I have a small shop, but regardless of what sized shop you have, it never seems to have enough storage or counter-top space. During the Covid Pandemic I found myself with some extra time (we couldn’t travel) so I decided I would treat myself and upgrade my shop with some custom made cabinets.
- Counter Top Space: It’s always necessary to have more space to set stuff out and and let the mid-project mess expand to every horizontal space. In all seriousness, I do not currently have much flat, sturdy horizontal workspace.
- Small part storage: No matter how much hardware I buy, it seems like I always have to run to the hardware store to get a different sized nut/ bolt etc. When ever I buy hardware, I always buy extra that tends to just get thrown in a large cardboard box. I have many-a-times ran to the store to get a piece of hardware that I already had but it was not easily accessible. I figure if I can logically sort and organize all my existing hardware, I can stop future work stoppage, and trips to the store. I saw this video by Alexandre Chappel in which he makes 3D printed small parts organizers for all his hardware, I decided to take a similar approach.
- Storage for Power Tools: I have a handful of portable power tools with either blow-molded cases or storage bags that I want to store away from sight and sawdust.
- Integrated LED lighting: Otherwise they’re just some boring ass cabinets.
Since I was looking at a fairly large expenditure on cabinet-grade plywood, and I don’t have a truck to easily get another sheet, I wanted to design virtually. Normally for woodworking projects, I use Sketchup but I prefer SolidWorks and just learned about Weldments so I wanted to give it a go on this project. I came up with a design to fill my requirements, it contained two banks of drawer cabinets on either side, and then a larger cabinet in the middle with doors and two pull-out shelves for my portable power tools. The counter top surface is roughly 7’x2’ and 38” tall.
SolidWorks also allows for easy creation of documentation using their drawing utility. I came up with a set of drawings that help me get the cuts down, dimensions accurate, and general assembly. Note I used the drawings more as a guide than a definitive law.
I started on Labor Day Weekend (September 5th 2020) and completed the cabinets the second weekend in October (October 10th 2020), so about 35 days.
I started the project by gathering materials from my local orange big box store. I rented their truck for $20 to bring the supplies home.
- 3x 1/4” 4’x8’ Birch Plywood
- 1x 3/4” 4’x8’ MDF Panel
- 1x 3/4” 4’x8’ Birch Plywood
- 2x 3/4” 4’x8’ Maple Plywood
- 3x 1/2” 4’x8’ Sande Plywood
Raw Sheet Materials
The first part of constructing the cabinets was creating the ‘carcasses’ which are the main box structures. I cut all 6 sides out and then notched the kick plates out with a jigsaw being careful to avoid tear-out. After putting a dado in for the bottom shelf I assembled the carcasses glue and pocket screws (for the top stretchers).
2 of 3 of the cabinet carcasses
Before I loaded the carcases up with drawers I added leveling feet to the bottom so I could make sure the cabinets were level on my very un-level concrete floor.
Note: I drilled a hole through the bottom shelf so I could use a hex driver to adjust the leveling feet before locking their position with the hex nut.
A large part of this cabinet bank is drawers, specifically there are 8 on the left, 7 on the right, and 2 larger pullout drawers in the middle, for a total of 17 drawers. I decided to use 1/2” plywood for the drawer sides, and 1/4” plywood for the drawer bottoms. I assembled the drawers with pocket screws, and glued and stapled the drawer bottoms on.
Since I had so many drawers to assemble, I created a jig using plywood and toggle clamps that allow for quick fastening of the drawer sides. After securing the drawer bottoms, I used a trick I learned from the Fix this Build That YouTube channel of applying a chamfer to the bottom to make the bottoms of the drawers visually disappear.
A handful of drawer without their bottoms
45° Chamfer applied to bottom of drawers
The countertop is made of a sheet of 3/4” MDF cut in half and laminated together to make a 7’x24”x1.5” (very heavy) panel. glued, screwed, clamped and stapled together I then used a laminate sheet for the countertop surface. MDF surface covered with contact cement
Extension cord used to allow to move laminate to be moved into position without prematurely bonding it
Laminate surface installed and trimmed with flush-trim bit in palm router
Finally I edge banded the countertop with hard maple to prevent the delicate MDF edge from being damaged, and the generally sexiness of figured hardwood.
One of the things I really wanted to sex ‘er up was install LED lights on the cabinets. I thought of three main places I wanted to focus lighting on
- Under the cabinets in the kickplates to give a warm ‘night-light-like-glow’ in the garage if/ when it is dark.
- Under the countertop that should help illuminate any drawer if it is pulled open.
- Inside the large middle cabinet to illuminate the interior to help find the desired tool. This should only open when the cabinet drawers are open.
All lighting used was 12V Warm White LED strips housed in aluminum channel with a milky white diffuser. The aluminum channel acts as a heat sink, extending the life of the LEDs and diffuses the light. If I was to do it again, I’d go with some double density 24V LEDs so there is more light 🤷 live and learn.
All aluminum channels were sunk into dados cut in the plywood.
Dado for Kickplate LED (repeated on 2 other carcases)
Center cabinet with kickplate lighting
Top and middle stringer of middle cabinet with embedded LEDS for internal lighting
Highlights tactics I use to hide/ cover up wires
Center cabinet with kickplate and internal lighting
Installing lighting in bottomside of countertop
Detail showing countertop corner connection of LED strips
Under countertop and under cabinet lighting test
Drawer Fronts/ Doors
I like the look of a continuous grain pattern from Birch Plywood, so I took special care to make sure the pieces stayed in the right place and matched up with each other.
After applying at least 3 coats of water-based polyurethane to the drawers, drawer fronts, and cabinet sides (over a gallon total) the cabinets were finished! I love how they turned out.
I think the lighting just takes it to the next level. I have the lights automated (using Home Assistant) so that when I open the door into the garage when the sun is down the cabinet lights will come on and then turn off automatically after I leave the garage.