Home > Woodworking > 10-Drawer Small Tool Chest – Build Redux

10-Drawer Small Tool Chest – Build Redux

Don’t be hatin’ but I’ve decided to build another 10-drawer small tool chest. When the decision was made to give the first one as a gift, I had it in the back of my mind that I just might build another one and consequently I made sure to keep all my notes, story sticks and templates which I had assembled in the process. These tools along with the experience of having made it once, have proven to be of great help. Rather than documenting the build again I’m going to jot down a few of my observations.

Build it more than Once

One of the Shop Talk Live “favorite techniques of all time, for this week” was to build it more than once. There was also a discussion regarding the benefits of building a prototype/life-sized mock-ups. I can definitely see the benefits of mock-ups which if made correctly can be used as templates and if made “incorrectly” provide valuable information on what to fix before building the real thing. In the old days, models were often used to work out some of the bugs and they can be useful but most of use now build our models on the computer using SketchUp. The beauty in this is obvious, speed of development, ability to scale adjust and tweak the design and to have plans when the time comes to build it. As an exercise, I put this tool chest plan in SketchUp and although I haven’t had need to refer to it, I think doing so helped me solidify the design.


I consciously preserved the simple templates which were used in the first build. One such item was a hardboard shim with several wraps of duct tape around it. This shim plus the width of the saw blade allowed me to cut the dado required for the drawer slides in three passes of the blade. To this I added a new trick, I cut two  1-7/8″ spacers to represent the drawer height. Instead of lining up the cut each time to the blade and setting the stop block, I simply used the spacer to “advance” the work-piece and then relocated the stop block to the work-piece. One of the sides had layout lines for each of the ten drawers (Note: both the drawer and dado slot where marked). I didn’t trust myself to cut blindly so I used the reference marks to keep me honest but used the spacer for accuracy and consistency. After cutting a slot on the marked piece I relied on the stop block to cut blindly on the second. I was pretty confident in the system but ONLY after testing it on a piece of scrap before making the first. Failure to have tested and worked out the bugs would have resulted in disaster. I also used the test cuts to tweak the width of the dado before cutting for real.

Previous Mistakes

It sure helps to remember your previous mistakes and if wise to devise new strategies to prevent repeating them. The drawer spacer was one such example which will (hopefully) make my drawers much more consistent in their size. Individually cutting and fitting the 10 drawers was painful last time because the dados were somewhat inconsistent. I am hopeful this will speed the cutting and fitting drawers this time.

On the last build I spend a lot of time laying out the sides. I suppose I could have printed a full-sized template out of SketchUp, that would have really been nice. The experience of the first build helped keep me on track this time. On both occasions I started at the top and marked in the direction toward the bottom. After the first such attempt this weekend I saw the error in this. Starting at the bottom allowed me to layout all the essential components which included the cutout for the feet, the panel for the case bottom, the drawers, and case top. Whatever was left-over would form the non-critical decorative arcs. The drawers were quickly laid out by leap frogging them up the side panel making this work quick and accurate.

Revised Methods

I had some trouble getting the drawers to side smoothly on the first build. The dados were actually too small for 1/4″ chisel or router blade and I didn’t become aware of the issue in earnest until after the carcass had been glued up. This time I wanted to do a better job so I found a piece of 1/8″ hardboard and used it as a sanding block. I kept working each dado until the drawer bottom scrap piece moved smoothly trough the entire length. A couple of the grooves needed work and it was good to have caught it before case assembly.

The first time through, I cut the center arch out of an oak board and THEN glued it to the plywood back. This made cutting the arc using the band saw a simple process but it did make clamping the arch to the plywood panel more challenging. Last time I accomplished this by using the arch cut-offs as a clamping caul. This time I glued the oak board onto the plywood first which made clamping easy.  It also allowed me to hold the back panel up to the side panels and make adjustments to the center arc before cutting it. On the first build the arcs were a best guess based on the plans and a make-shift trammel I cobbled together. This time I had printed a template out of SketchUp from the model which saved a lot of time and guessing although I am kind of sad I didn’t get to test out my brand new trammel setup from Rockler. (Actually not true trammel points rather the Rockler 3-in-1 Bar Guage kit which can be setup as a trammel). Instead of cutting the (now large) panel on the band saw I used my jig saw and faired the curve on the belt sander.

On a similar theme, the plywood case bottom has a 3/8″x 3/4″ oak strip glued to the front. Rather than guessing the exact final thickness of the strip, I cut the bottom slightly over-sized. Once the strip was set, I used the oak top panel to precisely mark and cut the bottom to proper size.

There are two main points here I think. First thinking a couple of steps ahead in the process can save a lot a trouble down the road. For example gluing the oak top piece on before cutting saved trouble both clamping and setting final dimensions. Second having built previously built a piece provides much useful feedback both for what worked and what didn’t on the previous go.

Planing Ahead

I made a few mistakes regarding the pulls last build. Perhaps they weren’t mistakes per se but they were decisions that I’d like to improve on this time round. I didn’t make my own redheart pulls from plugs rather I opted to cut lengths of poplar dowels. The dowel I selected was smaller than the 1/2″ diameter pulls used in the plans. This made fitting a dowel a bit more of a challenge. The plans have a nice jig used on the drill press so a centered hole can be drilled to accept the dowel but mine was off-center. As I installed each knob, I rotated them until they were centered on the drawer front and lowest from the mid-line. This time I plan on using larger pulls and getting the holes centered before proceeding. My plan is to drill a 1/2″ recess in a piece of scrap using a Forstner bit, where the center point pokes through represents the center of the dowel. I can then insert a dowel in the recess and mark the center from the backside. Or better yet, I’ll drill a 1/2″ recess in a  clamped piece of scrap on the drill press. I’ll then change the bit for the dowel and adjust the stop to the proper depth. I can then use the recess to hold the 1/2″ pull while drilling the center hole for the dowel. I’m not trying to make it complicated but last time I couldn’t find the center of the dowel to make the simpler jig used. After my trip tool hunting at Christmas I now have a center finder attachment that would probably work also.

One of the more onerous mistakes I made in the last build was to install the knobs before routing the upper and lower beads on the drawer fronts. The knobs interfered with the bit causing sloppy work and the requirement to hand carve the bead surrounding the knobs. The problem was so worrisome that I considered sawing off the knobs and starting over. I would have done so if I though I could have done a clean job but I was concerned that I might dig a deeper hole if I started down that path. Ugh, won’t do that this time route first, then attach.

Tool Chest Redux

Tool Chest Redux – let’s make another one

You have been reading shop notes of the Turtlecovebrewer

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