Tops, bottoms, sides and partitions cut to size

The material I used was what I had on hand. Both available workshop space and convenience dictated that my tool chest would sit on the wall bench behind my main workbench, under the wall-hung tool cabinet I built a while ago. It meant that I would have to be committed to keeping the benchtop clear to provide both access to the drawers and room to temporarily place things while I work on projects. You probably know what I mean!

To make three identical chests, I machined six identical tops and bottoms and nine identical sides and middle partitions out of a few 3/4" thick solid pine glued-up panels I purchased on clearance 10 years ago. What a great deal it was!

Left: Shop made sacrificial fence. Right: Dry assembly of top, bottom, sides and partition.

To cut a series of rabbets and dadoes on all above-mentioned parts, I temporarily added a shop-made sacrificial fence (shown) to the table saw rip fence and installed a full-width stacked dado blade set. Both ends of the top and bottom require rabbets cut to half thickness and center dados cut to the same depth.

Left: Cutting dadoes in center partition. Right: Rabbet is cut to accept back panel.

The sides and center partitions require a series of narrow 1/4" deep dadoes to match the thickness of the drawer bottoms. To get evenly spaced dadoes, I took the time to make a template on a sheet of grid paper to show where to set the rip fence to mill the latter-mentioned dadoes. Cut the dadoes to the center, then spin the workpiece around 180° and cut from the edge to the center again. As shown in the below right photo, rabbets should be cut to accept the back panel, and center partitions ripped accordingly.

Left: Gluing and nailing assembly. Right: Checking back panel for square by measuring diagonals.

A dry assembly is essential to ensure all joints fit perfectly. It also allows you to take exact measurements for the back panels. As mentioned, I used what I had on hand, including 1/4" thick perforated hardboard for the back panels. To make sure they are square, diagonals should be equal, as shown. The next steps consist of applying glue on all joints and then nailing and clamping each frame.

Showing how chests can be stacked

As mentioned, if I need to or want to, I can stack the three chests onto a mobile base to end up with a tall rolling tool chest. However, this is not my goal for now.

Left: Testing fit for drawer bottoms. Right: All drawer bottoms cut and in position.

Once again, I had 5/16" thick HDF (high-density fiberboard) on hand, which is appropriate for the required drawer bottoms because it is flat, stiff and slick. I cut a single bottom, tested it in all 48 drawer dadoes, and then cut the remaining 47 identically.

Drawer side pieces cut and stored in their locations

To construct each drawer’s four sides, I first gathered all 1/2" Baltic birch plywood scraps I had in the shop. I ripped to height and temporarily crosscut, a bit oversized, all four side pieces, which I slipped into their location, as shown. Afterwards I cut and ripped about a half sheet of the 1/2" Baltic birch plywood to end up filling all 48 drawer spaces.

Drawer pieces cut and sides ready for rabbets

All drawer fronts and backs fit between rabbets milled into the side inner walls. All sides being the same length, only the fronts and backs have to be fine tuned to fit between the rabbets, leaving just enough of a gap for the drawers to slide freely, but not loosely.

Left: User made hold-down jig. Right: Cutting rabbets on drawer sides.

After a few minutes of holding the sides tightly on the table saw to cut the rabbets, I started to feel significant pain in my arthritic fingers. Having to cut a total of 192 rabbets, it was worth it to look around to find the hold-down jig I devised years ago to cut a good number of tenons. The jig consists of an auxiliary fence fastened to the miter gauge, on which a continuous piano hinge bridges to a 2 x 4. Stapled onto the back lower rounded edge of the 2 x 4 is a long strip of fine-grit sandpaper to simultaneously grab and press workpieces down on the table saw and backwards against the miter gauge. For stability, the height is set so the sandpaper will be approximately centered on the workpieces, as shown. The palm of my hand is now the main source of down pressure, providing instant relief for my fingers.

Using a shop-made  table with a raised 90° corner for assembly

To ensure each drawer assembly is perfectly centered on the bottom, I developed a simple set-up. After trying each completed drawer assembly in its space, I glued and nailed the four rabbetted corner joints. Then, using my shop-made assembly table that features a raised 90° corner, I tucked in the bottom and the side assembly. I machined two short identical strips to fill the gap on the right side, as shown.

Aligning drawer assembly prior to gluing

Moving those two filler strips to the left end to end, as well as pushing the drawer frame against them, automatically centers the drawer assembly. I temporarily flipped the assembly over, spread a continuous bead of glue and applied downward pressure for about one minute to allow the glue to tack. The last step is to carefully flip the drawer over, one last time, to nail the bottom to the sides.

Using plastic jugs filled with sand instead of clamps

After assembling each drawer, I stacked them and temporarily added weight, in the form of plastic jugs filled with dry sand (18 lb each). This provided another quick-and-easy solution instead of using clamps.

Drawer pulls made from scraps

Being on the thrifty side, I gathered and sized all Baltic birch plywood offcuts to end up with all 48 required pulls. I chamfered the corners, smoothed the edges and rounded over the two inner end edges on my homemade disc sander. After I applied two coats of shellac, I fastened the pulls to the drawer fronts with a single screw driven from the inside. To ensure each pull would be level, I used a shim to drop the pulls on while tightening the screws, all done flat on the workbench.

Left: Drawers finished with shellac. Right: Completed drawer chests.

I've been dreaming of such storage for a long time and it's finally done according to my current needs, but also for my previously mentioned potential needs. For now, the whole thing is 75" long, 16" high and 12" deep. As a tall stack-on tool chest, it would be 25" wide, 48" tall and 12" deep, excluding the optional mobile base.


By the way, the drawers are not all filled yet. Happy and safe woodworking!


Serge Duclos


Serge Duclos started woodworking in 1972 after purchasing his first 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 with his projects, as well as his tips and techniques.

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