Few hand tools come with instruction manuals that give you enough information to use the tool. Same goes with workbenches. We are supposed to either know how to use the tool or get that information from somewhere else.
In “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I should have included more information on how to actually use a traditional tool chest. Perhaps I was blinded a bit because I have been working out of a tool chest since 1997.
So I need to provide some critical information on this topic here on the blog until I can revise the book itself.
Several critics have mentioned that tool chests are terrible to work with. Here’s an excerpt from one comment on Lumberjocks. This comment was posted below a review of the book that you will enjoy reading if you dislike the book or my writing. Check it out here.
“They (tool chests) are miserable to work out of. Forever sliding tills back and forth to get to something that you cannot see down in the dark depths. Something shifts and sticks up and the tills don’t slide at all. Always sitting in the wrong place so you have to walk and work around them. If you replace a tool, you have to find one that fits.”
This comment nicely sums up a lot of woodworkers’ thoughts on tool chests. However, I strongly disagree with their assessment on every point. I started woodworking with a tool chest, then I tried building a wall cabinet, wall racks and a shelf solution instead. After trying all those, I kept coming back to my two tool chests – one at work and one at home.
Let’s take these objections one by one.
‘Forever sliding tills.’
If you are sliding around a lot of tills, then you are doing it wrong. Array the two or three tills so you can see every tool in the tills. Then you don’t have to move anything to get to the tills. And if you array them properly, you are only one hand motion away from any tool in the chest. I am going to post a video of how this works this week. I show it on the DVD, but apparently it’s not explicit enough.
‘Something shifts and sticks up and the tills don’t slide at all.’
This happens only in small tool chests. I’ve never had this happen in a 24”-high chest. If you are piling tools upon tools upon tools, you might have too many tools.
‘Always sitting in the wrong place so you have to walk and work around them.’
My chests and many others are on casters. So they are easily movable and can serve you as an assembly table, a sawbench, a place to sit at your bench.
‘If you replace a tool, you have to find one that fits.’
Traditional chests hold all the tools, even if you change them. The only time you are going to have problems upgrading your set is if you “French fit” all your tools. French fitting is where you create a tool-shaped compartment for each tool. This was rarely done in traditional chests. It’s more of a NASA thing than a woodworking thing. I use almost no dividers in my trays or on the chest floor. This gives me flexibility. And more space – dividers eat up space.
Tool chests aren’t good for people with bad backs.
This is something I did cover in the book. Use your off-hand to support yourself. Use your dominant hand to get the tool. Try it. My back ain’t great. Concrete floors are harder on your back than a tool chest.
Why a tool chest instead of shelves, wall cabinets or wall racks?
You can use both. And they aren’t mutually exclusive. When I start the day I’ll take my bench planes out of the chest and put them on the shelf below the benchtop. My common tools go in the rack behind my bench or in front of the window.
The reason I prefer a tool chest is that it does a better job of protecting tools from dust, which carries salts that absorb water. Dust has always been the enemy of hand tools, and old-school woodworkers went to some lengths to seal their chests from it.
Comparing a wall cabinet to a tool chest is more difficult. A well-designed wall cabinet could perform all the functions of a chest if properly designed. I just haven’t seen or built one that I like as much as my tool chests. That’s my failing as a designer.
So if you are still wondering why I like tool chests compared to other tool storage solutions, stay tuned to the blog.
— Christopher Schwarz