Introduction: Laser Cut Machinist Toolbox
Last year, I started acquiring more precision measuring tools and decided to build a toolbox to safely store everything. Due to time constraints I decided to go ahead and laser cut the parts. These instructions are for a very sturdy 9 compartment tool box. The drawers are designed to lock into the toolbox so they cannot be accidentally pulled out, spilling potentially expensive tools. A drawer lock can be added to lock both the upper compartment and seal the drawers in place. This toolbox has so far stood up to a year of abuse as it is carted between my apartment and the local maker space.
The files can also be found at Thingiverse.
Step 1: Materials
2 sheets of 5 x 5 ft, 1/4 inch thick baltic birch
1 sheet of 12 x 15 inch, 1/16 inch thick baltic birch
Satin polyurethane varnish
1 x Piano hinge 1-1/16-in X 30-in Brass
Drawer lining - Michaels 12x18inch foam sheet
Step 2: A Few Notes About the Design
The toolbox is designed to have double layered walls for better protection. While everything is made from 1/4 inch baltic birch, all of the exterior walls are 2 layers thick. This allows me to easily add a dust lip to the upper compartment and include the front wall to hold all of the drawers in during transport. I will refer to the inner layer that holds all of the drawers as the inner casing and the outer layer that will ultimately be finished with urethane as the outer casing.
Also, be sure to take a look at the notes embedded in the photos. Nearly every photo has a few notes to help makers. They should really help with understanding glue up and assembly.
Step 3: Cut Everything Out
The linked files contain all of the wood parts for the toolbox as both illustrator *.ai files and *.dxf files. All wood parts are cut from 1/4 inch baltic birch. Everything here was cut using a 150W GWeike LC6090 laser cutter at Hack Pittsburgh. I used 80% power at 10mm/s. I lightly sanded everything using 220 grit sand paper on a random orbit sander. I only sanded the front and back surfaces of each panel. A little bit of attention to sanding here goes a long way in making sure the drawers slide smoothly. Make sure you sand all of the inner case parts and all of the drawer parts.
Step 4: Inner Case Assembly
We can first assemble the inner case. Start by test fitting everything to make sure you know all the parts fit and you are familiar with the assembly. Depending on what type of glue you use, this part may have to be done fairly quickly. I just used some Tightbond III that I had left over from another project. You do not need much glue to hold the parts together. You only need a small dot of glue on each tooth. Excess glue will just give you a harder time cleaning things up later on. First assemble the upper two shelves that house the three smaller drawers. Glue the dividers to the shelves and then glue the assembly to the inner case back panel. Then, attach the 3 remaining shelf sections to the back panel. You can then attach the side panels for the inner case. It is easiest to do this if the the glue for all of the shelves is still wet or at least flexible. Finally, you can add the bottom inner case panel and the front panel that stretches across the top of the inner casing (this forms the front of the upper compartment). Be sure to have plenty of clamps on hand to hold all of the parts together while they dry. I stocked up pretty extensively at harbor freight prior to this project.
Make sure you remove any excess glue around the inside of the joints before proceeding. Any bumps of dried glue will make it difficult if not impossible to insert the drawers later on. It is easiest to do this while the glue is still soft. I would usually just scrape the glue off with a spare chisel or file it down with a square file.
Resand the exterior to remove any excess glue on the outside of the case and make sure all of the teeth are flush with the outer surface of the case. This is so that nothing interferes when we assemble the exterior casing around the interior case.
Step 5: Assemble the Drawers
The drawers are pretty self explanatory. Sand all of the exterior surfaces of the box so that they can be smoothly inserted into the inner casing. Note that one of the back panels in each drawer very small holes ~1mm wide. The small drawers have 1 hole while the large drawers have 2 holes. The holes mark where to attach the locking mechanisms. The circular mechanisms are cut out of the inner casing back panel to save materials. The locking mechanisms hold the drawers in the toolbox so that you don't accidentally pull the drawer completely out and spill your tools. Drive a small screw (#4 x 1/2 inch) through the back of the drawer into the locking mechanism. Rotate the screw to loosen it so that you can easily rotate the locking mechanism from the horizontal unlocked position to the vertical locked position. This allows you to easily lock a drawer into the toolbox without having to disassemble anything. The attached video shows how the drawers are locked into the inner casing.
Step 6: Assemble the Lid
Assemble the inner casing lid and let it dry. Next you can build the outer lid around the inner lid. Test fit everything and have the parts laid out for easy glue up and rapid assembly. Assemble the outer lid around the inner lid. Apply glue to the inner lid faces so that both layers are solidly attached. If you are not very fast with glue up and assembly, go with a slower setting glue so that you are not rushed. The dust lip of the lid should readily slip over the inner casing. I slid the lid over the inner casing after clamping the two layers so that I was certain the lid fit without requiring additional shaping for a good fit.
Step 7: Assemble the Outer Casing
The outer casing glued around the inner case. Glue up the back and sides of the outer case while also applying glue to the inner case. Note that the outer case is taller than the inner case. The extra space at the bottom is a storage space for the front panel. In order to set the height for the inner case, attach the lid and make sure the inner and outer casings are seated to the lid.
There are two panels in the base. The inner panel has a long hole that locks the front panel in place. Glue the inner panel to the outer panel and quickly glue the assembly to the inner/outer case assembly.
Once everything is dry, fit the drawers in place. Sand the sides as needed so they slide smoothly. Finish by sanding the front so that all of the drawers and shelves are smooth and even.
Step 8: Assemble the Front Panel.
First, put the inner front panel in place and use the holes as a marking guide to fit your drawer knobs. I used jewelry box knobs from Rocker. However, this was far more expensive than it should have been. Next, Glue up the two front panel pieces. You can fit them into the case so that everything is aligned. Carefully remove the front panel and clamp as needed.
Once the glue is dry, adjust the panel fit by sanding the sides. It also helps to either sand or use a plane to round off the panel's bottom lip. Rounding off the the bottom lip makes it far easier to insert the front panel when locking up the toolbox.
After assembly, I found that the knobs where a little too long and prevented the front panel from laying flat against the drawers. I had to carve out the knob recesses so that everything would fit.
Now that all of the parts are assembled, give the exterior a nice sanding.
Step 9: Attach the Hardware and Finish the Exterior
I used piano hinge for the lid. The hinge is too long as purchased, but was cut to size with a dremel. A lid support was also added. The lid handle was a spare handle from a Fender amp. 4 clasps were added to the lid. This may be a bit overkill and only may only need 2 on the front. Note: Another user pointed out that just two clasps on the front could lead to failure if the box is weighted down by heavy tools. The front panel could be potentially pulled out of place by the lid when you lift with the lid handle. I've tested this with approx. 10lbs and did not have problems, but if you are going to weigh the box down with heavy tools, go ahead and use 4 clasps on the lid. The side handles are attached with short screws so that they do not interfere with the drawers. If the screw extends into the drawer space, grind away the extra screw using a dremel tool. Brass corners were added to the box to protect the bottom and corners. The lock is a desk drawer lock. I bent the locking arm so that it catches the lock clip screwed to the interior of the upper compartment. Finally, because you never know when you need it, I added a bottle opener and embedded a small magnet to catch the bottle caps. After adding all these pieces, go ahead and remove them so you can finish the box.
I applied 4 coats of a satin polyurethane varnish. Allow the varnish to fully dry between coats and give a light sanding with 220 grit sand paper. Varnish was only applied to the outside of the toolbox. All interior surfaces were left completely unfinished.
I laser cut a sheet of 1/16 inch thick baltic birch to lay in the upper compartment. This will cover the holes from drawer mechanisms. You can use any thickness you like, but I would not go over 1/8 inch. I did not glue this piece in place in case I ever need to gain access to the drawer mechanisms.
Reassemble everything and figure out what you are going to put in it.
Step 10: Optional: Foam Cutting
NOTE: The foam used in machinist tool boxes is a rather contentious topic. The main worry is that the foam will out gas unknown compounds that will cause your tools to rust. In this case I decided to use closed cell foam mats from Harbor Freight and foam craft sheets from Michaels. I have kept a very close eye of my tools and have not noticed any rust or issues since I built the toolbox approx. 1 year ago. Keep in mind that this is just a sample size of 1 and use your own judgement.
Update: I checked more into the foam and it is neoprene. This stuff can potentially generate chlorine gas when it is cut so I do not recommend using it. Instead, use either foam rubber or specially laser cutter safe foam.
At this point, hopefully you have figured out what tools you want to add and where. Each drawer was lined with green craft foam cut on the laser cutter. Keep in mind that cutting foam on a laser cutter is a greater fire hazard and use caution.
I started designing the tool layout by taking photo of the tools in place along with a ruler for scale. Use your layout software of choice e.g. Autocad, Illustrator, etc. to start laying out the foam cutouts. I refined the cutouts shapes by tracing some of the tools and taking scans. 3/4 inch wide half circles are added around each tool to make it easier to grab each tool. The upper compartment uses multiple layers so each tool is kept at an even height. Note that spaces were cut for both the lid support and the lock.