Lee Valley & Veritas Woodworking
Lee Valley 35 Years  
  Volume 7, Issue 6 - July 2013    
Build a Rolling Tool Tote
The rolling tool tote design calls for readily available materials: a cheap hand truck (it could be an axle and two wheels), 3/4" and 1/2" thick plywood, 1/4" thick MDF (you could use plywood or hardboard) and common hardware. The dimensions of the tote shown are 36" high x 16" wide x 12" deep, but you can adapt those measurements according to your needs, storage space and strength. As you will see, the final result is quite versatile.
Getting Started: The Casing
Ensure your saw blade is set to 90° and rip two 12" strips from a sheet of 3/4" plywood (MDO plywood shown). From those strips, cut two 12"x35" long sides and a 12"x16" long top and bottom. Set aside the remaining material to use for the front doors.
  Cutting the sides, top and bottom
Install a dado blade set in your table saw and a sacrificial fence to protect the rip fence. Set the width according to the thickness of your 3/4" plywood and the depth to 1/2". Mill a rabbet at each end of the top and bottom pieces. Move the rip fence closer to set the width of the dado to 1/2" (the thickness of the plywood to be used for the back panel). Mill the required rabbets on the back of both sides and the back of the top and bottom.   Milling the required rabbets
Clamp the four sides together, ensuring all joints fit tightly. Measure the distance between the back rabbets and cut the 1/2" thick plywood to size for the back panel. When done, check the diagonals to ensure the casing is square. Put aside the back panel at this time.   Clamping the four sides together
Set your dado blade to 1/4" wide and 3/8" deep and measure the inside walls of the sides from top to bottom and rabbet to rabbet. Divide by the number of drawers you want. For versatility, all of the drawers should be identical so that you can slide any one of them into any of the locations. All of my drawers are 4" tall and fit into all of the 4-1/16" high locations. When ready, mill all dadoes and use glue and nails to assemble the casing, ensuring that it's square.   Milling the dadoes for the drawers
Building the Inner Parts
The dadoes that you mill in the sides may cause the panels to bow, as mine did. Size and cut a 1/4" plywood fixed shelf to width to keep the sides parallel and reinforce the casing. Glue, nail and clamp this shelf and let it dry. Meanwhile, measure and cut 1/4" MDF (or other material) drawer bottoms that will easily slide in the side dadoes. They should be about 1/16" narrower than the distance from dado bottom to dado bottom.
Installing a fixed shelf   Measuring the drawer bottoms
Rip 1/2" plywood strips about 1/16" narrower than the vertical distance between the adjacent edges of the dadoes. From those strips, cut drawer fronts and backs 1/8" narrower than the distance between the insides of the casing sides. Use the table saw to mill a 1/4" deep rabbet at each end for the drawer sides. To get the exact length for the drawer sides, slip one back into position in the casing and measure from the rabbet bottom to the front of the casing. Subtract the thickness of the front lip.   Cutting drawer fronts and backs
To add pulls to your drawer fronts, choose the best face of your 1/2" plywood stock. Clamp two drawer fronts side by side and use the drill press to bore a center hole using a 1-1/2" dia. Forstner bit or hole saw. Soften the edges of the pulls using a 1/8" round-over bit. Sand smooth.   Boring a hole
I came up with a simple, effective set-up for assembling the many drawers. Clamp two square brackets to the workbench to hold the drawer parts while you glue. Nail from above, the sides and into the front and back rabbets.   Gluing the drawer parts
After assembling the four sides of a drawer, immediately nail the bottom onto it before the glue sets, leaving an equal lip on each side. Stack the drawers one after the other and add a weight to ensure a good bond. (I filled a 4l plastic container with sand to make an 18 lb weight.) After the glue is set, your drawers should slide easily in each slot of the casing and stay put without tipping over when open.
Stacking the drawers   Inserting the drawers in the casing
Step Further
If you plan to put hardware and small or sharp tools in the drawers, here are some suggestions for storing them. Using double-sided tape, secure tin cans (I used sardines cans) on the bottom of a drawer and nail a thin cleat on each side to add a second removable layer. Another option is to cut and fit two plastic utensil trays that you can get at any discount store.
Attaching tin cans to the drawer bottom   Using utensil trays in the drawer bottom
Cut the doors to height and add 3/8" to the width of one door if you want them to overlap, as shown. By doing so, only one latch is required. Cut the rabbet and secure one door with two hinges. Lean the second door over to evaluate the width of the second rabbet. You are looking to leave a 1/16" gap on the front of the door. Hinge the second door and add a pull to each one.   Attaching the latch
Join the Casing to the Hand Truck
You can permanently attach the casing to the hand truck with nuts and bolts, but I find a better way is to use the French cleat system. At the table saw, rip two 16" long x 5" wide 3/4" plywood strips in half lengthwise at a 45° bevel. Drill the hand truck and bolt (flat head) two freshly ripped French cleats, bevel side up, close to both ends of the hand truck. Temporarily clamp the casing to the hand truck and spread glue on the two remaining cleats. Slip them into position, bevel side down, so that they match the bevel of the already installed cleats. Secure them to the casing with screws through the back into each side. Immediately unclamp the casing and remove any glue squeeze out. Drop the casing on its back and under the box screw a 5/8" spacer along the front bottom edge to compensate for the lower metal shelf of the hand truck. Add more screws in the cleats from the inside of the casing.
  Joining the casing to the hand truck
Adding a spacer
When you're ready to work, hook the casing onto the hand truck, hang some clamps and an electric cord (or garden hose) on the hand-truck handle, remove or add drawers and tools as needed, and lock the doors. Enjoy your new freedom!
Completed project, doors open   Completed project, doors closed
Additional Step
For winter storage, rip another French cleat and screw it to a wall (on the studs, of course). When you're not using your tool tote outside, hang it on the wall and use it as a typical tool cabinet.

Happy woodworking, happy gardening and happy travelling!
Text and photos by Serge Duclos

Serge Duclos started woodworking 40 years ago after purchasing a house. He soon found it was a way to relax from the stress related to his job as a human resources professional. Since retiring in 2004, Serge continues to enjoy his pastime and to update his bilingual woodworking blog http://atelierdubricoleur.wordpress.com with his projects, as well as his tips and techniques.
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