How to Make a Wooden Tool Carrier

by Darren Bush on November 22, 2013 · 23 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects


Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. If you need to carry a few tools around, an open-top toolbox is great, especially if you are a visual person and need to see things for them to exist. Plumbers love these boxes, as pipe wrenches are long and awkward to carry. I just laid out a few tools I knew I wanted to carry in this box, and made up a plan.

I wanted to build something that would carry a saw or two, a level, a few chisels, and a what-have-you or two. The size of your box is your call; I made mine long enough to hold lengthier tools. The method is the same, irrespective of the length of your toolbox.



  • 6′ 1×10 clear pine
  • 6′ 1×6 clear pine
  • 2-4′ of 1 1/4” diameter dowel
  • Wood glue
  • 35-40 1 1/4” #6 wood screws
  • Pilot drill bit and countersink for #6 screws
  • Cordless drill
  • Phillips screwdriver bit
  • Bit brace
  • 1 1/4” auger bit
  • Japanese pull saw
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Small block plane
  • Wood putty (optional)
  • Varnish (optional)

There are only six pieces of wood in your toolbox: a bottom piece, two sidepieces, two end pieces, and a dowel for your handle.

Step One

Pick good, clean boards. Sometimes you’ll need to pick through the pile to get a good board without large knots (little ones are fine, they add character). You want nice, clean edges, so take care in transport.

Step Two

Choose the size of your box. I decided to make the interior length of my box 36” so it would hold some longer tools like a handsaw, level, etc. I laid out the tools I wanted to put in the toolbox to assure they’d fit.

Step Three

Make sure your lumber is square. Not all lumber has square ends, and if something’s a little off, it’ll show up during construction. Using a t-square, mark a fresh line an inch or so from the ends of the board and trim off. You don’t have to do this, but it’s not a bad habit to get into, especially when you see what happens when you’re fitting your last board and realize there’s an 1/8” gap where there shouldn’t be.

Step Four


Measure and cut your pieces. I made the interior dimensions of the box 36″. Since the bottom and sides of the box will be capped by the end pieces, I cut them all at 36”. You will need two pieces of 1×6 and a single 1×10. Mark them with your square and cut.

Step Five

Design and cut your end pieces. Measure 6 1/4” from the bottom of your 1×10 and mark that spot on both sides of the board.


Now measure 11” from the bottom edge of the board and using your combination square, find the midpoint and mark it.


Set your compass to a 1” radius, which will make an arc of 2”. Place the point of the compass on your 11” mark. Make a circle with your compass. I didn’t complete the circle because the bottom part isn’t relevant. You’ll see why later.


Now using a straight edge, connect your mark at 6 1/4” with the tangent of the arc you created with the compass. Repeat on the other side.


Reset your compass so that your radius is 5/16”. Placing the point of the compass on the 11” mark, draw another circle to mark a 1 1/4” hole. Using your pull saw, cut out the piece. Don’t try to follow the curve, just make a big point. Your piece will now come loose. Trim your board square and repeat the process.


Trim the tip off the triangle as close as you can to the line. It will just save you time later when you are smoothing the end.


Using your brace and bit, drill the hole for your handle. Place the center screw on the bit and make sure it goes in the center of the 11” mark. If it drifts, your handle will be off center. When the center screw of the bit pokes through the wood, turn your piece over and finish the bore.

If you do not have a brace and bit you can use a cordless drill and a 1 1/4” spade bit, but you will have less control. If you do go this route, remember to stop halfway through, turn the board over and finish the bore from the backside so the wood won’t splinter.


Using a rasp, clean up the top of the side pieces so you have a nice clean radius.


Repeat the whole thing for the second end piece. You can use the one you just made as a template. Be careful things are all matched up or you will have a lop-sided toolbox.

Step Six


Attach end pieces to the bottom board. Since your boards are 3/4” thick, you want to make sure that you are screwing into the middle of the bottom board. Measure in 3/8” and mark. Using a combination square, mark a line across the bottom of the sidepiece.


I put five screws along the bottom, so I spaced them out, one in the center and the others spaced out equally. Using a drill and a countersink, drill holes for your screws. Place your screws in the holes and drive them in until the points just barely poke through the end piece.


Apply some wood glue to the end of bottom board. Line up the bottom with the end piece and tap with a hammer to set them. Drive in the middle screw, and check that everything still lines up. Some squeeze out is good.


The end pieces and bottom piece should make a 90-degree angle. Repeat for the opposite end piece.

Step Seven


Attach the side pieces. Dry fit the pieces in place and trim if necessary. They should fit snugly but the end pieces should not be pushed out of square. Once snug and square, put glue along the edges of the side piece facing both the bottom and the end pieces.


You’ll want to use the same technique you used before by measuring 3/8” from the edge of the end piece so that the screws will go as close to the center of the side pieces as possible.


Now drill and countersink a few holes on the end pieces. Making sure things are lined up, drive the screws into the side pieces.

Step Eight


Attach the dowel. Place the dowel through the two end pieces. You want the dowel to make the end pieces square to the bottom piece. Place one end of the dowel flush with the end piece. Make sure both ends are square and mark the dowel on the outside where you will cut it. Note: the length of the dowel should be exactly the side of your bottom board plus 1 1/2”. Slide the cut dowel into the end pieces. Slide the dowel to one side and put a little glue inside the hole, and then slide it the other way and do the same.


Now drill and countersink one hole in the top of the end piece on each side. Drive one screw into the end piece and the dowel. Between the glue and the screw it will never move.

Step Nine

All that’s left to do is fasten the bottom piece to the side pieces. The number of screws you use is related to the length of the toolbox. Same technique: 3/8″ from the edge, measured with your square. Drill and countersink a hole every 6 or 8 inches. I wasn’t precise because it doesn’t matter to me, but feel free to be if you want to. Watch for appropriate squeeze out.

Step Ten


Relieve the side edges. This is unnecessary, but I like to do it. A sharp block plane can take off the little corner than is both unaesthetic and will ding up easily.

Step Eleven


Using 120-grit sandpaper, hand sand the outside surfaces. If you’re really a stickler, you can use wood putty or wood plugs to hide the screw holes, but for me this is a “back of the truck” toolbox, so I didn’t plug or fill anything.

Another option is to finish the box. Since this isn’t sitting in the rain somewhere, it didn’t matter to me. I did decide to wipe the outside down with a Danish oil finish that penetrates the wood, but again, that’s optional. If I were giving this to someone as a gift, I probably would seal it somehow. Use varnish if you want the wood to show, or your favorite color paint if you want something a little colorful. Either way, in 30 years it will have a glorious patina.


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Leo November 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Keep these coming. I’m looking for a new hobby and woodworking is one that I’m interested. This seems like a great beginner project.

2 Trevor November 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Thanks Darren :)

I’m not much of a carpenter, but these step by step pictures make this look very doable.

I’m curious how long this took from start to finish to build?

- Trevor

3 Darren November 22, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Trevor, it probably took me an hour and a half. You could make two of them in two hours, probably. Once you have the materials out, you can just keep going. :-)

4 patrick November 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm

I’ve been planing on building one of these with my son for his “tools”, thank you for reminding me of the finishing details. To often when I make projects like this, I have to go back later for those finishing touches.

5 Don November 23, 2013 at 5:42 am

Thanks for the memories. My father made for me this very thing, exactly the same except that he used a piece of black pipe for the handle, when I got married. He filled it with those tools that every 20 year old husband should have.

6 Ryan Grimm November 23, 2013 at 8:03 am

First, one suggestion:
Bore the holes for the handle BEFORE cutting out the top end shape of the boards.

OK…I have had my tool tote since 1967, when in 7th grade wood shop (we had wood shop back then!) we made our own tool boxes. Painted a bright red, it has lasted until this very day, surviving two house fires and five or 7 girlfriends and an ex-wife.
It’s still going strong, and I’m giving it to a friend when I die.

7 caleb November 23, 2013 at 8:09 am

That seems like a fun project. I am not sure if I would use one personally due to the size/awkwardness in taking places that I need to take tools. I have a metal/nylon one that I use a lot for projects around the house. I keep a few basic tools strapped in all the time and add what I need to the project. It worked very well going in/on the roof when installing a swamp cooler this summer. Not sure something heavier/bulkier would work.

That being said, when my kids are old enough, we will be making these.

8 Andy Skinner November 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I build a toolbox like this and used it for many years. A few years ago I modified it by removing the dowel handle and replacing it with a pipe clamp. Now I always have a big, strong clamp readily available. I hardly ever need it but its nice to have it handy when I do.

9 Sam November 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I have a box similar to this for my grooming tools at horse shows. A friend woodburned a design on either end as a gift, and it’s held up through several seasons of showing. Simple, useful, but wonderful. You can’t go wrong with handmade.

10 John B November 24, 2013 at 7:04 am

Love it, my dad had one of these in the basement. I plan on making my own over the winter now.

11 Darren November 24, 2013 at 7:15 am

@Ryan, good point if you’re using a spade bit. If you torque the bit it could chip out. With an auger bit that’s not really a problem. Since most people will use a spade bit, I’d agree with that.

@Andy — great idea. Do you have a picture of it?

@Don, your father was a mensch. Awesome idea.

12 Craig November 24, 2013 at 9:49 pm

I have one exactly like this one that my grandpa made. After he passed, I took it along with a few hand tools in it. I’d guess he made it in the late 1940s-1950s.

13 Steve November 25, 2013 at 8:28 am

Great post. I’d love to see more woodworking posts like this. I’m looking to build some floor-to-ceiling storage shelves in my basement and am looking for a good way to go about it.

14 Jefferson November 25, 2013 at 9:12 am

Yeah, this is cool. More woodworking posts would be great!

15 Bob M November 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Great post, I love the simplistic design. I have probably made 40-50 of these over the years when I did power tool demonstrations for the major home centers earning extra money on the weekends. Man was that fun.

16 Ryan November 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I simply cannot cut the 10″ piece straight.. Always seems to curve in towards me. Any advice?

17 Ryan November 28, 2013 at 10:55 am

5/8″ radius to draw the 1 1/4″ circle.

18 B Fulton December 1, 2013 at 7:20 pm

My grandfather, a carpenter, had one of these, as well as a closed-top (and locking) one with caster wheels and a shoulder strap he made himself around 1920 or so.

They were in daily professional use until the late 1960s, and are still occasionally being used today.

Not bad for something he made for the equivalent of $5 when Coolidge was president.

19 Mark B December 3, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Although I must admit that the pull action on a Japanese ryoba does allow for a smaller saw kerf and cleaner crosscut, I am disappointed that a classic carpenters saw was not used to compliment this manly Tool Carrier.

20 Neil T December 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I really like these posts and have built this and the shoe shine box with my father as a ‘bonding’ activity. Does anyone have decent plans on a toy chest? We are thinking about making 2-3 to give to less forntunate kids for christmas with a few toys inside.

21 James January 11, 2014 at 8:35 am

Jimmy DiResta did a good video on this type of tool box for makezine here Personally, I think these type of tool boxes are heavy and not very practical when you need to transport your’e tools from A to B.

22 Randy January 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

My uncle gave me one 30 years ago and I continue to use it. A few years ago I built one for my son and my nephew for Christmas including tools. This year, my future son-in-law got the same.

23 Steve January 28, 2014 at 9:10 pm

As a former furniture maker, I observe that you wouldn’t normally want to screw into end grain,as the fibers will tend to splay rather than wrap around the screw. However, with the number used in this project, plus glue and the geometry of the box, it will work. A quantum leap in skill and durability would be dovetail joints and a hardwood of some type, say oak. Nonetheless, a handy and useful box.

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