Rolling Shop Storage - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Shop Storage: These rolling storage cabinets will help out in more ways than you can imagine around the shop. You won’t know what you did without them.

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Rolling Shop Storage



Photos by Hans Braul; Illustration by Len Churchill
 
INFO:DIFFICULTY – 2/5, LENGTH/TIME – 3/5, COST – 2/5
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As hobbyists, most of us do woodworking for the satisfaction it gives us. For some, it’s the finished product, whatever path you took to get there. For others, like me, it’s the process. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing an idea taking shape through the use of finely tuned tools and ever-improving skills. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. But if there is one thing that dulls that sense, it is the chaos that comes from a congested mess with too many tools with no home. Dropped chisels, scratched pieces that were ready for finish, tools that simply disappear until the project is finished. Add to that the frustration of trying to maintain a clean shop when every corner is jammed with homeless tools. Some people thrive in such a space (think Einstein). Those of you need read no further. For the rest of us, our enjoyment depends in large measure on organization, especially when our space is limited.

For me, the solution was to replace a roughly built set of open shelves made of construction lumber with a utility bench and a set of rolling cabinets that could accommodate all the hand-held tools that I use on any regular basis.
 
Start with some planning
The first step was to lay out all the tools that needed a proper home, and measure each one. Then I thought about exactly how and when I would be using these tools.

Which tools were the most frequently used? Which tools would likely be added to my collection in the foreseeable future? I took a hard look at low-quality tools that had somehow found their way into my collection (gifts, inheritance, poor choices from another time, etc). Some had never been used and some had been replaced with better versions. I decided that any tool that had not been used in the last five years or so did not deserve a home. These went to the “Kijiji pile”.

Once I had decided on which tools were to be stored and in which configuration, I used Sketchup to design the drawer configuration.

It was important to provide just enough room for each tool, with minimal wasted space. By carefully arranging the available space, I was amazed that I could easily accommodate my entire collection, with space available for future acquisitions.
 
The bench
The workbench top was constructed as a torsion box, from 1/2" Baltic birch. The internal grid was an 8" square pattern. The vise was mounted to the top by through bolts that engaged T-nuts, set in a reinforcing block internal to the box. The bench was set on a set of three 3/4" BB dividers that were secured to the floor and back wall using L-brackets. The dividers were spaced to allow about 1/2" clearance on the sides and 1" clearance on the tops of the cabinets.
 
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Solid WorktopTorsion box construction yields a rigid work surface. Braul supported it with two plywood gables and a divider, and used L-brackets to secure the vertical panels to the ground.
 
Simple and strong cabinets
The construction of the cabinets was pretty straightforward. The cases were of 3/4" Baltic birch, with dado joints on the corners, cut with a router, then glued and reinforced with through Dominos.

One of the cases included dividers to allow for two sets of narrower drawers. I chose not to dado the dividers to the case sides and top, reasoning that the through Dominos, together with 1/2" back panels, would provide more than adequate strength and rigidity. I cut the backs to size and glued and pinned them into the rabbets in the back of the case. I mounted heavy-duty 3" locking casters on the bottom of each case using 5/16" through bolts and T-nuts.

The top of each cabinet includes finger-slots to allow the cabinet to be maneuvered in and out of their home under the bench. These were cut using a spade bit and jigsaw, and finished using a 1/8 " round-over bit in a router.

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Add Case JoineryAfter cutting the case parts to size, Braul used his router table to machine rabbets for joinery. A table saw could also have been used.
 
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Additional Strength – Domino tenons were added into the case corner joints to add additional strength (left). Once the glue was dry, the tenons were cut flush with the outer surface and sanded smooth (right).
Drawers
The drawer sides were made from 1/2" Baltic birch plywood, with 1/4" BB ply bottoms, rabbeted into the sides and glued. I debated whether this would provide sufficient strength, but it is clear that even for my heaviest tools, these drawers provide adequate strength. For the drawer glides, I chose to use standard Blum glides for the lighter items, and heavy-duty full extension roller glides for the drawers that would hold heavier power tools. This choice was simply a matter of cost. The drawers’ corners were constructed by gluing and pin-nailing the boxes together, then adding through Dominos.

It was important to ensure the boxes were square and correctly dimensioned, since the drawer guides allowed only 1/32" tolerance.

I happened to have some thin spalted cherry that had been sitting in my stash for many years. Because it was less than 3/4" thick in the rough state, I had never found a project where it could be used effectively. So I decided to take the plunge and give it a place of honour in my shop, in the form of false drawer fronts. The false fronts were mounted to the drawer boxes using self-tapping screws from the inside. The drawer fronts were separated from each other and from the case sides by 1/8 ". To mount the drawer fronts accurately, I used 1/8 " spacers, clamped the false front to the drawer box and worked from the bottom drawer up to fix them all in place.
 
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Dominos EverywhereIn addition to adding strength to the rolling cases, Braul added them to the drawer joints.
 
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Work UpwardsOnce the cases, drawer boxes, and false fronts were complete, Braul worked from the bottom, upwards, clamping, and screwing on the false fronts. He used 1/8" spacers below each false front to maintain a gap on the front below.
 
A home for each tool
Once the drawers were assembled and installed, the next task was to organize the space so that tools would be held securely. See the sidebar to learn how I did this.
 
The Finish
I applied three coats of wipe-on poly to the drawers. For the bench and cabinet boxes, I used four coats of a tough polyurethane floor varnish. I wanted these surfaces to withstand considerable wear, as I could see some tough days ahead for these pieces.
 
How are they used?
I have found that this project has transformed my shop in many ways. The biggest improvement is knowing exactly where all my tools are. Also, when I’m doing hand work I can have the tools close at hand, and I can conveniently return each tool to its home between uses. Another benefit is the cabinets can be used as table saw infeed or outfeed tables. A final advantage to having the cabinets around is that they work wonderfully as assembly surfaces.
 
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At Arm’s ReachNot only does Braul know exactly where his tools are, but he can roll them to where he’s working, saving time and energy.
 
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Assembly TablesWhile you’re working on future projects, you will find many uses for these rolling cabinets. Using the pair as assembly tables will come in handy from time to time.
 
Was it worth it?
For me, the answer is a resounding yes, but it comes down to individual comfort level. Some woodworkers have taken their shop furniture and storage to an art form, while others barely give it a thought. I fall somewhere in the middle. This project was a significant investment of my time, and the materials weren’t free. But the result is an attractive, organized space that makes me feel at peace when I enter my shop.
 
Dealing with Drawers
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For the drawers for my tool collection, I used a variety of options. For some drawers – mainly the smaller ones – I made a simple grid of 1/4" BB ply held together with pin nails and secured to the drawer sides using double-sided tape. This gave me lots of flexibility down the road, when my tool collection morphed, and I needed to make adjustments. I was also sure to create specific homes for sharp tools that could be easily damaged. I didn’t want them moving around at all.
When dealing with many of my large drawers I opted for 1/2" thick Baltic birch plywood. I cut the pieces to size and either glued them in place or, again, used pins and double-sided tape. It all depended on how sure I was that I would have a specific tool around for decades. For some other drawers, I simply cut strips of wood to size then hot-glued them onto the drawer bottoms to hold the tools in place. I consider these partitions dispensable, since changes will be inevitable as new tools are acquired and/or more optimal arrangements are realized.
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HANS BRAUL
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For Hans, there are few things more enjoyable in life than getting completely absorbed in a woodworking project – a perfect counterbalance to the sometimes rarified world of nuclear energy consulting.