Store Your Tools in This Handy Tray Tower

Store your hand tools in style

Good woodworking tools deserve a home in a handsome, natural wood cabinet – not a cold metal tray. This birch tool tray tower makes the perfect home for hand tools and small parts.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine






$20 - $100


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 wrenching.

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 of plywood!

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.”

Figure A

Cut the back and sides a little oversize

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 anyway.)

Gang-sand the exposed tops of the tray sides before 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 indoor/outdoor carpeting.

Required Tools for this Project

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

  • Clamps
  • Miter saw
  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Belt sander
  • Nail set
  • Jigsaw
  • Orbital sander
  • Painters tape
  • Router
  • Safety glasses
  • Paintbrush
  • Table saw

You'll also need a dado blade for your tablesaw. A band saw is helpful, but not required.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • 3/4" x 4 x 8 birch plywood
  • 1/4" x 4 x 8 birch plywood
  • 1 1/2" brad nails
  • 1" brad nails
  • Wood glue
  • Varnish
  • Indoor/outdoor carpeting (optional)

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