Home > Woodworking > 10-Drawer Small Tool Chest – Part 1

10-Drawer Small Tool Chest – Part 1

I think it’s pretty normal for woodworkers, especially beginning woodworkers to want to build boxes. If you think about it, boxes make satisfying projects because they have a bit of complexity yet once completed offer utility and often-times beauty for the builder. As an aspiring luthier I ran across the Gerstner Tool Chest and although I can’t explain exactly why, I really wanted one. It’s probably the allure of it being a “Luthier’s Tool Chest”.


Gerstner Tool Chest Kit sold by Stewart-McDonald

Of course, this post isn’t about that chest rather it is about another chest that I decided to build. If you look around you can find free plans for just about anything and if you’re a little further along on your woodworking journey you can probably figure out how to build most things simply by seeing a good set of pictures of it. I have found that at my skill level, I still require a detailed set of plans to keep me on track. I know what you’re probably thinking “you should draw your own plans” or “plans are for wimps” or some such non-sense. For me the reality is that woodworking is difficult enough even knowing what you’re supposed accomplish, I don’t need to make it any more difficult than it already is. So there, I’ve said it!

As I mentioned earlier, if you look hard enough you can find free plans for just about anything. The downside is that you might end up building something that isn’t exactly what you needed or wanted and that’s fine if it’s just practice. I kept hearing about Jim Stack’s plan for a 10-Drawer tool chest so I finally purchased it. Looks nice, functional with simple joinery, that’s it I’m in. So if you like what I’m building, I suggest you purchase his plans or better yet buy one of his books! This is chest I’m attempting!


10-Drawer Tool Chest plans published by Jim Stack

Bill of Materials

So this is where every project begins is it not? The good news, a BOM was thoughtfully provided with these plans but for the novice (I’m talking me here) figuring out what I actually need to buy is always a bit awkward. For example, the sides of this case are listed as 12″. Now we all know that if I buy a 1×12″ the sides will only be 11 1/4″ wide. The plans state that a strip is glued to the back to make stopped dados from through cuts but this is listed as 3/8″  in thickness. So how in hell do I get 12″ inches, am I expect to joint two boards for the sides? Not only is that more work  (I don’t have a jointer nor a planer) but it would also be more expensive and waste wood. If I go with the 1×12″ does that affect the other dimensions, and so on. So the bad news, I spent a bit of time trying to figure out exactly what to buy so that I had enough material, without wasting boards. The good news was the time I spent figuring this out paid dividends when I was in the Blue Big Box store making my purchase. Still, I created my own spreadsheet and made it available during the purchase. I decided to build it in oak and ended up spending close to $200 for the lumber. I could have probably saved some if I purchased the 1/4″ plywood as a full sheet and if I purchased long boards and ripped my own drawer sides but the convenience of being able to load everything in my car without sawing in the parking lot and the ease of estimating need won the day. This basically what I purchased. I’m not sure if I’m going to use the poplar dowels or not but I went ahead and bought them just in case.


Part Material Qty
Sides and Top 1X12X6 RED OAK BOARD 1
Crown and Strips 1X4X2 RED OAK BOARD 1
Back and Bottom ¾  X2X4 OAK PLY 1
Drawer Bottoms (bought an extra) ¼ 2X4 BIRCH PLY 5
Drawer Fronts ½ X3X4 OAK (PROJECT) 5
Drawer Sides and Backs ½ X3X4 POPLAR (PROJECT) 10
Plugs to cover counter bore screws 3/8-IN X 48-IN RND POP DOWEL  1
Pulls 1/2-IN X 48-IN RND POP DOWEL  1

So this is the bulk of it, I think I had a 1x4x2 oak board at home so your mileage may vary but as you may have deduced, I did go with the 1×12 in lieu of jointing up smaller boards. During the build I also decided to make the drawers 16″ wide instead of 15″ as called in the plans. This may come back to bite me but I had a lot of extra wood so I figured why not? It shouldn’t throw off the “look” of the chest that much and I’ll be wasting less wood while adding an inch times 10 to the drawer space.

Let The Games Begin – Day 1

So I began with this nice piece of oak that would form the sides and top of the chest.


I finally had the opportunity to use my cross cut sled extension which was kind of satisfying.


I squared up the board by taking a small piece off the end, then used a stop block to cut the sides the same length. The top will also be cut from this board but I didn’t do that until later. So far so good.


The better part of the morning was spent with my head in the plans trying to sort out the next steps. A template (or SketchUp drawing) would have been invaluable but as it was I needed to 1) figure out the best arcs of each foot 2) same for the top of the sides 3) figure out the dimension and layout of the 10 dados that needed to cut into each side.

I began by making an impromptu trammel and experimenting with the base. Instructions were vague but clear enough to lay out a design I thought worked. I then did the same for the side crowns.

IMG_3709  IMG_3710

Don’t be fooled by these pics, this is the trammel I made but this was not the final layout nor even how I marked it out. As it turns out, I had to make the bottom arc much smaller for everything to fit properly. This because although I drew a single line for the top piece, I didn’t draw the bottom line representing its thickness. This lead to my first “DISASTER!” I oh so carefully used the calipers to figure out and carefully score where each drawer dado should be cut and it worked out perfectly, except that I needed another 3/4″ inch for the top and bottom to fit. Oh crap! If I had used a pencil I could have erased it but with the cuts, I had to sand them out. This is where a cup of coffee would have been helpful….

So once I had sanded out the erroneous score marks, I began again first by redrawing  and reducing the height of the bottom arc by 3/4″ and then by starting again at the top 3/4″ lower (to account for the thickness of the top). Sigh.

IMG_3712  IMG_3711

With a bit of patience, I was back on track. Drawer height interval was right at 2″ although I set the calipers to an exact 1.998″ for my specific piece. Right, because my work is that good 😉

Satisfied with the layout and taking a deep breath I now move to the table saw to cut the 1/4″ x 1/4″ deep dado slots for the drawers. Only problem is that I haven’t purchased a dado stack so I’m going to use multiple cuts with my regular saw blade to form the slot. I’m bright enough to realize that I’m going to need to do some testing to get this sorted, I’ve never attempted anything like this before but I knew it was doable. I began by considering my saw kerf was 1/8″ then 1/4″ should be exactly two kerfs of the blade. I found a scrap of wood about 1/8″ thick and used it as a spacer for the first pass. I would then remove the shim and scoot the work piece over to the stop block for the second cut. A test fit showed the slot was too small for my plywood bottoms so I used duct tape and successive test cuts to dial in just the right thickness needed for the ply. I could now cut a precise dado with three cuts for each slot. Here was the setup I used.

IMG_3713  IMG_3715

It did occur to me that I could use stop blocks and a 2″ spacer to make my drawer spacing even and accurate with minimal fuss but at the time, I couldn’t get my brain around how to set this up. So I opted to just line up each stop by eye. I was careful to not move the stop block between sides so whatever error there was between drawer spacing’s would be duplicated on both sides. I will be able to account for this by carefully fitting each drawer as I make them. Hopefully they are all close enough so it won’t matter. The first hurdles have been cleared.


As you can see at this point, I have band sawed off the tops and finished shaping them on the belt sander. Looks like Moses just can down from the mountain in this pic. That pretty much consumed day one of the build. I was tired and it was time for dinner, a shower and my wife.

Day 2 – More Cutting, Dado Edges and Shaping

Refreshed and ready to go I begin by tackling the edge banding that will provide the stop for the “stopped dados”. Turns out I had a piece of flame oak laying about which I had hand selected from the regular old wood pile at the Orange Big Box store. Since I didn’t have a good color match for this banding, I decided to make it contrasting, so I used the figured oak piece. I started by thinking I could glue up both sides at once but the old adage, “you can never have too many clamps” dictated that I do one side at a time. By the time I had ripped the pieces, sequentially glued and flushed everything up a couple of hours had passed. To keep the edge piece lined up I used a couple of small clamps to straddle the two pieces on both ends (first photo below). I discovered this was necessary after the first glue up. Fortunately I was able to crank the first one back in line before the glue had set.

IMG_3722  IMG_3718

While the glue was setting up I went ahead and cut the plywood back and bottom and the oak top. For the 3/4″ plywood I used a circular saw to cut it to rough dimension, then took it over to my table saw where I could rip it to size and finalize the length with my cross cut sled. I was pretty psyched that all of this went smoothly with the tools and shop setup.

Next I realized that I hadn’t yet cut and shaped the arched feet so it was over to the band saw and spindle sander once again. The remainder of the day was spent relieving edges, smoothing and sanding the sides. I also experimented with some wood filler to see if it was suitable as a pore filler. Oak is very porous so I want to fill the grain but like so many firsts I’ve encountered on this project, I haven’t actually ever done it. I tried it “full strength” and it was terrible to work with, like spreading beach sand onto your project. Next I diluted it water and that worked much better but still dried way too quickly. I’m thinking more water and hopefully it will flow on more like a paste than a clump of sandy clay. I would also consider coloring it but alas, I don’t have any dyes …. poor me….. sniff….

So I was pretty happy with the project so far. Who’d have thunk it?


I feel the sides are everything I could have hoped for and I have learned a bunch along the journey. It’s seems a good idea to pre-finish as much of the project as possible before assembly so finished the day with a seal coat of shellac on the parts that won’t need glue. I’ll pore fill next, then continue with finish coats before final assembly of the casework.

Here’s the weekend’s effort, sides, top, bottom and back with a coat of sealer on the face side.


I’d like to start right in with making the drawers but.. I think it best to assemble the case before diving in. That way there can be no mistake with the required dimensions. So next time I’ll continue with finishing and assembling the case.

You have been reading an excerpt from the shop journal of the Turtlecovebrewer.



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