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Ultimate Tool Storage Cabinets

Updated: Jul. 17, 2019

A cabinet designed with tools in mind

FH14NOV_TOOLCR_01-2Family Handyman

Neatly pack away most of your shop in this attractive tool storage cabinet, which features both shallow and deep drawers and adjustable open shelving.

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Cabinet benefits

This cabinet provides a home for all your tools. Park often-used power tools on the shelves and occasional-use tools in the deep drawers. The shallower drawers are perfect for hand tools, blades, bits and accessories. And the countertop is just large enough for tool setup or adjustments. We built a double-wide cabinet, so our materials cost was about $650. A single unit (one drawer cabinet and one shelf unit) would cost about half that. You could also cut costs by using pine lumber rather than the pricey hardwoods we used.

Edge the plywood

Photo 1: Cut the edging safely

Don’t simply set the fence 3/16 in. from the blade to cut the edging strips. That can lead to kickbacks when the thin strips get pinched between the fence and the blade. Instead, clamp a stop block 3/16 in. from the blade. Set the stock against the stop block, position the fence against the stock and you’re ready to rip. You’ll need to reset the fence after each cut.

Photo 2: Tack on the edging

Spread a little glue and tack the edging onto the plywood parts with a pinner or brad nailer. Center the edging by “feel,” allowing it to overhang slightly on both sides. The edging can also overhang the plywood at one end. But the other end should be flush with the plywood.

Clamp the edging

Clamps alone won’t force the flimsy edging tight against the plywood. So use a thicker board or “caul” to distribute the pressure evenly.

Photo 4: Trim the edging flush

A straight router bit set at just the right depth will trim off the protruding edging without cutting into the plywood.

Make a “riser”

Remove the plastic base plate from your router and mount the router on a “riser” scrap of MDF, plywood or melamine.

Most home centers carry “screen molding,” which works great for edging plywood. But we couldn’t find it in birch, so we cut our own edging from birch boards. Start by ripping approximately 100 ft. of solid wood into 3/16-in. strips (LL). Use a simple (and safe!) setup to cut multiple thin strips: Just round the end of a 1×4 slightly and clamp it to the saw table (Photo 1). Position this block slightly in front of the blade, not directly next to it.

Next, cut the plywood parts (B-G, N) but cut them 1/4 to 1/2 in. extra long. The extra length allows you to trim the parts to final size after the edging is on.

Cut the edging strips to approximately the same length as the oversized plywood and attach with glue and nails (Photo 2). Make sure the edging overhangs the plywood as you tack it down. Also clamp the edging (Photo 3).

After the glue dries, the protruding edging needs to be flushed up to the plywood. You could use a sander, but you run the risk of sanding through the thin veneer and ruining the part. So use a trim router retrofitted with an offset base. Set the router on the plywood and lower the bit until it just touches and trim the edging flush to the plywood (Photo 4). All that’s left is a little hand sanding and you’ve got perfect edging.

Trim the cabinet parts to their final length on the table saw. Set the fence a little long and use a miter gauge to cut one end. Then, set the fence to the final length and cut the opposite edge. This leaves your edging perfectly flush and square to the plywood on both ends.

Simple Slides for the Drawers

Manufactured drawer slides are either expensive or too wimpy for heavy tools—or both. So these drawers are set on simple cleats. Rub a candle on them and the drawers glide very smoothly. To keep the drawers from pulling all the way out, glue kickers to the drawers and screw stop blocks to the cabinets.

Build the cabinets

Photo 5: Mount the drawer cleats

Position the drawer-support cleats with scrap wood spacers. Use the same set of spacers on all four cabinet sides to ensure identical spacing.

Photo 6: Assemble the cabinets

No need for glue—just use screws. The bottom shelf is attached to the bottom cleat. Use trim-head screws for the top shelf. The small holes are easy to fill and will be virtually invisible below the top edging.

Photo 7: Notch the shelves

Notches fit over the shelf supports and prevent the shelves from slipping out of the cabinet. To cut notches, mount a fence on your miter gauge and clamp the shelves to it. Make several passes to complete each notch.

Set the cleats (GG, HH) on the lower cabinet sides with screws. Use MDF spacers to ensure correct spacing (Photo 5). Align the cleats flush with the front edge of the cabinet sides. Leave a 1/4-in. gap at the back to prevent dust accumulation that would interfere with the drawer closing.

Assemble the lower cabinets, using trim-head screws for the top shelf. The bottom shelf is fastened with regular wood screws through the bottom cleat (Photo 6). Cut the backs and attach them with just a few screws for now.

Assemble the upper cabinets with regular screws. They’ll be covered with trim later. The adjustable shelves are notched to prevent the shelves from accidentally pulling out when you drag your circular saw off the shelf. Notch the shelves four at a time. Attach a wood sub-fence to your miter gauge. Clamp the shelves together then clamp the set to your subfence to gang-cut the notches (Photo 7). Shift the stack for each cut until the notch is cut full width. Lay out the notch locations on one shelf according to shelf standard spacing; 2 in. in from the front and back is about right. Make the notches 1/4 in. deep and 3/4 in. wide.

Attach the two base cabinets to each other with screws. Measure and cut the plywood top (A). Apply the edging (CC, DD) to the top with nails and glue, then clamp with cauls. Attach the top and set the upper cabinets. Join the upper cabinets with connector bolts.

Figure A: Tool Cabinet

The overall size of the tool storage cabinet is: 80" tall x 61-1/2" wide x 26" deep. For a larger, printable version of this plan, see Additional Information, below.

Figure B: Cleat Positions

For a good mix of deep and shallow drawers, position the drawer cleats as shown here.

Build the drawers

Photo 8: Bevel the handle stock

Set the table saw blade to 45 degrees and mount featherboards on the table to hold the stock tight against the fence. As you reach the end of the cut, drive the stock with a push stick to keep your fingers away from the blade.

Photo 9: Attach stop blocks with screws

Stop blocks add a measure of safety so the drawer can’t be pulled all the way out and crash to the floor.

Cut the drawer parts (P – Y and BB). To start, build just one drawer box and check for fit. Use No. 6 x 1-5/8-in. trim-head screws to build the drawer boxes. Make sure the drawer is square, then secure the bottom with No. 6 x 1-in. screws. Test the drawer fit in its opening on both cabinets. If the drawer slides smoothly, go ahead and assemble the other drawers. If it’s tight, trim the fronts and backs down a bit for a good fit. Countersink all the screw heads into the plywood bottom so they don’t interfere with the sliding of the drawer on the cleats.

Remove the backs on the lower cabinets and set the drawers in their openings. Add a couple of short shims on the cabinet sides at the back of the cabinet to center the drawer when it’s shut. Glue the shims to the sides with the tapered edge facing forward. The shims ensure the drawer shuts in the same position each time. This will help maintain an even margin on the drawer fronts when the drawers are closed.

Cut your drawer fronts (H – M), leaving them a little oversize. Add edging to the bottom of each drawer front. Flush-trim the edging. Cut the drawer fronts to final length on the table saw. Add the trim to the sides, flush-trim and rip the drawer front to the final width.

Now it’s time to build the handles. Cut the drawer handle parts (EE, FF). Cut a 45-degree bevel on part EE (Photo 8). Glue and clamp the parts to form the handle. When the glue has set, sand the handles smooth and attach to the drawer fronts. Use glue and nails or trim-head screws to attach the handles.

With the drawers in their openings, hold the top drawer front in place so the bottom of the drawer front is flush with the bottom of the drawer box and even with the outside edge of the cabinet. Pin the drawer front in place with a brad nailer or a 23-gauge pin nailer. Carefully open the drawer by pushing on it from behind. Clamp the drawer front in place and secure with No. 10 x 1-in. washer head screws. Use a 3/32-in.-thick strip of wood to space the other drawer fronts as you work your way down.

Finish the cabinets with natural penetrating oil, then add the drawer stops. You can add dividers or line the bottoms with nonslip mats so your hand tools don’t rattle around. Best of all, you’ll know right where to find your tools—that is, if you remember to put them away. But that’s not something we can help you with.

Figure C: Cutting Diagrams

For the most economical use of material, follow these cutting diagrams for the plywood parts. A larger, printable version of the diagrams is available in Additional Information, below. A Cutting List keyed to this diagram is also in Additional Information.

Video: Custom Garage Storage

Additional Information

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Dust mask
  • Hammer
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Table saw
  • Wood glue