Hanging tool panels are handy and mobile

There are lots of ways to store tools in your shop, from chests to wall cabinets to pegboard. These hanging panels are my favorite system. They are simple to make, they keep all of your essential tools at your fingertips, and they can be easily re-hung in new spots when your workshop layout changes (it almost always does). The keys are the simple french-cleat system used to hang the panels securely on the walls, plus the variety of holders that keep the tools both secure yet totally accessible.

You might think pegboard does something similar, but it doesn’t. It’s not as easy to move around the shop, and a lot of the pre-made holders don’t really hold woodworking tools well. As for wall cabinets and tool chests: The former has doors that you will end up keeping open, turning it into a wall panel, basically, and the latter puts your tools out of reach, which is a total PITA when you are trying to work efficiently.

As for what to hang on the wall, I put everything except my chisels and hand planes. I have a lot of these, and they are easy to store and protect in drawers below my workbench. They are plenty accessible that way, and the holders they would require are a bit over-the-top. But if you use these tools every day, you might want to put them on the wall too.

For this project, I bought two 2×4 panels of birch plywood, 3/4 in. thick, from the home center, though the super-strong French-cleat system will let you hang panels of almost any size. To make the panels look more finished, I put an arc on the corners with my belt sander, then rounded all the edges with my router, using a 3/8-in. roundover bit.

The French cleats are nothing more than a strip of plywood that I ripped in two with a 45-degree bevel cut on the tablesaw. You could do the same thing with a circular saw: Just start with a wider piece, clamp it securely, and run the saw along a straightedge as you make the cut.

One part of the cleat screws to the plywood panels, and the other screws to the wall. To get a really strong grip on the wall, look for wall studs. In my case, I put plywood on the walls instead of drywall, making it easy to hang things anywhere. That’s a great shop tip. As for the cleat that attaches to the plywood panels, be sure to use screws that will almost pop out the front side of the panels, so you get a really good grip. I used 1-1/4 in. deck screws, countersinking them a bit in the cleat so they reached deeper into the panels.

As for the tool holders, this is where the fun really begins. Whether you hang your tools on wall panels like me, or put them in a wall cabinet, some of these holders will work for you. By the way, I had fun making custom holders, and they do add handcrafted flair, but not every tool needs one. I also used common nails and screws and a couple of cool magnetic holders. Check the photos below for the rest of the story.

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The panels surround a window in my shop, letting me walk up and grab what I need. Full disclosure: I’m doing some videos and articles about Woodpecker hand tools, so they sent me a bunch for that purpose (the red ones at right). They are wonderful tools, and I’m excited to have them.
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Here you can see the super-simple French-cleat system, a bomb-proof way to hang panels and cabinets. It’s just a strip of plywood with a 45-degree level cut in it, with one half attached to the panel/cabinet and the other to the wall. The strip at the bottom of the panel just keeps it an even distance from the wall top and bottom so it looks nice.
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I cut the cleats a little shorter than the panels are wide, so they hide behind it. Notice how the bevel pulls the panel in toward the wall and holds it there securely.
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Layout tips: Lay the panel flat first and lay the tools on it, trying different layouts. Make the holders at that stage too, so you can be sure they fit. Depending on the holder, you might need extra room about the tool to pull it up and out. That’s why I needed extra space above the big triangular square. Wait till the panels are mounted to actually attach the holders, to be sure it all works as you go.
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Here’s a cool holder for squares. It’s just two strips of wood with thin pieces glued between them. Be aware though that tools in this type of holder will need to be pulled upward. As for the little square at bottom, all that needed was a simple rabbeted ledge to sit on. Sweet.
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Two hook rulers (love those) sit in slots.

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This was a fun one. I slotted the top edge and the end of this block on the tablesaw, to hold a specific square.
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This type of holder works for any L-shaped square.
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Screws and nails are plenty good for some tools.

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This panel has a bunch of other holder types on it. They all work well.
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I love my Japanese kebiki marking gauge, so I gave it a special spot on the panel. I made the groove simply by drilling overlapping holes with a Forstner bit.
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I love these magnetic holders from Lee Valley Tools. They screw into a 1/4-in. hole.
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If I had more of these magnetic holders, I would have used them! They hold small hand tools securely with a rare-earth magnet, letting you pull the tool straight off the wall.
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Here’s another one of those slotted holders, made from four pieces of wood glued together.
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This one holder is home to my combo square and my bevel gauge.
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Dowels work well for some tools. I usually chisel a little step on the top edge, so the tool doesn’t want to fall off. Hope these tips and ideas are helpful!
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