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.

Download this complete plan.

Making the Drawers

Setting up Rockler drawer lock router jig
Rockler’s plastic Drawer Lock Set-Up Jig makes it easy to dial in the correct height and projection for a drawer lock router bit. Use the jig in the configuration shown here to prepare for cutting the drawer side portion of the joints.

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.

Preparing plywood veneer with a razor cut before routing
To prevent chipping the plywood veneer on the faces of the drawer side workpieces during routing, score them 3/8″ in from both ends of one face with a sharp knife or razor blade several times before routing.

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.

Routing drawer lock cut in panel
After making test cuts on scrap, rout the drawer lock profile into the drawer side blanks with the panels oriented vertically against the fence. Install a featherboard on the router table to keep the panels pressed firmly against the fence.

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.

Testing drawer panel router cut depth
Reset the bit’s projection using the other end of the setup block to cut a deeper profile into the ends of the drawer backs. Make test cuts and adjust the bit accordingly.

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.

Close-up of drawer lock profile fit
The drawer back fits correctly when its thin outer tongue overlaps the end of the drawer side.

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.

Routing back panel for tool chest drawer
Rout the drawer lock profile across both ends of the back panel — the face against the router table will become the inside back face of each drawer. We made these cuts into a double-wide blank of 1/2″ plywood to improve stability during routing and to help speed up the process. Once the joints are cut, you can rip the panel to form both drawer backs.

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.

Cutting drawer fronts for tool chest on a table saw
The front rail and drawer fronts are cut from the same piece of plywood to create continuous grain across the front of the chest. Start with a piece of 3/4″-thick Baltic birch plywood measuring 10-3/4″ x 21-3/4″. Cut the 3″-wide front rail off the top of the panel. Then trim 1/8″ from each end of the remaining wider piece to create a doubled-up blank for the drawer fronts.

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.

Close-up of drawer face profiles front and back
The drawer face blank receives a deeper profile cut that forms a long tongue to overlap the drawer sides and drawer slides.

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.

Routing drawer face blank for tool chest
Make shallow passes, resetting the fence further from the bit to lengthen this tongue.

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.

Close up of drawer face joinery on tool chest
Continue routing until the length of the inside face of the drawer front matches the inside face of the drawer back.

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.

Cutting upper and lower drawer fronts for tool chest at table saw
Once the corner joints fit together well, cut apart the upper and lower drawer fronts, sides and backs. Then set the table saw blade to a 1/4″ cutting height and make multiple side-by-side passes to cut a groove for the bottom panels in all eight drawer parts.

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.

Clamping and measuring the squareness of assembled tool chest drawer
After the drawer bottoms are cut to size and the parts finish-sanded, glue the drawer boxes together. Check them for squareness by measuring both diagonals. If these numbers don’t match, adjust the clamping pressure or the positions of the clamps until they do.

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

Drawer installed with Lock-Align Organizer

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.

Rockler Lock Align Kit
Lock-Align Organizer Starter Kit (item 56117)

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.

Then, dividers and small parts bins slide into slots in the walls and hook over their rims for a secure connection. A starter kit of trays and bins is available. Additional trays, bins and holders are sold separately.

Assembling the Chest Carcass

Drilling joint reinforcement in tool chest front rail
Create a subassembly consisting of the front rail, divider and back panel. We reinforced these glue joints with walnut stepped Miller Dowels.

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.

Reinforcing tool chest carcass with Miller Tru-Fit Drill Bit
Use a Miller Tru-Fit Drill Bit to bore the tapering dowel holes.

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.

Adding reinforcement dowel to tool chest joinery
Apply a small amount of glue to the ribbed section of the dowel, then tap it into the hole with a mallet until the dowel seats at the bottom.

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.

Cutting off excess dowel waste with a hand saw
Apply painter’s tape around the protruding dowel to prevent marring, and trim off the excess with a flush-cut saw.

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.

Installing tool chest sides and back
Continue to assemble the chest carcass by installing the side panels to the initial subassembly, followed by the back and bottom panels. Each of these joints is first glued, then reinforced with Miller Dowels.

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.

Installing Hardware

Rockler 120mm Edge pull installed on tool chest
Rockler’s 120mm Edge Pulls mount flush to the top edges of the drawer fronts, so you’ll need to cut a 1/8″-deep mortise in the top of each drawer front to match the length of the pull. One way to do this is to make a simple jig to guide your router and limit the cutting area.

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.

Rockler edge pull installation jig
We made one with a couple of long scraps of plywood that sandwich the drawer front and two shorter crosspieces that serve as stops for the router base. Once the mortises are cut, drill pilot holes for the screws and install the pulls.

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.

Installing centerline drawer slides in tool chest carcass
Install a pair of 12″ Series 757 100-lb. Over-Travel Centerline Lifetime Drawer Slides 7/16″ back from the front edge of the case sides, to allow the drawer faces to close flush with the chest sides. Locate the slides in the carcass so they will be centered on each drawer side. Center and attach the drawer side components of the slides to each drawer side as well.

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.

Installing Easy Lift Lid Support on tool chest lid
Mount a pair of partial wrap-around hinges to the top and back panels of the chest. Then install the Easy-Lift Lid Support, adjusting its tension as directed in the lid support instructions. Once you are satisfied with the lid and drawer operation, remove all hardware and apply your preferred topcoat finish to complete the project.

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.

Finishing Up

Completed and finished open two-drawer tool chest

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.

Hard-to-Find Hardware:

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

Click Here to Download the Drawings and Materials List.

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