Your Complete Tool Chest

TOOL chests are still in constant demand: if not frequently, at least steadily. It is curious, too, that no matter what the woodworker may subsequently execute, nothing affords him greater pleasure than the making of a really good tool chest for his own use. The one shown here makes no claim to being a work of art. Its two merits are its all-round usefulness and its lasting strength.

From Fig. 1 (and more particularly from the sectional elevation, Fig. 2) it will be seen that there are three drawers, or tills (A, B, G), which slide forwards and backwards on runners. The top drawer has a hinged lid (D). The saw till (E) slides up and down inside the front of chest, At Fig. 2 it is shown slightly raised.

The carcase may be of clean white deal. Yellow pine would of preferable, but the price may be considered prohibitive. The fittings of the original chest described were of mahogany, the inside of the lid being veneered. Plain hardwood used for the fittings must be of the best quality. The over-all measurements suggested are about 3 ft. long by 1 ft. 9 ins. wide, and about 1 ft. 10 ins. high to top of lid. These sizes are approximate, and, after the worker determines his carcase length, width and height, the other parts can be made accordingly.

For the front and back two pieces (approximately 3 ft. by 1 ft. 8 ins., and 3/4 in. thick) will be jointed up to obtain the width. For the ends two pieces about 1 ft. 9 ins. by 1 ft. 8 ins. (also 3/4 in. thick) are required. These four sides, after squaring up, are dovetailed together, the dovetail pins being about 2-1/2 ins. apart. Before glueing, trench both ends to take a length of stuff 4 ins. by 1/2 in. (F, Fig. 2). This forms compartment G (Fig. 2) for moulding and beading planes.

The bottom, which will be screwed on, is of 3/4 in. tongued and grooved boards, the boards running from back to front of the chest (not lengthways). Level the edges and mitre and sprig on the bottom plinth (H), 4-1/2 ins. high, with a 1/2 in. ovolo moulding. The top plinth (J), 2-1/2 ins. wide, can be similarly fixed, keeping it down 1/2 in. from top edge.

Around the top edge of chest it is wise to glue and sprig a mahogany slip, 3/4 in. by 1/2 in., mitred at the corners Level it inside and outside. A good lock will complete the carcase.

FITTINGS — These may of course be varied to suit individual requirements, but the suggestions here apply to the average kit. Reference has been made to the compartment G (Fig. 2) for moulding planes. Alongside this is a larger compartment (K) for bench planes. For covering these compartments a sliding board is provided (L, Fig. 2). This board will be 10 ins. wide by 1/2 in. thick, and should be clamped at both ends to prevent twisting. When drawn to the front of the chest it covers the compartment K. To provide a bottom runner for this sliding board, two pieces (preferably of mahogany) in. square are glued and sprigged to the ends (see M, Fig. 3). These, standing 9 ins. from the bottom, are stopped 2 ins. from the front of chest to allow for the rising saw till (E).

The three drawers (or tills) are seen in Fig. 2 and enlarged in Fig. 3. For the bottom runners of the third till (C) two pieces 1-1/2 ins. by 1/2 in. are required (N, Fig. 3). They are screwed to the edges of two pieces 3-1/2 ins. by 7/8 in., which in turn are screwed to the ends of chest above the sliding board, allowing the latter freedom to slide to and fro. Above these, two pieces 3 ins. by 5/8 in. are similarly fastened. Fig. 3 makes this clear. All the runners must stop exactly 2 ins. from front of chest to allow the saw till to be inserted.

THE TILLS (Fig. 3) are 8 ins. wide and respectively 2-1/2 ins., 3 ins. and 3-1/2 ins. deep, dovetailed together, the lap-dovetail being used on the fronts. For the fronts 1/2 in. mahogany is an advantage; the sides, backs and bottoms may be of good white deal, finishing at 3/8 in. The bottoms are not grooved in; the till fronts are rebated and the bottoms screwed on, the screws being countersunk. The upper till may have a 3/8 in. or 1/2 in. mahogany top, hinged to open as a lid. The top till may be divided into four equal compartments, the second into three and the bottom one into two.

SAW TILL (see E, Fig. 2). — This is really a shallow tray (2 ins. deep, outside measurement) fitted vertically. It runs the entire length (inside), but is 1/2 in. less than the height of the chest. In Fig. 2 the till is shown slightly raised. In it are hung, by means of slots and turn-buttons. the hand, tenon and dovetail saws and the large square. The top should be of mahogany, 3/4 in. net, the remainder being of white deal. The back may be grooved in. The drawer runners hold the saw till in position.

LID — If to be veneered inside as suggested, the lid should be of good yellow pine, free from knots, 7/8 in. thick net (deal is of too resinous a nature to take kindly to veneer). It should be clamped at both ends to prevent twisting, and then squared up to about 1/16 in. larger than the chest all round, to allow for subsequent fitting. It is now toothed on the inside, and a piece of curly Spanish mahogany veneer laid to within about 2-3/4 ins. from the edges. When dry, the veneer can be cut all round with the cutting gauge set to 3 ins., and the waste removed. Next, with the compass set to 2-1/2 ins., mark off the comers, cut with a sharp penknife, and remove the veneer; this can easily be done with a chisel after the application of a hot smoothing-iron. The margin is of walnut veneer, crossbanded, i.e., the grain running the short way, butted up against the mahogany veneer; the comer pieces are made in two mitres. If preferred, the comers may be left square, and the margin simply mitred.

When dry, the veneers can be cleaned off, and the lid properly fitted; it is then hung with three strong brass butt-hinges. A rim is mitred round the edge of lid to shut down on the top plinth; the joint may be broken by a 1/8 in. bead.

It only remains to have the inside of the lid and all mahogany parts french polished, and the white wood stained mahogany colour. Small knobs can be fitted to the three drawers and saw-till.

— The Woodworker, 1936

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13 Responses to Your Complete Tool Chest

  1. Robert Justiana says:

    The rising saw till is very cool. Alas, maybe for my next chest…

  2. John Griffin-Wiesner says:

    What are your thoughts on the removeable sawtill? Too small? Too much fiddling around to get saw in and out?

  3. Andy Warrior says:

    Hi Chris,
    What are your thoughts on the sliding saw till above? I always thought when I read the ATC that the saw till used up a lot of space, wasted space above and difficult to access space below! I quite like the idea of the sliding saw till. Would it get in the way too much of the other sliding tills?

    • lostartpress says:

      Andy et al,

      The sawtill in this example is unusual — I haven’t seen an extant chest with one. So I can’t really comment on it. In some ways it is like the Seaton till in that it is a box. But the fact that it is a vertical drawer is somewhat odd.

      If anyone has photos of one of these in practice, I would like to see it.

  4. Brian Dormer says:

    I’m also curious about the saw till. But the real puzzler is the sliding shelf “L”. What the L is it for? (Bad Pun intended) It seems a grand waste of effort, wood and space. Or am I missing something obvious?

    • Trevor Angell says:

      One nice thing about “L” is that, when the chest is shut and the tills are back, L can be drawn forward and used to store tools, like chisel rolls.

    • lostartpress says:

      Sliding partitions such as “L” were somewhat common. When pulled forward it gave you a platform or shelf to stack stuff on. Accounts I have read said that you would put your shop apron there, plus tool rolls.

      • Brian Dormer says:

        I’d think that (unless you fit that shelf pretty tight – which could cause binding problems with seasonal wood movement) that shelf or the stuff on it would slide around when you are moving the chest and dump whatever is sitting on the shelf to the compartment below. Worse yet would be a loose fit that might fall out in the winter time, when the wood dries out. If the tills slide around, it’s no problem, since they have sides to keep their contents from going too far. But, since the stuff piled on the shelf would probably end up in the lower compartment anyway, why bother building the shelf to begin with? Take that extra 3/4 of an inch and make the bottom tool tray deeper. Although, if your tool chest mostly sat in the corner of the shop, rather than travel around, I suppose this wouldn’t be as much of a consideration.

        I still like Chris’s design better (it’s less complicated), but since it is historically accurate, I suppose there are some features I should at least consider when I build my tool chest…

  5. Stuart says:

    Reblogged this on Stu's Shed and commented:
    Some wisdom on Tool Chests from 1936! Interestingly, from another recent article on Lost Art Press, that even back in the early 30’s articles were lamenting about the loss of craftsmanship and skilled artisans.

  6. Art says:

    The saw till is very interesting. I recently had the chance to look at a small chest for a handyman. About 3 feet long, 2 feet tall and 8-10 inches deep, it had part of the top that was hinged and dropped down. The lid had spots for two western saws and room inside for planes, drills and whatnot. Kinda of an interesting design. Sadly, I had no power in my camera, but when I pass by the place again, I may just buy it.

  7. simonm says:

    I inherited a chest from my grandad which I now know was built from these plans!
    With regard to the vertical saw till this is the only element which did not survive decades of use. It was very awkward to remove\replace saws and the whole thing started binding. Eventually I removed it and substituted it with a chisel rack. Apart from replacing two of the drawer bottoms the chest is original. These plans must have been one of the first articles edited by Mr Hayward which just goes to underline the fact that he knew a few things.

  8. The vertical sliding saw till may be a pain to use–if you leave it in the tool chest all the time. I would imagine that it would be completely removed if the owner needed to get to his saws all the time. I would think that the chest is more for storage and transport. When on the job, the craftsman would remove stuff needed for the job at hand and put tools away at the end of the day or job.

  9. Yellow pine was expensive in 1936? Who knew?

    As to the question about the lid (“L”) sliding around when the chest was moved, I rather doubt it would. You have to move a chest pretty quickly in order to get stuff to slide around in it, and aside from dropping off the back of a wagon, it’s really hard to move a fully-loaded chest that quickly.

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