Putting tools within arm’s reach—Two under-bench drawers

Maybe it’s because I’m a type A personality. But when I work at my bench, I like to have the tools I use most all within arm’s reach. I find that this setup maintains the flow of work.

However, as my tool kit grew, it soon overtaxed the capacity of the pegboard storage above the bench. It was the same story for the three drawers I built last year for my workbench.  Full, full and full.

Alas, well-used tools continued to languish on a dusty shelf across the garage. And since I don’t have the wingspan of a LeBron James, my project work found me fetching tools to-and-fro with concentration-breaking regularity. I wasn’t sure what to do about it, so I let the need simmer.

Then, one day I read somewhere that for woodshops, square footage of storage space is superior to cubic footage. In my mind that equates to more drawers and/or shelves. And that thought had me jealously eyeing the space under the bottom of my workbench. At the time, paupers in the form of rags and a seldom-used hardware storage box were squatting on the precious real estate.

P01-Space Under workbench

“What a waste,” I muttered to myself dreaming of the molding planes I wanted to bring into my life but didn’t have the space for. “You know what?” a little voice inside my head said to me, “You could build two drawers deep enough to hold molding planes down there. And instead of interrupting your board-flattening activity to retrieve your #6, you could just pick it out of the drawer. Along with all your joinery planes too.” Hmm. That’s a good idea Little Voice.

A bit of measuring, followed by a bit of designing resulted in this.

P15-Drawer Design

Building the carcass
For the carcass, I selected some wide pine boards salvaged from my parent’s soon-to-be sold home. They were cupped so I spent a bunch of time flattening them. Of course I had to walk across the garage to retrieve my Stanley #6 to do that. But once that was done, I scooped aside the shavings to edge glue the boards that make up the top, bottom and side panels.

P19-Shavings after flattening panels

I don’t have bricks to keep the boards flat while they dried so I used planes…lugged from across my shop.

P02-Edge gluing panels

Then I flattened the panels…

P03-Flattening edge-glued panel top

…and cut rabbets to seat the carcass sides.

P07-Rabbetting for side supports

Boy my Veritas skew rabbet plane is a dream to use. A huge step up from my blister-inducing Stanley #78.

P08-Rabbet is square

Nice and square.

To cut the dado for the center divider/support, I clamped a board to guide a tenon saw while taking each side’s cut to a depth of 3/8”.

P06-Cutting dado for center support

A Type 9, Stanley #71 routed out the waste a bit at a time to sneak up on the dado’s 3/8” final depth.

With the joinery done, there was nothing left to do but dry-fit everything to satisfaction, then glue up the carcass.

P09-Glueup of carcass

The box’ surfaces were a bit rough, so I donned a dust mask and used an orbit sander (another trip across the garage) to smooth all the surfaces to 220 grit. A dousing of shellac will protect the carcass from Colorado’s dry winters and sometimes humid summers.

The Drawers
While I prefer to make drawers using poplar, I went with ¾” Baltic birch plywood because it was half the cost. I regret that decision. Plywood is a bear to work with. It sheds splinters like my black lab Bella sheds fur. I retrieved a circular saw (a trip across the garage, plus three steps up a ladder) to chew through a 2’ x 4’ x ¾” plywood sheet to make eight, a smidgen-less-than 6” high drawer sides.

P05-After cutting drawer sides to size

To join the pieces, I broke out an estate sale box joint jig (three steps to the right of my workbench and underneath the router table) and used a 3/8” bit to make alternating slots. What a mess. Tear out was terrible. And the dull bit burned the wood, throwing off sawdust-encrusted embers to smolder and smoke up my shop.

That earned a “what the hell are you doing?,” look from my lady after emerging from her BMW X3, groceries in hand. I must have looked sheepish wielding the spray bottle to extinguish a pile of smoking sawdust. There simply isn’t a manly way to put out a shop fire when your lady is looking at you all accusatory like. Helping her to carry in the groceries didn’t do much to help my case either.

Back at the router table, I cut a ¼” wide groove, ¼” deep and 1/4” from the edge to accommodate the ¼” plywood bottom. With the joints cut and the sides dry-fitted, I measured the inside dimensions to calculate the length and width of the drawer bottoms. A gaggle of clamps held the gooey glue up mass until everything set. My Veritas LA jack—conveniently located directly above my bench, and recently refitted with a PM-V11 blade, nice!—smoothed the joints.

P10-Drawer box joinery

Drawer fronts
A while ago, I standardized on alder for all my shop storage saw tills, chisel racks and bench drawer fronts. However, I wasn’t willing to pay $32.00 for the wood to make two front panels, so I opted for figured poplar instead. By “figured” I mean the coolest, funkiest grain pattern I could find at the local big-box store. The drawers required 8 ½” wide panels which I made by edge-gluing two boards. These were trimmed to size and flattened after—yet another trip across the garage to fetch the #6.

P16-Drawer fronts after glue up

At the router table, a ½” round-over bit made the drawer edges pleasing to the touch and eye. With the machining done it was time to finish the drawer fronts. And you can see by the picture above that my earnest search to find two boards with matching grain failed.

So when the going gets tough, the tough get staining. So to at least try to match the brown/amber color motif of my other drawers, I went with a pecan stain…followed by some matte polyurethane.

While the fronts dried, I set about fashioning some drawer pulls.

P18-Shopmade drawer pull

I freehanded draft lines for the inside arc, then cut them out with a coping saw and smoothed them with a drill-press-mounted sanding drum. A ½” round-over bit at the router table (you’ll recall it’s three steps to the right) made the edges easy on the hands.

The center-lines of the pulls (from attachment point to attachment point) measures about 4”. I carefully centered the pulls on their respective drawer fronts, then marked and drilled their mounting holes. These holes served as guides to drill through the plywood backing that the fronts are secured to.

To position the false drawer front for this drilling operation, I used 1/8” spacers placed on the floor and to the left and right sides respectively. And that worked quite well for the left-hand drawer. I did the same for the right drawer front. But for some reason, I failed to catch that it was out of square. Either the spacers weren’t properly seated or the concrete floor was uneven. Next time, I’ll space the drawers from a level reference surface, like the top edge of the carcass.

The cockeyed drawer must have put me off my game, because before I realized it I had broken a long-held family tradition dating back to colonial times by—needlessly, Dad would say—reading the instructions that came with the drawer slides.

P21-Drawer slide attachment

Don’t tell Pa, but this worked well and the drawers open and shut smoothly.

No more cross-shop hikes
With the finish dry and the slides operating as designed I lined up the carcass and sighed with relief when it slid neatly into place under the workbench. The final touch was to add rubber kitchen liners to protect plane irons and such.

P17-Install drawer lining-Not quite square

Double-sided tape at each end keeps the matting from “ridding up” on the drawer bottom.

Pausing for a moment to determine what came next, I realized that I was done. Only my favorite part of every project remained. It was time to fill the drawers and put them to use. So with a smug smile, I walked across the garage to pick up my #6…for the last time.

“Arm’s reach fits the bill doesn’t it?” Little Voice said as I settled the #6 into her new home. The joinery planes were next, followed by Little Voice’s approving “That’s much better.”

P23-Filled left-hand drawer

Let’s see now.

–Most-used tools within arm’s reach? Check.

–No more to and fro hikes across my shop? Check.

–Room for the molding planes of my dreams? Check-a-roonie!

P20-under workbench drawer for molding planes



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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