How to Make Portable Wooden Tool Chests

Written by mercedes valladares
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How to Make Portable Wooden Tool Chests
Recycle or recreate a portable tool chest with different types of wood. (wood image by Amjad Shihab from

By recycling old wood from furniture or previous projects as well as building an item from different types of purchased wood, designers can create a myriad of projects, including a tool chest. Decorative handles, engraved lids as well as decorative hinges transform a basic tool chest into a woodworker's show piece. Creating a rough sketch of the tool chest type as well as measuring and marking the wood pieces act as a guide prior to assembling the design.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Drawing paper
  • Drafting pencils
  • Wood (your choice)
  • Paint remover
  • Old rags
  • Coarse steel wool
  • Steel tape measure
  • Carpenter's pencil
  • Ruler
  • Jigsaw
  • Mitre saw
  • Protective eyewear
  • Protective gloves
  • Cove bit
  • Router
  • Wood glue
  • Clamp
  • Drill
  • Drill-bit
  • Slot cutter (optional)
  • Decorative handle
  • High-speed engraving pen
  • Wood stain
  • Nail gun
  • 2 butt hinges

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  1. 1

    Draw a rough sketch on drawing paper of the wooden tool chest you want to build. Draw a few concepts to select from with drafting pencils. Make sure you include a lid as well as a handle as part of the chest design.

  2. 2

    Draw a sketch for the chest's lid. If you plan to carve or engrave a decorative pattern, draw a few concepts to select from as well.

  3. 3

    Choose the type of wood for the chest, such as walnut, mahogany, cherry, rosewood, teak, redwood, fir, spruce or pine. Different varieties are sold at your local lumber or home-improvement store. If you are recycling wood from furniture or previous projects, strip the wood of previous finishes. For example, use paint remover with old rags and coarse steel wool and make sure you have got the remover out from the cracks or crevices in the wood.

  4. 4

    Measure the height, depth and length of the tool chest with a steel tape measure. For instance, front, back and bottom panels, a lid and two end side panels are needed to build a basic tool chest. Use dimensions such as 6 inch height by 15 inch length for the front and back panels, 6 inch height by 8 inch depth for the end side panels and 8 inch depth by 15 inch length for the lid and bottom panel.

  5. 5

    Mark the pattern measurements directly onto the wood pieces with a carpenter's pencil and ruler.

  6. 6

    Cut out the wood pieces with a jigsaw. Flush the pieces to nail together or mitre the edges with a mitre saw. Wear protective eyewear and gloves to prevent injury from sawdust or splinters. Vacuum your work area as needed.

  7. 7

    Mark the front panel to rout a finger relief. Although this step is optional, the shaped finger relief helps you open the lid. To cut the relief, mount a cove bit on your router. Keep in mind the final height of the cut is equal to the bit's cutting radius.

  1. 1

    Spread wood glue at the bottom edges of the front and back panels and around the bottom panel. Affix the front and back panels to the bottom panel and clamp them together.

  2. 2

    Drill a 2-inch diameter hole with the appropriate-sized drill-bit at each side end. Another alternative is to use a slot cutter to drill the slots for the handles. Make sure the end placement matches in order to insert the handle and convert the chest into a portable tool chest. If you purchased a decorative handle and will be drilling nails into the side ends, skip this step.

  3. 3

    Spread wood glue at the bottom edges of the end side panels and along the side panels. Affix the panels and clamp them together.

  4. 4

    Engrave or carve your decorative design. As an option, use a high-speed engraving pen for wood. Skip this step if your design does not include a decorative lid.

  5. 5

    Stain the lid with your selected wood stain colour. Recycle old rags to stain the lid and wipe away excess stain colour. According to "Box-Making Basics" David M. Freedman writes, "Before assembling, apply at least one coat of finish to the lid panel. This way, when movement occurs, you won't see an unfinished area that had previously been concealed by the frame." Do not apply finish to the areas where you plan to add the glue or hinges.

  6. 6

    Remove the clamps and drill in the nails at the front, back and bottom panels as well as at the end side panels to assemble the base of the tool chest. Another option is to use a nail gun.

  7. 7

    Position the lid onto the base. Mark an equal distance location for the two butt hinges. Decorative or ornamental butt hinges are meant to be surface-mounted on the back of the tool chest.

  8. 8

    Drill small pilot holes and screw the butt hinges at the back to install the lid. Pilot holes are drilled into the wood surface prior to installing a screw. It prevents the wood from splitting and improves accuracy for screw placement.

  9. 9

    Mark the placement for the handle at both end side panels. Drill the pilot holes and screw in the handle ends. If you had drilled two slots for the handle, spread wood glue around the protruding handle ends and insert them into the slots. Nail the handle in place with the nail gun.

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