My goal for 2018 was to maximize the space in my shop. It had grown organically, and I knew I could be more organized. I quickly realized that off-the-shelf options weren’t going to work for me, and so I set out to design and build my own tool storage cabinets and solutions.
After starting my research, mostly on Pinterest, I came up with the following goals:
- Maximize the space: I don’t want or like dead space
- Flexibility to add and re-purpose as my needs changed
- Portability, so I could take it to our next house
- Finally, I wanted uniformity, not a big mixture of different brands
After a bunch of research, I discovered aluminum extrusions and now I’m hooked!
I decided to break the ice by designing a replacement for 2 to 3 random tool chests with a single cabinet that slides under my existing benches.
Like most, I started by looking at 80/20 products, but I wasn’t too impressed with their customer service after getting a design created. I set myself an initial budget of ~$250 and they seemed to cater more towards people with a bigger budget.
My research led me to Faztek, and in particular Jamie Howard ([email protected]) from their Inside Sales Team. I’ve been really happy with their help, from an initial design, to how they answered my random questions. Faztek products are not only less expensive than 80/20’s, but they are really willing to work on small project like this.
Designing the Frame
I started by sending an outline of my goals to Faztek, including the dimensions for the space I wanted to fill. They quickly sent back a design which met all my needs and helped me understand how they’d construct the frame.
Their designer recommended the 1515 Lite Smooth T-Slotted aluminum extrusion, with 1515 meaning that it has 1.5″ x 1.5″ cross sectional dimensions. I think 1010 (1.0″ x 1.0″) would have been strong enough, but there’s a broader range of accessories in the 15-series product family. The 1515 Lite is easily strong enough for everything I have built so far.
With this design in hand I switch to SketchUp and started to get my head around optimizing it further. Early in the process I decided that I would attempt to maximize the use of pieces of the same length\machining. My thinking was that I would learn a lot when I had all the pieces and started assembling everything.
My existing workbenches are 30″ deep and 34″ high, and I wanted to be able to slide the cabinet under the bench. Which lead me to this design:
Planning and reasoning for extrusion lengths:
- 32″ Height: 4″ for caster wheels, plus 1.5″ each for the top and bottom (3″ total), and a 25″ column for the inner height.
- 28″ Depth: 25″ for the inner depth, plus 1.5″ each for the front and back (3″ total).
- 54.5″ Width: This is the maximum space that can fit between the legs of my workbench. These extrusions go end-to-end, from left to right.
Based on these dimensions, there would be two inner “bays,” each measuring 25″ tall by 25″ wide. The full depth of the framing is 28″.
I briefly considered 26″ for the inner height of the tool cabinet, but I felt that this wouldn’t give me any wiggle room. In hindsight, this was the right decision, because I needed room for material that sits on top or the side of my cabinet that I hadn’t initially accounted for.
I started the model with a basic box, with 8x 25″ extrusions (shown in red) and 4x 54.5″ extrusions (shown in green). I then added another 3x 25″ pieces (red) in the middle, to divide two sections for two banks of 24″ x 24″ drawers. These are not needed for strength, but I think they make the build easier.
The total for just the frame is $252, based on current list prices.
The next decision to make is how to fasten it all together. I knew this wasn’t going to be cheap, so I created a spreadsheet with a few pivot tables to look at my different options on how to assemble this design.
Stuart has posted about aluminum t-slot fastening options before, and I went through a similar analysis. You basically have three options:
- Brackets (most expensive)
- Anchor fasteners
- End fasteners (least expensive)
The cost breakdown for these three options for my build are as follows:
I concluded that brackets would be the most expensive, and on face value end fasteners are the obvious choice. I however ended up going with anchor fasteners, in part because I had already figured out a plan that used a common 25″ extrusion length. Having counter bores in these pieces gave me a standardized design that I could use in multiple ways. I have also learned that building using anchor fasteners and playing around with some ideas is easy. Installing end fasteners takes time and if you don’t like the design you end up with random holes.
Putting it All Together
With my frame design completed I needed to put it on wheels. For these I decided to shop around — you can spend a crazy amount of money on casters. I am sure there are reasons to spend $70 for casters on a very heavy cart that is constantly being moved around, but that felt like overkill.
I ended up picking a company on Amazon that had good reviews. Their 4″ caster wheels with brake are rated to 220 lbs each, for a total weight capacity of 880 lbs, and they only cost me $19.99 a set. My only hesitation with them is that after buying a few they started sending me casters that didn’t match the description, or my first order.
Faztek recommended putting a plate between the wheels and the frame, which were not cheap, but I didn’t see the need and haven’t had any regrets.
Stuart’s Note: Adding a threaded “foot attachment” can be beneficial for leveling or adjusting the height of threaded stem casters or feet. They can also be used in heavy duty plate caster applications where you need to create a fourth mounting hole location.
This brought the final bill to nearly $369.
Of course, that’s not the end of it. Next, you need to take this frame, add sides, a top and the drawers.
As a reminder, here is the final product. In a future post I will walk through the rest of the build and share the tips, tricks, and ideas I had along the way.
Since starting on this journey I have built 10 different carts based on this basic design, including:
- Shapeoko XL CNC router cabinet
- Kreg router top cabinet
- Four carts with various drawer sizes
- Downdraft sanding cart
- Compressor cart
- Large assembly table
- Miter saw table
I definitely blew past my budget but I am very happy with my new shop and I’ve met and exceeded all my goals.