Introduction: Handy PVC Tool Tote
There's a set of tools I use for about 95% of my projects. With this set, I can complete the majority of my projects with the addition of power tools. The problem is these tools were being kept in various places and I spent a lot of time walking around my shop to retrieve them. The answer for me was a tool tote made from scrap PVC pipe and PVC board. Lightweight, simple to make and very effective at keeping me organized. I'll show you how to make one too.
Step 1: Materials
There are many different ways to arrange your tools in this tote and you may or may not need all of these materials. You may also find you need other materials to accommodate a specific tool so this list is a bit fluid. Here's what I used:
10" x 4" PVC pipe cut-off
Multiple sizes of PVC pipe including 4", 2", 1 1/2", 1 1/4" and 1".
1/2" PVC board or plywood
Short piece of vinyl fence board
Table saw & dado stack
Miter saw, router, scroll saw, drill press
Forstner bit, flush trim router bit, 1/8" round over router bit
Two #8 wood screws
Silicone or construction adhesive
Step 2: Squaring Up the Big Ring
The 10" PVC cut-off I salvaged was probably cut with a reciprocating saw which is to say both ends were uneven and cut at an angle. If your pipe has ends parallel to each other and square to the side then you can skip this part.
To square up the ends, set your tube on top of a piece of 1/2" plywood slightly larger than the outside diameter of the pipe. Use 4 metal block squares or wooden blocks to keep the sides perpendicular to the base while placing wooden wedges in the gaps along the bottom. When sufficient wedges are in place and the sides are vertical glue the fire out of it with hot glue everywhere. Hot glue on, over and under the pipe and the wedges to hold it secure during trimming.
Step 3: Flush Trim the Base
With the plywood base glued & secured the next step is to trim the plywood base. First trim off the excess plywood using a band saw or jigsaw to reduce the work done by the router bit. Then use a flush trim bit to make the plywood base flush with the outside of the PVC pipe. Essentially what you've accomplished is to make one end temporarily perpendicular to the sides so the pipe can be trimmed. The plywood, wedges and glue will all be trimmed off latter.
Step 4: Trim the Ends
Placing the plywood base against the table saw fence allows the opposite end to be trimmed as the pipe is rotated over the blade. Power tools cut PVC with ease, but caution is in order since you're cutting a round tube. Go slowly and make sure the plywood base is held tightly against the fence as you rotate the pipe. Allowing the pipe to ride laterally into the blade will causing binding and kickback where the blade throws the piece in your direction. Set the blade at the minimum height needed to complete the cut and keep the cutting edge of the blade in the very bottom of the pipe. Cut slowly and steadily as you hold the pipe securely on the table top and against the fence. When one end is cut turn the pipe around and remove the plywood end as well. Now both ends are even and perpendicular to the sides.
Step 5: Create a Dado for PVC Board
3/4" plywood is used for the bottom of the tote. Before cutting it round made a 1/2" wide dado across the center about 3/8" deep to accept the 1/2" PVC board. I used a dado stack on my table saw but a 1/2" router bit could also be used.
Step 6: Cut Your Plywood Base
One way or another you need to cut the plywood base to fit inside the PVC pipe after you mark the inside diameter on your plywood. You could use a circle jig on a band saw, table saw or router table or freehand the cut with a scroll saw or jigsaw. Personally I prefer to freehand the cut on my scroll saw as I find it precise enough and actually faster than setting up a jig. Tilting the saw a couple degrees creates a bevel cut with the bottom edge slightly larger than the pipe's inside diameter. To insert the plywood, place the small side into the pipe and use a rubber mallet to evenly tap it into place. Doing it this way insures a very tight fit which is rather difficult to remove. So much so that you don't need to glue it or secure it with screws most of the time. If you cut a circle with vertical sides then you will need to glue or screw it in place.
Step 7: Round Over the PVC Edges
With the base wedged in place use a 1/8" round over bit to smooth and round the inside and outside of the top edge. This makes it nicer to the touch but isn't completely necessary. Creature comfort;)
Step 8: Fab Your Vertical Center Board
If you have a scrap of PVC board, it works well as the vertical board as it is strong and light. If not 1/2" plywood will work just as well. Cut the width to snuggly fit inside the pipe and down into the dado in the bottom. The height of the board can be varied to accommodate your needs. I made mine 16" tall.
A handle is needed in your board and again you have several options. I made this little handle jig years ago and have found it useful numerous times. The jig is made of 1/2" MDF board and a strip of hardwood on one end. The hardwood strip serves to simplify alignment with the edge of your work piece. To make the jig I cut two holes with a Forstner bit (or hole saw) and then connected them by cutting out the middle using a jigsaw. A file and sandpaper help to smooth the outline of the hole. The same technique can be used to cut the slot directly in the PVC board, but if you have a router this jig will allow you to make the same handle slot over and over.
Using the jig is quick and easy. After marking the location of the handle slot, rough out most of the center with a jigsaw. Double sided carpet tape secures the jig to your workpiece and the cut is finished with a flush trim router bit.
Step 9: Modify Board As Desired
It's easiest to make modifications before you mount the board inside your PVC base. If you plan to recess magnets, a Forstner bit is ideal for creating a flat bottomed hole. The top corners of the board can be left square or rounded as in the pictures. Using an 1/8" round-over bit on all the edges will make the handle much more comfortable to your hands.
Step 10: Install the PVC Board
With all your modifications complete, put a bead of construction adhesive in the dado and insert the board into it. Keeping the PVC board vertical predrill and install 2 #8 panhead screws through the sides and into the board on both sides. If you have some cool caution tape, it can be applied at any time.
Step 11: Gather Up Your Tools
Now the fun begins! Gather the tools you commonly use and would like to fit in your tool tote. It holds a lot more tools than you'd imagine and I had to keep adding more to fill up spaces. The second pic above is almost all the tools in my tool tote. I've since added channel locks, a small pry bar, drill bits & safety glasses. The tool tote and tools weigh only 15 lbs combined.
When possible I tried to group tools according to their use such as marking, drilling, & measuring. After using it a while you'll know exactly where everything is located and when you're missing a tool.
Step 12: Cut Vinyl Fencing for Slots
Keeping the tote as light as possible, vinyl fencing board can be used as slots for longer items. First cut your fencing piece to your desired length and rip it on your table saw. In the pic above you can see where I trimmed a 2 slot wide piece making sure to leave the closed side on the piece to be used. I used a 3 slot & a 2 slot piece and glued them to the PVC board with silicone. These slots are used for my calipers, tri-square and Japanese pull saw.
Step 13: Cut PVC Pipe & Experiment
Cut pieces of various diameters of PVC pipe into which your tools fit - roughly 4" long. For longer tools such as hammers you'll cut longer pieces and for shorter tools shorter pieces. It's a lot of trial and error, but also fun to get creative with it.
A few tips on fitting everything:
1. Sometimes you can use a larger diameter piece of PVC to fit multiple tools which are similar as opposed to each tool having it's own pipe.
2. There are a lot of spaces between pipes which can be used. Note the scissors in front of 3rd pic.
3. Pipes within pipes may work in some cases. I used a 4" PVC piece for my tape measure as it accommodates the belt clip. To fill up the remaining space I simply glue in smaller PVC pipes.
4. Use the vertical board if you have items to hang. I used a screw to hang a ruler, bit diameter guide and a multi-tool.
5. Magnets work great for items you will be using frequently such as my 4" square (above hammer). On the back side of that magnet is a 3/4" rare earth magnet holding drill bits. The attraction of the magnets is all that's holding it in place.
6. Originally I thought I'd need to use the outside of the 10" PVC base for tools but everything fit inside. If you have more tools than fit inside that's certainly an option. For instance if your base is 6" pipe then you could fasten 1" or bigger pipes around the entire circumference of the base.
7. Glue or not glue. The majority of pipes in my tote are not glued. They fit so tightly together that it's not necessary and it allows future rearrangement if needed. Pipes holding taller items such as hammers are glued but the rest are simply fitted tightly in the tote.
Step 14: Enjoy Using Your Tote
Here's a quick video tour of my tote.
Thanks for reading to the end! I hope you found this instructable useful. I look forward to your comments and questions.
Runner Up in the
PVC Contest 2017