Welcome! Forums Project Series Tool Chest A finished tool chest – should I paint it?

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    Hi everyone,

    Here’s my finished tool chest. It’s all pine except the sides of the drawers which are fir. Finished with 2 light coats of shellac.

    When I started the project I was unsure where I’d put the chest in my very small shop, and was worried about the wasted space above it. But, I wanted to build it anyways, and I’m glad I did. You can see in the pictures, my solution to the problem was to put some shelves right above the tool chest. No wasted space at all!

    I was planning to paint it with dark green milk paint, so I did a poor job matching the woods (the pictures don’t show it well). I regret this now because I’ve come to like it unpainted. I’m considering adding a stain to make it slightly darker, like the shelves above or the cabinet below, but I’m undecided.

    The location it’s in gets direct afternoon sun and already it’s darkened a little. The problem is that it’s not darkening evenly.

    Question: if this was your tool chest, how would you finish it?


    Matt Vaughn

    Very Nice! It’s perfect – If it was mine, I wouldn’t paint it. Thanks for posting.



    I think you answered your own question there, Leanne, when you say “I’ve come to like it unpainted”.

    In my opinion, you’ve done a nice job of joinery and you will be reminded of it every time you see it if you leave the toolchest without paint. So, leave it alone.

    You could try staining the bottom and see how you like it. Or the back of one of the drawers. I don’t know how well the stain will take after two coats of shellac.

    I am planning to make a tool chest soon. That will get painted as I’ve gone and painted everything else black as I want everything to match.


    Near Chicago, USA


    Given the difference in colour in the pictures from the side to the front, I would paint it. Ofcourse it depends whether or not it shows up more in the pictures than reality. Maybe wait until Paul releases his videos on chalk paint, and use that stuff?


    Thanks guys.

    Jude, you’re right and I should listen to myself. It’s just that I always use shellac and so I wanted to try something new. But, I should probably experiment on a smaller project first!

    I think I’ll leave it to sit in it’s sunny spot for a while longer and see how it changes. Maybe the front will darken more since it’s directly facing the window.

    Greg Merritt

    Your tool chest turned out great!

    I think a lot of us struggle with this question. Especially those of us who build most of our projects with pine. Paint or don’t paint. I’ve painted several projects with milk paint and like how they turned out. It changes the character of a piece, but I think that is the point.

    As to your tool chest. If you are thinking about paint, I say paint it. It’s a great piece to experiment with. You could always paint some color samples on a scrap board to get an idea of how a color will work. I have an area on my shop wall that I paint with each new color that I buy. Half of each swatch gets a few coats of shellac so I can see how that effects the color as well.

    Good luck and keep us updated.


    George Bridgeman

    I’d experiment with milk paint first before trying to paint it. If you paint it but don’t get the quality of finish you’re imagining, it’d be heartbreaking.

    I’ve used milk paint a couple of times and haven’t gotten a finish I like. I’ve only used the ‘mix your own’ type, so I think it’s to do with my mixing ratios, technique, or somesuch. The next time I choose to paint a piece I’m going to use the pre-mixed type if I can find a supplier with the colour I like in stock. That will take a mixing problem out of the equation!

    If you’ve used shellac before and you like the look of the unpainted wood, I’d use shellac. It’s much easier to remove, or even paint over, if you choose to paint it later.

    Lovely tool chest though! Did you buy or turn the drawer handles?


    "To know and not do is to not know"

    David Perrott

    I painted mine and will paint my joiners tool chest. For the joiners chest I will try chalk paint. It seems like you can make it yourself (behold the power of google). If you wanted to stain it a gel stain would be best. Pine doesn’t stain well. Some people will think you are crazy to paint it but after making a few projects, so what? My friends were shocked I’m painting over dovetails. Granted almost all my projects have been dovetails, but I think they get overemphasized. My chests will be under the bench anyways.


    As I understand it, milk paint is an extremely durable finish. So, given you’re working with shop furniture, that might be a great way to go. I’ve wanted to give it a go myself for a while now.

    Peter George

    Milk paint likes to be applied to bare wood, so you may want to look into that if you’ve already finished it with shellac. IIRC, it can be done but requires an adhesive added to the milk paint. I’ve used milk paint on a few projects. I think it adds a antique rural look to the project.

    Peter in
    Biggar SK
    "New York is big, but this is Biggar"

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