You may find this chest design very practical for your needs; it is manageable in size and can be (relatively) easily reconfigured for various tasks.
A Traditional Tool Chest Design that I had built earlier had served me well on numerous occasions, but I often found that I did not need the capacity (and therefore the weight) that it offered. There had to be a better design for my situation considering the thousands and thousands of woodworkers who had gone before me…and there was! At that time, Tools: Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century, was an exhibit happening at Colonial Williamsburg. On page 20 of the catalog that accompanied the exhibit, were illustrated two chests sold by London ironmonger William Hewlett and referred to as “Gentleman’s Tool Chests”. One of those chests was purchased in 1773; the three pictured here below were from an 1816 catalog illustration, and at the top of this page is a version from an 1852 catalog, so you can see that over time, this practical design proved itself an enduring one.
Not shown here is that these chests could be purchased fully loaded with tools; in fact the 1852 example at the top of this post was listed as containing the following:
Its relatively shallow depth made this chest especially appealing to someone with shorter arms, like myself. Its a great design to experiment with, you can purchase a couple of nice, clear, pine 1 x 12’s and make a test version to suit your particular measurements before you commit to that quartersawn oak, curly maple or quilted cherry. I made mine of a solid mahogany; early catalog examples were usually made of oak, or could be purchased fancy veneered with mahogany crotch.
A great learning tool as a one-on-one project experience
In the late 90’s I offered this chest as a class project and nine dedicated souls spent one night per week over several weeks building their own chests. Of course there was a lot of homework involved. Each student brought the tools that they wanted to fit inside their new chests, and we designed around those items for a custom case. The example below is a chest that was built during that seminar. I’m still considering offering this tool chest as a one-on-one project, as it involves so many useful techniques. If you’re interested in building one, Contact me and we can discuss the possibility.
My version 2.0 is still in daily use…
I do not travel out as much as I once did, but my Gent’s Chest still sees frequent use. I removed the lid and placed the chest on a shelf behind my bench, giving me easy access to useful tools. If I would need to travel, it is relatively easy to reattach the lid for use on the road. I was lucky to have this chest on hand for my back-bench; I would have had to build something very similar to its form make my workspace more practical.