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Store Your Tools in This Handy Tray Tower

Updated: Dec. 13, 2019

Store your hand tools in style

FH11OCT_TOOTOW_01-2Family Handyman
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.

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Alternating paddle pulls

The rounded alternating pulls give this tool tray cabinet a unique and very appealing appearance.

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.

Cut the back and sides a little oversize

Photo 1: Mark and cut the dadoes for the drawers.

Mark the dado bottoms on the edges beginning at 13/16 in. up from the bottom and then every 2 in. Don’t cut a dado in the center—that’s where the stretcher goes. After cutting all 10 dadoes, cut off the top, 2-3/4 in. above the last dado bottom.

Photo 2: Prefinish the interior surfaces

Protect the gluing areas with masking tape and varnish surfaces on the cabinet interior. It’s much easier to do now than later. For smooth tray operation, be sure to brush out any varnish pools or drips inside the dadoes.

Photo 3: Assemble the box

Glue and nail the box together with 1-1/2-in. brads. Then mark the dadoes to avoid misses when you nail on the back with 1-in. brads. Glue the perimeter, then nail one edge flush with the box side. Square up the box with the back to nail the second side. Then finish nailing the remaining two sides.

Photo 4: Mark the paddle pulls

Cut the tray bottoms into 15-1/2 x 13-3/4-in. rectangles. Draw a line 12 in. from the back edge of the trays and mark a centerline. Use the centerline and one of the corners as a guide while you trace around a spray paint can to mark the curves. Then cut the shapes with a band saw or jigsaw.

Photo 5: Gang-sand the tray bottoms

Clamp the tray bottoms together and sand the fronts of them all at once. Get them roughed out and then finish up with a random orbital sander. (If you have a dedicated drum sander or drum sander accessory for your drill press, use that for the inside curves.)

Photo 6: Build the trays

Glue and nail the tray sides together. Center one of the bottoms with equal overhangs, then mark a centering block to guide you while you glue and nail on the bottoms. You’ll need to use the block on just one side for each tray.

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.

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

  • 1-1/2-in. brad nails
  • 1-in. brad nails
  • 1/4" x 4 x 8 birch plywood
  • 3/4" x 4 x 8 birch plywood
  • Indoor/outdoor carpeting (optional)
  • Painter's tape
  • Varnish
  • Wood glue