Small Tool Chest

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I have a few tools which I use for making electronics, but nowhere to store them. The result is an inability to find something in a hurry, and an occasional pained foot from standing on the things.

There are commercial tool chests available, but they are either too large or too flimsy. I also wanted something which would be the right size to integrate with other projects, and could be stacked.

Step 1: Cut Boards to Size

I wanted the finished chest to be 29cmX34cmX27cm (11 1/2X13 1/2X10 1/2 inches).

Cutting pieces with a hand-held circular-saw means that it can be quite difficult to get exact duplicates, even using a setting jig.

For accuracy (which in this instance means repeatability), the chest carcass would be made with top and bottom panels covering the full area, and uprights (sides and front/back) cut from one strip of ply.

The height of the piece was set out for the cut (minus twice the thickness to allow for the top and bottom) and then a strip of ply that wide was cut from a board offcut. Using the same setup jigs, a second strip was cut to provide enough material.

To precisely duplicate the length of the pieces cut, the two strips were stacked and clamped together, and the saw cut depth was increased so that the pieces could be cut at the same time.

Step 2: Prepare Interior and Fit Drawer Runners

The inside of the carcass would not be very visible in use, so there was no need to finish it to a high standard. At the same time, it couldn't be left as raw plywood because that would still be quite noticeable.

The drawer runners which I used were a bit awkward to fix, and had to be fitted to the carcass before the drawer, so I decided to stain most of the interior surface and fit the runners before assembling the carcass. The edges of the pieces of ply were avoided to prevent the stain getting onto the surfaces which would be used for gluing, leaving a thin strip which would need to be stained after assembly.

Step 3: Assemble Carcass

The sides and rear of the carcass were glued and screwed to the base and top, and a rail of 25mmX25mm (1"x1") softwood was glued around the periphery of the top. This was done to cover the screw holes and to the case to be stacked.

Step 4: Sand and Stain

Once the glue had all cured, the outside of the carcass was sanded down to 120 grit and then several coats of stain were applied, with 120 grit paper between coats.

The raw areas on the inside of the carcass were stained at this point as well.

Step 5: Carrying Handle

I found these handles on sale at a local store and bought one hundred of them (seriously at 10c each how could I not).

They are presumably intended as drawer handles, but they are robust enough to hold the weight of this chest. The handle is intended to allow the tool chest to be lifted from storage to workbench, so the fact that it would not be comfortable for an extended carry is not really a problem.

Cutting down the mounting bolt to length was a pain, but I have since encountered this 'Ible which seems like a great idea.

The stacking rail around the edge of the case is just slightly higher than the handle, so boxes can be stacked on top of the chest without damaging the handle or being unstable.

Step 6: Building the Drawers

The width of the drawers was measured from the inside of the runners and some thin ply was cut to form the bases.

The same ply used in the carcass formed the sides and back of the drawers. The back of the drawer was screwed and glued to the base, and the sides were glued and screwed to the base and the back.

One the glue had cured, a test fit of the drawers onto the runners was tried.

Step 7: Drawer Fronts

The piece ply which would have been the perfectly fitted front panel for the carcass was cut into pieces for the drawer fronts, and the saw kerf (plus a bit of sanding) left the pieces with just the right amount of clearance.

To keep the front looking clean, the drawer fronts were held in place with glue only.

Step 8: Drawer Handles

After staining the drawers, the problem of handles had to be addressed. The cabinet was designed to fit into a very confined space, so the handles could not protrude at all.

I had seen a small cabinet for holding jewellery, which had been built into a small wall-safe, and that had used scraps of ribbon as handles. They would allow the drawer to be pulled, but not add any thickness to the piece.

I used short lengths of ribbon and scraps of hardwood. The ribbon was held temporarily on the hardwood with double-sided tape and then rolled over a couple of times to give a proper grip. The hardwood was then screwed to the inside of the drawer front so that the ribbon poked through the narrow gap at the top.

Step 9: Cover All Your Bases

Since the case will be quite heavy, and will be sitting on tables while it is in use, I applied a layer of self-adhesive felt to the underside. A darker colour would be better than white, but white is what I had.

The last two photographs show the chest, and an associated storage for my soldering iron, and then shows them both stowed in a rolling holder, ready for more to be piled on top.

Step 10: And for My Next Trick

Like previousprojects, this was made with extremely cheap, reject-grade, plywood. This is pretty poor stuff, and bends a lot in storage, where "storage" may be as short as a week. The consequences of this are that when two pieces were clamped together for cutting (as in the first step) they were very keen to spring apart. That resulted in the tearing visible at the top of the drawer fronts, and also required the variety of clamping going on in the two photographs above. Seriously, spring for decent quality plywood.

The drawer handles were a spur-of-the-moment design, and in terms of providing a function they are fine. I will certainly use the technique again, but perhaps with modifications. The cheap ribbon which I used seems to distort and catch on fingernails very easily, so a natural fabric, such as cotton bias tape is a much better idea. If you know a lawyer, then get your hands on some proper "red tape."

The drawer runners were awkward. I used ones almost as long as the depth of the carcass. I now realise that shorter ones would actually have allowed the drawers to open further. I may replace them in the future, but for now this tool chest does a pretty good job of holding my electronics tools.

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    2 Discussions

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    jessyratfink

    9 months ago

    This tool chest is lovely, but man that rolling cart looks like it's going to be something else! What a wonderful idea :D

    1 reply
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    Alex in NZjessyratfink

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thank you very much. And just to increase the suspense, the rolling cart is only a part of it :-)