Making a rolling french-cleat tool rack

A few years ago I setup a wood-shop in San Francisco, where on some nights and weekends I work on some ideas. As you'd imagine, in San Francisco space is a premium. I was fortunate enough to get a space in an amazing warehouse with a lot of great and interesting artists of various forms. I get quite a bit of room for my own things, and there's a larger communal workbench with some tools as well.

Inspired by Frank Makes I decided to build a french cleat wall to organize all of the new tools I was rapidly acquiring. I also decided to mount it to a rolling cart that would be easily moved from my personal storage space, out to the larger open shop space.

My original plans were quite elaborate involving a lot of fancy joinery. Over my years in the shop - I've noticed that my energy is less into the details, and fine finishing work, and more into quick builds that serve some utility. Making a project larger/better/perfect doesn't seem to have a proportional impact on my happiness with it when it's done. In fact, it often just makes the project end up in a dead end, weighing over as something I "should" finish ever time I visit the shop.

This project was one of my first lesson in that, and after powering through to get the giant dovetails I wanted around the base, I gave up on the other fancy joints planned and assembled the rest in just a day.

The first part was fairly monotonous. I cut a ton of strips at 45 degree angles and with the aid of two spacers, I glued and nailed the strips to their backing wall.

I then cut the bottom frame for the cart out of 2x8's I dovetailed together. My first cuts on the dovetail joints were by hand. Watching a lot of Samurai Capreter made me thing that maybe this would be easy. It wasn't. I ordered a lot of better saws - that wasn't the issue either. In the end I made a template, and used a flush trim router bit to get the shape perfect. Because it was 1.5" thick wood, I had to make two passes with two different flush trim bits.

I would say that 50% of the time on this project and 99% of the delay in completing it was due to these dovetails. After I finished these I decided the rest of the fancy joinery was over rated, and that I needed to get the rack done so it could actually hold my tools. With that decision, the project came together within a day.

I cut a rabbit into the base of the frame of the cart and fit a piece of 3/4" plywood for the floor. I then cut the frame for the cleat wall out off 2x3's and some extra bracings for it out of the extra 2x8 wood. My friend and common shop partner Nick helped me assemble it all.

Over the next few months I would make special racks for each of my tools. These were a lot of fun to make. They require some clever thinking, no finish work, are a quick build, and great feeling of being extra organized when you're done.

As a finishing touch, I mounted a power strip to the side. Home Depot had an over the top, polished chrome power strip that I happily paid an extra $60 for - to add to the overkill and charm of the rack. The power strip enables me to keep things like the vacuum, light, and battery chargers plugged in and easily accessible all the time. I found a shop vacuum that fits perfectly in the cart tray and have organized my racks so that one side has all power tools and the other is just hand tools.

This is a fun build, that I get to continually add to as I get more tools. If you'd like to replicate the plans here are the dimensions:

Learnings for next time

  • I may switch to larger rollers in the future, as these old and small ones I used aren't as mobile as I'd like.
  • Dovetailing, even with large wood where it doesn't have to be perfect, is a lot of work - and sometimes not worth the reward. They're beautiful, and it's a skill I'd like to master at some-point, but I just don't have the patience for it now.
  • I got very lucky that the trays in the cart fit many of my tool boxes perfectly. I'm usually pretty good at considering most things, but that one, I just got lucky on.
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