Workbench drawers-Organizing my work space


Back in 2009 I built Fine Woodworking’s workbench from the Getting Started in Woodworking series. It’s been a good bench and was a great project to start building my skills. However, the underside had a big open space that wasn’t used very efficiently.

So I decided to build some drawers for it. I wanted things to be easily accessible while keeping dust off treasured tools ensconced within. I also wanted to de-clutter my work space, thus making it a more enticing place to put steel to wood.

The Build

–The Case
I played around with my tape measure to get an idea of the inside dimensions of the drawers. I settled on 18″ x 18″ of interior space to hold things. From that dimension I determined the case width by adding 1″ to account for the ½” thickness of the drawer poplar boards I would use, plus the thickness of the cheap pine casing (3/4″ nominal), plus the width of the side-mounted European drawer slides I selected (1″ total for both sides). That gave me exterior case dimensions of 21 ½” W x 14 7/8″ H x 21″ deep.

The height of the opening that I planned to slide the drawer case into was 15″, so that limited the stand-alone case height to less than that.

Two 1″x7″x4′ pine boards provided the sides while 1″x3″ stock served as the rails. I cut the boards to size but before I could create the tongues and grooves to join them, I had to flatten them. It’s virtually impossible to find non-warped pine boards at the big-box stores.

In this case, the boards were cupped. So I placed the concave side down (so it wouldn’t rock) and used my #5 to take off the convex side’s high points. That was followed by the #7 to flatten the surface and a #4 to smooth out the track marks the #7 left. Once flat, I flipped the board over and flattened the concave side. This was the first time I’ve used the plane trio in this way and I was amazed at how well they did.

Next I cut 3/16″ grooves into the case sides using my router. Then I chucked up the rabbet bit and cut the tongues. I purposefully started too thick and slowly adjusted the fence to dial in the proper, not-to-tight fit. I also left a bit of space in the groove to account for movement. After gluing up the sides, I set these aside to dry.

Before cutting the rails, I built one drawer, affixed the slides and took outside dimension measurements to double check my math on how wide the case should be. Then I cut the rails to rough length, used a shooting board to make them even and dovetailed all four of them to the case.

–The Drawers
I used ½” x 3″ poplar boards to build the top drawer. I used dovetails to join the four edges, then added a ¼” groove to accept the ¼” oak plywood bottom.

After the glued assembly dried, I test-fit the drawer slides on the drawer and put it inside the case. Working the drawer back and forth showed that the fit was a bit too tight. So I used my Stanley #78 rabbet plane to trim a bit of wood where the slides affix to the drawer side. That did the trick. The drawer moved in and out smoothly.

Alder has been my shop wood of choice for tool racks, so I cut a piece of Alder to size to serve as my pretty drawer face. Then I used a round over bit on the router table for the edges, and glued the machined piece to the drawer assembly.

After that, I affixed my shop-made drawer handle using a layout template to align the drill holes precisely with the centers at each end of the handle.

Two coats of BLO and Polyurethane finish protect the wood. Once that dried, I cut some shelving material to size and placed it on the bottom to cushion the seating of tools to come.

I used poplar ½” x 6″ boards to create the bottom drawer. After test fitting the top and bottom drawer, I realized that I needed to trim a bit from the depth of the center drawer. So I cut down the ½” x 3″ poplar board to 2.75″ wide to fit.

–The Handles
I fashioned the handles out of ½” poplar, making them 4 inches long and two inches in depth. After cutting out the inner recess with a coping saw, I used sandpaper strips as a manual belt sander to round the edges and shape the handles.

–The Finishing
The case was also finished with 2 coats of BLO followed by 2 coats of poly.

–The Fine-tuning and Assembly
The hardest part was fine-tuning the fit of the drawers. The noticeable gap at the top of the case is necessary because the drawer has to be tilted upward to seat it into the rollers. I did my best to affix the drawer slides to allow about 1/8″ of a gap between each drawer. But there was a catch.

These European slides rise a tiny bit upon the initial opening then settle down a smidgen to finish the opening movement. I had to adjust the drawer slides to allow for this roller-coaster movement while avoiding any rubbing against a neighboring drawer.

Once everything was adjusted, I tightened all the screws to full tension.

Installing and Using the New Drawers
After inserting the case into the bench opening it was time to insert the drawers. While they went in, I was smiling like a kid piling blueberries, toffee and cookie sprinkles on a cup of frozen yogurt at the end of a hot July day. They all moved freely in their slides.

I adjusted the case so that the front of the drawer handles were flush with the bench top as you look straight down. This ensures that the handles won’t interfere with my work while I plane, saw or lean against the bench.

I found that the weight of the drawers was not sufficient to hold them in place during use. To keep the case from flopping around like a tuna on a Florida fishing boat, I screwed through the bottom shelf into the case sides to secure it.

Then, finally, came the fun part. Filling the drawers with goodies and tossing out old, crappy containers.

A top-middle-bottom drawer collage.

A top-drawer detail shot collage.

How is it possible that something so simple as three drawers…that I build with my own hands, tools and curses, could give a grown man so much pleasure?

I’ve been using the drawers for a few months now and am pleased that they have indeed met my original goals.

They have significantly reduced clutter in my shop. Check.

They’ve provided desperately needed space for my growing collection of planes. Check.

The top drawer provides quick access to frequently used items. And…..check!

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About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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