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How to Build a Toolbox

How to make the perfect portable workshop, with instructions for parents and kids

Age Range: 7 and up

If your little builders inherited the DIY gene, then they're more or less programmed to dive into Mom and Dad's tools. So maybe you should think about giving the handy helpers their own set—the better to get them involved while keeping your precious collection from getting trashed.

This toolbox is just the thing to hold smaller, basic items that fit a young do-it-yourselfer's hands, including a hammer, saws, pliers, and screwdrivers. Building it is easy: The tools required are probably already in your stash, and the materials are readily available at a home center and a sporting goods store. Set yourself up on a sturdy worktable—in the workshop, the garage, even the playroom. The fun is in having something for everyone to do and getting in good practice for future projects.

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Step 1


Illustration by Carl Wiens

There are seven parts to this toolbox, and they will all fit on one 2x4-foot sheet of plywood. If you line up parts adjacent to one another so that they have a common cutline, make sure you account for the ⅛-inch kerf that will be eaten up by the saw blade with each cut.

Birch veneer plywood is the best choice as a material for this project because it's strong, has a smooth face, and takes stains or paints well. Construction plywood will also work, but the face will not be as smooth.

Step 2

Lay out and Cut the Parts

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using spring or bar clamps, clamp the plywood to a sturdy worktable. Make sure the piece you will cut hangs free over the edge.

Using a jigsaw, circular saw, or handsaw, cut the plywood into the individual pieces. For added accuracy, clamp a straightedge saw guide next to your saw.

To parents: Using a jigsaw or circular saw is a job for grown-ups. Be sure you and your children wear safety glasses before you start.

Step 3

Lay out the Handle Grip

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a combination square, lay out a 5x1½-inch rectangle near the top of the handle to denote where the grip will go. Make sure that it is centered. To create the angled sides of the handle, mark the top of the handle 1½ inches from either side of the grip; mark each side of the handle 5 inches from the bottom. Draw a diagonal line between these marks on each side of the grip.

Clamp the handle piece to the table. Using a drill/driver fitted with a ⅜-inch bit, cut holes in the four corners of the rectangle. Make sure to stay inside the lines. These holes will allow you to insert and turn the jigsaw blade to make a cutout.

Step 4

Cut the Handle Grip

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Set the jigsaw flat on the workpiece, with the blade in one of the holes.

Slowly cut along one layout line until you reach the next corner. Stop the saw, turn it to face the next line, then start cutting again. Continue in this manner from corner to corner until the center portion is removed from the handle.

Using the jigsaw, cut off each angled side.

Step 5

Drill the Tool Holder

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Clamp the tool holder insert on top of some scrap wood. Using ½- and 1-inch spade bits, drill holes in an X formation on the square.

Step 6

Sand the Parts

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a random-orbit sander and 120-grit sandpaper, sand all the toolbox parts until they're smooth and free of splinters. (Make sure the dust bag is on the back of the sander.) Smooth the edges of the plywood as well, but be careful not to round them over.

Hey, kids! You can help with the sanding. Just make sure a parent is there to watch you because the sander moves a lot when it vibrates.

Step 7

Glue and Assemble the Pieces

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Put a thin bead of stainable wood glue on the short ends of the long side pieces. Lay the small sides over these ends. Using bar clamps, hold the box together. Wipe up any glue that squeezes out with a damp rag.

Hey, kids! You can help by applying the glue to the ends of the wood while your parents clamp the pieces.

Step 8

Nail the Box Together

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Hammer 4d finish nails at the corners, through the ends of the small sides, and into the long sides. Do this for all four corners, using four nails along each side.

Remove the clamps. Run a bead of glue along the bottom edges, and lay the bottom piece over the sides. Clamp the bottom piece on, then nail it in place with 4d finish nails.

Glue and nail the tool holder insert to the side of the handle. Put glue on the side edges of the handle and on the outer corner of the tool holder, and place the whole assembly in the toolbox. Clamp, then nail it in place.

Using a nailset, sink all the nails below the surface. Fill the holes with stainable wood putty. Let it dry, then sand it smooth.

To parents: Setting nails is tricky. Have your kids practice on scrap wood first, or do this step yourself. Kids can still help out by filling the nail holes with putty and sanding it when it's dry.

Step 9

Apply the Stain

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Wearing latex gloves and using a 2-inch paintbrush, brush stain onto the wood, then wipe it off with a clean rag. (The more you leave on, the darker it will get.) Let it dry.

Hey, kids! Why not choose your favorite color for your toolbox?

Step 10

Finishing Touches

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Cut a few lengths of hockey-stick tape, and use them to wrap the handle to make a comfortable grip.

If you want, nail furniture glides onto the box's bottom to keep it from scratching floors. Then fill it with tools, grab it by the handle, and you're ready to go!