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Woodworking Project for Kids: Make a Toolbox Gift for Dad

Dan has been a licensed journey-level electrician for 17 years. He has extensive experience in most areas of the electrical trade.

These are my grandchildren making a toolbox as a gift for their dad. This kid-friendly project helps you make memories together.

These are my grandchildren making a toolbox as a gift for their dad. This kid-friendly project helps you make memories together.

DIY Woodworking Project for Kids

A simple woodworking project can be a wonderful way for a parent and child to work together to create something of lasting value while at the same time teaching the child the wonders of working with wood.

The toolbox presented here is a close copy of one my own son made for me long ago; the experience is being passed on to my grandchildren as they make Father's Day gifts for their own dads.

Create a Useful Gift and a Bonding Experience

The toolbox has been quite useful over the years whenever I needed to carry a few tools from the shop across the yard up to the roof or anywhere there was a job that needed doing.

At the same time, it offers me a chance to bond with my grandchildren and pass along to them some of what I've learned doing wooden projects, from building a burl wood coffee table to a sewing table with cabinets for my wife.

Tools Required for the Project

This wooden project was my opportunity to introduce the kids to power tools, and I did so in spades. Any kind of woodworking project can be difficult to complete without some use of power tools (plus, it's part of the fun!), and this one is no exception.

  • Table saw or circular saw
  • Drill press or ordinary drill
  • Drill bit sized to the dowel (see Materials List below)
  • Large disc sander or sandpaper
  • Small palm sander or sandpaper
  • Router (optional)
  • Work surface or workbench
  • Hammer
  • Straight edge and pencil
  • Square
  • Screwdriver
  • Paintbrush

Details About the Tools

We used a table saw and drill press, but a circular saw and an ordinary drill, cordless or not, will work just as well. In addition, a large disc sander was used, as well as a smaller palm sander. Both could be dispensed with by using a little elbow grease instead.

Some router work was planned to provide a little extra effect on the sides of the box, but it's not necessary at all—my old toolbox has no such treatment and looks and works just fine without it. Mostly this was just to introduce the kids to using a router. As it turned out, the attention span of the kids was being stretched because we had to complete the entire project at one time rather than spread it over a couple of days, and the router work was deleted from the plan.

Some kind of table or work surface is necessary; you need one that can suffer a little damage without causing distress. You won't want to work on the kitchen table, for instance. We were fortunate to have a Black and Decker Workmate folding workbench that was perfect for the kids.

A few common tools from your homeowner's tool kit will round out the tool list. A hammer will be needed, a pencil and straight edge to mark with, a square to make sure cuts are square, and possibly a screwdriver. You may need a paintbrush, depending on the finish you want. You will need a drill bit the size of the dowel purchased.

Materials List for the Toolbox

You can introduce your child to this project with a very minimal materials list as follows:

  • Lumber: One 1" x 8" x 8' board of #2 or better lumber. It need not be top-quality oak—this is a toolbox, after all! Simple pine is fine, and if there are a few knots, they will add character. Plywood could also be used in 1/2, 5/8, or 3/4 thickness. We would be making two toolboxes and got by with one piece of 1 x 8 and one 8' piece of 1 x 6 pine.
  • Wooden dowel: One piece of wood dowel, from 1" to a common 1 3/8" closet rod. It needs to be 18" long at a minimum. We used a 1" dowel, while my old toolbox used the larger 1 3/8" dowel. I prefer the 1", plus a drill bit is easier to find.
  • Sandpaper: A couple of sheets of 100- or 150-grit sandpaper will be needed.
  • Finish: The toolbox can be painted or stained. If you choose paint, a superior finish would be an oil base paint in a gloss finish as it will wipe clean easier. If stained, a coat of polyurethane is advisable for the same reason.
  • Wood glue
  • Finish nails or screws, depending on the intended use

Tips on Cutting and Drilling

End grain of wood is often rough when cut and needs a good deal of sanding. The bottom piece, in particular, must be an exact size; if a power sander is available, it is a good idea to cut that piece about ¼" long, sand one end until smooth, and sand the other end until it is the right length. The side pieces aren't nearly so critical, but it is still a good idea to cut them just a touch long and sand them to fit after assembly is complete—if they are too long, the ends will stick out past the end pieces, and it is easy to sand them even with the end.

Drilling a large hole can often cause the back side of the wood to splinter, particularly if a spade bit is used. To help alleviate this problem, clamp the workpiece to a piece of scrap and drill through and into the scrap wood. Take great care to drill perfectly straight through the wood and not at an angle. A practice hole in scrap wood might be in order to get a feel for the task.

How to Cut and Prepare the Wood

The project needs two end pieces, two side pieces, a bottom, and a handle. They are cut as follows:

  1. Two side pieces. Each one is cut to be 5½" by 18".
  2. One bottom piece. A 1 x 8 board is actually only 7½" wide, which is just right. The length must be cut to 16½" if regular lumber is used. If plywood is being used, the bottom must be 7½ wide and 18" long minus twice the thickness of the plywood. If 5/8" plywood is being used, the length would be 16 3/4". If ½ plywood is used, the length is 17". And if 3/4" plywood is used, the length would be 16½".
  3. One handle. This is the wooden dowel; cut it to exactly 18" long.
  4. Two end pieces. Each piece is to be 7½" wide by 11½" long. In addition, the top corners need trimming and a hole drilled. Mark the center of the short sides, and draw a line down the center of the end piece. Measuring from the top end, make a mark at 1½" from the end and on that center line. This will be the center of the hole for the handle. Next, mark the top side 1¼ each side of the center line and mark the side 5½" up from the bottom. Connect these two marks with a second line and repeat on the other side. A cut will be made on this line, making the top half of the end pieces into a triangle with a flattened point. See the photos for clarification.

Drill a hole the same size as the dowel handle at the mark made near the top of each end. Sand all pieces smooth on all sides, and you are ready to assemble the toolbox.

Sand all surfaces, being careful not to oversand the sides of the bottom; it must fit inside of the side pieces and thus needs to be exactly the same width as the end pieces. Sand everything until clean and free of any pencil marks. The end grain will take a little more effort as saw cuts are rougher there; just make them reasonably smooth. You aren't building a rocket ship here, just a child's wood project, and it need not be cabinet-grade work.

We used a large disc sander for the edges of each board and the ends of the dowel as it goes very quickly and an orbital sander for the flat surfaces. If you will be hand sanding, it is a good idea to wrap the sandpaper around a small scrap block of wood; using your hand can result in small gouges in the wood where a flat block won't.

Nailing the toolbox together. Small finish nails were not easy for a novice, and there were some goofs, but the job got done.

Nailing the toolbox together. Small finish nails were not easy for a novice, and there were some goofs, but the job got done.

Staining the new toolbox

Staining the new toolbox

How to Assemble the Toolbox

It's time to put Dad's gift together. Test fit all the parts first, especially the handle, to make sure that everything is right. You will need the wood glue and a small bowl of water and a rag to wipe up excess glue.

Put a little glue around the ends of the handle and insert it into the end pieces. If it fits very loosely, a finishing nail will be necessary; drive it through the top of the end piece and into the handle, but only after the side pieces are attached. Using a damp rag, wipe up any excess glue. Anywhere there is glue left on the wood stain won't penetrate, and you will see the glue, so remove any and all excess that squeezes out.

The bottom is next; apply more glue to the ends only and fit it between the two end pieces. Three finishing nails driven through the end pieces and into the end of the bottom piece on each end will hold it quite well until the glue sets. If the toolbox is to have rough service, carrying large amounts of weight, screws instead of finishing nails are recommended, although it won't look nearly as good. Again, wipe any excess glue that has squeezed out.

The sides are fitted last; apply glue to the end and bottom pieces where the sides will fit onto them. Two nails through the side and into the end piece and four more into the bottom piece will hold the side firmly; repeat for the other side. Clean up any glue for the last time.

Allow the glue to sit, preferably overnight, and sand off any dried glue that was missed. If necessary, sand the ends of the side pieces if they protrude past the end pieces. Finish with either wood stain and a coat of polyurethane or an oil-based paint.

Congratulations: You and your child have finished a very nice and useful kids' woodworking project that will be appreciated for years to come. If this whets your appetite for more, commercial woodcraft kits are available, and suggestions for different age groups of children are available in the article on woodcraft kits for kids.

Both toolboxes are finished, needing just to be wiped gently with a clean, dry rag.

Both toolboxes are finished, needing just to be wiped gently with a clean, dry rag.

© 2012 Dan Harmon


Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 12, 2013:

@rw: Very true, but from my standpoint, I got to spend some quality time with my grandson as well.

Ron White from USA on February 09, 2013:

This is a great activity for kids. While learning how to make something he will also have the lifetime memory of making something for his Dad.

Natasha from Hawaii on October 05, 2012:

That's a really nice box! I used to do some basic woodwork and building projects with my dad and grandfather - this really brought back some memories.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on October 05, 2012:

This is wonderful! Voted up and shared.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 05, 2012:

All three of my sons made a tool box quite similar to this when they took a wood-shop class in high school. My husband did end up with one of them and he loves it.

Judi Brown from UK on October 05, 2012:

I'd like one of those - I could put the books, notepads and pens I want to carry between upstairs and downstairs in it. Will my husband and daughter make it? I'm not holding my breath, but it's a great tutorial!

chrissieklinger from Pennsylvania on October 05, 2012:

This might actually be something I could make for a friend who knits to keep some yarn and needles in. Easy to follow directions and I love the pics, looking forward to trying this project!