Japanese Tool Chest: Measured Drawings

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Though I use mostly Western tools in my work, I have a deep respect for the craftsmanship and design of Japanese tools. In fact, before good Western tools became widely available, I had lots of Japanese saws, chisels and knives in my tool chest.

So this weekend I was thrilled to spend hours poring over the vintage Japanese tools offered by Tetsuro Izumitani during a hand tool event at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking. Izumitani is a former furniture maker who now brings vintage Japanese tools to Australia to sell.

He offers items that I’ve only read about or seen in books – incredible saws and hundreds of Japanese chisels of all shapes. I picked his brain for almost an hour on chisels as he showed me what to look for in a quality Japanese tool, from the file marks to the forge-welded laminations.

But the best part was an item that wasn’t for sale.

Underneath the selling tables was an old Japanese tool chest that Izumitani had brought back from Japan. It was simple, of course, but striking in its form, utility and hardware. He graciously allowed me to measure it and take photographs. (Apologies for the crappy photos. The sun was high and the shadows were driving me nuts.)

After the show I went back to my hotel and made a SketchUp drawing of the chest, which you can download here.

The woodworkers who were with me said it was made from “Oregon pine,” which is most likely another name for Douglas fir. The joinery is all nails and finger joints. It’s beguiling enough that I definitely want to build a few – once I can find a good source for the dome-head nails.

I think that building the chest would be an excellent one- or two-day class that would introduce people to basic saw, plane and chisel skills.

— Christopher Schwarz

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26 Responses to Japanese Tool Chest: Measured Drawings

  1. Duncan D says:

    Is that a wiff of a collaboration between Tetsuro Izumitani and LAP that I smell?

  2. Niels says:

    That’s a cool design, I love the sliding lid. I have to build a crate(s) to support my ungainly handsaw obsession, I might have to employ some Japanese tactics.

  3. John Cashman says:

    I saw Toshio Odate at WIA a few years ago, and his tool chest was very similar. The shape and size were close, and the sliding, removable lid were the same. I forget what his corner joints were. I should have a couple of pictures somewhere.

    • Michael says:

      This is the standard carpenter toolbox in Japan, I do believe you have to make one very early in your apprenticeship.

  4. Tim Henriksen says:

    Any idea what the inscription says?

  5. ay2p says:

    Odate’s toolbox is here : giantcypress.net/post/44613074898/tool-box-after-odate
    Both are great!

  6. It reminds me of the wooden toolbox/crate my Makita Timber framing beam planer comes in (also made in Japan) which has finger joints, a novel sliding lid with battens and leather loop handles.

    So Makita might be using an industrial age interpretation of that traditional form:

  7. Jonas Jensen says:

    The lifting pulls are absolutely gorgeous. Such gracefull curves.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. tjic (@tjic) says:

    The finger joints that stand proud are interesting – I had known that Greene & Greene were inspired by Asian design, but you can really see that one detail here.

  9. Mark says:

    My first “real” project was a different version of a Japanese tool chest. It was covered in mistakes, but still a pretty handy skill builder for a time when my only woodworking tools were an old circular saw my dad gave me and a cordless drill.

  10. A Reader says:

    See pages 10 – 11 in “Japanese Woodworking Tools. Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use” by Toshio Odate. (Taunton Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0-94193646-0, trade paperback ISBN 0-941936-46-5.) In it, there is a measured drawing and discussion of interior fittings of a traditional toolbox.

  11. Graham Burbank says:

    I am always investigating tool holders, battens, clips,and the like in the interior of toolchests of all styles. Is the interior of the chest completely undivided? chisels likely stored in a roll, that sort of thing?
    Robert’s first quote is a gem. One of my favorites is:
    “Someday, when I die, you may touch my tools. If you wish to die today, you may touch them now.”

  12. Michael Stone says:

    I use that sliding lid method all the time to make individual storage boxes for power tools that don’t get used often. I use what ever scrap 3/8th or 1/2 inch ply wood and pine scraps I have lying around. It’s fast, easy and you don’t have to buy any hinges or clasps.

  13. SteveR says:

    Yes, Oregon Pine is exactly Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii). Sometimes also called just “Oregon”. And of course it is neither a pine (genus Pinus) nor a fir (genus Abies). Given the tree’s native origin in the North American Pacific northwest, it may have been made of some recycled crating.
    On the other hand, there is a Japanese variety of “douglas fir” – Pseudotsuga Japonica, so it may not be Doug-fir at all.

  14. Jim Maher says:

    Let us know if you find those nails, though they sure seem over-sized for the job.

  15. John Vernier says:

    I have a larger chest of the same construction, apparently a kitchen rice chest, with an inscription dating it to the 1890s and the same dome-headed nails. however, one of the nail heads is missing and it proves to be a hollow domed steel cap covering what appears to be a standard western manufactured round nail head. Is it possible this is what the tool chest has going on? I will email you some photos for comparison.

  16. joemcglynn says:

    I spent three hours touring the Gamble house yesterday with Jim Ipekjian. The exposed, pegged, proud finger joints in their work clearly shows its lineage here, doesn’t it?

  17. David Dougherty says:

    Just finished reading TJaCM for the third time and I think this tool chest would be a great project to fit in between the packing box and the schoolbox.

  18. Thomas Scott says:

    ” – once I can find a good source for the dome-head nails.”
    They look like byou taiko tacks. You can find them at taiko drum making suppliers.
    http://users.lmi.net/taikousa/diyprice.html#A

  19. Nick says:

    This is currently what I use to store all of my carving tools.

  20. Kevin says:

    Not sure if they still have the class, But they used to have a class at Country Workshops and use them for all the schools tools.

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