For a while now, I had been coveting one of those lovely small walnut jeweler's toolboxes with all the drawers, such as this one, but HolyCow, They're Expensive! I just couldn't justify spending that kind of money on something I wasn't even sure I had a use for. But I still wanted one. Lacking a rich uncle that I could hint to for Christmas, I shelved the idea. Then, I stumbled across the local Makerspace and their laser cutter.
You've probably heard the old saying, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Well, when you suddenly gain access to a laser, everything starts to look like a laser project! A small voice in my head started saying, "Make yourself a toolbox, you dummy!" Now one should always be cautious about listening to voices, but in this case it sounded like a good idea.
This box is now available as a kit in my Etsy shop!
Step 1: Design
When I first started using our local laser cutter, I was introduced to Adobe Illustrator, and I immediately Hated it. The big software companies like to justify the price of their offerings by throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the program, 90% of which nobody ever uses or even knows about. They also seem to specialize in "User-Unfriendly" interfaces.
I had dabbled a little with Inkscape (Which doesn't cost $#X# and is actually Free!), and it didn't take me long to
- Like it, a lot! and
- Realize that I could feed jobs to the laser using Inkscape instead of Illustrator! Happy Day!
I was even more pleased when I discovered that there is a "Box-maker" plug-in for Inkscape that speeds up designing boxes for laser cutters. Obviously, based on the above, this design was done in Inkscape.
The box uses tab-and-slot construction, has an overall assembled size of 8"W X 6"D X 7"H, and uses 1/8" plywood, plus a scrap of 1/4" plywood. The only thing not laser-cut is the handle, which I made from a piece of brass rod. It could probably be scaled up to double size for 1/4" plywood, but I haven't tried that.
I decided on 5 drawers, plus a top compartment with a hinged lid. This is a perfect size for small tools, such as jeweler's or model maker's tools. It's also great as a jewelry box!
The basic design is in 2 files, because our laser cutter (a Trotec 300) has a cutting bed that is 17" by 27", and all the parts won't fit on one piece. The handle parts are a separate file. You may need to move stuff around if your cutting bed is larger or smaller. The svg files can be opened directly in Inkscape or Illustrator. If you open them in Illustrator, check the sizes carefully! The versions of these programs I'm using cause the size to be exactly 25% larger when opened in Illustrator. I have to scale them to 80% to get the size right. To be safe, at least open them first in Inkscape to see what size they should be. (Inkscape can also save files in pdf format, which can be very helpful.)
The 2 colors in the design are both cutting lines. The red lines are inside cuts that should be made first, if your cutter has that capability, then the blue lines are cut second.
Pilot holes for the screws are not included in the design files, because your hardware will probably be different from mine.
Step 2: Bill of Materials
For this project, you will need:
- 1/8" plywood, roughly 5-6 square feet of it. Exact dimensions will depend on your laser cutter.
- A scrap of 1/4" plywood for the handle mounts. You may also need some to back up the hinge and latch screws on the inside.
- 2 small hinges in the 1" range, and their screws.
- 2 small draw latches such as these from eBay, and their screws.
- Screws for the handle. I used 4-40 screws, washers, and T-nuts.
- Roughly 6-7 inches of 1/8" brass rod for the handle.
Tools and supplies needed:
- Wood or white glue.
- Sandpaper. (I recommend also having a few emery boards handy- They're great for sanding out the notches!)
- Tape or clamps (Optional, but very helpful).
- Wood mallet or block of wood to "tap" parts into place (Optional)
- Drill with 1/16" and 1/8" bits.
- Pliers or a vise for bending the brass rod.
- Finishing supplies (Stain, varnish, etc. Optional).
Step 3: Put It Together
Once you've got all your parts cut out, It's time to start assembly. Refer to the attached parts diagram for this step.
1. Test fit all parts before gluing! The main body parts will have a very snug fit. File or sand the slots and/or tabs just enough to fit. Emery boards work very well for this.
2. Slot the center shelf and the shelf divider together to form a "cross." The front edges should be even.
3. Install the 3 shelves onto the back, paying attention to shelf position. Remember the shelf with the tabs on the front is the top shelf. You may want to get a scrap of wood to use as a mallet to make sure all slots and tabs are seated.
4. Install the 2 sides, making sure all the tabs "bottom out" in their slots. The tops and fronts of the sides are smooth. Let dry, making sure the center shelf divider is perfectly square and centered on both top and bottom shelves and the entire assembly is square. Temporarily fitting the bottom at this point will ensure squareness. Let dry.
5. Install the front. The top of the front is smooth, the slots fit into the slots in the top shelf, and the sides should be even.
6. Install the bottom. Let dry. The body is now complete. Pat yourself on the back, the rest is easier.
The "Slotted Top" and "Wood Handle" are alternate files for an all-wood top handle.
Step 4: Make the Drawers
Make the 5 drawers. These are just simple boxes. These do not fit together as snugly; you may want some masking tape to hold the joints while the glue dries. Assembling the drawers upside down and placing a heavy book on top is an option.
Make the drawer handles by gluing the "Cross-shaped" part into the slot in the oval part, then glue into the slot in drawer front.
Assemble the lid the same way you made the drawers.
Step 5: Make the Handle
Bend a 6-7" piece of 1/8" brass rod into a handle as shown. The dimensions are not critical; I have small hands so my handle is small. My dimensions are roughly 3 1/2" x 1", with a 1/2" bend on each end to go into the retainers.
Assemble the 2 handle retainers by fitting the 1/4" piece with one round hole through the oval part with the small slot. Let dry. Fit the oval part with the large slot onto the bottom of this assembly, making sure the screw holes line up. You should wind up with a 1/4" thick (2 layers) part with the handle retainer protruding from the middle of it.
Alternate wood handle: If you used the slotted version of the lid top, The 2 handle retainers (small 1/4" thick pieces with one hole) are glued into the lid from the underside and the handle is slipped between them before the glue dries. Make sure the retainers are square and up against the underside as the glue dries.
Step 6: Finishing Up
Finish to taste, drill 1/16" pilot holes for hinge and latch screws, install hinges and latches.
Insert handle into handle retainers, drill 1/8" holes in lid, install handle.
Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a beautiful mini toolbox! It's just as good, and almost as pretty, as a Gerstner, you handcrafted it yourself, and for a fraction of the price!
- I found a slight annoyance; the latches, when open, hang down far enough to interfere with the top drawers.
- Tiny magnets could be used on the back panel and backs of drawers to latch the drawers closed; this will make the box easier to transport.
- The design allows for putting a strap around the middle of the box to hold the drawers and lid closed. I decided on the magnet approach instead.