Tool Cabinets Are Overrated
Many woodworks feel building a beautiful wall cabinet to house and display their tools is a rite of passage and a shop necessity. Mike Farrington says this is folly.
It’s funny how certain things become controversial. Even within the docile woodworking community, the fiery debate about pins first. vs. tails first rages on. If you don’t know what I am talking about, some woodworkers believe the pins portion of a dovetail should be cut first while others think it should be the tails. I have cut dovetails both ways and I really don’t think one way is better. To each their own, as they say.
There is, however, a topic that I have a strong opinion about. I wonder whether you will disagree. I have a problem with the idea of a wall-hanging tool cabinet. Many woodworkers believe building a beautiful wall cabinet to house and display their tools is a rite of passage and a shop necessity. To me, this is folly. How is it convenient to store tools up on the wall away from one’s workbench? Unless the tool cabinet is hung right above the workbench, where it could be in the way of larger projects, in my opinion it’s too far away.
To me, there is one simple solution. Commonly used bench tools should be stored in a cabinet under a bench, shoehorned into the bench’s frame. It doesn’t matter if you are using an old solid-core door, a slice of a bowling lane, or the most beautiful heirloom Roubo bench, tools should be stored beneath the benchtop. I realize that many features people like to incorporate into their bench may interfere with the doors or drawers of said cabinet., but I suggest if you are smart enough to install a leg vise or a sliding deadman, you have the ability to incorporate some storage under there as well. A perfect example of what I’m talking about is the Ultimate Shaker Workbench that Mike Pekovich and Matt Kenney built for the Fine Woodworking shop. Check it out; there is a video series documenting the build right here on this very site.
My traditional cabinetmaker’s bench has eight graduated drawers beneath its apron, which is home to tail and end vises. In these drawers I store my chisels, marking tools, sharpening supplies, handplanes, files/rasps, smaller handsaws, dovetail tools, spokeshaves, and the list goes on. I see a few advantages to keeping tools in this location. First, they are easily accessed via 100-lb. full-extension drawer slides. I can exchange handplanes, chisels, or marking tools without taking a step away from my bench. I find this to be extremely efficient. (If you are one who is trying to increase your step count for the day, this could be a disadvantage.) Second, if you move your bench around in your shop, the tools will move with it. Last, when planing hardwoods, sawing rigorously, or chopping joinery, you want a bench with all the weight it can get. Much like a tractor, weight equals traction (unless it’s really muddy, which I hope it’s not in your shop…).
To argue the flip side to my position, many woodworkers I look up to and consider heroes have wall-hanging tool cabinets. Garrett Hack, Chris Gochnour, Mike Pekovich, and many others come to mind. They all produce incredible work and when I watch their videos they flow pretty well in the shop. Mike also has a video series about building a wall-hanging tool cabinet for his home shop where he mentions when he opens his tool cabinet it transforms his garage into a proper wood shop, I get that. Also, perhaps something large is stored below your bench like a router table. That makes sense, too.
The point of this article is to get you thinking about the most important tool in any wood shop, the place where the most efficiencies can be gained or lost, the place where every project begins and ends—the workbench. I have made my case as to why tools should be stored beneath your bench. What say you?
I am in the planning stages of adding a twin screw vise to my bench. When completed, I will post a build video on my glorious YouTube channel where I will show the vise install and go into more detail about workbench storage. Thank you very much for reading. Until next time…
Video Workshop by Mike Pekovich and Matt Kenney
by Christian Becksvoort
by Mike Pekovich