1 of 1
Alternating paddle pulls
The rounded alternating pulls give this tool tray cabinet a unique and very appealing appearance.
Because most hand tools are relatively
flat, piling them in deep drawers
wastes a lot of space and makes them
hard to find and dig out. This rather
fetching cabinet separates and organizes
all those tools. Best of all, you
can remove the tray containing, say,
the open-end wrenches, and take the
whole collection to wherever you’re
I’ve seen several plain versions
of this design: a few drawers made
from MDF with utilitarian handles.
I decided to bump it up a notch and
build a 10-tray unit out of cabinet-grade
birch plywood. And rather than
use handles, I made the tray bases with
built-in “paddle pulls.”
Shaping the paddle pulls is the trickiest
part of the whole project. You’ll
get the best results by clamping the tray bottoms together and “gang-cutting”
the paddle pulls all at once with
a band saw. Sanding them all at once
also saves lots of time and ensures that
the parts are identical (Photo 5). (Then
get the alternating paddle pulls by flipping
over half of the tray bottoms.)
If you don’t have a band saw, a
jigsaw will do. If you’re jigsawing,
mark one paddle pull on a tray bottom
and use it to scribe and gang-cut five
at a time. You can also just skip the
paddle pulls and add the drawer pulls
of your choice. To do that, cut the tray
bottoms to 15-1/2 x 12 in., but “gang-sand”
them all as shown in Photo 5.
This project calls for a table saw
and a dado blade. The good news is
that absolutely no hardware is needed,
including fussy, expensive drawer
slides to mess around with.
This project is a real plywood eater.
You’ll need a full sheet of both 1/4-in.
and 3/4-in. plywood to build one.
Build it with more or fewer trays; it’s
up to you. If you choose to make a
wider or taller cabinet with more trays, fine. But it’ll take more than two sheets
Figure A: Tool Tray Tower
The fastest way to cut the drawer bottoms is by cutting them all at once. Click here to watch a
video on the really fast and accurate way to make the
tray bottoms and learn a few things about “gang-work.”
Cut the back and sides a little oversize
1 of 6
Photo 1: Mark and cut the dadoes for the drawers.
Mark the dado bottoms on the edges beginning at 13/16 in. up from the bottom and then
every 2 in. Don’t cut a dado in the center—that’s where the stretcher goes. After cutting all
10 dadoes, cut off the top, 2-3/4 in. above the last dado bottom.
2 of 6
Photo 2: Prefinish the interior surfaces
Protect the gluing areas with masking tape and varnish surfaces on the cabinet interior.
It’s much easier to do now than later. For smooth tray operation, be sure to brush out any
varnish pools or drips inside the dadoes.
3 of 6
Photo 3: Assemble the box
Glue and nail the box together with 1-1/2-in. brads. Then mark the
dadoes to avoid misses when you nail on the back with 1-in. brads.
Glue the perimeter, then nail one edge flush with the box side.
Square up the box with the back to nail the second side. Then finish
nailing the remaining two sides.
4 of 6
Photo 4: Mark the paddle pulls
Cut the tray bottoms into 15-1/2 x 13-3/4-in. rectangles. Draw a line
12 in. from the back edge of the trays and mark a centerline. Use
the centerline and one of the corners as a guide while you trace
around a spray paint can to mark the curves. Then cut the shapes
with a band saw or jigsaw.
5 of 6
Photo 5: Gang-sand the tray bottoms
Clamp the tray bottoms together and sand the fronts of them all
at once. Get them roughed out and then finish up with a random
orbital sander. (If you have a dedicated drum sander or drum
sander accessory for your drill press, use that for the inside curves.)
6 of 6
Photo 6: Build the trays
Glue and nail the tray sides together. Center one of the bottoms
with equal overhangs, then mark a centering block to guide you
while you glue and nail on the bottoms. You’ll need to use the
block on just one side for each tray.
Cut the 1/4-in. back first. Take a notch
out of a corner of the sheet rather than
ripping a whole strip or you won’t have
enough leftover plywood to make the
drawer bases. Cut the back 1/8 in. larger
than the illustration calls for. After
the cabinet is assembled, you can get
extremely accurate measurements and
either cut the back to fit or use a flushtrim
router bit after it’s attached. Cut
the sides a full 24 in. tall and cut
them to length after the dadoes
are cut. (You don’t need to cut a
dado in the center where the
stretcher goes. I forgot
and cut one there,
but it’s hidden
assembly. After you
get the cabinet box and trays
assembled, finish sanding and apply
the clear coat. A nice finishing touch is
to line the tray bottoms with squares of