A Chest Bound in Steel

I’ve been traveling with tool chests since 1997, and so I have found their weak points. Or, to be more precise and passive in voice, their weak points have been found by elevators, loading docks and falls to the concrete.

Here is a list of parts that take a beating.

1. The bottom rim of the plinth. Even if you have casters on the bottom of your chest, the plinth gets dragged over concrete blocks, door jambs and the like. My latest chest, which is only 18 months old, looks like a spastic 5-year-old attacked it with a rasp.

2. Speaking of casters, this is also a weak point of a chest. Simply screwing casters into the carcase is no good. As soon as the caster drops into a hole, it gets ripped off the case. The best solution is to bolt the casters through the bottom boards. Yes, it’s a pain and it’s ugly, but it works.

3. The lid. Oh the poor lid. Its top corners get wacked by all manner of things. Lumber gets stacked on it. People sit on it and make rude noises with their bottoms. TV stars stand upon it to speechify as if it were filled with soap.

To remedy problems No. 1 and No. 3, I’m adding steel plate to the rim of the plinth and the lid. This is mild steel, and 1/8” x 1” x 4’ strips cost about $5 at the hardware store. Last night I rabbeted the lid’s dust seal and plinth – the entire process took about 30 minutes with a rabbet plane.

I’m going to attach the steel to the chest using slotted steel screws. I have found an outstanding source for these that I will write about this weekend.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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37 Responses to A Chest Bound in Steel

  1. tjic (@tjic) says:

    The campaign furniture which you – and I – are so enamored of is a response to EXACTLY these sorts of issues. It strikes me that a campaign tool chest would be beautiful and really practical!

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  2. JP Lee says:

    And how much more weight is added? Where’s the tipping point?
    I’m loving this series of articles – thanks Chris.

    JP

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  3. Jason Frantz says:

    As to the damage on the bottom of the plinth, I’ve successfully used attached skids in the past to protect finished edges on wheeled furniture. A couple of skids that hang lower than the sides of the toolbox, but not quite as low as the casters will take the brunt of a rolling/dragging situation when the casters disengage. If set back under the case a couple inches they won’t be seen easily but can save a lot of damage. As for the rude noises from sitters, you’re on your own.

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  4. Doug says:

    The chest that my great grandfather build has a steel band around the lid, not sure about the bottom. It is currently in the corner of my grandma’s garage with random junk piled on top of it. Next time I am down there I will get some pictures of it for your “file”

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  5. Mark N says:

    I look forward to seeing the end result. Are you gong to bend the steel around the corners, or just leave strips along the edges? – Mark

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  6. heidtwd says:

    You should also weld the steel in the corners. This will add a lot of strength and help keep the screws from shearing.

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    • joemcglynn says:

      I agree, if the welds are nicely done they can be dressed off with a file or grinder so there isn’t any trace.

      Lots of options to make it decorative too, peening with a hammer, filework along the edges, etc.

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  7. Don’t WELD the steel, fergawdsake! Dovetail it and peen it. Once you’ve gone this far with dovetailing, you really owe it to the chest to bring it home.

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  8. David Pickett says:

    An even more industrial grade protection for the bottom skirt might be angle iron – say 2″ x 2″ x 1/4″. Readily available, tough as old boots. If mitred at the corners and welded (as suggested above), you’d have a sort of picture frame in steel, which would be strong enough to take almost anything. By welding some triangular pieces of 1/4″ plate into the corners, drilled and tapped for bolts, you could have a very secure fixing point for castors as well.

    Might need a fork-lift truck to move it, but it would be quite lasting.

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  9. rmcnabb says:

    A still small voice cries “brass!”

    Look forward to your source of screws…do they have fine slots? The ones I get off ebay have too-big ones but they work.

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  10. Gerald Millheim says:

    Chris, any worries about the steel nicking/marring/destroying doorways,the inside of your car, shins or the like (your workbenches)?

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  11. Larry Jackson says:

    Rather than welding a tapped triangular plate to angle iron, how about using threaded inserts in the case bottom to receive short machine screws or stove bolts through the caster mounting plate, as a cure for both the shearing and ugliness problems?

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  12. Michael says:

    Why not make the whole plinth out of a harder wood?

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  13. David K (Raleigh) says:

    Hopefully I’m not giving something away here, but Blacksmithbolt.com has an excellent supply of slotted-head wood screws. You can also buy slotted-head wood screws at Home Depot. They are galvanized, but you can easily return them to their native state with a quick citric acid bath.

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  14. Tom Dugan says:

    Great, so now every time it collides with a doorjamb/threshold/highboy, it’s the other piece that gets dinged. And boy, can a steel-lined chest full of iron do some dinging. Are you sure that’s the way you want to go?

    Old chests often had sacrificial runners on the bottom. I see no reason why you couldn’t fill those rabbets with wood instead of steel.

    My chest sits on a little cart with casters. It’s only big enough to contain the chest and a 1/2″ curb/bumper that keeps the chest from sliding off and keeps the chest from banging into doorjambs, etc. YYMV, of course.

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  15. Kevin Costa says:

    how about expensivmum or unobtainium or krytonite?

    Like

    • David Pickett says:

      Or – come to think of it – recycled car tyres? Rubber bumpers would protect toolchest and doorjambs.

      Like

      • John Cashman says:

        Plasti-Dip! Either dunk the chest in a vat, or get the spray-on kind.

        If you hold the chest by a corner when you dip it into the vat of plati-Dip, it won’t get full coverage. So be careful, that will always be your chest’s Achilles heel….

        Like

      • Mitch Wilson says:

        Rubber baby buggy bumpers. (Bill Cosby, “Wonderfulness” album [vinyl LP], circa 1965.)

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      • tjhenrik says:

        JC: Completely classic!

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  16. John Gornall says:

    No steel – replaceable hardwood held on with screws – make the corners sacrificial and able to absorb impact – nicely rounded with no sharp corners or edges.

    Casters on a separate platform, not screwed directly to the chest – again sacrificial corners on the platform. Slide the chest off the platform into the car – less damage to the car, less damage to the chest, less room in the car (travel with the platform or not)

    I don’t think chests traveled much in the old days and traveling a chest around in a car needs a few new ideas.

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  17. Rob says:

    I understood the bottom plinth was designed to be sacrificial, attached by screws, so that when it was sufficiently knocked about you would simply fit a new one.

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  18. Phil Spencer says:

    This is a good idea Chris, have you thought about raising the strips on the side of the lid to be level with or just clear the raised panel? You would have a handy travelling saw horse (just like my Grandfather did with his chests by including the Spratling bead) you could call this the “Schwarz Strip”. steel is OK but it rusts wouldn’t brass look better? 🙂

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  19. Ron Dennis says:

    Chris –
    There is much Food for Thought. I would be interested to hear your reactions.

    Like

  20. John Carey says:

    Chris,

    Love reading about tools and toolchests!! Don’t stop!
    For your caster/mobility problem,
    why don’t you take a page from the Entertainment industry? Wheels are on everything,
    because, even though it’s here now it won’t be at Loadout! The vast majority of roadcases,
    workboxes, cable caddies,( really heavy trunks), etc., all use a separate dolly board or plates.
    The board will have holes bored through it with metal tee nuts, (at least 1/4-20 thread)
    installed from the top of the board. Then the casters are installed. The dolly board is then
    screwed to the case/chest/trunk/whatever. This now makes the case stronger as a bottom
    reinforcement panel, and the dolly board is rebuildable/renewable/however you want to call
    it. Most common material is 1/2″ or 3/4″ Baltic- birch plywood.

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