2020 June 10      Tools


Multi-compartment organizer boxes are great, even though they're made of plastic.

There are also ready-made wooden boxes that you can buy. 

Sometimes, though, you just want to make your own. 

That's what we're going to do here.

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In This Article

The Material

Gearing Up

The Cut List

Preliminary Build

The Compartments

Completing The Build


The Material

In this build, I used 3/8" plywood.  You could use thicker plywood if you prefer.  Or, make the box out of OSB, cabinet-grade particle board, or even pallet wood.  (You'll probably have to paint or seal-coat the box if you make it from OSB or particle board.)

Compared to some other materials, 3/8" plywood is thin and light-weight.  A sheet of 3/8" ply is much easier to lift and move than a sheet of 3/4" ply.

Thicker plywood does make for better glue joints.  The edges have more gluing surface.  That is one big advantage of, say, 5/8" or 3/4" ply.

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Gearing Up

You'll need some way to cut the plywood very straight.  A table saw would be ideal.  A circular saw with a clamped metal straight-edge would be pretty good.

A jigsaw will work, but you'll probably need to "sand plane" the edges after making the cuts.  Use 60- or 80-grit adhesive-backed sandpaper, affixed to a straight, flat scrap of wood.  This acts almost like a smoothing plane, but instead of a blade, it's an abrasive that sands away the wavy edges. 

You'll also need some way to cut the straight plywood pieces into small rectangles or squares.  A miter saw would be best for this, except that miter saws get pretty dangerous when you're trying to cut very short pieces.  If you have patience, you can clamp the shorter pieces in a vise, then use a fully-manual saw, such as a Japanese saw.  Once again, you can use a coarse sanding stick to "sand plane" the edges flat, if they're not already.

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The Cut List

This will depend on what size box you want to make.  I would recommend first making the sides, bottom, and lid for the box.  Build that much of the box first, then the next day when the glue is dry, start making the pieces that will comprise the little compartments.

It's a lot easier to install the compartment pieces when the rest of the box is already together (except for the lid) and the glue is completely set.

For the one I built, the cut list was as follows:

Bottom and Lid (2 pieces):  7 1/4" x 12 1/4".

Front and Back (2 pieces):  1 1/2" x 12 1/4".

The Sides (2 pieces):  1 1/2" x 11 1/2".

Measure and cut the rest of the pieces after the main box is put together, and the glue is dry.  If you cut them first, then let them sit, the 3/8" plywood could actually curl from moisture!

Preliminary Build

The front, back, and sides of the box will sit on the bottom piece of plywood.  So the useful depth of the box will be 1 1/2 inches.

This is not the only way to build this, but if you use a different method, you might have to change a few dimensions.

First I glued and nailed the sides together, making sure they're in square.  Pilot holes are a must.

Then, apply glue to the bottom edges of the plywood sides.  Turn it so the glued edges are facing upward.  Now, get the rectangular piece for the bottom, and set this on the open rectangle formed by the sides.  If you did everything right, it should fit with no overhang, or almost none. 

Place about ten pounds of weight on it.  Drill a 1/16"-diameter pilot hole at the marked line, about halfway along it.  Drive in a 4d trim nail, carefully:

Repeat this process, going around the perimeter where you marked the lines.  (Photo below gives an idea of how many nails it should have.)

The 4d trim nails seem like the best size for this, as long as you drilled the pilot holes properly.  Once in a while you'll get one that veers off and breaks through the sides of the plywood.  I did not consider this a big deal for a utility box like this.  But if you don't want this to happen, just be more careful.

If you do the preliminary build the way I did, it should look something like this from the underside:

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The Compartments

The outside of the box was put together with glue and nails.  For the compartments, you don't actually need to use fasteners;  a proper wood-glue joint is as strong as the wood itself.

If the pieces bowed a little from moisture, use clamps to make them straight while the glue is drying. 

Now we start making the individual compartments, one piece at a time.  Check the fit-up before you glue.  Sand as needed.

Here it's really starting to take shape.  The compartment sizes can be whatever you choose, but be sure of it before the glue dries:

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Completing The Build

At this point, the organizer box is sort of an organizer tray.  It doesn't have a lid yet. 

You'll need some really small hinges to attach the lid.  I used a pair I had in the junk box.  If you buy new hinges, they'll have to be small enough to fit the edges of 3/8" plywood with no overhang.  I think that would be 8mm or 9mm hinges, at most.  Try searching through this link and see if you can find some.  I think these hinges should be about right for 3/8" plywood, though I have not tried them.

You'll also need some way to keep the lid from opening too far (because that's not good for the hinges, or the plywood).  I used a piece of waxed string.  An assortment like this one should provide a way to anchor the string at either end.  There should be something in that assortment that'll work with 3/8" plywood.

Chain is another possibility, but you'd have to make sure the chain falls into one of the compartments 100% when you close the box.  One advantage of thin string is that it can actually fit between the closed lid and the compartment tops. 

The string will eventually wear through, but it's easy to replace.

When it's all together, you may want to paint the box.  Unpainted 3/8" plywood tends to warp easily from changes in moisture.  You probably don't want the lid warping after you've done all that work!

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So there you go:  plywood organizer-box build.  It's not fancy, it's not high-precision, but it works.  It's a handy storage box for wood screws, craft supplies, rotary tool bits, whatever.

As mentioned earlier, a table saw will give the best results in a project like this, as long as you know how to use it safely.  That said, it's possible to build a box like this if you have a jigsaw or a circular saw.


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