Putting tools within arm’s reach—Two under-bench drawers

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Project by Brad posted 11-13-2013 04:56 AM 4604 views 4 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Maybe it’s because I’m a type A personality. But when I work at my bench, I like to have the tools I use most all within arm’s reach. I find that this setup maintains the flow of work.

However, as my tool kit grew, it soon overtaxed the capacity of the pegboard storage above the bench. It was the same story for the” three drawers I built last year for my workbench”: Click for details . Full, full and full.

Alas, well-used tools continued to languish on a dusty shelf across the garage. And since I don’t have the wingspan of a LeBron James, my project work found me fetching tools to-and-fro with concentration-breaking regularity. I wasn’t sure what to do about it, so I let the need simmer.

Then, one day I read somewhere that for woodshops, square footage of storage space is superior to cubic footage. In my mind that equates to more drawers and/or shelves. And that thought had me jealously eyeing the space under the bottom of my workbench. At the time, paupers in the form of rags and a seldom-used hardware storage box were squatting on the precious real estate.

“What a waste,” I muttered to myself dreaming of the molding planes I wanted to bring into my life but didn’t have the space for. “You know what?” a little voice inside my head said to me, “You could build two drawers deep enough to hold molding planes down there. And instead of interrupting your board-flattening activity to retrieve your #6, you could just pick it out of the drawer. Along with all your joinery planes too.” Hmm. That’s a good idea Little Voice.

A bit of measuring, followed by a bit of designing resulted in this.

Building the carcass

For the carcass, I selected some wide pine boards salvaged from my parent’s soon-to-be sold home. They were cupped so I spent a bunch of time flattening them. Of course I had to walk across the garage to retrieve my Stanley #6 to do that. But once that was done, I scooped aside the shavings to edge glue the boards that make up the top, bottom and side panels.

I don’t have bricks to keep the boards flat while they dried so I used planes…lugged from across my shop.

Then I flattened the panels…

…and cut rabbets to seat the carcass sides.

Boy my Veritas skew rabbet plane is a dream to use. A huge step up from my blister-inducing Stanley #78.

Nice and square.

To cut the dado for the center divider/support, I clamped a board to guide a tenon saw while taking each side’s cut to a depth of 3/8”.

A Type 9, Stanley #71 routed out the waste a bit at a time to sneak up on the dado’s 3/8” final depth.

With the joinery done, there was nothing left to do but dry-fit everything to satisfaction, then glue up the carcass.

The box’ surfaces were a bit rough, so I donned a dust mask and used an orbit sander (another trip across the garage) to smooth all the surfaces to 220 grit. A dousing of shellac will protect the carcass from Colorado’s dry winters and sometimes humid summers.

The Drawers
While I prefer to make drawers using poplar, I went with ¾” Baltic birch plywood because it was half the cost. I regret that decision. Plywood is a bear to work with. It sheds splinters like my black lab Bella sheds fur. I retrieved a circular saw (a trip across the garage, plus three steps up a ladder) to chew through a 2’ x 4’ x ¾” plywood sheet to make eight, a smidgen-less-than 6” high drawer sides.

To join the pieces, I broke out an estate sale box joint jig (three steps to the right of my workbench and underneath the router table) and used a 3/8” bit to make alternating slots. What a mess. Tear out was terrible. And the dull bit burned the wood, throwing off sawdust-encrusted embers to smolder and smoke up my shop.

That earned a “what the hell are you doing?,” look from my lady after emerging from her BMW X3, groceries in hand. I must have looked sheepish wielding the spray bottle to extinguish a pile of smoking sawdust. There simply isn’t a manly way to put out a shop fire when your lady is looking at you all accusatory like. Helping her to carry in the groceries didn’t do much to help my case either.

Back at the router table, I cut a ¼” wide groove, ¼” deep and 1/4” from the edge to accommodate the ¼” plywood bottom. With the joints cut and the sides dry-fitted, I measured the inside dimensions to calculate the length and width of the drawer bottoms. A gaggle of clamps held the gooey glue up mass until everything set. My Veritas LA jack—conveniently located directly above my bench, and recently refitted with a PM-V11 blade, nice!—smoothed the joints.

Drawer fronts
A while ago, I standardized on alder for all my shop storage saw tills, chisel racks and bench drawer fronts. However, I wasn’t willing to pay $32.00 for the wood to make two front panels, so I opted for figured poplar instead. By “figured” I mean the coolest, funkiest grain pattern I could find at the local big-box store. The drawers required 8 ½” wide panels which I made by edge-gluing two boards. These were trimmed to size and flattened after—yet another trip across the garage to fetch the #6.

At the router table, a ½” round-over bit made the drawer edges pleasing to the touch and eye. With the machining done it was time to finish the drawer fronts. And you can see by the picture above that my earnest search to find two boards with matching grain failed.

So when the going gets tough, the tough get staining. So to at least try to match the brown/amber color motif of my other drawers, I went with a pecan stain…followed by some matt polyurethane.

While the fronts dried, I set about fashioning some drawer pulls.

I freehanded draft lines for the inside arc, then cut them out with a coping saw and smoothed them with a drill-press-mounted sanding drum. A ½” round-over bit at the router table (you’ll recall it’s three steps to the right) made the edges easy on the hands.

The center-lines of the pulls (from attachment point to attachment point) measures about 4”. I carefully centered the pulls on their respective drawer fronts, then marked and drilled their mounting holes. These holes served as guides to drill through the plywood backing that the fronts are secured to.

To position the false drawer front for this drilling operation, I used 1/8” spacers placed on the floor and to the left and right sides respectively. And that worked quite well for the left-hand drawer. I did the same for the right drawer front. But for some reason, I failed to catch that it was out of square. Either the spacers weren’t properly seated or the concrete floor was uneven. Next time, I’ll space the drawers from a level reference surface, like the top edge of the carcass.

The cockeyed drawer must have put me off my game, because before I realized it I had broken a long-held family tradition dating back to colonial times by—needlessly, Dad would say—reading the instructions that came with the drawer slides.

Don’t tell Pa, but this worked well and the drawers open and shut smoothly.

No more cross-shop hikes
With the finish dry and the slides operating as designed I lined up the carcass and sighed with relief when it slid neatly into place under the workbench. The final touch was to add rubber kitchen liners to protect plane irons and such.

Double-sided tape at each end keeps the matting from “ridding up” on the drawer bottom.

Pausing for a moment to determine what came next, I realized that I was done. Only my favorite part of every project remained. It was time to fill the drawers and put them to use. So with a smug smile, I walked across the garage to pick up my #6…for the last time.

“Arm’s reach fits the bill doesn’t it?” Little Voice said as I settled the #6 into her new home. The joinery planes were next, followed by Little Voice’s approving “That’s much better.”

Let’s see now.

—Most-used tools within arm’s reach? Check.
—No more to and fro hikes across my shop? Check.
—Room for the molding planes of my dreams? Check-a-roonie!


-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

20 comments so far

View mariva57's profile


666 posts in 3456 days

#1 posted 11-13-2013 05:03 AM

Nice work , compliments.

-- The common man thinks. The wise man is silent. The stupid man discusses.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17821 posts in 4071 days

#2 posted 11-13-2013 05:09 AM

Wow, very nice! Great narrative, too. Thanks for posting, Brad, well done!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View BobWemm's profile


3114 posts in 3378 days

#3 posted 11-13-2013 07:18 AM

Now that’s what I need to do, but alas there is other stuff under my bench. OH WHAT TO DO.
Guess I’ll just have to keep walking.

Great job and thanks for showing.

-- Bob, Western Australia, The Sun came up this morning, what a great start to the day. Now it's up to me to make it even better. I've cut this piece of wood 4 times and it's still too damn short.

View Ken90712's profile


18113 posts in 4641 days

#4 posted 11-13-2013 09:05 AM

Well done never enough storage…. Great way to keep those hand tools safe.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 4309 days

#5 posted 11-13-2013 10:02 AM

Very nice Brad
great use of space.


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View OldRick's profile


72 posts in 3146 days

#6 posted 11-13-2013 11:52 AM

WOW! Great job and thanks for the idea. And all this time I’ve been using that same space to store saw dust and cobwebs.

View theoldfart's profile


13129 posts in 3903 days

#7 posted 11-13-2013 12:32 PM

I duno Brad, awfully OCD! Might I suggest a rust inhibiting liner for those bottom drawers. I’ve been using them for a couple of years with good results. Since the drawers are close to the floor temperature swings may induce some sweating on the irons and steel. All in all the setup looks great, nice work.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View Don W's profile

Don W

20380 posts in 4020 days

#8 posted 11-13-2013 12:46 PM

excellent storage idea. And well executed.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View mafe's profile


13872 posts in 4541 days

#9 posted 11-13-2013 01:54 PM

That’s wonderful and looks great.
Fine work and me also a A (B when we talk sleep), I can so much follow.
Lovely photos of your work, now I really would like to try that Veritas…
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View a1Jim's profile


118322 posts in 5029 days

#10 posted 11-13-2013 02:23 PM

Good use of space, nice work.


View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7228 posts in 4647 days

#11 posted 11-13-2013 02:52 PM

Stellar job…....Plenty of storage in a shop is a necessary item, just like plenty of tools…........... !!!!!!!!!

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 3744 days

#12 posted 11-13-2013 04:17 PM

Nice job and good use of space—never can have enough storage in a shop. Congratulations on a job well done!

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 3414 days

#13 posted 11-14-2013 12:42 AM

Those are going to be great. Enjoyed your writeup too.

View Richard's profile


11310 posts in 4485 days

#14 posted 11-14-2013 12:45 AM

Very Nice Work! Thanks For Sharing.


-- Richard (Ontario, CANADA)

View Brad's profile


1148 posts in 4192 days

#15 posted 11-14-2013 01:25 AM

Thank you everyone. I’ve been using them for a while now and love them.

theoldfart, great idea about the rust inhibitors. Never would have thought about the humidity issues near the floor.

Mafe, the Veritas is a pleasure to use. Well worth the money and better than any other rabbet plane (Stanley #78, a skew woodie) that I own. Easier to adjust and use.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

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