[Maker’s Note] Old Suitcase into a New Woodworking Toolbox

by Yun-Han Lin

Recently, I have started to learn woodworking. In my first class, I spent around NT$10,000 buying a bag of tools. Whenever attending the course, I have to take the bag with me. However, it worries me that if I keep all of the tools in one bag, they will be damaged by colliding with one another. So, I decide to make a toolbox.

The materials for making a woodworking toolbox are…

  1. An old suitcase
  2. A piece of grey fabric
  3. A piece of bristol board
  4. A needle and thread kit
  5. A 3mm medium-density fiberboard
  6. A bottle of 3M artist’s adhesive spray
  7. A bottle of 3M spray adhesive
  8. A tube of wood glue
  9. A Mitutoyo Vernier Caliper

Here comes the old suitcase

I got this red vintage suitcase from a pile of used and discarded items. It is now covered with dust at the corner of my room. The rounded rectangle suitcase gives off a vintage vibe for its special shape, and it is covered with red artificial leather. The surface of the suitcase feels soft and fluffy, which I believe is the cushioning foam padded beneath the leather. I never expect that my suitcase will come in handy this time.

The internal compartments

Before making your toolbox, you need to arrange your tools according to their sizes and weight. The bottom layer is perfect for large and bulky tools, such as hand planes, whetstones, hammers, and chisel sets, while the upper layer suits lightweight items like measurement tools and wire saws. You have to make sure that all of your gears can fit into the suitcase. Once the place for each instrument is set, you can start to choose the material for the internal compartments. My plan is to use grey fabric to make a few inner bags in the upper layer of the box, while medium-density fiberboard can go to the bottom layer to build compartments to separate heavy tools from each other.

Remove the original lining

The first step of making your toolbox is to remove the original lining of the old suitcase.

Start your design

Then you need to measure the inner space of the suitcase carefully. That is, you have to plan the size for each compartment and inner bag thoroughly. Moreover, you should also consider the pattern of the lining and the structure of the box. Given that many tools are placed on the upper layer of the box, I decide to add two elastic bands to make sure that the upper layer can withstand the weight of my tools.

Let’s get started!

To make the lining on the upper layer, you can wrap a piece of bristol board with your grey fabric and sew them together before putting them into the upper layer of the toolbox. Since I do not have a sewing machine, I join the two pieces together by using 3M artists’ adhesive spray. I start sewing only when it comes to the part of making the inner bags. At first, I used 3M’s spray adhesive, which I thought was strong enough to join the lining with the upper layer of the box, but I failed. So, I decide to use wood glue, which has higher viscosity than spray adhesive.

When it comes to the bottom layer, the compartments are made with medium-density fiberboard. You can use laser to cut each compartment after measuring its length and width with Vernier Caliper. If the compartments do not fit well, you can use a belt grinder to trim their ends. Lastly, to protect the blade of a hand plane, don’t forget to put cushioning foam into the compartment that houses the plane.

This is how you make your toolbox! Below is the full tutorial video for this DIY woodworking toolbox.