Introduction: How to Make a Tool Cabinet Workbench Using Reclaimed Wood for Under 100$ - Part 1: the Tool Cabinet
Hi, in this tutorial I will explain how to make a tool cabinet workbench using reclaimed wood from wood pallets and a few other materials for under 100$. The reclaimed wood I used is softwoods like spruce and cedar wich is not the best for a working surface as it will scratch and dent a lot more than hardwoods but with an hevy coat of varnish it should stay ok for a while. And its a workbench anyway, its normal for it to be beaten up, it gives it character!
The tool cabinet workbench will be made of two seperated modules, each on wheels: the tool cabinet part and the table part. The tool cabinet is approximately 2 feets by 2 feets with an height of 4 feets. The table will be 2 feets by 4 feets. The tutorial will be separated in two parts, one for each module.
Things you'll need:
- Miter saw
- Table saw
- Straps *
- Belt sander
- Wood glue
- Wood pallets (quantity ranging from 4 to 10 depending on multiple factors)
- MDF/plywood sheets
- Drawer slides
- Furring strip board
Disclaimer: This is one of my first large build and my first tutorial so there will probably be a few unoptimized steps and mistakes made along the way. Take this more as a documentation of my building project more than as a tutorial to follow to make the perfect tool cabinet worbench (because let's face it, its far from perfect)
Disclaimer #2: I'm French Canadian so there might be a few english mistakes here and there, sorry in advance!
Step 1: Plan Out What You Want Your Tool Cabinet Workbench to Look Like.
For me anyway, this is one of the most fun steps of any project. Thinking about it, designing it, drawing it out. When I'm out and about and I think of a new project I will usually use a drawing app on my phone to draw a quick scetch of what I might be thinking about. But when I get home and the time comes to really plan it out, I usually gor for the good old pencil and paper. I will draw some views of it, explain how some parts will work and think about the base measurments of the thing. If you really want to you can even use a 3D drawing software to really go all in in the planification phase but I usually like to leave me some wiggle room to change some functionnalities of my project and making a 3D drawing is too much of a commitment to change the design along the way for me.
Well anyway, I went with a design of tool cabinet workbench wich consists of two separated modules. The first one is a 2x2x4 feets tool cabinet on wheels with 4 drawers ranging in size from 5 inches deep to 14 inches deep. Two five inches on the top, an height inches and finally the big 14 inches. The second module is a table with a shelf wich will be expended on in the second part of the tutorial.
TL;DR: Decide on the shape and dimensions of your tool cabinet workbench.
Step 2: Find Free Wood Pallets Online
Go on local classified advertisements website and search for people that are donating wood pallets. I found mine at an hardwood floor manufacturer which was giving away tons of pallets and (luckily) I even found a few MDF sheets in there that they were giving away too. Once again I will say that if you can find hardwoods it would be a lot better as a working surface, but softwoods treated with a good coat of varnish will do. The pallets I found were in majority made of spruce and cedar.
You'll of course need a pretty large vehicule to bring them back. A pickup truck or simply a trailer will do. I had a pickup truck.
The quantity of pallets you will need will depend on a lot of factors: the quality of the wood, the size of the surface you want to make, the thickness of the surface you want to make and the nitpickingness with which you will choose your boards. Anyway, I went with about ten pallets, and I ended up with quite a lot of surplus, which was nice because I could discard a lot of boards that were bent or that contained too many imperfections.
Once you bring them back, you will want to organize them by type of wood and thickness of the boards, it will come important later.
TL;DR: Find old wood pallets for free if you can.
Step 3: Take Apart the Pallets
At this point you have two choices: you can either take apart the boards of the pallets and remove all the nails and end up with 30-40 inches segments or you can simply cut them between where they are nailed and end up with 12 to 16 inches segments. I decided to cut them as I didn't see the nail pulling process being very enjoyable.
So I first used a jigsaw to cut the boards as close as possible to where they are nailed. In the end it took about 1 to 2 hours and I needed to change my battery twice. You will want to keep them organised as they were before as to not mix different type of woods and thickness together.
I then took the resulting boards and cut the ends straight with a miter saw. Don't look at the length of the boards, you will want them to be of all different length as it will look better (in my opinion) if the lengths are random.
TL;DR: Cut the boards of the pallets and cut their ends straight.
Step 4: Slice Your Boards to Their Final Dimensions
At this point you should have neet little stacks of all different kinds of boards. You will now need to decide the thickness you want for your working surface. Be aware, it will end up quite heavy so I wouldn't recommend choosing a thickness of more than two inches. I went with 1.5 inches for mine as it gave me the chance to make two usable boards for the majority of the segments that I had.
Using a table saw, you will need to cut all your boards to the desired thickness. Be very carefull for your fingers!! I would recommend a pushing stick to keep your fingers away from that blade. Once again try to keep the boards of the same thickness together. I ended up with quite a lot of pieces at this point.
TL;DR: Cut your boards to bring their width down to the desired thickness of your working surface.
Step 5: Glue Everything Together
The nice part: putting it together! It's here that keeping the boards of the same thickness together will come usefull, as you will make rows using the same type of boards to keep everything even and minimize the amount of gap that you will need to fill up later.
At this point I would recommend glueing four or five rows at the time. Well, I choose this amount because a few of my clamps didn't extend more than 6 inches. Don't be afraid to discard boards that are to bent or that have to many imperfections. It is ok if you didn't cut your board exactly to the same thickness on the table saw earlier, as only one side will show. Be aware as you're gluing them that this side will be the one on the floor as gravity will force it to be more or less even. You can use a rubber hammer as you are clamping your rows to make sure all the boards are flat on the ground. Make your rows longer then the length that you want your tool cabinet workbench to be and try to not align the separtion between two boards in two subsequent rows otherwise it will compromise the structure of your surface. We will cut the exceeding parts later.
Be mindful of the gaps you can create by using not exactly the same thickness of boards. It's ok to have some but try to keep it to a minimum. It's also here that you can choose the look of the working surface of your tool cabinet workbench. I would recommend to try to alternate between types of wood but to try to keep some randomness in there to make it look more "organic".
Once your staisfied with the total width of your surface, you will need to glue the sections together. I proceeded to glue two halves of the surface at the time using my larget clamps. Make sure to wait a while for the glue to really dry as you don't want to screw up at this point.
Finally, to glue the two halves together I had to use straps as my longest clamps were too short by maybe 2 inches wich was unfortunate. The straps ended up working quite well but it tended to make the thing curve upwards so I had to put a lot weight on the sides as it was drying to keep it straight. I used heavy tools that I had around.
TL;DR: Make rows out of your boards, glue your rows together in small sections and glue the sections together.
Step 6: Filling the Gaps (literally)
Now that everything has dried for a day or two, turn that thing upside down and look at what you have accomplished so far! Well, with the glue spots it might look quite weird but we will remedy that soon. Inevitably, there will be gaps in some places between boards. Don't panic, we will simply fill them.
A good way to fill these gaps is to mix glue with sawdust to make it less liquid and more pasty, and apply that glue paste in the gaps. It will dry and settle in these little nooks and crannies.
For larger holes, you can even put little pieces of wood in there as filler and apply the same glue paste here.
In my case at some point I used the sawdust from my belt sander, whick I forgot was recently used to sand steel. The paste turned black when drying wich ended up looking quite good so I didn't sweat it.
At this point your surface will look like a glue mess, which brings us to the next step.
TL;DR: Use glue and sawdust to fill the gaps between the boards.
Step 7: Sanding It Down, Cleaning It Up
You will now even the surface out using a portable b sander. Take your time and use an heavy grit of about 80. I ended up going through 3 belts before I was satisfied.
You can then go up in sand grit to 120 and as high as you want it to be. I stopped at 120, because I quite liked the rough look. This step was quite long, I ended up sanding for about 3 hours.
Make sure to use a proper respirator, as sawdust is very bad for your lungs, and you will probably produce quite a lot in the process.
You can now cut your edges to the final length of your tool cabinet worbench. I used a circular saw to cut mine.
TL;DR: Sand the surface to desired smoothness and cut the extruding ends off.
Step 8: Varnishing the Working Surface and Cutting It
I chose to put a floor varnish on the wood to give it a bit of protection and to give it a good look. You can use other type of wood protection if you want or even simply oil it to give it some shine and make those colors pop, its really a question of taste at this point.
I made about 4 layers of that 32oz can and used it all. Im quite happy with how it turned out in the end, not too glossy but not too rough either.
After my first layer I made my cut at 2 feet to split my surface into my two modules. I made sure to varnish the sides to give it an even look.
Let it dry once again for one or two days to really let it harden. Your working surface is now done!!!
TL;DR: Treat your surface with oil, varnish or any protrctive coating you want to give it, and cut it down to the dimensions you chose.
Step 9: Building the Tool Cabinet Frame
It is now time to start working on the tool cabinet itself. I was lucky enough to get a few MDF and plywood sheets given to me with my pallets. I used 1/2 inch thick sheets for the sides and 1/4 for the back and I used 1 inch plywood for the bottom, which gave good weight to the tool cabinet and lower its center of gravity. This will prevent it from tipping forward when an heavy drawer might be opened all the way.
Start by cutting your 3 sides and the bottom using a table saw.
I used furring strips of 1x3 lumber to make the frame of the tool cabinet. Cut the strips to fit the outline of the two sides and to make reinforcement for the slides of your drawers. Make space for two strips to go a the top of the toolbox which you will use to screw your working surfsce on top.
Once the strips are cut, glue them to the sides and screw them. You can also screw the drawer slides in place.
TL;DR: Cut your sides and bottom and glue and screw your frame reinforcement to the sides.
Step 10: Assemble the Tool Cabinet Frame
We will now assemble the frame of the tool cabinet. This step is pretty straight forward. You simply take your 3 sides, your bottom side and your two top strips and screw together the resulting box.
Make sure to drill a hole before screwing otherwise the MDF and strips might split.
You can now screw the working surface from the bottom using the top strips placed on top. The bottom of your working surface might be uneven depending on how well you cut your boards earlier but by screwing it this way it wont matter too much.
TL;DR: Assemble and screw all the sides together, and the screw your working surface.
Step 11: Make Your Drawers
Your tool cabinet is now starting to look like something, but there is still an important step: the drawers. To do this I had some 1/4 and 3/8 MDF sheets left. To make it heavy duty enough I glued two 1/4 sheets for some of my sides or simply used 3/8. For my bottoms I used 1/4 for my two 5 inch drawers and 3/8 for my 8 and 14 inch ones.
To leave enough space for your drawers to move and open, you will want to make the sides 1 inch smaller than the size you want the drawer to take in your tool cabinet. That is to say that your 5 inch drawer might have 4 inches sides plus the bottom thickness that makes about 4 1/4 inch high.
I started by gluing the sides and bottom together using clamps and then drilled and screwed each side to make it really solid. My drawers ended up quite heavy, I might have went a bit overkill on the heavy duty side but thats ok.
For the slides, I put them in the middle of where I want my front panel of the drawers to be. That means that for my five inch drawer, I screwed the slide at 2 1/2 inch from the bottom even if the height of the actual sides are only 4 1/4 inch high.
I placed the drawer in the toolbox holding it in place to see where to screw the slide so that the actual drawer comes flush with the front of the tool cabinet. That means that when I put my front panels on the drawers they come and sits on the front.
TL;DR: Cut your MDF, glue and screw it to makes your drawers. Fix your slides so that it is centered for each drawer.
Step 12: *Optional* Make a Stencil to Stylize Your Front Pannel
I chose to put the Dewalt logo on my bottom front panel because I'm quite fond of their tools. To do the logo, I printed it and then drew 2cm squares on it. I then took an old piece of 1/8 tick plastic sheet that I had and drew 1inch square on it to scale the print up a bit.
I then copied the content of each square to make the dewalt logo using a permanent marker. Make sure to leave a strip of material for each letter that has a center part in it like the D, this will hold the stencil together.
The next step is too cut out each letter using an xacto knife. This might be very long depending on the thickness of your stencil. It took me about 2 hours.
Once every letter is cut out, you can use duct tape to fix where the plastic might have failed and your stencil is now done.
To use it, paint your panel entirely in your background color. Let it.dry, and then paint over your stencil holding it as close as possible to the surface. If the stencil lift in places the letters underneath will look blurry.
TL;DR: Make a stencil out of plastic and use it to stylize your front panels.
Step 13: Finish Your Front Panels and Screw Them
It is now time to make the last part of the tool cabinet: the front panels. To do so I used a 3/4 inch plywood that came with the pallets.
The front panels need to come out to the left and right of the drawer to come flush to the sides of the toolbox. It also needs to come out at the top to about 1/4 inch from the bottom of the drawer on top of it. This means that your front panels will make an even front side for your tool cabinet.
To open and close the drawers you can use drawer knobs or handles. I chose to put metal bars in a u shape that i painted yellow and cut to the width of the too cabinet and screwed to the front panels. I find handles to sometimes get in the way when you work in front of the toolbox.
Once your panels shape is done you can paint them if you want, and even use the stencil that you made previously to stylize them.
After that you can screw and glue the panel. Make sure to put your screws from the inside so that they are not visible from the outside. This will be more esthetically pleasing.
TL;DR: Make and paint your frint panels. Put handles or any other way to open the drawers on them. Screw them on the front of the drawers.
Step 14: Enjoy Your Brand New Homemade Tool Cabinet
This is it, the tool cabinet part of the tool cabinet workbench is done!! The table will be pretty straight forward but it will have to wait for me to move to my new place in a few months because I don't have the space for it right now. I also still have to paint the outline of the sides yellow.
If you have any tips for how to improve this build or if you made one yourself, I would like to have your feedback and see what you ended up with!
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