Moravian Workbench #6: Building the Tool Tray

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Blog entry by Tom posted 09-14-2019 01:40 PM 3391 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Vise leather Part 6 of Moravian Workbench series Part 7: Building the Drawer »

I have seen that some people are not too fond of workbench tool trays or tool wells. Most of the complaints are that it is hard to keep organized and it collects a lot of shavings and debris from the work. I can certainly understand those concerns. For a power tool woodworker, it may be more useful to have a bigger work holding surface to clamp down the work. But I am pretty much a hand tool woodworker, and the tool tray is a help to keep a variety of tools at hand, but out of the way, below the work surface and protected from falling on the floor.

On the Moravian workbench, I think it is a very nice detail. Since the workbench top is quite thick on Will Myers’ design, the tool tray is actually fairly deep, almost 3 inches. One of the really nice features is that the tool tray is removable. So if it gets too dirty, you can just pull out the tools, remove the tray and dump out the debris occasionally. The back of the tray is set at the same height as the workbench top, so it helps to support the work across the bench.

The design is straightforward with a bottom board that is bracketed on three sides. There are many ways to join these boards like rabbets and nails or dowels. On Will Myers’ design, the corners are dovetailed and the bottom board is rabbeted and set into a groove in the sides. Will provided #1 yellow pine boards for the construction at home.

I decided to use dovetails, grooves and rabbets. The first step was to cut and trim the boards to the appropriate size to fit on the workbench frame. I immediately found a complication in that the board for my back piece had bowed significantly in the time since I brought it home. In this picture, the back board is sitting on the frame and you can see the board arcing above the workbench top.

Since the top is so thick, there really isn’t much extra to trim off of the back piece to fix this. Under normal circumstances, I would use another board, but I didn’t have that option if I wanted to use yellow pine in keeping with the rest of the bench. I live in NJ and I don’t really have yellow pine available here. I marked off the waste using the top as the reference and I planed off the top of the board with a jack plane to match the bench top.

The next complication was to cut the groove in the back piece for the bottom board. The bottom of the back piece was also bowed, so I did not have a straight edge to fence against for the plow plan. My big joinery bench has a fairly straight front so I used that. I had to add an extension to the plow plane fence to reach down to the bench top. I could have also pinned a straight board to the underside to fence against. Anyway, it worked and I cut a straight groove on a bowed board.

The dovetailing went fine, but I have no experience doing this in yellow pine. You need a razor sharp chisel edge to get clean cuts. I guess that goes without saying. Make sure you get all your pieces square and true else the assembly will be twisted. I cut the tails first on the back piece. I removed the waste with a coping saw and chisel. You have to remember to leave a little fillet for the groove, or you will need to plug it later.

Next I prepare the bottom board, cutting it to length and accounting for the side thickness and groove depth. I cut it roughly to width, leaving a bit extra for scribing against the workbench top after assembly. I rabbeted the bottom board to fit into the groove on the sides. My grooves are 3/8” wide and 3/8” deep, so a cut a corresponding rabbet in the bottom board to fit that. You have to remember to cut the rabbet from the underside of the bottom board. For some reason, that can be hard to remember.

The bottom is glued into the long groove on the back piece and then a wood screw holds the front of the sides in place. Then it is just a matter of scribing and trimming against the back of the workbench top.

The last step is to add the dowels to hold the tool tray in place. This is fairly simple. I marked off the location of the dowel locations so that they were above the cross members and spaced equally front and back. I clamped the tool tray across the top and bore the holes through the bottom and into the crossmember with a brace and bit. The dowels are 1/2” oak and about 2” long. The rear hole in the cross member is elongated with a chisel to allow for expansion and contraction of the bottom board. The dowel is only glued to the tool tray bottom board. You may need to chamfer and ease the dowels with some sandpaper so that they slide in and out of the holes without binding too much. I left the dowels proud of the bottom board so they could be planed off flush.

That’s it for the tool tray. I will work on some storage and work holding devices over the next couple weeks.

-- Tom

4 comments so far

View siggykc's profile


23 posts in 915 days

#1 posted 09-15-2019 08:52 AM


This is really a wonderful build. I have been reading it all so intently. I’m so stunned with how beautiful the Yellow Pine has come up (we dont have it here in Australia). The dovetails and the little fillet are such wonderful details – you must be glad that you opted not to take any shortcuts here. It really looks to have paid off!

I cant wait for further posts…..and will stay tuned for them.
Best of luck with the rest of the build, and keep that camera going!


-- Siggy,

View Tom's profile


317 posts in 1228 days

#2 posted 09-15-2019 11:01 AM

Thanks Siggy. It’s a fun project. The yellow pine is new to me, but it does look nice with the dovetailed tool tray. More to come…

-- Tom

View Sylvain's profile (online now)


1517 posts in 3836 days

#3 posted 09-16-2019 04:54 PM

Nice way to avoid the gap due to the groove.
Your present workbench looks like a Paul Sellers one.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn (and that is nice)

View Tom's profile


317 posts in 1228 days

#4 posted 09-16-2019 05:40 PM

Yes, my joinery bench is a Paul Sellers style. It’s pretty good for joinery, but mine is not as good for bigger builds and heavier planing. Sits a little bit high and it’s built against a wall which limits work holding. My shop is really small. The Moravian bench will be in a detached garage, but no heat or cooling there. At least for the time.being….

-- Tom

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