I’ve been working to build a tool cabinet for my electronics/precision workspace, and it’s slowly getting there.
I want to save major details for another time, but thought this might be a good time for some brainstorming, while I can still make major changes.
Originally, I had planned on 8 drawers. Somehow I miscalculated, and my shallow 2.25″ drawer can’t fit. Actually, there’s barely room for the 7 other drawers.
There’s very little clearance between each drawer and the drawer slides from the above drawer. I still have to gently curve the tops of the drawer sides, so maybe that’ll add a teeny amount of more clearance.
I wanted the box to be as storage efficient as possible, and so I’m okay with the tight clearance. So far, no drawer rubs the slides from the drawer above it. Yet?
The original plans called for a 24″ wide cabinet and an 18″ cabinet, with both sharing the center column.
But, after lots of back and forth, I settled on a rear drawer slide mounting configuration that made this impossible.
That, and after I built my first 18″ drawer, I realized it’s just too narrow.
So, the plans are for 2x 24″ cabinets. There are some losses due to the drawer slides and sides, but overall I think this is a good size for drawers.
Hmm, should I go bigger for the second cabinet?
These seem plenty sturdy, and there’s no racking, so maybe I’ll use a 30″ width for the second cabinet.
These cabinets will mainly hold tools and misc. supplies. Clean and tidy organization is the name of the game.
The drawer slides are 15″ deep, and the 80/20 15-series frame is 18″ deep, for supporting a worktop of the same depth. Maybe it’ll be a 20″ top, for a little overhang. I’ll be cutting the top from 25″ wide butcher block countertop from Ikea, so there are options.
Cost-wise, I would have been better off going with a steel tool cabinet, even a semi-premium one. I’ve got a 26″ Beta tool cabinet, and wouldn’t mind another.
But customization is the big goal here. That, and trying out some new tools and techniques.
The drawers are built using a Festool Domino, but pocket holes would have been okay too. The next series of drawers will be built using a Porter Cable dovetail jig.
These drawers were made from Baltic Birch, and I will NOT be doing that again.
The next cabinet will likely be made using ApplyPly drawer sides, or similar, unless I need a custom height, or height lower than 3.5″. Even then, ripping pre-made sides down to what I need is still going to be quicker and easier.
It took way too much time to cut and sand the drawers, and I’m not even done! Only 4 drawers have 1 coat of shellac. But I didn’t want to wait for another good day to finish, which will be hard now in winter, so I got things ready to go. When I’m ready to finish these drawers, removing the hardware will be quick and easy.
In addition to finishing the drawers, I also have to make drawer fronts. I’ve got plenty of hardwood lined up, and am actually looking forward to it. I’ll have to finish the drawer fronts too, of course.
I think I might part some of these drawers down. Maybe I’ll trim one of the taller drawers so that I can fit the 8th drawer and also add some more spacing between all the drawers. Not a lot of spacing, maybe just another 1/8″ to.
I ordered 14 sets of drawer slides, and anticipated this being the “small drawer” unit. So there’s definitely the potential to trim one of the taller drawers (with a table saw?).
Hmm, that won’t work. I need maybe 2.75″ to fit the last drawer and its drawer slides, and maybe another 1″ if I want added clearance. If I take that out of 2 of the 3 4.75 drawers, it would give me 2x 2.875″ drawers, which isn’t too far from the 2.75″ shallow drawers above.
That doesn’t sound very good. Cutting down 2x 4.75″ drawers to yield 2x 2.875″ drawers plus 1x 2.25″ drawer.
And remember that’s the outside height. The inside height is the outside height minus 3/4″!
Looking at the top image, 4 short drawers take up almost the same height as 3 tall drawers. I could create an inner shelf or sliding drawer in one of the shorter drawers if I really want more height. Or I could swap out bottom-mount slides to side-mount slides.
I went with bottom-mounted slides because they seemed easier to work with, they have high load capacity, full extension, and are soft close. They are easily removed, and in the way I designed this case, easily changed out.
I’m now kind of wishing I made the frame deep enough to accommodate 18″ drawer slides, but it’s generally recommended to have 15″ slides in an 18″ frame. The same is true for longer drawers – cabinet depth minus 3″ equals the “right” drawer size.
The second cabinet will also have 7 drawers, unless I want to have leftover drawer slides. I don’t think there’s a way for me to increase the drawer count unless I went with side-mount slides, which I don’t really want to do.
So, for the next cabinet, maybe there will be 3.5″ drawers, yielding a usable depth of around 2.75″. So, 7 drawers, each with 3.5″ height, 3/4″ for top and bottom clearance, and that’s a total height of 29.75″ to fit within 30″ tall space.
Or… maybe 6x 4″ tall drawers, with extra clearance?
I can always move drawers around. Maybe the 4.75″ drawers from this cabinet will go into the second unit, and I’ll replace them with 4 cabinets slightly shorter, at 3.375″ tall.
I’ll have to sleep on it.
I guess I was going for a bank of shallow drawers of the kind I love in my metal tool cabinets and tool chests, but that’s a benefit of side-mount drawer slides and a downside of bottom-mounted ones. I had considered this before, but it wasn’t until writing out this post that it all became clear to me.
You shouldn’t use bottom-mounted drawer slides on shallow drawers. It just doesn’t make sense, does it.
Okay, lesson learned. Bottom-mounted slides mean deeper drawers.
It makes sense too. For shallow drawers, the minimum clearance required is considerable in relation to drawer height. And that’s not even taking into account losses from the height.
My 2-3/4″ drawers have around 2″ of usable depth, and require around 3-1/2″ of vertical space. 2″ of depth in 3-1/2″ height.
So that’s around 57% utilization efficiency.
A drawer in my Beta tool cabinet has 2-5/8″ drawer depth in a 3-1/8″ height, for 84% space utilization efficiency.
Yikes! That’s a big difference.
There’s less width efficiency, but that’s not as big a problem for sheet metal as it would be for plywood or hardwood.
Let’s say I increase the drawer height to 3.5″. The space utilization then goes from 57% to 64.7%.
4″ tall drawers? 68.4% height utilization efficiency.
6″ drawers? 77.8% space efficiency.
A 7.75″ drawer? 82.4% usability. A 7.75″ drawer requires the same height as 2x 3.5″ drawers, which would give 2x 2.75″ of usable drawer depth.
I’ll stick with the bottom mount drawers, but will consider replacing the 4 shallow drawers with deeper ones in the future. Or I’ll use the slides elsewhere and swap in side-mount slides.
But I really don’t like the idea of losing 1″ of width to 2x 1/2″ drawer sides.
Maybe I should have just went with a pre-fab tool cabinet. It might have given me greater vertical efficiency. BUT, I wouldn’t have been able to dictate the height, and a good worktop would have been more difficult to attach. With this setup, I could always change things, at least a little bit.
The unit is HEAVY, and that’s with minimal drawer contents. 2.75″ feet on hardwood shouldn’t be an issue. Right? It’s also an outer wall, upstairs.
I’ll plan out the second cabinet a little differently. But for now, this is the plan:
- 24″ inner width, 18″ total depth
- 7 drawers (3.5″?)
- Connected to first cabinet for rigidity, maybe 18″ apart?
A few shelves between the two cabinets would allow for parts organizers, or perhaps space for small tools or equipment. I’ve got some ideas brewing.
Feedback is always welcome!
80/20 aluminum framing is very pricey, and there are other ways I could have went about this. Instead of 15-series (1.5″ width) components, I could have went with 10-series (1″ width). Or I could have went with a much simpler plywood frame.
I went with 80/20 because I want this to be a very sturdy heavy duty workbench base, and because I wanted to maximize customization, with minimal effort*. Right now it’s in what I guess you could call my home office.
*Minimal effort is relative. Building those drawers was no quick or easy task. That’s why I mentioned wanting to go pre-fab with at least the sides for the next unit. All I’d need to do is cross-cut the pre-fab side pieces, and then some 1/4″ or 6mm plywood for drawer bottoms.
I’m not about to test its load capacity, but I’m sure it can handle anything I would ask it to, whether at home or in my workshop.
The drawer slides have a soft-close, but they do snap in a little bit, making things vibrate a little bit. But overall, the top fields sturdier than the Gladiator workbench sitting to its left.
I know there’s a big wall of text in this post, and no other images – sorry for that! I intended for it to be a quick “here’s what I’ve been working on!” post, but it spiralled into deep discussion as I talked things through. I thought I had planned this project out as best I could, but a few sizing whoopsies and what came to light in this post has showed me otherwise.
Thanks for hearing me out, and again – your feedback is most welcome!
I’m also interested in hearing about your own cabinet and tool box building experiences!