Build A Kid’s Toolbox
Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by James Provost
My daughter is only 2-1/2 years old so she didn’t help with this project. Since she already enjoys looking around my shop (I really have to keep an eye on her when she visits me), I’m hoping that over the next couple of years she’ll start to show an interest in learning how to use some simple tools and maybe even build something. If so, this toolbox will be hers and we can fill it with some tools that are appropriate for her level of skill. If not, my son is 11 months old, so there’s still hope!
If you’re working with your child while making this toolbox, it’s a great idea to break it down into short segments that are no longer than one hour each. The last thing you want is for them to get bored or to lose attention. Let them do as much as possible, even if it takes 10 times longer. Generally speaking kids would rather do than watch. And don’t sweat the details. If all the joints are not perfect I’m sure this will still hold tools and make your child proud. Heck, even when I made this project by myself, I found it was almost refreshing to not worry about perfection. It will get beat up over the years, so as long as it’s strong I’m happy. And the exact dimensions don’t matter too much, either.
All from one plank
You can start with one pre-planed 5/8″ thick board, 6″ wide and 8′ long. You also have the option of planing down the stock yourself, if the species you want isn’t available pre-dressed. Joint one long edge and rip it to 5-3/4″ wide. Trim one end of the plank square then cut the two sides and one bottom 16″ long. With a combination square mark a line 2″ away from either end on both the sides and the bottom. These lines will assist you during assembly, showing you where to locate the ends. Add another line 5/8″ away from the first line, signifying the width of the mating board. Drill two screw clearance holes between the lines so you can use a screw to secure the joint during assembly. If you are going to add wood plugs to conceal the screw holes after assembly drill the proper diameter holes now.
Mark a Guideline – Mark a line 2″ in from the ends of both of the sides and the bottom with a combination square. This line will assist you while lining up the ends during assembly.
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You Have Successfully
Clearance Holes – Draw a second line to depict the width of the mating board then add a couple of screw clearance holes. If you want to plug the holes after assembly, you can flip the boards over and bore for plug at this stage.
Shape the ends
Next cut the two ends 12″ long. Determine how high the sides will come on the ends when everything is assembled. Draw a pleasing shape on the top section of the ends, and cut them on the bandsaw. I used a roll of masking tape to help draw the curves. Sand the freshly cut edges, and smooth the corners.
While you have the ends in your hands, drill a hole near the top of each end to accept the handle. I used a 5/8″ diameter handle. I also didn’t drill all the way through, to keep a cleaner look. This also helps keep the handle from coming loose.
Draw an even, gradual arc on the tops of both sides, between where the ends will be fixed. This will allow tools to be removed or returned to the toolbox a little bit easier. It also adds some shape to an otherwise very simple looking project. Cut these arcs on the bandsaw and ease their edges with a sanding block.
To make the handle, you can either use a solid wood dowel or you can make your own with a spokeshave or block plane. Just make sure it’s the right length and both of its ends will fit in the holes.
After sanding the parts, and breaking all the sharp edges and corners, ready your glue, pin nailer, screws, driver and clamps for assembly. The pins are just to help with assembly, as they don’t provide a lot of strength. If you don’t have a pin nailer, a hammer and 1-1/4″ nails will work fine. If you use nails, it’s probably best to predrill the parts, more to assist with the assembly process than to protect against the wood splitting. All five parts that you’ve worked on up until this point will go together at the same time so be ready to work smoothly and efficiently, in order to get the clamps on before the glue dries.
Start by applying glue to the sides of the bottom. One by one, line the sides up and fire a few pin nails through each side, into the bottom. The pins temporarily hold everything together. Apply a bit of glue to the sides of one end, slide it in place, line it up with the pencil lines and shoot a few pin nails to hold it in place. Drill pilot holes through the existing holes and drive screws in, securing the first end. The second end will be a bit trickier, only because you have to install the handle at the same time. Start by adding some glue to the sides of the second end and, while you’re at it, add some to the inside of the handle holes. Slide them both in place and fasten the end in place with pins and then screws.
Add clamps where you see fit, in order to bring the side-to-bottom and side-to-end joints tight. When the glue is dry add the wood plugs, covering the screw holes.
Sticky Situation – After gluing and pin nailing the two sides to the bottom, I added the ends, one at a time. It was right after I took this photo that I realized I had forgotten to drill holes in the ends to accept the handle. I quickly drilled the two holes, inserted the handle and finished assembling the toolbox. A bit more foresight on my part would have made this glue-up go a bit smoother.
Prepare for tools
Between both sides, at either end, are small tool holders that will house screwdrivers, and other longer items. Cut a piece to fit in the area then pre-drill screw clearance holes through both ends. It’s also a good idea to add pilot holes in these small tool holders to be sure they don’t split as you drive the screws home. Apply some glue to one of the tool holder’s edges then drive a couple screws through each end, into the tool holder. I also added a couple pin nails through the side, into the end grain of the small tool holders. Repeat for the second tool holder. Drill holes to accept whatever tools you plan on storing in these holders.
A finish isn’t necessary, but if your child wants to paint the toolbox their favourite colour, bite the bullet and let them. Purple might not be your first choice, but to them nothing could be better.
Find some small tools that will fit their hands nicely, and teach them how to use them safely and effectively. Starting off with just the basics will give them confidence, then add tools when the time comes.
Easy Access – A small tool holder on each end keeps often-used tools at hand. After installing the two tool holders with glue and screws, drill holes according to what tools your child will use most often.
Load it Up – If your child uses tools that belong to them they will likely become more attached to them and respect them even more. Buy tools that will fit their hand nicely and are not too big and heavy. Just make sure that your child knows how to use whatever tools are in their toolbox safely and effectively.
Teach your kids about tools
A few years ago we got a letter from a reader who shared with us know how he taught his grandchildren to safely use tools. He gave a complete lesson on a specific tool. After testing them, he gave them a certificate that allowed them to freely use that tool from then on. The kids enjoyed the process of building up knowledge, and an arsenal of tools, as time went on. I think this is a great idea.
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