer could draw the ribbon from the lower drawer, leaving a struggle to get that drawer open.

For the second tool chest, I resolved to solve the problem by leading the ribbon through the middle of the drawer front. Then I decided that since another word for "front" is "face," I would carve a face into the drawer fronts, and have the ribbon looking like a tongue.

The idea of a piece of furniture sticking its tongue out at me also appealed.

The only problem was that I had no chance of carving a plausible face. Fortunately, this design can be made with zero artistic talent and just a holesaw and a drill.

The technique could be used with a painted face if you have talent in that direction. It could also be used on much larger pieces, such as a child's chest of drawers, although some red webbing would be needed, or else something sewn which was significantly stronger than just ribbon or bias tape.

Step 1: Building the Carcass and Fitting Drawer Runners

Measured and cut the pieces for five faces of the chest of drawers (three sides and the top and bottom).

The drawer runners had to be fitted to the carcass before the drawers were fitted to the runners.
The drawer runners had to be fitted quite exactly so that each side was precisely aligned.
The runners had to be fitted to the sides before assembly to avoid trying to work in a cramped space.
The inside of the carcass had to be stained before the runners were installed to avoid clogging them up with varnish or leaving gaps.

The above thinking led me to stain most of the internal faces of the carcass with a single coat of stain, leaving a gap around the edge of the pieces to allow for gluing.

Once that coat had dried, the drawer runners were fitted, then clearance holes for screws were drilled and the carcass was assembled with glue and screw butt joints.

Step 2: Finishing the Carcass

To conceal the screw holes on the top, and provide protection for the handles, a rail of 25mm square (1") was glued around three sides. This was just held in place with glue, so lots of clamps help ensure a good bond.

Once that glue had cured, everything was sanded down to 120 grit and varnished. the remaining pieces of raw timber on the inside of the carcass (not visible in use) were given one coat, as was the underside.

The remainder of the carcass, all the visible surfaces, was given three coats, with 180grit after the first, and 140grit sanding between the second and third.

Lastly, a couple of carrying handles were fitted to the top. The bolts for these handles have to be cut to length, and I used a trick from this Instructable, which is totally awesome and a huge time saver. Hat tip to BadgerBoater for that.

Step 3: Making Drawer Frames

Some spare ply was cut to size to make the bases of the drawers. This had already been varnished.

Some scraps of ply were used to cut pieces to make the sides and rear of the drawers. This had been partially varnished.

The sides and rear were screwed together with no glue in the joint as it wouldn't have stuck to the varnished surface.

The sides were then screwed to the base of the drawer, again without glue.

Once the drawers were made whatever raw wood was still exposed was given a couple of coats of stain.

Step 4: Carving Drawer Fronts`

I had thought about carving a Tiki, but since I can't carve I decided to try something which did not require talent, and went with a smiley face.

I drew a template for the face in LibreOffice and have attached the file above. It can be rescaled to fit your project or you can just use it for inspiration.

I printed out the template, and stuck it onto the previously stained and varnished wood for the drawer fronts with double-sided tape. The prior staining is important, as it reduces tearing of the wood during carving, and also gives a good surface for the double-sided tape.

The eyes I was using were about 13mm (1/2") across, and needed a 15mm (5/8") hole. I used a 15mm Forstner bit, and used an end-stop setting on the drill to make sure that all of the eyes were the same depth. Set the depth to be just deeper than the height of your eyes, plus a tiny allowance for glue.

Once the eyes were done, I used a hand drill and a small bit to drill pilot holes at each end of the mouth. Once the pilot hole was through the timber, I used a larger bit, drilling from each end and meeting in the middle. This was to prevent splintering on the exit side. The larger bit was sized to be just big enough to allow a jigsaw blade to be inserted.

Once the two end holes were the right size, the jigsaw was used. The first cut was made straight across the middle of the two end holes, and then the saw was used to gently nibble away all the other undesired wood.

Once the mouth was cut, a holesaw the desired size was used to scrape away a couple of mm (1/16" to 1/8") in the circle around the face.

Then the remains of the paper template and the double-sided tape were removed and discarded, the edges of the cuts were tidied up with some tiny scraps of sand paper and the whole front of the drawer was given a polish with very fine sandpaper and then a final couple of coats of stain.

Step 5: Finishing Faces

A poly-cotton bias tape was used for the tongue as the previous polyester ribbon had the odd problem with snagging.

To anchor the inside end of the tongues, three short pieces of hardwood were cut, long enough that they would span the opening of the mouth and have room at each end for a screw hole.

The clearance holes were drilled and then tidied up with a touch of a countersink bit.

The tape was pushed through the mouth and the right length was determined. Three matching pieces were then cut. one end of the piece of bias tape was fixed to the hardwood with double-sided tape and then the other end of the bias tape was doubled over and attached to that. The double-sided tape is just used to hold things in place during assembly, and it is not relied on for structural strength during use.

The bias tape was wrapped tightly several times around the hardwood, and then the hardwood was crewed firmly to the back of the drawer face, trapping the bias tape against the wood.

The eyes were purchased from the local dollar store and were set into the holes using a hot-melt glue. If you are using eyes like these which have a definite orientation, have a play around with different angles to see if you can get different expressions.

Step 6: Fitting Drawer Fronts

The fronts are held on the drawers by small L-brackets and short screws.

To pull the fronts hard against the drawer, the brackets were fixed to the drawer sides fractionally back from the edge, and the the drawer front was aligned and pulled against the drawer as the screws were tightened.

The drawers were mounted onto the sliders and tested for fit.

Some final sanding was necessary to get the clearances around and between the drawer fronts right, and then the exposed wood surfaces were given a quick coat of stain.

Step 7: Slips, Mistakes and Improvements

Some test faces were cut on a piece of scrap, which helped to come up with the final design. It was surprising that the semicircle curved mouth didn't look as good once the ribbon tongue was in place.

Using reject-grade plywood was cheaper, but the tendency of that material to hold and express distortion means that the cabinet is not exactly planar. Some of the drawers had to have shims inserted to allow them to mate onto the runners.

The runners were pretty cheap. For subsequent projects I think I will find better runners which have a three-part movement. This should allow better access to the drawers, and also allow the drawers to be removed without unscrewing the runners.

The collection of tool storage shown in the fourth photograph above is progressing. I'm looking forward to the next piece of the puzzle.

With thicker drawer fronts, other eye material could be tried, like a glass marble, possibly with backlighting if you're getting enthusiastic.

The drawer fronts were attached with small brackets. In the previous cabinet, they were glued on, but the varnish already applied wouldn't allow that here. Neither of these two methods are really great, and I shall be thinking how to revise for the next one.