Dovetails on Dovetails on Iron?

The thing that stinks about studying lots of chests is that you want to try out a lot of different interior arrangements and details. And so you build more chests (see also: bench-building syndrome).

On the traveling chest I’m working on this week I’ve been trying out some details that I’ve gathered in my notebook while doing research for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” On both the lower skirt and upper skirt I’ve added a 5/8” x 1” bevel, which reduces the visual bulk of the skirts.

At first I thought the lower skirt was too wide, and that’s one of the things that stalled me on this project. I kept looking at it and thinking: Ugh, how am I going to fix that or take it off?

With the addition of the bevels, I’m happy.

Other details I’m considering:

1. Binding the edges of the top with 1/16” x 3/4” iron plate that is attached with screws. I’ve seen many old chests bound in iron. It looks cool and it protects the corners. This chest is going to get messed with on the road.

2. Store some backsaws on the lid. I have a sawtill on the English-style chest I built in the 1990s, which I don’t like. It eats saw totes for breakfast. This till will prevent the saws from scooting left and right and into the hungry jaws of the lid.

3. A tool rack on the inside of the front wall.

4. Iron chest lifts (I have a pair of lifts around here somewhere).

5. Mahogany fronts on the tills. I probably won’t do this, but I have so much mahogany sitting around from my campaign furniture projects that it is tempting.

6. A hinged lid on the chest’s top till. Again, I probably won’t do this, but it is a fairly common feature on old chests.

7. Some veneering on the top edge of the case. Some chests have this feature. I might do this, again, because I have a lot of thin mahogany stacked up in the shop.

Tomorrow: A 1936 article on tool chests.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to Dovetails on Dovetails on Iron?

  1. dan degennaro says:

    Since you have now created a treasure chest, I suggest a family crest inlaid on the top, or perhaps your business logo in ebony.

  2. Rob P says:

    Which species is that? Pine?


  3. James says:

    You’re a wealth of contradiction, Chris…

    “Build benches out of affordable, humble woods!” (Mine is made from cherry…)

    “Own as few tools as possible…” (But I’m building another bench…)

    “Treat your tools with respect!” (Where’s my hammer? Let’s go to the loading dock…)

    “Tool chests do not need to be fancy. It’s a box for your stuff, so, like your bench, just use something affordable, and don’t get fancy.” (I’m veneering some of mine and using mahogany…)

    “Disobey Me!” (Or not. Wait… Do whatever, you’re going to anyway…)

    [/good-natured heckling]

  4. Hey Chris,

    Are you making sliding tills on yours? When I built my chest, I decided that I wanted the additional storage that two full size, lift out trays could provide. I have not regretted that decision as my traveling ATC stores a lot of tools. Really, the only down side is that you have to remove both trays to get to all the contents. I my opinion, that is an acceptable compromise to be able to carry most of the ATC contents in one small package.

    I did not put a tool rack in as I keep my chisels in the tool roll in the bottom compartment, but I probably will if I build another one.


  5. woodgeek says:

    Chris is feisty today! 😉 I like the “voting” quote–very cynical anarchist of you, and very apropos in this pre-election summer of negative, non-informative ad-campaigns.

    PS Having recently moved to the west coast, my new, favorite easy-to-find beer is Lagunitaas IPA. An awesome, drinkable IPA that’s easier to find than my beloved Dogfish 60 minute.

    • Lagunitas is great. I used to drink it all the time in SF. You’ve got to take a weekend and travel up north to some of the great craft breweries in (north) Northern California. Russian River Brewing Co, Anderson Valley, Bear Republic Brewery and tons more.

  6. I’d recommend retrofitting one of your older designed chisel racks to slide in and out of the chest like the one I built for my traveling anarchist tool chest. And I don’t want to hear anyone complaining about weight. Try Walnut. #smallCasket 😉

  7. Mike says:

    I put mahogany drawer fronts on the travel/jobsite box I’ve been using for 18 years. Left over wood from a boat trimout. I still like how it looks compared to the red pine the rest of the box is constructed from.

  8. Jay says:

    OK, I am beginning to be seriously concerned about your wife’s cats. This design closely parallels the pet casket plans sold by several woodworking suppliers. Add the casket hardware and things could get a bit testy in the Schwarz household.
    But it would make lugging that thing full of tools easier!

  9. David Pickett says:

    Turning saws (bow saws, call ’em what you will) are awkward things to store. Inside the lid might be a good place for one, assuming you travel with one.

    I think I’d be inclined to make a travelling chest plain and strong, and save the embellishments and fancy bits for the shop chest. But hey – there aren’t any rules, so you do what you think fit and if anybody has a problem with it – it’s their problem!

    • lostartpress says:


      I use a coping saw for most things curvy. When I do travel with a bowsaw, it’s disassembled.

      Likely the only “improvements” I’ll make to this chest are:

      1. Iron on the corners. This chest will surely surf some stairs. 2. Iron lifts. ditto. 3. A tool rack to save some till space.

      The other things are whimsy at this point.

    • corgicoupe says:

      Lord Peter Whimsey?

  10. Terry Miller says:

    Yes Chris, I think you still do have a pair of iron chest lifts somewhere! They would be a natural on that chest.

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