Tool Chest

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 51 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A stately home for your hand tools

Overall dimensions: 28"w × 147⁄8"d × 15"h

There comes a point when you realize that dumping planes, squares, chisels, and other hand tools into some box or drawer is just plain abusive. It’s this kind of disregard that leads to nicked cutting edges, imprecise measuring tools, and time lost to disorganization. Good tools deserve a good chest built specifically to house, protect, and organize them.

Here’s a chest that’s designed to accommodate a good-sized collection of common woodworking tools. Four judiciously sized drawers will hold everything from small squares and chisels to screwdrivers and smoothing planes without wasting space. Full-extension slides allow easy access to items at the rear of the drawer, and a hinged top lifts to reveal a shallow upper case at the top of the chest for tools that can remain in the open all day if you like.

The construction itself is fairly simple, consisting of a lower case and upper case attached by screws. I used through dovetails for the case joints because they’re virtually indestructible. The upper case consists of the lid and a frame that screws to the bottom case. To prevent the lid from cupping, I outfitted it with breadboard ends.

Make the case parts

1 Using roughsawn stock, lay out boards to create oversized panels for the lower case and lid (A,B,E). Referring to the Cut List, aim to make each glued-up panel about 1⁄32" oversized in thickness, at least 1⁄4" oversized in width, and a few inches longer than the finished panel dimensions. It’s important to make at least one of the case pieces 3-4" oversized in length to yield a test piece for saw setup when dovetailing.

2 Lay out the upper case sides, front, and back (C,D) and breadboard ends (F), also leaving them oversized for now.

3 Joint and plane all the aforementioned pieces flat and square, thicknessing each one to 25⁄32".

4 Edge-glue the panel pieces to make the panels (A,B,E) to the sizes mentioned in Step 1.

5 Thickness all the parts (A-F) to 3⁄4", and then rip and crosscut them to the sizes shown in the Cut List, with these exceptions: Leave the upper case sides (C) at least 1⁄4" oversized in length for now, and leave the lid panel (E) and breadboard ends (F) oversized in both width and length for now.

The Plywood Alternative

Don’t feel like making solid wood panels and sawing dovetails? No problem. You can build this chest and its drawers from hardwood plywood, using simpler joinery. Although the chest won’t be quite as strong or classy looking, it will be perfectly serviceable. The only solid wood you’ll need will be for the upper case, the drawer fronts, and the edging.

When making the lower case sides, top, and bottom from plywood, adjust the sizes in the Cut List to accommodate rabbet-and-dado joints at the case corners and solid wood edging on the front and rear edges of the panels, as shown in the drawing below, left. Likewise, you can use rabbet-and-dado joinery for the solid wood upper case and plywood drawers (see drawing below right). As for the lid, a plywood panel edged with solid wood will do the job. One final note: With plywood construction, it’s wise to glue the back panel into its grooves to give the case extra rigidity.

With the blade tilted at 10°, saw the upper case dovetail cheeks by rotating the workpiece edge-for-edge against a stop block.
Set the blade to 90° and saw the shoulders. Register the work against a raised stop block to prevent jamming up the freed offcut.

Make the case joints

1 Lay out and cut the dovetail joints for the lower case, as explained in the story on page 40. 

2 Dry-assemble the lower case sides, top, and bottom (A,B). If the edges of the sides are offset from the edges of the top and bottom, use a hand plane to trim them flush.

3 Lay the two upper case sides (C) in place on top of the lower case, mark them to length, and then crosscut them.

4 Lay out a single 10° dovetail on each end of the upper case sides (C), insetting the end of the tail 1⁄4" from each edge as shown in Figure 1.

5 Saw the dovetail cheeks as shown in Photo A, and then trim to the shoulder line (Photo B). Use a chisel to pare away any residual ridge at the intersection of the tail and shoulder line.

6 Use the tail to lay out the dovetail socket on a test piece. Then create the socket by sawing the half-pin cheeks in succession, as shown in Photo C1 & C2. Pare or chop to the shoulder line with a chisel, undercutting in from each face to ensure there are no gaps at the shoulder lines of the assembled joint.

7 Lay out the counterbored clearance holes on the upper case walls (C,D) for #8 screws, where shown in Figure 1. Then bore them on the drill press.

With the miter gauge angled at 80° to the left of the blade, saw the left-hand half-pin cheeks.

Then set the gauge at 80° to the right of the blade, reset the stop, and cut the opposite cheeks.

Make and fit the back

1 With the lower case still dry-assembled, record the precise inside length and width measurements at the rear of the case.

2 Outfit your router table with a 1⁄4" up-cut spiral bit, setting it for a 1⁄4"-deep cut 1⁄4" away from the fence. Mark two lines on the fence indicating the perimeter of the bit. Disassemble the case and mark 1⁄2" in from the ends of the rearmost pins to serve as termination points for the stopped grooves in the pin boards (B).

3 Rout the grooves for the back panel (G). For the stopped grooves in the case top and bottom (B), align the reference mark on the leading end of the workpiece with the left-hand reference mark on the fence, and drop the piece onto the spinning bit (Photo D). At the end of the cut, lift the board when its trailing reference mark meets the right-hand mark on the fence.

4 Square the ends of the stopped grooves with a chisel.

5 Lay out and cut the back panel (G). To size it, add 7⁄16" to each of the inside back measurements you recorded earlier.

6 Rout or saw a 1⁄4"-wide rabbet in the rear face of the panel, adjusting the depth of the cut to create a snug but easy fit in the case grooves. When viewed from the back, you should expect to see a slight gap at the rabbet shoulder.

7 Rehearse the lower case (A,B,G) assembly, checking the fit of the panel (G) at the same time. Make sure that it slides in its grooves easily and that the dovetail joints pull together completely. Begin by laying one case side (A) on the bench, and attaching the top and bottom (B) to it. Splay the uppermost ends of the top and bottom apart just enough to slide the back panel in place, and then attach the opposite case side (A). Now, using clamps and cauls to pull the tail boards (A) against the pin boards (B), completely dry-clamp the assembly (Photo E).

For the stopped grooves, align the leading reference mark on the pin board with the left-hand mark on the fence, and lower the work onto the spinning bit.

While dry-assembling to check the fit of the joints, rehearse your clamping procedure, including the squaring of the case.

Assemble the cases

1 Disassemble the dry-fit lower case (A,B,G), correct any panel misfits, and then glue up the case using white glue or other slow-setting glue like Titebond Extend. (With case dovetails, there’s no need to glue the back panel in its grooves.) Make sure that the case is square under clamp pressure.

2 Glue up the upper case (C,D), again ensuring that it’s flat and square under clamp pressure.

3 When the glue is dry, plane or sand the tails and pins flush to each other.

4 Use a 3⁄8" cove bit to rout the finger lift in the upper case. Then attach the upper case to the lower case, drilling 9⁄64"-diameter pilot holes first. Plug the holes.

Make the lid

1 Rip and crosscut the oversized lid panel (E) and breadboard ends (F) to the sizes shown in the Cut List. One exception: leave the breadboard ends about 1⁄16" oversized in width for now.

2 Referring to the Breadboard End Detail in Figure 1 and the article on page 28, make the breadboard end joints.

3 Crosscut six 1⁄4"-diameter dowels to about 1" long, and very slightly chamfer one end using a pencil sharpener to ease insertion.

4 Apply glue to the centermost 8" or so of the joint, attach the breadboard ends, and install glued dowels. When tapping the dowels to seat them, make sure the breadboard end is fully supported on its underside to prevent blowing out the opposite face. (Don’t ask…)

5 When the glue is dry, trim the dowels flush with the surface.

Pull the drawer dovetails into their sockets, keeping the clamp body parallel to the drawer side to maintain square.

Align the drawer slide’s mounting holes with a centerline on the drawer side, and poke screw starter holes with an awl.

Make the drawers

1 Cut the drawer sides (H,I,J) to the sizes shown in the Cut List. At the same time, cut the drawer fronts and backs (K,L,M).

Note: Instead of trusting the lengths in the Cut List, measure the inside width of the case and subtract 1" to determine the actual length of the fronts and backs.

2 Lay out and cut the joints. I used through dovetails, but you could join the drawers with rabbet-and-dado joints instead, as shown in the sidebar on page 24.

3 Dry-assemble the drawers, plane any misaligned bottom edges flush with each other, and then disassemble them and saw the grooves for the bottom panels on the tablesaw, registering the bottom edges against the rip fence.

4 Rabbet the drawer bottoms to create a tongue to fit in the grooves.

5 Glue up the drawers on a flat surface (Photo F), spot-gluing the grooves to add strength.

Using a squared spacer panel for support ensures that each slide is square to the case face and at the same height as its partner.
When mortising for the lid support, clamp scrap to the upper case side to prevent router tip, and use stops to limit the router travel.

Install the drawers

1 Attach the drawer halves of each slide set to each drawer (Photo G), setting the front end of the slide about 1⁄16" back from the front edge of the drawer.

2 Measuring up from the inside bottom of the case, mark off the drawer slide centers, where shown in Figure 1, extending the lines fully across the inside face of the side. Center a slide on the uppermost line, and then measure from the bottom edge of the slide to the inside bottom of the case. Rip scrap plywood to that dimension, and use it as a spacer against the case side for mounting each of the top slides, setting the front end of each slide 3⁄8" back from the front edge of the case.

3 Follow the same measuring procedure for the next slide down, and rip the spacer panel to support it and its partner for installation (Photo H). Finish mounting all the slides in this manner.

4 Mount the drawers in the case, and check for smooth operation. If necessary, joint or sand the sides to reduce the width of a drawer, or shim the slides out with matboard or other hard cardboard stock if a drawer is too narrow.

5 Rip the false drawer fronts (O,P,Q) to the sizes shown in the Cut List, and squarely crosscut them to the width of your case opening minus 1⁄16".

6 Put the bottom false drawer front (Q) in place, shimming it on the sides and bottom to create a consistent gap. Clamp the false front to the drawer, and then attach it with countersunk 3⁄4"-long screws. Do the same for the other drawers in ascending order. For the top drawer, use double-faced tape to register the alignment. After all the fronts are attached, plane their edges as necessary to create consistent gaps all around.

7 Turn the pulls. (See Figure 1 Pull Detail.)

Finish up

1 Lay out and cut the hinge mortises in the upper case back and the underside of the lid, locating them where shown in Figure 1. Temporarily install the hinges and trim the edges of the breadboard ends (F) flush to the case.

2 Lay out and rout the 3⁄8 × 3⁄4 × 45⁄16" mortise for the lid support (Photo I). Also drill the 7⁄16"-diameter, 1⁄2"-deep blind hole in the underside of the lid to accept the barrel on the arm of the lid support. Locate its center 3⁄8" in from the end of the lid and 11⁄2" in from the rear edge of the lid.

3 Sand everything through 220-grit, and apply the finish of your choice. I wiped a total of five coats of oil-based varnish onto all exposed surfaces. To obtain a smooth, protective build, I let each coat dry without wiping it off, then scuff-sanded between coats with progressively finer sandpaper, finishing up with 0000 steel wool.

4 Drill the holes for the pulls, and glue them in place.

5 Screw on the chest handles where shown in Figure 1, and attach the hinges and lid support, epoxying the barrel into its hole.

6 Install the drawers, and fill the chest with tools. I suggest trying various layouts for awhile, then outfitting the drawers with appropriate dividers.  


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page