This tool cart would make a great addition to any workspace, but it’s especially perfect for a garage workshop. It brings your whole tool arsenal within easy reach during a project but takes up minimal floor space, leaving plenty of room for your car when the job is done. It’s also adaptable—easy to build as shown and easy to alter. You can add or subtract drawers and shelves to meet your needs.
Custom Spaces for All Kinds of Tools
The tool cart is open on both the front and the back—a design that combines easy access with maximum capacity.
It’s a great weekend project
You could cut all the plywood parts with a circular saw, but we recommend using a table saw for greater accuracy and to speed things up. If you want to include the slots—grooved shelves with plywood dividers—you’ll need a router and a 1/4-in. straight bit to make the dadoes. And a brad nailer is handy for tacking the parts before adding the screws.
We used birch plywood for this tool cart, but you could choose MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or less expensive plywood to save money. We shopped around at local home centers and found nice-looking birch plywood with B-grade face veneer for about $40 per sheet. The entire project requires four sheets of 3/4-in. plywood and one sheet of 1/4-in. plywood.
Build the cabinet box
Start by cutting out the parts, using Figure C in the Cutting Diagram and the Cutting List as a guide. You’ll notice that some of the dimensions in the Cutting List have an asterisk indicating that you may have to adjust the size. That’s because plywood varies slightly in thickness. We used a table saw for ripping and a crosscut sled on the table saw to crosscut narrow parts. This allowed us to cut the parts accurately for tight-fitting joints.
Photos 1 – 3 show how to get started building the basic box. Drill pilot holes for the screws to avoid splitting the plywood. Use the shelves (Photo 2) or temporary spacers (Photo 3) to hold the interior dividers in place while you secure them with screws. There are a few spots where dividers are aligned with each other, making it impossible to drive screws straight in. In these situations, start the screws alongside the part that’s in the way and drive the screws at a slight angle, being careful to keep the screw tips from going through the opposite side of the plywood.
1. Start with a three-sided box. Nail or clamp the two sides (A) to the bottom (B) and drill pilot holes for the screws. Place two screws about 1-1/2 in. from the edges, and add three more evenly spaced between them.
2. Build from the bottom up. Screw in the lower back (C), using the divider (E) and a shelf (F) to support it. Then add the horizontal middle divider (B). Set the upper back (D) and the top (B) in place and check the fit. You may have to trim a little from the top of D for a good fit. Use shelves (H) to support part D as you attach it with screws.
PRO TIP: Tack, then drill. Simplify construction by pinning the parts together with finish nails before you add the screws. You only need a few nails in each piece to hold parts temporarily. A brad nailer with 1-1/2-in. nails works well for this. And the small holes are easy to fill. Use this same tip when you build the drawers.
THREE OPTIONS: Choose your fastening method We assembled the parts with trim-head screws and covered them with wood filler, but there are other options. You could use screws and finish washers for a more industrial look or assemble the entire storage unit with pocket screws. Pocket screw assembly would leave a lot of exposed pockets on the inside, but most would be covered once the cabinet was filled with tools, or you could buy wood plugs to fill the pockets.
3. Complete the cabinet assembly. Add the four vertical dividers, Parts E, G and L. Use temporary spacers to hold the panels in the center as you attach them. You’ll need eight spacers, 16-7/8 in. long.
When you’re done with the box, attach the casters. Start by building up the base with two strips of plywood so you can use 1-1/2-in. lag screws to attach the casters (Photo 4). We found good-quality 4-in. casters with locking ball-bearing wheels for about $10 each at a home center. Buy good-quality casters because this cabinet could weigh hundreds of pounds fully loaded.
Get step-by-step instructions on how to build a table saw sled.
4. Add the casters. First glue and screw four strips of plywood (P) to the front and back edges of the box. Then mark the caster screw holes and drill 3/16-in. pilot holes for the 5/16-in. x 1-1/2-in. lag screws. Attach all four casters with the lag screws.
Build the drawers
The drawers are simple boxes that slide on 3/4-in. square runners. The drawers are sized to allow about 1/16-in. clearance on the sides and 1/8 in. on top for easy movement. Photos 5 and 6 show how to build the drawers. Cut the 1/4-in. plywood bottoms accurately and make sure they’re square so you can use them to square the drawer frame. Finish the drawers by attaching the fronts with screws (Photo 6).
5. Assemble the drawer box. Glue and tack the drawer sides to the front and back. Then add screws for more strength. Apply a bead of glue to the drawer and place the drawer bottom on the drawer box. Line up one edge of the drawer bottom with the drawer and nail it. Then square the drawer by lining up the remaining edges with the edges of the drawer bottom and nail the other three sides.
6. Add the drawer fronts. The drawer fronts are the same width as the drawers, but a little taller. Line up the sides and bottom and attach the fronts with 1-1/4-in. screws.
Mark the location of the drawer runners on the sides of the cabinet (Photo 7). Then attach the runners with glue and 1-1/4-in. screws (Photo 8). We fabricated drawer pulls from 1/8-in.-thick aluminum angle (Photos 9 and 10). Attach the aluminum angles to the drawers with two screws through the top. If you’ve laid out your drawer runners correctly, there should be about 1/8 in. of space between all the drawers.
7. Mark for the drawer runners. Make a marking stick using the measurements in Figure A. Then use the stick to mark the positions of the drawer runners. Make marks at the front and back.
8. Install the runners. Drill pilot holes and attach the runners with glue and 1-1/4-in. screws. Use spacers to hold the runners. If necessary, make slight adjustments to keep the runners aligned with the marks.
9. Cut aluminum with a miter saw. Make drawer pulls by cutting aluminum angle to length. Many carbide blades are designed to cut nonferrous metals as well as wood—check the fine print on the blade or packaging to make sure.
10. Drill and countersink the pulls. Drill two holes in each aluminum pull. Place the holes 3 in. from the ends and 3/8 in. from the edge. Use a countersink in your drill to create a recess for the screws. Line up the edges of the aluminum angles with the back edge of the drawer fronts and attach them with small screws.
The plywood shelves rest on shelf clips attached to metal shelf standards (Photo 12). This allows you to customize the shelf heights to accommodate your tools. Some of the shelves have dadoes cut into them to accept plywood dividers. Photo 11 shows how to cut the dadoes with a router and router guide.
11. Cut slots for plywood dividers. Four shelves require slots for plywood dividers. To save time, cut the dadoes across all four shelves before ripping them to the correct width. Make a straightedge jig as shown and clamp it at the marks indicating your slot location. Then use a router with a 1/4-in. straight bit to cut the slot.
12. Mount the shelf standards. Cut the metal shelf standards to fit with a hacksaw. Make sure to cut off the same end of every standard so the holes will line up correctly. Position the standards 1 in. from the front and back of every shelf side and attach them with small screws.
Build the guide by gluing a perfectly straight strip of 3/4-in. plywood (fence) to a strip of 1/4-in. plywood. Then mount a 1/4-in. straight bit in the router and run the router along the fence to cut off the excess 1/4-in. plywood. Now you can mark the dado locations on your shelves, line up the edge of the router guide to the marks and clamp it, and rout the dadoes (Photo 11). It’s easier to cut dadoes across a 16-1/2-in.-wide by 4-ft.-long piece of plywood first, and then cut the shelves to 11-9/16 in. deep after all the dadoes are cut (Photo 11).
To prevent stuff from falling off the narrow shelves, nail 3/4 x 1-1/4-in. plywood strips to the face of the shelves (Figure A).
We finished our rolling tool cabinet with two coats of satin polyurethane. If you plan to paint or finish your tool cabinet, you’ll save time and get a better job by mounting the shelf standards and drawer pulls after you apply the finish.
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Figure A, Tool Cart
Overall dimensions: 36″ wide x 23-7/8″ deep x 68″ tall
Figure B, Drawer
Small drawer part letters are in parentheses
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