Easy Project Plans: Saw-Kerf Cabinet

How to build a quick-and-easy rolling workstation.

Building wood drawers is tedious. Decent rolling tool cabinets are expensive. But don’t be discouraged — a storage cabinet with metal drawers and a handy work surface is an inexpensive shop furnishing you can build yourself.

This rolling tool cabinet with slide-in metal tool trays is convenient to use, easy to build.

The 10-drawer cabinet shown here requires about $50 worth of materials. Adding a vise and high-quality casters made our final cost exceed $100 (still far less than most store-bought models), but these items are optional, and you can find lower cost alternatives to both.

Drawers: The powder-coated metal tool trays I used (from the Lee Valley & Veritas catalog) come in 1- and 2-in.-high models. I used a box of each (five trays per box). The trays are 10-3/8 in. wide x 12 in. long and are fabricated with top side flanges that fit into 1/4-in.-deep saw kerfs, eliminating the need for drawer glides.

Cabinet: I made the cabinet out of fiberboard panels left over from another project. But particleboard, MDF or higher-grade plywood will work just as well. (Avoid exterior-grade plywood, the voids make creating a smooth riding surface for the drawer flanges difficult.) If you’re purchasing sheet stock for the cabinet, one 3/4-in. x 4x8 sheet is plenty.

For the back panel, I used 1/4-in.-thick perforated hardboard (Pegboard). This has several benefits over solid sheet stock: It allows airflow, lets light into the backs of the drawers and provides support for hangers.

Work surface: I used a scrap of MDF to make the sub-base for the work surface. It is attached to the top panel of the cabinet with glue and screws. To create a smooth work surface that can be easily replaced, I fastened a piece of 1/4-in. tempered hardboard to the MDF. The hardboard is held in place by a mitered frame (made of picture-frame molding) attached to the edges of the sub-base. In addition to securing the hardboard, the molding creates a 1/4-in.-high lip so small parts and tools won’t roll off the cabinet.

Accessories: A vise is a useful addition to a rolling cabinet, especially if the cabinet has locking wheels or casters. (I used two fixed casters and two locking swivel casters.) The vise (Quick Vise by Record) is mounted on a removable base so it’s easy to set aside if you need an unobstructed work surface. I cut pieces of rubber mesh to line the tool trays.

Finish: You can apply gloss or semigloss enamel paint with a low-nap roller to create an “orange peel” texture.

To ensure perfect alignment, cut the kerfs in one wide workpiece then rip it into two mating panels.

The cabinet carcase is fashioned with glued butt joints reinforced with screws, dowels or biscuits. The shelf divider fits into 3/8 x 3/4 in. grooves.

Metal tool trays from Veritas are fabricated with side flanges that fit into a saw kerf for hardware-free hanging.

Construction steps:

  1. Cut 1/4-in.-deep kerfs (aligned) in the inside faces of the left side (A) and divider (B) at 1-1/4-in. intervals (1-in. trays occupy one slot, 2-in. trays occupy two slots).
  2. Cut the panels to size.
  3. Cut 3/8 x 3/4-in. dadoes in the other side of the divider and the inside face of the right side panel.
  4. Cut 1/4 x 1/4-in. grooves starting 1/2 in. from the inside back edges of the side panels and base panel (to create a recess for the back panel).
  5. Join the side panels, shelves and divider with glue and countersunk wood screws.
  6. Attach the bottom between the side panels with glue and wood screws driven through the side panels and up through the bottom into the divider.
  7. Attach the base panel with glue and screws.
  8. Insert the back panel into the recess and secure it with wire brads at the top of the recess.
  9. Attach the top panel between the sides and back panel.
  10. Attach the subbase with glue and screws.
  11. Secure the work surface with a mitered frame attached to the edges of the sub-base.
  12. Hang the cabinet doors and install catches.
  13. Paint the unit with a low-nap roller.
  14. Apply protective finish to the work surface and frame.
  15. Attach accessories (casters and vise).