Drawers for my Hand Tool Cabinet

A while back I made a giant wall cabinet to hole my hand tools.  It’s been a great addition to the shop and really reduced the clutter.  I designed in six little cubbies that I intended to fit with drawers.  This past week I finally got around to making them.

I’d originally intended to make the drawers using some simple joinery — either a drawer lock joint on the router table or some kind of dado and tongue using the table saw.  I even bought a special bit for the router to make that joint, but in the end I decided to dovetail the drawers for practice instead.

I’d only ever cut one or two half-blind joints previously, and that was in a class.  I got out my tools, sharpened my chisels, milled up some lumber for the drawers and I was ready to go.

Annnnnd, GO!

On your mark, get ready, GO!

I used 3/4″ Alder for the fronts, 1/2″ pine for the sides and back, and 1/4″ plywood for the bottom.  I worked really carefully and got a decent fit on both the half-blind and through dovetail joints on the first drawer.  I was feeling good.  I used the table saw to cut the grooves for the drawer bottom (my plow plane doesn’t have a “plywood thickness” cutter).  I cut the grooves cut and started assembling…and discovered that I’d cut the grooves in the sides in the wrong place…at the top instead of at the bottom.

Well friends, I was off to an inauspicious start.  I thought about cutting additional grooves in the right place.  I thought about starting over.  I thought about how far I could probably throw the drawer.  Then I flipped the two sides, side for side.  Guess what?  They fit.  The fit wasn’t as good as it was in the proper orientation, there were a couple of gaps, but they were snug and plenty strong.  Shrug.

It I had a couple of other mishaps along the way.  When I was paring out the back wall or one of the half-blind sockets on drawer number two it split off from the face.  I wasn’t using much force, this Alder had a lot of shakes/splits.  I think this is caused by improper drying.  I glued the chunk back on and filled the crack with wood putty.  It’s just a shop cabinet, after all.

I gang cut all of the tails, which I picked up from seeing Christopher Schwarz on Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Shop.  It made is simpler to get square cuts.  The let time I cut dovetails (pretty much every time I’ve ever cut dovetails, for that matter) the tail cuts aren’t square or consistent.  You can’t get a proper fit if the sides of the tails are tapered.  And it looks sloppy if the angle of the tail cuts isn’t at least somewhat consistent.  I don’t know if it was the new workbench, or if my sawing has just improved, but I pretty much nailed every saw cut.

Sawn Tails

Sawn Tails

Past attempts have involved a lot of trial and error fitting, paring dovetail faces and general futzing around to get them to fit together.  I didn’t have that experience this time.  I sawed to my layout marks, used a fretsaw to saw out the waste, and chopped directly on the baseline.

I picked up a trick in a youtube video by David Barron on chopping the waste.  If I had an 1/8″ or more waste remaining I chopped that away first.  Then I dropped the chisel in the baseline, made sure is was square and gave it a couple of taps, then I leaned the chisel over two or three degrees — away from the baseline — and chopped to about the halfway point.  Flip the board and repeat.  I had nice tight fits at almost all of my baselines with this approach, where in the past (with a lot of screwing around being careful) I still had bruised baselines.

Rear joint on one drawer

Rear joint on one drawer


Another Joint

Another Joint, the shadows almost look like gaps, but it’s tight everywhere except at the top of the leftmost tail

In addition to using “cabinet maker’s triangles” to keep my drawer parts aligned, I also numbered the joints as a backup.  Except for mis-cutting the bottom grooves on the first drawer I didn’t mis-orient and parts.


Drawer Parts with alignment triangles and numbered corners

I’d intended to put some cheap knobs on the drawers and call it good.  Then I realized there was no room for knobs.  At the very least, they would interfere with the doors closing.  Rats.  I looked at some recessed ring pulls at the hardware store (and online), but at about $20 each that was too much cash for this project.

I thought about carving some recessed pulls.  I saw this in Fine Woodworking. I did 3 or 4 practice pieces, but they took too much time and were too inconsistent.  I wanted to get this done TODAY, thank you very much.

Experimenting with Carving Pulls

Experimenting with Carving Pulls

So I ran down to the hardware store and poked around.  I picked up six cotter pins and six welded steel rings.  For $7 total, with tax.  And a bag.  The rings are chromes, the cotter pins are since plated steel.  They had brass cotter pins, but I didn’t want to make my own brass rings, that would be a more attractive option. But I had to do something to make this look better.


Hardware Store Booty

So I heated and oil quenched the parts, two cycles on the cotter pins, and three cycles on the rings.

First heat cycle, no oil quench yet

First heat cycle, no oil quench yet

Then a coat of wax and they were ready to install.  I drilled an 1/8″ hole, pushed the cotter pin in, spread the legs of the pin, bent the tips over and drove them into the inside of the drawer — just like clinching nails.  It worked well.

Home Made Pulls, Ready to Install

Home Made Pulls, Ready to Install

I rubbed in one coat of Tried & True Oil/Wax finish, and I was done.  They pulls look good to me, they were cheap and easy, and the drawers are a wrap!



Six Drawers

Six Drawers

Drawers prior to installing the pulls and finishing

Drawers prior to installing the pulls and finishing (the bottom drawer closest to the camera is the one I had to flip the sides, hence the gaps.  Hell, I just happy it fit at all!









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5 thoughts on “Drawers for my Hand Tool Cabinet

  1. José Santiago

    Very nice. I’ve used the citric acid trick that CS blogged about to get the same look on some hinges. I thought about a hanging wall cabinet but decided to go the traditional floor chest route. I will use this (Cotter Pin & Welded Steel Ring Trick) for pulls on the sliding tills. Thanks, again nice job. Happy New Year.

    • Hi Jose,

      I don’t know if the citric acid would work on the chrome, it might. It’s good on the zinc though. Using a propane torch was fast, less than two minutes start-to-finish.

      The best bet (IMO) would have been to get the brass cotter pins (1/8″ x 1.5″ would be a great size) and make some brass rings. I don’t think that would take that much time, maybe half an hour or a bit longer if you hard-solder them closed.

  2. Hi Joe,
    nice trick with rings and cotter pins. Did you sharpen the ends of the cotter pins or did you just bang them in as is when you cinched them?
    Are you going to cover the raw edge of the plywood with iron on banding or leaving it natural?

    • I just banged them in, they drove in early easily. And they clear the doors with room to spare.

      I was going to use edge banding, I even bought some and put it on one edge but I didn’t like the look. It was too fake. If I was doing it over (and was concerned about appearances) I’d start with a better grade of plywood with a better veneer face and use solid edging. As it is, I’m pleased with the functionality of the cabinet and I think it looks OK.

  3. Nice to read it . i appreciate your post .

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