Tag-Archive for ◊ a practical tool cabinet series ◊

• Sunday, January 29th, 2012

There are lots of ways to store hand tools. Among these are drawers and cabinets under the workbench, open shelves and pegboard systems, a large lidded joiner’s chest, Gerstner-style chests, steel mechanic’s chests, and wall cabinets. Some woodworkers may even feel comfortable with their tools simply scattered about the shop and constantly shifting places.

Why store your tools in an enclosed unit? Tools work best when they are kept free of debris and rust. An ordered, safe place for tools improves your efficiency. In short, your tools are valuable and deserve their own place.

This series has described my approach; it works for me. It is neither perfect nor original, but it does have a solid rationale and will hopefully be useful for ideas as readers make or alter their own set ups.

Here is a summary of the underlying concepts in this tool cabinet.

1. Space economy:

  • Small footprint; use of airspace (For me, this is the biggest advantage of this design.)
  • Outer surfaces, top, and stand are put to use
  • Efficient use of room inside the cabinet

2. Accessibility and convenience:

  • Majority of tools can be reached directly without shifting other tools out of the way
  • Little or no bending
  • The cabinet is placed next to the workbench
  • Wide-open presentation of the tools provides mental access to them
  • No need to use separate saw guards and tool sheaths

3. Flexibility:

  • Layout is easily changed as tools are added or retired
  • Generally logical storage
  • Storage conflicts are resolved based on the frequency of use and protection required by the tool 

4. Practical:

  • Simple, undandified aesthetic
  • Simple construction
  • Inexpensive
  • Durable

This tool cabinet with its many features substantially adds to my ease and clarity in the shop. Most important is to set up your tool cabinet and your shop to suit, to the extent possible, how you prefer to work. In this way your environment contributes to your ease and efficiency, and ultimately, to the quality and joy of your work.

• Thursday, January 26th, 2012

The six drawers are very simply constructed. Half-inch poplar 5-ply is used for the front, sides, and back, and 1/4″ maple-faced plywood for the bottom. The sides and bottom are glued and screwed into rabbets in the front piece. The back is butt-jointed to the sides. The bottom extends out from the sides and is screwed to the sides and back from underneath.

The bottom runs, with a little paraffin, in 1/4″ x 1/4″ dadoes in the cabinet side and the center partition. The piano hinges get in the way of the dado but no problem, just hacksaw out tiny squares in the hinge to clear the way. The drawers have not failed in 25 years. 

Let’s take a look inside.

The upper right drawer contains small planes, layout tools, and coping and fret saw blades. Notice the compartments on each side for plane blades, pairs of which are stored with their beveled faces together. The bottom of the drawer is lined with Zerust material, a soft rubbery mesh which emits harmless corrosion-inhibiting vapor. This material is grippy like a router mat and so prevents tools from shifting, bumping, and rattling when the drawer is open and closed. It lines all the drawers.

Next below, the rasp drawer is the most engineered of the group. 1/8th-inch MDF slats are held in the slots of stick-on plastic divider holders. The spaces so constructed are wide at one end and narrow at the other to make maximum use of the room in the drawer. The divisions can easily be rearranged and, of course, have been many times. 

Next below is the most jumbled drawer containing machine accessories such as wrenches, tiny parts, router template bushings, and so forth. The top drawer contains sets of coping and fret saw blades (hand tools) in plastic tubes, but this drawer has power jig saw blades in the same type of tubes. This is an example of my preference to group tools by general class, when practical.  

The three drawers on the left side also each contain logically grouped tools. The top left drawer has metal files, small diamond hones, metal cutters, and so forth, while the drawer below it has adjustable Starrett squares and other layout tools, and below that are drilling accessories.

The storage – divided or free-form – is appropriate to the tools. Thus, spanner wrenches get jumbled together, tiny shims get stored in a plastic box, while edge tools, rasps, and precision layout tools get the protection they need.

Next: summary and conclusions.

• Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Three adjustable 3/4″ pine shelves are held with 1/4″ plastic locking shelf supports. The top of the drawer bank and the bottom of the case effectively make a total of five shelves. Let’s take a look, starting at the top shelf.

The photos show the mere 3 inches of space above the top shelf on which are stored mostly chisels, along with some knives. To the right is a gaggle of screwdrivers. Each chisel and knife is protected in a pocket of a leather tool roll that has been cut lengthwise along its midline and positioned at the rear of the shelf. I know my tools well enough to recognize each one by its handle end.

The next level down – the top of the drawer bank – holds small planes, scrapers, and spokeshaves. Each plane’s parking space is delineated by a thin strip of wood held in place with just two small brads. Of course, as you would guess, these are easy to reposition. Card scrapers are held in a piece of 2×4 into which kerfs have been sawn along the grain.

Notice the safe storage of the 24″ Starrett straightedge in a slot that has been table-sawn into the edge of the top shelf. In the second photo, the little keeper tab has been rotated out of the way and the straightedge is partially withdrawn. The photo, below, shows the same storage for an 18″ Starrett combination square blade. The small block sitting on the shelf, to the right of the yellow tape measure, is used to withdraw the straightedges. A rare-earth magnet is inset into the end of the block and covered with duct tape to prevent metal-to-metal scratching.*

Also notice the Cortec rust inhibitor cup, one of two in the cabinet, stuck onto the back panel under the top shelf.

The next shelf, my favorite, holds most of my major planes in the same type of parking spots described above. Unfortunately, the jointer and the two jacks have to be stored along the length of the shelf and therefore are exceptions to the desirable arrangement of unblocked access to each tool. It’s not much of an issue though, because I don’t use the jointer, parked in the back, nearly as frequently as the jacks, whose parking spaces are interchangeable.

The lower two shelves hold, in no special system, all sorts of items including drill bits, tapes, mallets, and tool documentation. Here it is practically impossible to have direct access to everything, but I do prioritize access based on how frequently I use the items. The 30-drawer, plastic small-parts chest holds small screws and lots of little tools and parts that would otherwise tend to get misplaced.

Next, a look at the drawers, simple and practical.

*[This straightedge storage tip may seem familiar; I submitted it to the December 2008 Popular Woodworking.]

• Thursday, January 19th, 2012

The doors of the cabinet, as mentioned in the first installment of this series, are built from 1x3s and 1/4″ plywood to give a usable depth of 2″. This depth creates more room and more options for storage than in a flat door.

The photos, above and below, show the saw storage system. A 1/4″ plywood panel is secured to the door stiles with wood cleats and screws to create a pocket approximately one inch wide (front to back). This pocket is divided into specifically sized sections for the saws using narrow wood strips that are held in place only with screws that go through the panel (not through the front face of the door).

This system works to hold Japanese saws, using a hooks and eyes, as well as Western backsaws which are simply inserted point down into their slots. Even the big Disston D-7 has a home, using a fitted cleat for the handle which can be seen in photos in the previous two posts.

The outer faces of these panels have space for many other tools including squares in their own notches, blocks that hold gimlets and marking tools, and small rules held with magnets.

Everything finds its protected place and there is no need to use annoying saw guards and tool sheaths. Each tool can be removed and returned without moving any other tools. (The fret saw is the sole exception.) Furthermore, the arrangements can be changed, and they have been, many times, as you can tell by the holes.

The photo, below, shows the lower section of the right-side door. The 18″ Starrett bevel-edge straightedge is held in place by a rare-earth magnet. Near its upper left corner, a shallow hole drilled into the stile allows a finger to get under the tool’s corner to lift it out. Three paring chisels sit in their fitted block. A Warrington-style hammer has its own fitted parking spot. An azebiki and a flush cut saw have their pockets.

The main idea is to be creative and flexible in making spaces for the tools. Over the years, I’ve added, discarded, and especially upgraded various tools. While I do less of this now, it does continue, and so the tool cabinet is repeatedly modified. By the way, I have only tools that I use to make things; I’m not interested in collecting tools.

Next: a look at the shelf arrangements.

• Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

In small-shop woodworking, space management is important, unless you happen to have just too darn much shop space and don’t know what to do with all of it. Anybody? I guess not. OK, then, let’s look at space economy and overall organization in this tool cabinet.

A structure of this size effectively creates walls that can be put to use. On the left outside “wall” of the cabinet, hang four pairs of pinch rods, a pair of 30″ winding sticks, and a 4-foot stick for trammel points. The right side (hidden from view) provides storage for a crosscut handsaw, a 50″ straightedge, and a 24″ level. The left door front holds a couple of handy reference charts and the Lee Valley Wood Movement Reference Guide.

The insides of the doors hold mostly saws because they are big, flat, and would be awkward to store on shelves. Paring chisels are too long for the depth of the case so they get an area on the lower right door. Most of the remaining door space is used for measuring and marking tools that I use very often such as marking knives, everyday squares, rules and pencils, as well as sundry items whose berth evolved there.

The holders for these tools will be discussed later, but here I emphasize that the layout often changes. If a new or upgraded tool comes into the family, I have no qualms about drilling some new holes, making a new structure, or cutting out a place for it. I don’t mind one bit that the doors are pockmarked with some tool history.

More detail will come in later posts, but here is the basic layout of the case:

  • The top shelf holds chisels and screwdrivers.
  • The second shelf has small planes, scrapers, gauges, and spokeshaves.
  • The six drawers: 1) metal working tools, 2) Starrett and other precision tools, 3) drilling accessories, 4) small planes, plane irons, gauges, 5) rasps, 6) machine accessories, wrenches.
  • The next shelf down has the large planes. One minor disadvantage of this cabinet is having to remove two jack planes to reach the jointer in the back.
  • The lower two shelves hold a 30-drawer small parts chest and a variety of other items including more drill bits, tapes, moisture meters, tool manuals, and a set of carving tools that I should use more often.

The key points are space economy, flexibility, accessibility, a generally logical layout, and a non-pretty, very practical approach.

Next: a closer look at the doors and the saw berths.

• Sunday, January 15th, 2012

When I built this tool cabinet 25 years ago, I did not expect it to last this long. You know how it is: “I’ll just build something plain and practical now and make something nicer sometime later.” It was a time of stress and joy with a new family in a new house, and, of course, a new shop. My previous systems of tool storage using chests, shelves, cabinets, and even a closet, needed an upgrade and I wanted to make it quickly.

Well, “sometime later” has come and gone, and this old dog is still doing its job well. It is not perfect (what is?) but I feel no need to build a new one. In this series of posts (not necessarily contiguous), I will discuss the construction and features of the cabinet and why it works for me. Though a few readers may want to make one just like it, more likely this discussion will be a source for ideas to incorporate into your own designs for tool storage. I used ideas, many from sources I’ve long forgotten, plus some of my own, for this cabinet, for which I make no pretense of originality.

The overall design – a cabinet with two large, deep doors, standing on a low frame – allows a wide-open presentation of my hand tools. When I open those doors, it’s time to work. The great majority of tools can be reached directly, with little or no bending, and without shifting other tools out of the way. Being right-handed, I placed the cabinet immediately to the right of the workbench, giving me quick physical and mental access to the tools. In a small footprint of about 4 feet by 14 inches, a remarkable quantity of tools is stored.

There are many good ways to store hand tools. Everyone is entitled to his preference, but personally, I do not care for dandified tool wall cabinets or dovetailed chests that sit on the floor.

Here we go. The overall dimensions are 48″ high by 37″ wide by 14″ deep. The inside of the cabinet case has a depth of 11 1/4″. It contains three adjustable shelves and an 11″ high drawer bank with six drawers. Four drawers have inside depths of 2 ½”, and two have 3 ½”. The doors have an inside usable depth of 2″. The stand elevates the cabinet 16 ½” off the ground. The back panel extends 2 1/4″ above the surface of the top which has 7/8″ high guard rails on each side. If I was to do it over, I’d probably make the case an inch or two deeper, but this one is doing just fine.

The case is decent quality 3/4″ poplar 7-ply, butt-jointed, glued, and screwed. The rabbeted 1/4″ plywood back and the three-piece drawer bank frame make the case plenty resistant to racking, though it would be better to rabbet the case corners.

The doors are 1×3 poplar assembled with simple glued and screwed butt joints. Each door is nonetheless very sturdy because the 1/4″ plywood panel is glued in grooves all around, and there are several frame structures on the interior. The doors are joined to the case with piano hinges.

The stand is constructed of notched and screwed 2x4s and contains a shelf for storing jigs and templates. The cabinet is actually standing on the bottom edges of its sides which extend ½” below the bottom. The stiles of the stand extend 1/4″ above the rails to help position the cabinet.

Next: we’ll look at space management, starting with the outside surfaces of the cabinet, and then the overall organization inside.