Do you get plan chest envy? Do you dream of lovely neatly labelled drawers full of smooth flat categorised prints and papers?

You are not alone!

The solution to those expanding piles of paper and folders of prints could be nearer than you think. And a bit cheaper too.

a brand new plan chest - with expensive price label

Print studio storage

Printmaking paper is expensive and storing it somewhere flat and clean is sensible. A plan chest is just the thing.

When I first set the studio up, I spent a while looking for plan chests in second hand stores and replying to ads on line but they all sold too fast for me to get one. They also seemed to be expensive and often deeper and bigger than I wanted.

Home made drawers – any size you like

Suddenly it occurred to me – I could make some paper storage drawers myself – how hard can it be? They are just shallow wooden trays after all.

The woodwork is pretty basic, especially if you keep the function of the drawers paramount and don’t get distracted by making something beautiful.

Decide on the size that works for you – I made 3 sets of drawers, two big enough for A2 paper and one suitable for A1.

home made A1 plan chest

I know you love a project….

It is all done with screws, glue and panel pins. Only basic woodwork skills are needed. You never know, this could be the start of a whole new phase in your life.

Basic Materials;
Plywood for drawer bottoms, back and sides
Softwood for the edges of the drawers, the runners and uprights
Wood glue, screws and panel pins

Drill and drill bits, a screwdriver
A saw, a square, and a hammer

Start with the drawers

3mm plywood is fine for the drawer bottoms. It comes in 8’ x 4’ sheets, but you can get the timber yard to cut the plywood sheets to size, according to your drawer measurements.

I used the same plywood for the sides and back of the plan chest.

pieces of softwood fro drawer sides

Softwood sides

Decide on the depth of the drawers. Mine are 43mm, as I wanted more shallow drawers rather than fewer deep ones.
Measure and saw the softwood to fit round the edges of the plywood drawer bottom. 

a saw, a square and a pencil
drill with drill bits

Drill 2 holes at the end of each side piece, and countersink the holes so the screw heads won’t stick out and catch on the sides of the chest.

Line the ends up with the sides, put a blob of glue on the end and screw the sides to the ends.

close up of corner of the drawer
hammer and panel pins

Fix the sides to the bottom

Squeeze a line of glue all along the edge of the softwood drawer sides, and drop the plywood base onto it. Fix this down with panel pins and punch the heads in so they don’t stick out above the surface.

the bottom of the drawer neatly pinned and glued

That’s the first drawer done!

Keep going till you have a stack of drawers.

plan chest with drawers pulled out

The perfect height

Decide on the ideal working height for your printing bench. This is made to measure stuff; in the 1950s they used GIs to get a standard height for kitchen work tops, so most kitchens are made to fit 6’ soldiers, and this hasn’t changed since! If this is not your height, now is your chance have the luxury of a printing bench that really fits you.

Cut 4 pieces of softwood for the legs, just the right height for your particular bench.

GI Joe doll

Fix the legs and rails on the plan chest

Screw and glue a couple of legs onto the outside of each side panel. Make them level with the top and sticking out at the bottom.

Glue and screw the drawer rails on the inside – these need to be carefully measured to be level and the same height on each side.

side of plan chest showing legs
the drawer rails inside the chest

Join the sides and back together

Measure the width of the drawers and saw two horizontal pieces to go along the front at top and bottom. Finally screw and glue a plywood panel across the whole back.

Let the glue dry then have a happy time sliding the drawers in and out and deciding what you will put in each one.

the bottom rail attached to the front of the plan chest

Plan chests as bench supports

You might have noticed there is no top!
In my studio the plan chests support the benches. Pieces of 18mm plywood (painted white) rest across the top of the plan chests.

Recycled Shower Screens

The plywood is cut to fit the size of the old shower screens that form the working surfaces on the benches.

It is surprising how many people re-do their bathrooms and replace the shower screens. These long narrow pieces of toughened glass with ground edges are just perfect for printmaking benches, with a big flat surface for rolling ink onto. If you let people know you are looking for old shower screens you will find they start to appear, if not you can always get in touch with local bathroom fitters or plumbers and offer to give the glass a new life in your studio and avoid taking it to the dump.

The plan chests make good strong supports for the benches. Just check you get the top level – otherwise things roll off and spilt liquid will run down the sides. (Sadly, I am speaking from experience)

Plan chests made to fit any spaces

If you do it yourself you can make your plan chests to fit the space you have.

One friend from York Printmakers saw mine, and persuaded her handy partner to make some. He made them to fit into the sloping roof space in her attic studio and put knobs on for an extra fancy finishing touch.

studio with 3 plan chests

You can do it!

After reading this you may decide to save up for some ready-made plan chests, or continue to keep your paper in folders under the bed….

But I must say that nothing beats the satisfaction of having your workspace built to fit your size and your particular needs.

If you have had fun and been creative making it yourself that feels even better!