If one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2020 is to get your shop better organized, this easy-to-build, double drawer tool chest can help keep that promise. Ours is made of 1/4,” 1/2″ and 3/4″ Baltic birch plywood – this is a practical shop accessory, not a jewelry box. We used Rockler’s Drawer Lock Router Bit in the router table to form sturdy, interlocking corner joints for the drawers. The case’s butt joints are reinforced with stepped Miller Dowels that are as easy to install as drilling holes and pounding them in.
Making the Drawers
Your first inclination might be to make the tool chest’s case first, but then the drawers must be precisely fitted to its interior. The easier route – especially considering the interlocking nature of the corner joinery and how that impacts final part sizing – is to make the drawers first and wrap the case around them. Start by cutting two 7-1/2″ x 13″ pieces of 1/2″-thick Baltic birch plywood. They’ll yield all four upper and lower drawer sides.
Install the drawer lock bit in your router table, then take a close look at the photos. Notice that the geometry for a drawer lock joint consists of a tongue-and-groove profile on one piece that fits into a mirror image tongue-and-groove on the mating piece. Adjust the bit vertically so the cutter creates an equal-sized tongue-and-groove. Rockler offers a plastic setup block that can make finding this bit height quick and easy.
It also can help you determine bit projection out from the router table fence. But, if you don’t have the benefit of the setup block, move the fence until the top portion of the cutter will cut 1/4″ into the drawer side stock, and raise the bit 3/8″ above the table.
When the bit’s settings are dialed in, knife a line across the face of the plywood 3/8″ from both ends where the top corner of the router bit will intersect it, to help minimize tearout during routing. Now, carefully mill the profile across one face of both workpieces, on both ends, with the blanks standing vertically against the router table fence, to form the drawer side profile of the four corner joints. Set these workpieces aside for the moment.
Rip and crosscut another piece of 1/2″ Baltic to 7-1/2″ x 20-3/4″ to create both drawer backs. You’ll see that the drawer back has a thin, elongated tongue that covers the ends of the drawer sides.
To achieve this overlapping profile, reset the bit’s projection from the fence using the other end of Rockler’s setup block as a guide (the bit’s projection changes to 3/8″ but its height remains the same). Then mill this cut into both ends of the drawer back stock. Set this workpiece aside for now as well.
The drawer faces come next, and we’ll harvest them from the same piece of plywood as the tool chest’s top rail. Start with a piece of 3/4″ plywood measuring 10-3/4″ x 21-3/4″. Cut the 3″-wide front rail off the top of the panel (see photo 6). Then, trim 1/8″ off each short end of the remaining wider piece to create a single combined blank for both drawer fronts.
Study the photos and you’ll see that the thicker drawer front material creates a tongue that both covers the drawer sides and also conceals the ends of the drawer slides. The goal for this tongue length is 7/8″. To form it, make a series of passes into the ends of the drawer front workpiece, shifting the fence back a little with each pass to expose more of the router bit.
Make each new cut in a scrap piece first to check your progress, before continuing to rout the drawer front ends. Stop cutting when the length of the inside face of the drawer front blank matches the length of the inside face of the drawer back blank.
Now, dry-fit the corner joints. If they lock together well, rip the drawer side and drawer back blanks to their final widths. Then lower the saw blade to 1/4″ and plow 1/4″-wide grooves along the inside bottom edge of each drawer part to fit your 1/4″ drawer bottom plywood. Cut these grooves carefully so the plywood will fit them snugly.
Assemble the drawer boxes again in order to take inside measurements for the drawer bottoms. Cut the two drawer bottoms to size. Finish-sand all the drawer parts, and bring the drawer boxes together with glue and clamps.
Before the glue begins to set, be sure to check the boxes for square by measuring their diagonals: if the numbers match, you’re all set. If they don’t match, adjust the clamping pressure or the clamp positions to correct the problem; out-of-square drawers are a hassle to correct after the fact — especially when they’re made of plywood that can be hand-planed to correct things.
Lock-Align Drawer Organizers
A tool chest without some form of inner dividers will quickly become a disorganized dumping ground for hand tools and other small parts. But Rockler’s system of Lock-Align Drawer Organizers can help.
The interlocking, synthetic rubber components create a grid of compartment walls that you can customize to the size of the drawer by cutting with a utility knife or scissors.
Assembling the Chest Carcass
Cut a pair of workpieces for the chest divider and back panel to size from 3/4″ plywood. Finish-sand them, along with the front rail. Then glue the front rail to one long edge of the divider so the rail’s bottom edge is flush with the bottom face of the divider.
When the joint dries, you can reinforce it with three Miller Dowels as we did, or use countersunk #8 screws or even brad nails, if you prefer. Now, draw a layout line 3″ in from one long edge of the back panel.
Align the bottom back edge of the divider to this line, and glue and dowel the divider and back panel together to complete the chest’s inner subassembly.
Cut the chest’s side panels to shape and sand them. Attach the sides with glue and dowels to the inner subassembly — make the back edges of the side panels flush with the back face of the back panel.
Cut, sand and install the chest’s bottom panel next, with its back edge flush to the back of the carcass and its ends extending evenly out from the side panels. Use dowels or other fasteners to reinforce these joints, too.
The finish line for this project is in sight, but there’s a little more milling yet to do. Rockler’s metal flush-mount drawer pulls require a 1/8″-shallow mortise cut into the top faces of the drawers. The easiest way to accomplish this is to create a simple routing jig that controls the length of the mortise cuts, then use a straight bit to cut them.
Our routing jig amounts to a pair of long scraps that straddle the drawer face and also help to stabilize the router base during mortising. Two crosspieces, fastened to the long pieces, stop the router’s travel and limit the length of the mortises to fit the 120 mm-long pulls. Once the drawer faces are mortised, fasten the pulls to them with the included screws.
Next up are the drawer slides. Carefully lay out the positions of the cabinet side components of the slides inside the chest. Inset their front edges 7/16″ back from the front of the chest, and fasten them in place with the included screws. It’s a good idea to use the slotted holes provided on the slides for the screws, in case you need to move the slides slightly up, down or back and forth. Fasten the drawer side member of each slide so it’s centered on the width of the drawer sides. Then, connect the slide components together to hang the drawers, and check their action. Adjust the slides as needed to create even gaps between the drawers and so the drawer faces close flush with the front of the chest.
Cut and sand a panel for the chest lid. We installed ours with a pair of low-profile, partial wrap-around hinges that don’t require mortising. Just mark their positions on the lid and back panel, drill pilot holes and fasten them in place. Then, to keep the lid up while using tools, we completed this project’s hardware needs with Rockler’s Easy-Lift Lid Support — it also simply screws to the lid and back panel.
You could skip a finish on this project in order to hustle it into service, but eventually raw, blonde plywood will begin to look grimy from use. So why not apply two coats of your favorite film finish — polyurethane, shellac or lacquer — it will keep this tool chest looking great for years to come.
12″ Series 757 100-lb. Over-Travel Centerline® Lifetime Slides (2) #49778
Easy-Lift Lid Support (1) #66649
Stainless Steel 120mm Edge Pulls (2) #1014281
Rockler Drawer Lock Router Bit (1) #22637
Router Bit Set-Up Jig for 22637 Drawer Lock Corner Bit (1) #53810
1x Miller Tru-Fit Drill Bit (1) #20300
1x Miller Walnut Dowels (1) #21366