Build a Cedar Box for Tool Storage
jb Bartkowiak Expert Blogger 1 Projects
If you've followed my blog in recent years, you know I've had a tendency to make things using cedar. Salvaged cedar to be more specific. Cedar, you may know, is an excellent choice for lining closets, but listen - it might make for an even better (perhaps the perfect) material for exterior woodworking projects.
Cedar is light, a softwood, yet very stable. That is - it is typically very straight and is exceptionally resilient to warping. It is naturally resistant to both insects as well as the elements (though by no means absolutely impervious to wear).
So when friends at BLACK+DECKER (and coincidentally, a neighbor right up the road from me here in Maryland) gave me some tools to try out and asked me to build an “outside storage box,” it was a no brainer. Cedar! I mean – I had a ton, and I’ll share that story.
A few years back, say seven, we contracted a fence company to install an arch-top fence (again coincidentally, the one you might have seen in the many pictures on my site of our exterior). You guessed it, in cedar. When it was originally installed, it was not installed according to the understood contract agreement. It was, well, too short. So after a few phone calls, the company finally came back out to make it right, re-installing large sections of fencing. When they did, I asked the crew if they could leave what they were removing. And they did. Basically, leaving me with more than a thousand board-feet of this absolutely wonderful material. A material, which through the years I have used to build a birdhouse, as well as custom skirting for a crawlspace and now this storage box, which I will tell you about here.
Prepping Salvaged Material
Here’s the thing though. With all of this material lying around, and honestly at times it was doing just that “lying around,” it really didn't get the love that it needed in storage. Over the years most of it had grayed and wasn't quite in the ideal condition, ready for re-use in a woodworking project. So, my project, the one I’ll tell you about here, started with the prep of this salvaged material. I ran around 54 boards of various lengths through a table-top thickness planer, taking a 1/16” of an inch (of grayed patina) from each side.
My biggest challenge: well, as I mentioned, the shortness of the fence, hence the shortness of my material. Many of the boards that I had were too short to build a box of the size I needed.
Umm, well - What size did you need?
Good question. This was something I had to answer right up front; what exactly was I going to do with my new storage box? I mean – what was I going to put in it? Well, since we have a set of patio furniture as well as a café bench and table set that sits on our side porch, both with cushions, my box was going to be used to store those cushions (as well as maybe a few other things) through the tough winter months.
So having decided on the material to be used, and the box’s purpose, my next step was to determine its size. What exactly were the dimensions in total of my cushion … stack? And in a very non-scientific way, I piled my cushions up and measured. The total width of my stack was around 40”, the total height around 20”, and total depth around 20” too. So right there I knew the interior of my box had to be at least larger than that. Taking into account possible support structures (framing) and hardware as well as the available space we might have on our patio (where this box would likely live) – I knew it had to have a minimum interior dimension of 40x20x20. And what exactly would be needed on the outside to get that?
Well, quite simply I started with my available material, and thought briefly about how I would assemble this box. Now, my fence boards I knew where 1x4. (That is – ¾” actual thickness later planed down to 5/8” by 3 ½” actual width.) Unfortunately many of the boards I had, however, were only about 36” long. Again, too short! Now I did think briefly about building two separate smaller boxes, I have to tell you I was trying to look for efficiencies. I mean – I already knew this was going to be a fairly complex project.
While it was a little unfortunate that I wouldn't be able to assemble my box with boards that would reach side to side in a single pass, I did something that would end up being a little more like patchwork. After all, the most important aspect of the boards was their width.
I determined pretty quickly that 6 boards at 3 ½” each, laid side by side, would give me 21” inches total of height on a “panel.” This would be perfect for assembling my sides, the front and back as well as the bottom. With a rough dimension of 21” this made that aspect of the design easy. Further it helped inform, and it just made sense to double the height to give me 42” for the length of the box. I would just have to use two panels each on the front, back, bottom and also on the top.
To achieve this I started by assembling the panels I would need. While I thought about assembling these panels using an intricate maze of pocket screws, I opted instead to simply glue and clamp. (Later I would add structural elements and trim to hold everything about the box together.) So while I couldn’t necessarily give you a cut sheet for this project, I can tell you I glued and clamped up 10 panels measuring approximately 36”x21” each. (This was actually the most time consuming aspect of this project simply because I was limited by how many panels I could do at a time. I only own four “cabinet clamps” and two were employed at any given time for each panel.)
I will stop here and tell you, I used approximately 24 oz of exterior wood glue for this project (in my opinion – that’s a lot). I was also somewhat limited in that even quality wood glue needs to be maintained at above 50 degrees (or so) for more than 24 hours in this type of application. I did most of my work on this project outside.
Once the panels were assembled, and employing a Workmate 425 as a bench, I cut my panels to size using a 5 ½” cordless circular saw. Both from BLACK+DECKER, the BDCCS20B itself is lightweight, balanced, but powerful enough (a 20v Lithium Ion battery) - perfect for this type of moderately sized woodworking project. That and the lack of cord, let me tell you, is very, well, freeing. The bench-top clamping features on the Workmate came in very handy when I needed to plane, sand and otherwise make small adjustments to my panels.
Assembling the Box
Again while I thought about using pocket screws and/or a robust system of framing to build the box, I decided for this project, and as I was already planning on joining (and later covering with trim) seams between panels – I would again use a glue and clamp method, but this time with the added re-enforcement of #7 stainless trim screws. In other words, I fit the panels inside of one another other, glued and screwed them together. Later I installed trim using stainless 18ga brads; there was added both to the interior and the exterior of the box.
While the top followed roughly this same formula, it proved to be a slightly bigger challenge because I wanted to liberally cover the entire box. That is – ensuring that no critters and/or the smallest amount of water could make it into the box (eventually damaging our cushions). Once the box was mostly assembled and the top was built and set aside, I sanded down everything using first a 36 grit, then an 80 and finally a 150 grit sandpaper.
Legs were built by both extending the box’s corner boards downward and also placing 2 ½”x2 ½” poplar blocks behind the. I screwed downward from inside of the box using 2 ¼” backerboard screws and later added a set of furniture pads as feet.
Before I hinged, I did run a continuous board at the back edge of the assembled top, yep, mounting it using a total of 10 1 ¼” pocket screws. This gave my box’s single moving part some added strength.
Once the woodworking was complete (including the top), I applied three thin coats of clear Spar Varnish in Satin. (Wow! How this really drew out both the darks and the lights in the cedar.)
While a good bit of thought went into how I would actually hinge the box, I ultimately decided, and as suggested in Black + Decker’s The Complete Guide to Outdoor Carpentry (pg. 67), on mounting hinges on the inside of the box (as not to risk screws pull out). Using B+D’s 4V Max Lithium Rechargeable Screwdriver gave me the perfect charge and perfect amount of torque for installing my hinges (while not over-tightening or stripping out screws).
Once my top was installed and hinged. I added a handle and this crazy cool salvaged “piece” of hardware … so the box would and could not fly open.
I finished by caulking not only the inside of the box but also any horizontal surfaces on the box with a clear elastomastic caulk (again to minimize the risk of water penetration). Later, I will touch up dings, dents, and any holes that I might have missed with wood putty.