To reinvent the wheel, Or to feel like you’re following the crowd? (The Tool Chest Part 1)

Now that I’m sorta settled on my bench–kinda, anyway–it’s time to start thinking about my tool chest.

For me, this is a major priority because I’m dealing with a less than advantageous situation here. I’m using an old crate as a tool chest, and it’s little more than a hinged box. It doesn’t organize my tools and it really doesn’t protect them either.

I mean, the monstrosity is just a hinged crate. It was never meant to do any of that.

So a tool chest of some description is a priority. This leads to my conundrum: Do I try and reinvent the wheel, or feel like I’m following the crowd when it comes to designs?

Allow me to explain, a bit.

Many of the tool chests I see being made these days are either small, Christopher Schwarz’s Dutch tool chest, or his Anarchist’s tool chest.

I don’t have any interest in the smaller chest designs. As it is, I’ve had a problem with the monstrosity holding my tools well, and while these smaller chest designs may do wonders for those looking for a traveling kit, I’m not going down that road.

Oddly enough, though, the Dutch tool chest was designed as a traveling chest as Schwarz’s bigger chest wasn’t easy to transport. I like that it’s fairly simple to build, doesn’t require a great deal of wood, and still holds a good assortment of tools.

But it seems like the internet is awash in Dutch tool chests. I mean, I see why. It’s an attractive design and all that jazz and it sure as hell looks like it does everything it needs to do.

I’d be leaned toward building one of these except that I already seem to get a little too excited by Schwarz’s thinking. I understand that, but I also want to make absolutely sure this is the chest I should build and not just because it’s simple.

That leaves the Anarchist’s tool chest, which I’ll admit, I find appealing. I like the idea of a big, heavy tool chest that also has an internal lock and is a solid piece of shop furniture to go along with the Nicholson bench.

But I also have to be honest, it’s beyond me.

So, I think I’m going to go and do my own thing, but not worry about how many tools Chris Schwarz says I need…at the moment. I need to build something that will fit my tools as they are and leave me a little room for other tools as they come in, but not so much that the tools I do have are swimming in it. Then again, I can always pull out one of my smoothing planes or jack planes to clear up space if I need it. I’m sure I can make them decorative inside the house.

Let’s start with the kind of space I have. When I started loading my tools back into the monstrosity earlier today and I saw something. You see, the monstrosity actually can hold all my tools quite well. It’s only 16′ tall from the outside, 17″ wide, and 33 1/4″ long. The interior volume is actually less than that because it’s plywood inside a 1x frame, but I didn’t bother to measure the interior. I did note that there was a good 5″ of clearance above my D-8’s handle and the top of the box. Probably enough space to put a till in it right now.

If the monstrosity had a decent sized till or lift-out tray, I think the side would easily hold everything I’ve got. Additionally, it would clear out the bottom of the box and give me room for a few other tools down there like my other smoothing plane and my router plane.

In other words, a small tool chest probably won’t kill me.

The thing is, while I don’t want to just blindly follow Christopher Schwarz, part of the reason I do so much of the time is that he talks sense. One example is why the Anarchist’s tool chest is the size that it is. He built it that size in part because of historical examples, but also because you can become a sort of human tripod while reaching into the thing. It kind of needs to be a certain height for that reason.

I get that.

And I sort of see the logic in the three open tills. The way he slides them, you can see almost everything in the chest except for the saws and planes, which are on the floor. I get that too.

But I don’t like how he stores his chisels (he uses a roll, I’d rather have them hang for easy access or, at the very least, have a special place where they don’t bang against other stuff but are still easily seen). I think his set-up is a little less than organized, all things considered, though I’m not sure I’d be all that organized myself.

So what does that mean for my chest?

Well, it means that step one is figuring out a good side to build my chest and following the principles I actually like from Schwarz’s chests, but also figure out what I really want.

The shape is simple. I want one that looks like the Anarchist’s tool chest. However, I’m not really inclined to cut all those dovetails.

It’s not that I’m unwilling on principle or anything. I’m trying to enjoy the process, after all. No, the problem is that I’ve never cut a dovetail in my entire life, and while I do need to learn and you could learn in worst places than a piece of shop furniture, I’m not ready to try it with a project like this.

Schwarz eventually made what looks like a replica of his chest out of plywood simply screwed together, and I could probably do something like that. A 4’x8′ piece of plywood should easily give me a carcass to work with, and plywood is stable. Plus, even I can screw stuff together.

Will that last a lifetime, though?

I honestly don’t know. I know some people have built those chests and they’ve held up well for several years, so it’s possible. I’m just not that trusting of plywood.

But can you use the same principle for 4-square lumber? I mean, I know it’ll hold together for a while, at least. I also know that there’s some 18th Century furniture that was nailed together that has held up for all that time as well, so it’s certainly possible. Or, maybe Miller dowels are an option.

Anyway, that’s for later. For now, I need to settle on what the chest needs to do and how it needs to work. Construction details can wait.

Then again, I’ve rambled on for long enough. I’ll settle into what it needs to do tomorrow.


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