The Epiphany Index (EI) for Tool Cabinets

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Smitty_Cabinetshop posted 541 days ago 1731 reads 1 time favorited 68 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Subtitle: The Conundrum

I completed a very public build of a wall-hung tool cabinet a few weeks ago and it is still essentially empty. There are more variations to filling such cabinets as Carters’ got pills, as my mother used to say, but I haven’t run across any treatise on wall-hung cabinets as omnipotent as Lysdexic’s one-time post. I’ve been running through some arrangements as time permits that attempt to match form with function, but referred to The Criteria (as I’ve been calling his points) enough in my head that I was forced to print the text for handy reference.

So this Entry is for you if you have a cabinet and are in need of input. Good or bad input. And put these Points under either heading, no big deal. :-)


I want a wall-hung cabinet that provides the sensation of Epiphany. It probably doesn’t exist. Yet, let’s talk about some design criteria.

—Weight: The heaviest tools from a load-bearing perspective should be closest to the wall or back of the cabinet. This will decrease the moment arm acting on the wall anchor – french cleat or otherwise. This is not as critical for a cabinet supported by a stand.

—Ergonomics: The heaviest tools should also reside approximately belly button height. We will all tire of reaching for a #7 in an overhead position. The lightest tools should go on the doors. These affect the moment arm the greatest. Think layout tools, chisels and such.

—Volume: Optimize storage volume. Attain this goal as directly proportional to overall weight and probably inversely proportional to accessibility.

—Accessibility: Put most-used tools at the ready. If you are going to add layers, ie: Studley, don’t bury your favorite square below flip out trays.

—Composition: Easily dismissed, but the arrangement of patterns, rhythm, color and texture will have an emotional impact every time you open the doors. This is obviously a matter of taste, but don’t plan to store your Hurwoods in a red, plastic Folgers can at the end of a row of T#13s.

—Flexibility: I avoid commitment and want the ability to change things up in the future. Mos’s T-track till is a great example. My marriage is not.

In running through several approaches this week, I came upon a couple of layouts to doors that I liked. When I showed the pics to my #3 son, he came back with a quick question: Do you use all of these tools? So I’ll add this to the Index:

—Pragmatic: Function trumps form. Cabinet space is a limited resource, so start with the big stuff, include tools for use and resist placing tools that strictly look good or solely fill space. This is a derivative of the tool chest theorem.

It’s not an index without a point system, so slap a 10-point scale on each of the points above and decide for yourselves where tool cabinets you like might rate. And in posts below, feel free to comment and suggest additional points as possible adds to the Criterion. It’s here as a reference, most of all. Thanks!

Points Taken from Comments Below:

While a number of these can be extended to the build out of cabinet, they are each considerations when deciding whether to build a cabinet at all, it’s overall dimensions / design, and material choices. And Don W’s Expandability metric draws the discussion towards the layout of an entire shop. Lots to think about, and as Andy pointed out, that may lead to analysis paralysis. so take it all in with a grain of sailt, as they say.

—Time: How much of a resource investment is needed to support your choices?
—Cost: What you build it from has a price…
—Value: A big part of determining an approach is deciding what’s important to you.
—Expandability: What if you need more? Collect more? Expand your skillset involving new tools?

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

68 comments so far

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

13738 posts in 964 days

#1 posted 541 days ago

It seems to me you have thought your criteria out very well.

-- Mother Nature created it, I just assemble it. - It's not ability that we often lack, but the patience to use our ability

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


9762 posts in 1244 days

#2 posted 541 days ago

Thanks, Monte, but none of them are mine. Lysdexic did the first six, and my son added the seventh. I’m just the messenger. :-)

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View AnthonyReed's profile


4543 posts in 1066 days

#3 posted 541 days ago

Nice to see that you have purdied-up the ravings of that Lysdexic.

Thank you for the new to me physics term and for placing this outstanding information in a spot that is easy to return to for reference.

-- ~Tony

View DIYaholic's profile


13268 posts in 1301 days

#4 posted 541 days ago

Nice write up! You did well in the criteria department but…..

I think cost should be within the equation at some point. There is considerable cost differences as to whether one chooses to go with MDF (ugg!), construction grade ply or prefinished cabinet ply versus utilizing tiger maple, purpleheart or some other exotic woods!!! There are primary woods and secondary woods to consider also.

Then there is the “time” consideration. One could concievably spend weeks, months even years analyzing a multitude of design and material options. The difficulty of the design will effect the required effort to actually build the cabinet also. Time is as precious a commodity as exotic woods and capital assets!!!

Just a few of my thoughts…..

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procratination a bad thing?

View BigRedKnothead's profile (online now)


4691 posts in 608 days

#5 posted 541 days ago

Now you’ve got my wheels turning. Going to revamp my shop this summer. Really torn between cabinets like yours, or a big till with everything in the open. Thanks for sharing this.

-- Red -- "That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." W. Whitman

View Woodwrecker's profile


3582 posts in 2202 days

#6 posted 541 days ago

Pretty much all seems common sense points.
The tool placement will naturally gravitate towards the most frequently used items, and so on.

-- Having fun...Eric

View chrisstef's profile


10643 posts in 1632 days

#7 posted 541 days ago

Lots of food for thought here Smitty. Im on vacation so i got some time to digest it and here are my thoughts.

A tool cabinet is a lot like a workbench, more options than you can imagine. It will also be a focal point to your shop. I say between the cab and the bench, 1 and 1A, so there is a decision to be made here. Flashy with figured hardwoods or practical with plentiful budget conscience lumber. Size dependant of course. This along with your working techniques will be critical.

Im going to throw value into the mix. I know my eyes are bigger than my wallet so as much as id like a curly maple and ebony accented cabinet it just aint gonna happen.

-- "there aren’t many hand tools as awe-inspiring as the #8 jointer. I mean, it just reeks of cast iron heft and hubris" - Smitty

View Mauricio's profile


6798 posts in 1778 days

#8 posted 541 days ago

This is how I see each one in order of importance:

-Weight – 2pts – Lowest on my consideration set. No one would ever put a plane on a door. I did have concerns when I first built my cabinet but after a while I just let it go and the French cleats have held so…

-Ergonomics – 3pts – It’s hard to put a plane in a cabinet at belly button height. Especially if it’s over a bench. Usually if you are going to have drawers they would be at the bottom. You have to be able to see the contents so a drawer in the middle at chest or eye level would be a pain and interrupt the largest storage volume of the cabinet. That’s where you would normally put the planes.

Also, you won’t constantly be moving the #7 in and out of the cabinet so that’s not much of an issue. Just once when you start using it and once to put it away when you’re done at the end of the day.

-Volume – 5pts – More of an issue with small cabinets than with larger cabinets.

-Accessibility – 4pts – Low because as mentioned before, you are not constantly pulling the same tool in and out.

-Composition – 7pts – Yeah, you want it to look good. Let’s be honest.

-Flexibility – 10pts – I attach as much as I can with little brass screws so I can move things around as needed. Just leaves a little hole, no big deal. Any holes will usually be covered by a tool anyway.
I’m about to rip out my internal doors and horizontal shelves to put in a vertical plane till. That is only possible because it was put in with pocket screws.

-Pragmatic – #9 – If tool holders aren’t easy to make then I will procrastinate and never get around to making them… which I haven’t… 

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View ShaneA's profile


5285 posts in 1224 days

#9 posted 541 days ago

Wow, this is a lot to take in, for sure. I am still thinking that the Hoosier may possible need a stand in the future. I would be with Mauricio and give the least concern to weight and the most importance to flexability. You want this thing to be able grow and evolve with you painlessly as possible, ala Chris’ till. I would probably start the venture as a wall hung. Go with your first instincts on set up. Get to know it a bit. Then adapt based on what is working and what isn’t. That is why a retro fit of a drawered base seems logical to me. Anything that doesn’t fit the desired ergos and aethsetics can be dealt with in a drawer system. I sometimes look at the eloborate tool cabinet projects on here, and quickly determine that the tool holders or tool suspension devices within the cabinet probably take 3x as long to build as the cabinet, maybe more Plus, the seem somewhat rigid in their commitment to space and use. That is unfortunate, because things and needs change. So I vote for flexibility, and of course aesthetics to be close to the top of the list. It will be nice to see it all play out.

View Mauricio's profile


6798 posts in 1778 days

#10 posted 540 days ago

Here is one of my favorite in the category of Pragmatic and Flexible. Low on Composition (Aesthetics).
I’m referring to the stepped pin cushion for chisels and other sharp objects. This is from a guy who made it when he was an apprentice (Denmark).

I did something similar on one of my doors but I will be getting rid of it do the aesthetics issue.

Also, I want to come up with a tasteful way of using rare earth magnets to make holders for small things like marking knives. Going for Accessibility, Flexibility, and Composition all in one.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


9762 posts in 1244 days

#11 posted 540 days ago

I suggest an inverse relationship exists between Flexibility and Composition. How elastic, I don’t know, but it’s there. The closer to perfect it looks, the harder it is to maintain in the face of change.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View ShaneA's profile


5285 posts in 1224 days

#12 posted 540 days ago

I agree with that Smitty, if push came to shove, flexibilty would be a higher priority over looks…did I just say that?

I have been stockpiling the magnets myself for a future mythical cabinet build. I am just trying to think of ways to keep the flexibility high. I am trying to figure out a way to get either peg board, or something to that effect churched up and looking good. No real ideas yet though.

View Don W's profile

Don W

14834 posts in 1194 days

#13 posted 540 days ago

how about Expandability?

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View Mauricio's profile


6798 posts in 1778 days

#14 posted 540 days ago

“inverse relationship exists between Flexibility and Composition” If here is then I think its pretty flexible. I guess the Studley tool chest would be an extreme example of your point.

Maybe its a staged evolution? Keep it flexible until you know for sure how you want it. Then make the commitment to Composition?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Mauricio's profile


6798 posts in 1778 days

#15 posted 540 days ago

Don Expandability is pretty tough inside of a box. Do you have an example?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

showing 1 through 15 of 68 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics :: gardening showcase