Making A Chest Of Drawers For The Workbench Workshop Projects

The first requirement for having and maintaining a well organized workshop starts with the desire to make it so. After that hurdle has been cleared, you’ll need a place for everything to go. One option is to jump in the AMC Hornet Sportabout station wagon and scoot on over to the nearest big retailer and buy some shiny new tool cabinets. Another is to put your tools and shop to work for you, and make your own. In the end, you’ll have something that will fit where you need it to be, looks like it belongs with the rest of your (less than shiny and new) gear, and you may save a buck or two.

Before getting into the details, I recommend watching this video for an overview on the cabinet, now that it is finished and filled with tools:

With a minimum of planning, I got started by cutting a sheet of 3/4″; plywood into more manageable size pieces with my saw board:

workbench chest of drawers sawboardworkbench chest of drawers tablesaw sled

I use the saw board mostly for rough cuts, then make the finished cuts on the table saw. Here I’m crosscutting a side panel on my table saw sled.

The goal is to get the carcass of the cabinet, plus the drawer fronts, from that one sheet of plywood. These are the two end panels and centre divider cut to size:

workbench chest of drawers

Often overlooked by some novice builders is the toe kick area, and how something as small as 2″; can make such a big difference in how comfortable it is to stand at a cabinet. To cut these on my panels, I’m using the table saw. The first cut stops 3″; up from the bottom, then another cut comes in from the front to finish it. These cuts are made with the outside face of the panel up:

workbench chest of drawers saw cutworkbench chest of drawers saw cut

To cut the opposite side panel, I move the fence to the other side of the blade.

This leaves me with the over cuts on the inside of the panel, where they won’t be seen:

workbench chest of drawers cut corner kickclean cut workbench chest of drawers

The outside face is perfect.

workbench chest of drawers nail the corners

The corners of the carcass are joined with butt joints that are glued, nailed and the screwed. Eventually, I will paint this cabinet a solid colour and fill the nail and screw holes with bondo.
As for strength, given the immobile position of this cabinet under my workbench, the simple butt joints will be more than adequate to keep it together.

Ideally, I would have liked to completely close in the top with a solid panel, but I had to make a compromise. This was due to my self imposed restriction on getting the entire carcass and fronts (all the visible parts) from a single sheet of plywood. I added a 5″; wide stretcher to the front:

workbench chest of drawers build the boxworkbench chest of drawers build the box

And a 2″; one at the back. These don’t cover the whole top, but add a lot of rigidity to the case.

Next, I installed the centre divider:

workbench chest of drawers centreworkbench chest of drawers assembly

Then the toe kick.

When the cabinet only has drawers, it seems wasteful to have a full, solid bottom. Once again, I used 5″; wide strips:

workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

To help keep the sides from bowing out, I added two more 2″; stretchers right above where the bottom drawers will be.
That concludes the construction of the basic carcass. If this were to be a cabinet that will be moved often, I would have done things a bit differently, as it is not very strong and rigid. Of course, one of the benefits of doing it yourself is that you can make it only as strong as it needs to be, and not waste time a material.

The drawers are next, and there are six in total. The two at the bottom are the deepest, the ones above that are a lot less deep and the top two are the most shallow. I carefully considered the three depths, measuring the tools that I expected to put in each.
If you’ve made drawers before, you’ll know that are a true resource hog. It seems impossible that these simple things that are so often taken for granted require so much material to build. Having been down this road on many previous occasions, I decide the best money saving approach is to select the ultra economical, but totally suitable (in my opinion) oriented strand board (OSB). For the high-end kitchen, maybe not, but this is a workshop.

Once again, the saw board breaks the 5/8″; thick sheet into smaller units:

workbench chest of drawers sawboard cuts osbosb pieces

Again, the finished cuts are done on the table saw.

That it’s a cheap material doesn’t exclude the possibility of well fitting joints. Precision cuts and measuring turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse:

osb workbench chest of drawers

The drawer boxes are very simply made with butt joints all round. These are glued with polyurethane construction adhesive and fastened with 2″; nails:

osb box workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

To reinforce my earlier statement on how much raw material drawers consume, it took an additional half sheet of OSB to build these, on top of the full sheet I started with.

The drawer boxes are probably as strong as they need to be as they are, but I thought I would try something I’ve been thinking about for a while: reinforcing the butt joint with thick splines.
To do this, I installed the dado blade set to 1/2″; in the table saw. I clamped on a stop block after setting the fence and did a test cut:

workbench chest of drawers saw cuts osbworkbench chest of drawers

Satisfied with the cut, I proceeded with cutting the drawers. Three in each corner of the deep one and two in the shallower ones. These are done in the back, too.

The splines are pieces of spruce cut to size. The black line indicated ‘out’, since the slot that was cut is not perfectly symmetrical:

workbench chest of drawers reinforcementsworkbench chest of drawers detail of corners of drawer

Then it was just to glue them in. It’s worth noting that I was careful not to drive any nails where these slots were cut. The pencil mark 2″; up from the bottom was my location for the nail driven during assembly. Planning ahead pays off.

After the glued dried on the splines, I sanded everything flush and got started on installing the drawers in the cabinet. I’m using ball bearing slides that I had left over from another project. The drawers are 16″; deep and the slides are that length, as well.
To mount the slides, I have a very simple, foolproof method that starts with a line drawn on the side panel with the framing square:

how to mount drawer slides

This is one of those things that’s it’s easier to hear someone explain and demonstrate, than it is to describe in words, so here’s a short video showing the procedure:

The slides are screwed on inside the cabinet, then a pair of shims are placed on the bottom shelf to lift the drawer up slightly:

how to mount full extension slideshow to mount drawer slides

The slide is screwed on at the front of the drawer. The drawer is opened further and more screws are put in, while keeping the shims underneath. The drawer is then removed from the cabinet and the remaining screws installed.

What you end up with is a drawer that is a perfect fit:

workbench chest of drawers workbench chest of drawers

All of the drawers installed, ready for the fronts.

Carefully turned over onto its back – it’s heavy!:

workbench chest of drawersdrawer front installation

The fronts were cut from a single piece of plywood and laid on the drawers to check the size and spacing.

To fasten the front, I applied polyurethane construction adhesive to the front of the drawer:

workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

Then put it in place and drove two nails through into the drawer to keep the front in position. The nails will be covered by the handles that will be glued on later.

With all of the fronts installed, I tipped the chest back upright, opened each drawer and drove 1″; screws to hold the fronts on:

drawer front clamped and screwed

The 3/4″; plywood fronts really clean up the appearance and also help to stop dust from getting into the drawers, by closing up the larger gaps. Before installing them. I chamfered the edges with the router.

workbench chest of drawers

The pulls are cut from regular framing lumber to this profile:

how to make drawer pullsworkbench chest of drawers

Then just glued to the fronts, about 1″; down from the top edge. Given the large surface area, glue will be all that’s needed to hold these pulls on.

With the chest finished, I put it in position and slid the bench in around it. A perfect fit.
Also seen in this photo is the mess that’s on top of the bench that soon will be put away in the new drawers:

workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

From the front we can see there is some space between the top of the chest and the underside of the bench top. This is to clear the parts of the wagon vise at this end, and the quick release vise.

Drawers are great for bigger and medium size things, but we also need a place for regularly used, smaller things. Like drill bit and driver bits.
I figured a small tray at the front of one of the top drawers would be perfect for these items, so I made one. Very simple, just spruce sides, ends and divider with a plywood bottom:

workbench chest of drawers storage tray

To make it easier to get things out, I made these angled blocks to go at the ends:

end detail bit tray workbench chest of drawersend detail bit tray workbench chest of drawers

They are just glued in.

To support the tray, I made these brackets and nailed them in place:

workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

They hold the tray up flush with the top of the drawer and stop it from moving. The tray is just set in there, and can easily be removed.

Having another look at the space between the bench and the chest, I figured I could make another drawer that would fit in there, and not interfere with the two vises:

a space to fill

I made some measurements, then cut the front, back and sides from 3/4″; plywood. I also cut a dado for the 1/4″; plywood bottom:

parts for a shallow drawerdrawer corner joint

The front meets the sides with rabbet joints.

The bottom panel is slipped into the slots and glued in place:

drawer bottomdrawer clamped

The back is put on, glued and nailed to the sides. Clamps hold it tight until the glue dries.

With the drawer finished, I laid out all of the things that would be put in there. Incidentally, these were the last few things left on top of the bench after I had filled the other drawers:

storage layout for tools in shallow drawerdrawer dividers organize hand tools

1/2″; plywood dividers partition off the space. These are just glued in place.
As you can see, this drawer is reserved for more delicate things.

To mount it on top of the chest, I made these two cleats and put low cost drawer slides on:

how to install drawer slidesworkbench chest of drawers

I then screwed the cleats down to the top of the chest. These low cost slides are available at nearly every building supply and work very well.

With the bench put back and the handle glued on, the chest of six drawers (plus one) is now finished:

shallow drawer for chisels, knives, penils, etc.

I added two small clamp racks to the back:

workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

The drawers with handle come up flush with the edge of the bench, maximizing the space and making them easier to access.

The drawers, from the top down:

workbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawersworkbench chest of drawers

Best of all, I have my bench back:

workbench clean and clear workbench chest of drawers

Hopefully, it stays that way!