A Traditional Tool Chest Design

You’ll need a place to keep your tools in some kind of order, and you’ll have to decide what works best for you given your space and resources, and that will likely change over time.  You could keep your tools in a chest adjacent to your bench, and provided that those tools are readily accessible as some chest designs will permit, this can work out fine. This type of chest has proven versatile for me over the years.

Earlier in my career I needed to keep mobile, so a chest was a useful project to undertake. I had inherited a short plank stool from my great-grandfather that was just the right size to hold a chest at the left end of my bench; so I set out to find a design. The price of the lumber wasn’t too bad, but the hardware added up, and is something to consider when you plan your own project. I remember being quite surprised by the cost of the flush mount ring-pulls for the tills…at any rate, always have your hardware in hand when beginning a project; lumber of some sort may usually be found but certain hardware may need some tracking down, especially if you’re trying to save money.

Even though my chest would be built around the tools that it would contain, I wanted a well proportioned tool chest, like a cabinet maker would have had back in the day, with sliding tills. So, around 1993 I bought some very nice pine and built my first proper tool chest, based on a plan from an agricultural manual my brother had lent me: “Farm Shop Work” by Brace and Mayne (the plan used is at the top of this page). The photos that follow show the result of my undertaking, a chest that has lived through many adventures as a faithful companion.

I have considered offering this traditional tool chest as a one-on-one class. The project includes a number of useful techniques; dovetailing, mortise and tenon, fitting hinges, locks and handles, layout and design around specific tools…so Contact me if you are interested and we can discuss the idea.

a worn painted box or chest with brass handles and brass tipped corners.
A bit beat from its adventures through the years but still serviceable. Bounced around in the back of vehicles, used as a stool and sometimes a saw horse, caught out in the rain once or twice…its been a project that has returned my investment many times over.
Tool Chest Tills
Three sliding tills allow easy access to each other and to contents below. Though the chest is pine the runners for the tills are maple as are the till sides. Flush mount brass hardware was used on the lower two tills to save precious space. The drawer fronts are made of Sassafras.
Tool Chest interior fittings
Fittings carefully made to suit specific tools. Along the front, the interior rack is slotted for my bench and mortise chisels. The next row inward are saw racks, and behind them and under the tills are open wells for hand planes and other larger items. But what about that large open area remaining open after the tool chest is loaded?
The tool chest interior with a custom made tool tote inside
For awhile I filled the remaining space in the chest with tools in cloth rolls or odd shaped tools wrapped in towels. This always gnawed at me; I knew that there had to be a better way. I knew that I had a group of tools that I frequently reached for that might be a little troublesome to access down inside the tills or wells, And a brace is a pain to put anywhere and gee, that looks a lot like a handle…So the tote evolved from my inability to tolerate the empty space, and it has proven so useful over time that even though the empty chest is now stowed away, the tote is kept just below my bench and goes out with me to any job…I reach into it every day.
Tool Tote sitting on top of chest with integral bottom drawer open
This is Tool Tote version 2.0, the first was cobbled from scrap plywood so that I could work out the numerous spatial relationships. The drawer fills space that would be difficult to use productively otherwise. Building one of these is not very difficult but it is time consuming and tedious to layout and fit every tool in its place
The side and back of a painted tool chest tool chest
More signs of wear and tear, and a life of useful service. I have considered repainting it, but i like seeing the accumulated history on its surface; likely a sentiment developed from my restoration work. Here I want to show the batten across the back of the chest. This batten serves two purposes; it acts as a stop for the lid and as a buffer for the chest, if it slides backwards during transport.

© 2019 All Content: Joseph Hoover. Sticks and Glue. All Rights Reserved.

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