A Small Shop Cabinet
14th in a series of articles by Barb Siddiqui
When you are working out a plan for a project, several things have to go through the mind at once: squaring up the stock, setting up machines, decisions on joinery options, and finish selection. If, while you are working, it becomes necessary to move all around the shop for what you need, the job can become more complicated than necessary.
One basic solution is to gather what tools and accessories you'll need and arrange to keep them stored near each workstation where they are most used. Push sticks and feather boards should be within easy reach of a table saw; drill bits, stop collars and countersinks should be near the drill press. When you start accumulating tools, you'll begin to notice it becomes more and more difficult to find a convenient place to put things. That means it's time for another shop cabinet.
The first step in making one is to decide how much space you have, and how easy it is to reach. If you have to lean across an 18" wide bench, building high shelves on a wall will make them virtually inaccessible. Before you plan a cabinet, whether high or low, stand and reach for it. Determine how the space will be used, whether doors can swing open freely, and if the contents of drawers will be visible. If the unit is high, instead of drawers, a slide-out shelf, with hardware to let it drop down at an angle may work better.
Even if you can only spare 24 square inches of storage space, with some forethought you'll be amazed what you can pack into it and how convenient it can be to find things afterward. Measuring and marking tools, sanding supplies, hand planes and saws are all good candidates for cabinet storage. Open shelves, without doors on, offer easy accessibility, and having hand tools in plain sight may lead you to use them more often, too.
Once the size of your space is determined, cut a sheet of plywood the size of the back, say 24"x24", and lay it flat on a level surface to plan your storage strategy. Do you want hand planes hung vertically (this may mean drilling a hole in the toe of the plane sole) or horizontally on shelves? Is there room for sanding blocks, rasps and files, a set of screwdrivers? By laying out what tools you want to include, it is easy to fill empty spaces with odd shapes, hanging them on pegs, dowels, or cutting wood blocks to support various handles and blades, then gluing them in place to hang the tool on.
Consider what items you'll be reaching for most, with lesser-used tools stored higher or at the farther edge of the unit. Don't forget to consider the width of the cabinet sides, where smaller things like rulers, compasses or dividers can be hung. The front edges of shelves could be trimmed with glued-on edging to prevent any small parts from rolling forward off them.
Customizing a small cabinet is good experience in planning a unique project. You will decide if it is to have drawers and doors, if it stands open, or if it has fixed or adjustable shelves. One consideration, not to be overlooked, is to plan at least some space for future purchases. This may seem like a lot to ask of a space only 24"x24", but the key word is "plan". Take your time to consider what will fit, and then ask yourself,
"Now, what more can I make this space do? What things am I always wishing I had close to hand?"
Design for your own needs, around your own tool collection, and you'll discover putting up a new shop cabinet goes a long way to improving efficiency in your workshop. The more time you take to work out options for what you want to store, the more useful your new cabinet will prove to be.