There’s no such thing as too many tools. At least, according to my husband Bill.
There is, however, such thing as too many tools in a small area, which is precisely why we decided it was time to re-organize.
When we PCSed to our new home, we gained two additional floors (and better cardio health from the staircases), lost our garage and back yard, and discovered just how loud a table top drill press is during nap time.
So, Bill found an alternative in woodworking and turned to his hand tools. And of course, that meant he just had to get more hand tools. (Frugal tip: ask your parents and older relatives for free hand-me-downs, there’s probably a couple somewhere in the family!)
But with more hand tools came more clutter, and more clutter in a smaller space finally forced Bill to take matters into his own hands. After doing a bit of research, he quickly realized how easy it would be to make his own tool organizer. It would fit his needs, he could customize it to literally anything he wanted, and it would be a fraction of the cost.
And bonus: he’d be able to focus his energy and work out his life’s frustrations on another quality project.
For this particular project, he made a rack for rasps and files, but this DIY organizer is perfect for most hand tools, including chisels, files, wrenches, pliers, hammers, screwdrivers, and so much more.
Let’s check out what Bill did to make his tool organizer:
Step 1: Determine which tools you want to include in your rack
You can use this template for most hand tools – chisels, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc. For this organizer, I wanted to keep all my files and rasps upright and within reach, and I had 2 rasps and 14 files to lay out and arrange.
Step 2: Figure out your organizational system
I like things to be grouped by similar items and then large to small. But with hand tools, this can get tricky. Some are fat and tall, short and skinny or oddly shaped. I decided to arrange the tallest tools in the back and went from there.
There is no magic method to organize your tools, so make it your own. My rule of thumb is to lay things out before you make a single cut and think about how you’ll be able to work regularly with that setup. Maybe change it around and think some more. You can always change your mind before you start making sawdust.
I am a messy worker, and I will knock things over in my haste to make more of a mess. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure that my arrangement was big enough so that I would have a very stable base. Additionally, I wanted this to be a bench-top-only rig, so I won’t end up shackled to a wall while I work. Creating a table top piece vs. wall-mounted would also make future PCS moves easier in the long run.
In the end, I went with four rows of tools to give me the depth and stability I wanted.
Step 3: Start sizing your organizer
Once you have an arrangement that you like, decide on what kind of space you are working with.
For mine, after having a rough idea on number of rows and tool sorting, I figured I would need about a 6″ x 8″ rack. It just so happened that I had a 1/2-inch piece of poplar kicking around that was about that size.
Step 4: Fill in any gaps
I chose these to help fill in the extra areas for added storage.
If you’re like me, you probably planned on more space than you have tools for. This is generally a simple and convenient excuse to buy more tools.
In that case, feel free to add generalized profiles, or holes, for your future hand tools (I’ll explain this more in steps 5 and 6). Or, if blowing your budget and possibly incurring the wrath of your spouse doesn’t sound like a good time, you can also simply fill in the gaps with other tools you want to keep handy.
I chose the latter option, and added spots for a set of three Husky chisel/rasp combos, a brass bristle bush, a small square, a set of calipers and the chuck key to my drill press.
Step 5: Trace on your profiles
Now that you have a rough idea of your rack size, and a layout for your tools, its time to trace on the profile of each tool.
*NOTE: You DO NOT have to do this step. I decided I wanted to have customized profiles for each tool so that I am locked into putting that tool in its spot. I only did this to force myself to be more organized. If you want to save time and sweat, you can always cut universally-accepting profiles for all of your tools. If this sounds like a better option for you, skip to Step 7.
To get my customized profiles, I simply traced the largest cross section along the length of each tool. For flat files this is easiest by establishing the dimension at its widest point (usually near the base), and then at its thickest using the file’s body as your ruler. For other shapes, trace out your best guess and remember to start cutting it small. We will be filing out waste later to get the best possible fit.
Step 6: Cutting out your profiles
This is the laborious part of your project. My process went as such:
Working on one profile at a time, drill out whatever waste you can. Using a coping saw blade, remove the remaining waste until you are close to the edges of the profile you’re trying to cut.
Then, using the smallest file you have, file out the final waste until you have a snug fit, test fitting often with the tool for that profile until you’re satisfied. Rinse and repeat for each profile on your rack top.
Step 7: Sizing up the sides
Now that you have your profiles cut and two to three weeks have passed (not kidding), it’s time to build the sides. My rack only has two sides. In my mind, simpler is better and honestly, I was already tired of working on this project after Step 6.
Deciding on the height of your rack is as simple as placing your tools into the rack and eyeballing the height until your happy with it. For instance, do you want your tools to hang, or have the ends rest on the organizer base? After you’re satisfied with the height of your rack top, simply measure out the lengths you’ll need to cut for each side.
For the sides of my tool organizer, I clamped the rack to the bench face and, holding a piece of scrap underneath, adjusted the distance between the two pieces as needed to dial in my height. In the end, my sides came out to 5 ½” x 4″, which I again created using some of my scrap poplar.
Step 8: Construct your base
Personally, I don’t need the fanciest of materials for my workshop trimmings. If you’re making this for a gift and want to add a bit of flair to it, feel free to use whatever material you’d like for your base.
My base is made of nothing more than laminated 2 x 4. Again, to ensure stability, mine ended up at 8¾” x 6¾” x 1¾”, which is slightly larger than the top of my rack. The final dimensions of your base are up to you. I do suggest that it be larger than your rack by at least 1” each dimension to avoid tipping – or, if you’re like me, knocking it over while you’re trying to grab something else.
Step 9: Drill your pilot holes
This step is largely self-guided. To be honest, if you want to live dangerously, feel free to skip this step.
I will say that in lieu of using longer screws for the base, counter sink the pilot holes through the bottom of the base up for about 1 inch.
Step 10: TEST FIT!
I can’t stress enough! Before you glue up or even start finishing, test it. Mock fit everything together loosely and make sure it all works. If it doesn’t, adjust it until it does.
Step 11: Finishing
This step is where you get to put your personality onto the project, or jazz it up a bit if you’re planning on giving this as a gift.
For mine, I routered the top edges of the base with a quarter round bit, knocked down (or softened) all the corners with sandpaper and gave everything a generous coat of paste wax.
Simpler is better.
Step 12: Assembly
You’ve made it, the best part is here! The part where you put everything together, stand back, gaze upon your creation and immediately notice things you wish you’d done differently.
This step is pretty easy to finish up: simply fasten the sides to your base and organizer top pieces. I used drywall screws as my fasteners, and I personally decided not to glue anything down, simply so it can be knocked down the next time we PCS. Thus far, everything has held up fine.
We hope you enjoyed our step-by-step guide to building your very own customized tool organizer. It really does save a lot of headaches (trust me, the bench is so much cleaner now!)
Making this for a Christmas gift? Be sure to send in a photo of your completed DIY tool organizer by December 31st and we’ll pick our favorite one to feature in our TMH Digest*!
*Don’t know about the TMH Digest?? Each month, members of our community receives a personalized overview of all the happenings on The Military Homestead! In the TMH Digest, we share even more of our journey with exclusive news, photos, updates, and so much more. Sign up and immediately grab the most recent issue!
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