Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Other Cabinetmakers Tool Chest

I have a few weeks’ holidays for Christmas and I decided to bring my tool chest home from work to give it a good clean up. The photo shows the worst corner where somebody accidentally sprayed contact glue. (Click on any photo to enlarge).


This photo shows the chest after a good clean and a fresh coat of tung oil.


I built this chest back in Canada in 2007. I remember getting inspired to build this chest after attending an antiques fair in Calgary, Alberta. A vendor at the fair was selling old wooden chests. Nothing that fancy, no intricate inlays but the chests were well made and had been well used. The dents and patina really gave these chests character. I also was inspired to build this chest out of necessity. I was coming to the end of my four year cabinetmaking apprenticeship, so I had worked out the basic hand tools that I needed for the job. The problem with my plastic tool box was that each tool didn’t have its own place. Also, when I would put a bunch of tools together to go out to install a cabinet, everything was just a thrown together mess. A craftsperson should be able to look in their tool box and know when something is missing or out of place. When it came to designing the chest, I wanted to keep it simple, strong joinery and not too big and heavy. Cherry was a good wood choice and it darkens nicely over time. I bought my plastic tool box home to my little basement workshop, and spread the tools out on the floor and designed the chest around these tools.


As you can see these tools are nothing fancy. These are the tools that I started with. The planes are flea market finds but I tuned them up nicely. As an apprentice I had more time than money. I actually used the #5 Stanley to smooth the outside of this chest. Here is a photo of the chest and its trays empty. The dimensions of the chest are 25 ¾” long by 14 ⅛” wide by 13 ½” high.



The next group of photos shows the tools fitted in the chest and trays.





All of the tools can be easily accessed with the trays permanently in the chest.






The small drawer in the lower tray is a key design element to this chest. It makes all those small tools easily accessible. I open and close it dozens of times a day. A rear earth magnet keeps it closed during transport. The drawer sides are made from Rock Maple, which is hard and smooth. It is also a good contrasting colour for the half blind dovetails.



The cut out sections in the front till allow me to grab my level and also gives clearance to push the top tray back.



This chest sits on a stand next to my bench, which keeps it at a good working height. Of course I have many larger squares and layout tools hanging on the wall behind my bench that I need for the job as well. This chest can easily be modified to suit the hand tool hobbyist. It will handle all the hand planes that most people need, and by taking away the level till you would allow more clearance for the sliding trays. The biggest mistake I see with tool chests is that people make the trays too deep and this means wasted space. Here are a couple of photos of my two chests side by side.



The inlayed chest is the one I use at home for my fancier tools. I made this one two years earlier in 2005. You can check it out in an earlier blog, Cabinetmaker’s Tool Chest. I have been doing some shop improvement projects lately and I have also been working on doing a few modifications to my squirrel tail design. One change was increasing the number of dovetails.


I have a couple of priority low-slung smoothers to get to, so I will revisit the squirrel tail in the New Year. The first 1” low-slung smoother is dovetailed and ready for peening.