Building a Hand Tool Tote With Hand Cut Dovetails




About: Weekly how-to project videos about #woodworking, metalworking, and more. #Maker. Created by Johnny Brooke.

In this woodworking project, I'm building a hand tool tote using hand cut dovetails. This project was built so that I could bring a few hand tools with me to my week-long course at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Enjoy!

Don't miss the build video above for a lot more detail!

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Step 1: Gather Tools & Materials

You could build this project out of pre-dimensioned lumber and avoid a lot of the tools I used. Dimensions are totally up to you and the tools you want to bring with you. Below are the tools I used.

Tools Used On Hand Tool Tote Project (affiliate links):

Step 2: Step 1 : Mill Lumber to Size

I dug through my scrap pile and found some Maple and Walnut to use for this build. They were both rough, so I needed to mill them using the jointer, planer, and table saw but, as I said in the last step, you could buy pre-milled lumber and avoid this step.

Step 3: Layout Dovetails and Cut Tails

Cutting dovetails is an art form in and of itself, so I'm not going to spend a ton of time explaining the process. The video at the top of this Instructables has more detail, and there are tons of resources out there on cutting dovetails.

The basic process is as follows:

Set your marking gauge to the depth of the side the board you're working on will be joined to, then mark a line using your gauge. I usually trace the line with a pencil so it's easier to see.

Next, lay out the width of your tails using dividers. The width is kind of arbitrary, just walk your dividers across the ends of the board in both directions a few times and make adjustments until you're dialed in.

I used the David Barron Dovetail Guide on this build, and it is a huge help in cutting proper dovetails. It uses a magnet to hold your saw on the right path and makes you look like you know what you're doing, hah. Cut the angles down to the baseline then cut away most of the excess using a coping saw.

To finish the tails, use a chisel and cut down to your baseline. Make sure to only go halfway through then flip the board, otherwise the other side can get blown out. Clean up any remaining pieces of wood and you should be good to go!

Step 4: Cut the Pins Portion of Dovetails

With the tails dealt with, you can start cutting the pins. The pins are based on the tails, so all you have to do is trace the tails onto the side of the pin board. I used a marking knife for this. I usually also trace these marks so I can see them more easily.

Using the other side of the dovetail guide, you can cut the pin angles precisely. Again, cut to your baseline, remove the waste with a coping saw, then chisel to your baseline. The sides are angled this time though, so be careful!

When you've got everything cut, try to test fit the joints. If they're too tight, continue paring the inside faces using a chisel until you get a good fit.

Step 5: Shape Long Sides & Drill Hole for Handle

My long sides were all one piece, and I cut them to rough shape using the bandsaw. I drilled a 1" hole using a Forstner bit for the 1" hardwood dowel I used for the handle.

To do the final shaping of the sides, I used a spokeshave, round file, and sandpaper.

Step 6: Sand Inside Faces and Assemble Sides

I sanded all of the inside faces before assembly up to 120 grit.

For assembly, there is a certain order when using dovetails. The parts only fit together one way, so make sure you figure this out before you start adding glue. The wood will swell slightly when you add glue, so you might need to give it a little push to seat fully.

I applied clamps and let the frame dry.

Step 7: Attach Plywood Bottom, Flush Up Edges & Attach Handle

I cut the bottom to size from ¼" plywood, then attached it using brad nails and glue. I flushed up the edges with a block plane and also chamfered the bottom edges.

I glued the handle in and clamped it in place to dry.

Step 8: Organize the Tools

Once your tool tote's basic structure is done, you can trick it out with tool storage. I added a clamp rack, dividers for my hand planes, a hanger for my marking gauge and mallet, and a rack for two hand saws. Get creative!

Step 9: Apply Finish & Admire Your Work!

For finish, I applied one coat of spray shellac and three coats of spray polyurethane. With finish applied, it's done!

I hope you enjoyed this project. If you want to see more woodworking projects like this one, check out my website and YouTube channel!

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    14 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Nice . A bottom on the chisel holders might hide pieces of oil soaked felt at the appropriate length to keep the tips protected. Some under the planes face and others where appropriate work on mine . Just drilled holes with a dash of oil work for my awls and marking knives.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    The tips of the chisels don't go all the way through, they're encased within the rack.Thanks!


    Reply 2 years ago

    My point is put some oily felt in the bottom so the chisel points are kept rust free . The very sharp edge rusts first

    Gadget Man 656

    2 years ago

    Great project. Thanks. Do you have plans for the cabinets in the background that you would share

    1 reply

    The cabinets are part of the Jay Bates Miter Saw Station. I have videos on the build process on my YouTube channel.


    2 years ago

    Excellent craftsmanship. Tool storage is something that is yet to be desired in my shop.

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    I watch the channel weekly and those are much better than my first dive tails. great stuff. thanks for posting

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    I think I'll do that sometimes for my shop. Thank you for sharing :)

    1 reply