Dreaming About Hand Tool Cabinets

As I’m coming down the home stretch on getting my new shop space operational I’m thinking about projects I want to start, and details I want to improve to make my new space more efficient.

When you could buy a chest with tools

When you could buy a chest with tools

My current “system” for organizing my hand tools is a pair of roll-around utility carts.  It’s not ideal, but is a huge improvement over my previous “system”.  Which was, to have them piled on my welding bench, until I needed to weld something.  Then I would move them all onto my bandsaw, until I needed to cut something, when I would move them back.  Downsides of the roll-around carts are they waste floor space and catch dust.  It’s also just a glorified (albeit mobile) pile.

I had planned to build a Schrawzian tool chest to store my hand tools — and I probably will still build one just for fun.  There are two downsides, for me, to the Anarchist’s Tool Chest:  The first is that it takes up floor space which I never seem to have enough of — and I do have available wall space in the new shop.  The second downside to the traditional tool chest is self-inflicted.  I don’t think it will hold all of my tools.  It’s my fault because I have more tools than is perhaps necessary.  No one needs one of every size Stanley plane, but I like tools and don’t want to get rid of any just to fit everything into a tool chest.  My bad.

I’ve been doing my homework on designing a wall-mounted chest for storing my hand tools.  There are loads of designs floating around, here are the things that I need to think about to come up with a good solution:

First, I need to fit any design into my available wall space.  In particular, the cabinets need to be located near my workbench, which is going to be along the back wall where the generator and blacksmithing power hammer currently live.  I also need to build a doghouse for the generator so it can live outside, but that’s another story.  I have a good 50″ width to the right of the window — even allowing for trimming out the window — by 48″ tall (or more).  Just guessing, that’s way more space than I need for my planes.  In fact, I could probably fit my planes, saws and chisels all in that space.  I also have room to the left of the window for a 24″ wide cabinet, with space to spare, between the outlet and the dust collector.

Back Wall, The Workbench WIll Go Under The Window

Back Wall, The Workbench WIll Go Under The Window

Second, I need to make the design fit the tools I need to store.  I’ve looked at a number of tool cabinets that are beautiful, but when you open them the tools don’t really fit nicely.  Either it’s crammed, or sparsely filled or just inefficiently used.  To my eye a tool cabinet needs to look full and make good use of space.  The tools need to fit in neatly.  Here are the planes I’ve accumulated, I also have a dozen or so moulding planes.  And, this will surprise you, I plan to add more.  I’ve got a few odd hollow and round planes that I’ve picked up piecemeal.  They need to be sharpened (some need to be re-ground because the blade doesn’t match the profile).  I’d like to get a proper set (well, matched and ready to go half set).





Just eyeballing this, it looks like the planes and saws will fit comfortably in the space to the right of the window, even if all I do is a simple open till.  I need to als fit in my chisels, layout tools and other odds and ends.

Which brings me to design and construction.  Designs can range from (relatively) simple open tills like this.

Open TIll Example

Open TIll Example

To Fancy cabinets, which is my inclination.

Fancy Tool Cabinet c1900

Fancy Tool Cabinet c1900

I like the style on this one, but the way it’s set up for storage isn’t adequate.  I’m not sure having a lot of drawers is the right thing for me either.  Drawers tend to accumulate junk.

Fine Woodworking Tool Cabinet

Fine Woodworking Tool Cabinet

I like the “ramped” plane till in this one, as well as the galley for smaller planes below.  But look on top — tools that don’t fit.

Michael Pekovich' Tool Cabinet

Michael Pekovich’ Tool Cabinet

The last consideration is material and construction techniques.  I like the idea of a case with lots of nice had work details made out of solid wood.  But at the same time, I want to move on to other projects beyond setting up the shop.  Planks or Plywood?  I need to think on that one some more.


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11 thoughts on “Dreaming About Hand Tool Cabinets

  1. Dylan

    When I needed a cheap and fast tool cabinet I combined the angled plane till design of chris Becksvoort ( https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=8&ved=0CFYQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.finewoodworking.com%2FFWNPDFfree%2F011153084.pdf&ei=43J6UcO7Moz94AOmlIGQBw&usg=AFQjCNHr32buwJvRkY2Mxsh1QbwECm757Q ) and the simple box construction of Zoltowski ( http://www.finewoodworking.com/item/45871/quick-to-build-tool-cabinet ).

    So far I have yet to add some drawers and finish arranging the inside of the doors, but the angled plane till works very well with the flow of how I work.

    Please post/blog if you develop a good design to hold the braces ans egg beaters.

  2. Thanks for the links Dylan, those are two great articles! I really like the simple plywood construction – I think I’m looking for efficiency in building and low cost right now.

  3. Yeah!!! Tool Cabinet! The most useful thing I did in designing mine was this: http://sheworkswood.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/copyoftoollayout.png laying out all my tools on paper first. It was really helpful through all the redesigns. I love my wall cabinet even though it a few more steps than I would like from the bench.

    My other plan is to build a rolling Dutch tool chest that will fit under my bench. Kinda like a bench with drawers that can be rolled away they’re in the way.

    I too have succumbed to too many tools. 🙂

  4. Dean

    Joe, have you looked at the “Quick-to-Make Tool Cabinet” in Fine Woodworking magazine? It may not completely serve your needs, but it might give you some ideas on construction, or maybe modifying the cabinet interior. Drawers not necessary, and of course the other areas can be used differently than shown. It’s in issue number 188 (dated Winter 2006/2007), page 40. The cabinets outside dimensions are 48” x 32” x 13 1/4”.

    The author has a couple of places in the back side of the cabinet to store larger hand saws, however, I’m guessing you would probably want to build a saw till to mount on the opposite side of your window. If you have an online membership you can go to the webpage below, and read the article there. They also have plans available if your interested (see second link).




    • Thanks Dean, the construction technique for that cabinet is what I’m currently leaning towards. I just had to pick up a final (?) couple of pieces of HVAC adapters to complete my dust collector at Home Despot and saw that they have 3/4″ “cabinet grade” birch ply on sale for $32 a sheet. That might be just the ticket. The face plys look paper thin, and I can see voids in the edges, so it isn’t great quality, but it’s cheap and serviceable.

      • Dylan

        That cheap “cabinet grade” plywood at HD is what I used. I will caution to pick through the pile because the majority was warped. I think some of it even warped more in my basement shop.

  5. Eric Bushèe

    Hi Joe,

    There are a lot competing theories here, not only on which tool storage system to build, but how artfully to build it. I think you’ve asked the right questions in which system to build with the shop you have. If you are lacking floor space, a big tool chest will just always be in your way. As far as how much time to put into a tool cabinet, it depends on your goals. For some, the shop is the project. They move from one shop project to another, and they enjoy making them look as beautiful as fine furniture. If your goals are to build things that leave the shop, I would just lightly caution to not let shop projects bog you down. Plywood and construction lumber build lots of things in my shop, and will continue to do so. I don’t intentionally make anything look ugly – but strong, simple, and functional are my goals for shop stuff. I just have too many other things on my list to build. But there is no right answer here. Good luck!


    • Well said Eric. I know for myself it’s way too easy to get caught up into building tools or tricking out the shop.

  6. Hi Joe,

    Here’s what has worked for me for a long time: http://www.rpwoodwork.com/blog/tag/a-practical-tool-cabinet-series/ It’s fast and easy to build, and adaptable.

    It’s all personal preference but I’m not a fan of fancy wall chests or big boxes that sit on the floor. The angled plane rack is in Mike P.’s cabinet is a nice feature.

    Good luck.


  7. I agree completely on the floor space. I have put the ATC in the bedroom instead, for storing the winter comforters in the summer and vice versa.
    I then built a Roy Underhill tool chest, it looks nice, I am proud of it – but it too takes up space in the workshop.
    Wall cabinets are my favourite, they also tend to keep the dust away from the tools if your remember to close the door while sanding.
    One of the problems in tools cabinets with dedicated places for each and every tool is that suddenly you get a new tool (well maybe not suddenly). And then there isn’t room for it in the cabinet, and you still have to make another place for the duplex tools.
    By the way. You have a nice collection of saws and planes.

    • I really like the ATC concept. For someone who was doing just hand tool work, and only had the tools really necessary for the work, it’s a pretty efficient approach. The only floor space you need is the ATC and a bench. All your tools fit into the chest. I get it, it’s elegant — but it’s not a fit for how I’m working right now.

      I like working with hand tools, but I don’t have the time or energy to dimension all of my stock by hand. I also want to make stuff that isn’t well suited to hand tool work (like kitchen cabinets). I’m also not willing to restrict myself to only the tools that I absolutely need. It’s a balance, I don’t want to get caught up in being a tool collector either.

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