Other Tool Chest Designs

When researching and writing “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I had to leave a lot of material on the virtual cutting-room floor.

Much of that discarded stuff should never see the light of day, especially the autobiographical junk about how we used to trick buzzards into thinking we were dead and how to pass off cat food as “taco meat.”

But still, there was lots of research and notes that I wish I could have included. So because this blog is almost-free to me, I’m going to dump some of my background research here for you to enjoy, ignore or poop upon.

Small, Medium and Large
The first thing to get out in the open is that chests tend to come in three basic sizes: small, medium and large. Small tool chests (17″ x 10″ x 7″) were intended for “gentlemen” woodworkers, or fancy handymen. These chests could fit a jack plane and a basic set of tools that would allow you to fix stuff around the house or build a birdhouse.

Next up are the “medium” tool chests (35″ x 20″ x 15″ or thereabouts), which were used by professional craftsmen on the move or the serious home handyman. These chests could hold full-size handsaws, a jointer plane if necessary and enough tools to install cabinetry on a jobsite. These chests might have one or two sliding trays for tools, plus space for moulding and bench planes. For a good example, see Paul N. Hasluck’s “The Handyman’s Book” (Senate). There was another form – much like a clamshell – that I want to discuss separately.

And then there are the full-size chests, the ones that I deal with in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” These chests are more like 40″ x 24″ x 24″ and are designed to hold all the tools that a hand-tool joiner or cabinetmaker would need in his or her shop.

I have examples of all three chests in my house (sorry Lucy), and I think the large chest is the most efficient for the way I work. I rarely need to take my tools to another home to install cabinets. And the small chest is too small for even a half-serious tool set.

And that’s why I dealt with the largest-size chest in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”

So let’s explore some other forms. One of the other forms of large chests is from Hasluck. Instead of three sliding trays, it has four trays and the saws are affixed to the underside of the lid.

In truth, this chest might be more space-efficient than the one I built, but I wanted to build a chest with a sawtill in the bottom of the chest – I already have one with the saws on the lid.

Some interesting data points about the Hasluck chest:

1. The lid and chest carcase are each rabbeted to mate together. This improves the dust seal, and I think it is quite clever.

2. While the chest has four sliding trays, Hasluck encourages woodworkers to French-fit each tool – especially chisels and gouges – into individual slots so you don’t nick yourself. One of the trays in Hasluck contains only 12 tools. That wasted space won’t fly in my shop.

3. The bottom of the Hasluck chest is captured in a groove in the carcase. As someone who has done this and has had to deal with repairs, I’m glad I chose the nailed-on bottom instead.

4. The top tray in the chest is covered by a hinged lid. This is a common feature on chests. It looks nice, but I’d rather have one less hand motion between me and my tools.

5. One last detail: The Hasluck chest has an ingenious way of locking the trays in place if the chest is turned upside-down in transit. Cool, but that is a rare concern for me these days. I hope.

More chests to come in the following weeks.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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7 Responses to Other Tool Chest Designs

  1. Tom says:

    Chris, I would like to see what your research told you about storing chisels, either in a drawer or in a wall rack. I have a couple of nice sets of chisels that I’d like to store safely. The chisel till that you show in the post seems to put them on edge. I wonder how well that would work with a set of bench chisels from 1/8 to 2 inches wide.


  2. Thanks Chris, for another interesting article in the Anarchists tool chest series. I’ve been a woodworker for over 20 years and have learn more about tool chests since I found your blog than I have in a lot of years. Makes me wish I’d listened to my Grandfather a bit more as he was a master carpenter from Holland and worked from a chest similar to the ones described in this article.

    Cheers for now,


  3. djmueller says:

    Great material for The Anarchist Revisited, A Compendium to The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.


  4. Chris, I have wrestled with the size to make my toolchest for years. I need to move my tools back and forth from shop to home. I am most interested in seeing the data on the mid sized chests. Will you have pictures as well. Thank again for all the great work.


    • Robert weber says:

      David, I was just reading from a recent issue of Pop Woodworking June 09) last night where St. Roy builds a mid-sized chest like you’re describing. Maybe worth checking out.


  5. Not the same Mark says:

    The tills on the Hasluck chest are proportionately wider than those in the ATC chest — about half the width of the chest. 4 vs 3 tills is probably a quasi-religious argument, but I wonder if there might be some advantages to this — not to store more tools, but perhaps to have a less cluttered look in each till.

    Wider tills may require one extra motion to retrieve a tool, but this shouldn’t be a big deal if you’re removing all of the tools you need for the job before you start work. And if you decide you don’t like it and want narrower tills where you can see everything, changing it isn’t a big deal.

    Mark in the desert


  6. Chris,

    Is the height dimension listed last for small and medium chests above? I’m wondering if the general form was typically shorter or taller than the depth (front to back).



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