I am wed and bred to the traditional tool chest. I’ve been working out of one since 1996 and have no plans to suddenly switch to storing my tools in stacking rubber boxes.
Sure, I’ve experimented with other systems (like when I experimented with lesbianism in college). But after giving them a year or two in parallel with my tool chest, I always went back to the warm embrace of of the big floor chest by my workbench.
If you hate tool chests, that’s cool with me. But you need to come up with a way to hold your tools that makes it easy to work at the bench. Since publishing “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I’ve been asked about once a month to please, please, please design a wall-hung tool cabinet that is the equal of a floor chest.
Now that I’m juggling two book projects, I’m really not equipped to design a complicated piece of tool storage and give it a real-world test. But perhaps you are.
When I consider tool storage, here is a list of the things that are important to me. Other woodworkers at the extremes (French-fitting neat-nicks and those who are casual about tool care) will disagree. That’s cool. Write your own book.
1. Tools protected from rust, dust and damage. I spent a lot of time fixing up tools or saving up the money to buy my tools. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them rust or get cruddy. Good tool storage should keep the tools protected. Period. This is why I don’t like open tool racks (which I’ve experimented with a lot). The tools on the open racks are more likely to get rusty or (more important) go missing.
2. All tool can be grabbed instantly or by moving one sliding/swinging layer in front. Your tool system should not be a Chinese puzzle box. H.O. Studley’s toolbox is cool, but it is a tool-storage nightmare.
3. Tools aren’t obscured from view in drawers. When tools go into drawers, they seem to disappear from memory. I like tools in the open because of this simple fact: When you can see all your tools your memory about their location is much improved. I have to nudge my marking knife to grab my carpenter’s pencil, so it’s easy for me to remember where the knife is – I’ve seen it 100 times that day.
4. The storage is flexible without distinct spots for everything. I tried French-fitting my tools. It was a chore to make all the little racks and holder bits. Then I decided I wanted the shoulder plane somewhere else and so I had to change it all.
5. The tools should be in smallest space possible. When your tools are in a compact area you won’t have to walk across the shop to pick them off the rack across the room. It’s all right there, just within arm’s reach.
6. The storage should be inexpensive and movable. I’d rather buy more wood for furniture. And someday I might have a cooler shop on Russell Street.
This is a quick back-of-the-napkin list. But I think it’s pretty good.
Oh, and it should be black.
— Christopher Schwarz
19 thoughts on “I Like Chests (Though You Might Have a Nice Rack)”
No milk (paint) entendres?
Now you know that General Finishes “milk paint” has no “milk” in it. So it seemed a stretch.
However, one of my students is planning on making his milk paint for his tool chest using breast milk from his wife. And I really don’t want to say what he is using as the pigment. But feel free to guess.
If you dare.
According to this: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/51/1/37.full.pdf the casein content of human milk varies from 20% to 45% of total protein content from early to late lactation. In cows milk it seems to hold steady at less than 20%. So depending on when he obtains the milk he could be looking at some pretty hard paint–ideal for a tool chest.
Please Elaborate “experimented with lesbianism” Make be a pic or two:)
Arrgh! You put stickers on that lovely Dutch chest!? How gauche! That is just not droit… I mean right.
I’ve been using the one pictured here (http://www.godetfurniture.com/?p=308) with 100% satisfaction for about 18 months now. I’ve added a few saws to the till in the top since these photos, and few more specialty planes. The bottom drawer holds things I don’t use too often: saw sharpening gear, brace/bits, etc. The other two drawers end up functioning like tills in the ATC–I leave them open while I work and push them open and closed as I need things. My chisels and carving tools are in leather rolls, on the second shelf. I also split the difference with the french fitted trays–just a few in the second drawer to keep my blue spruce marking knives and my mortise gauge from getting dinged up. Like any good woodworker, I wipe early and often to keep my tools dust and rust free.
Lie-Nielsen has a cabinet designed and built by Chris Becksvoort (aka. The OTHER Chris). http://www.lie-nielsen.com/?pg=138
Oh… And I need a verb….. Uh, how about “saw”? It’s both a noun and a verb.
Ok, serious question. Where did 18th/19th century woodworkers store their CLAMPS? I’ve yet to see any period appropriate form for clamp storage.
no pinup sticker on your toolchest! man you r so dull!
I took to heart the first chapter of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest and disobeyed. I simply didn’t have the floor space for a rolling toolchest, so I had to solve the puzzle with a wall-hanging cabinet. ( http://gildedrain.blogspot.com/2012/10/wall-hanging-tool-cabinet-complete.html )
After dissecting a few Sketchup models (yours included), I began measuring all of my tools and asking manufacturers for the dimensions of tools I don’t own yet so I could leave room for them. I created rough models of each tool in Sketchup so that I could build a chest that is only as big as it needs to be. It will hold most of the core list of tools you recommend in your book with about 1/2″ of clearance around each tool. I chose open shelves instead of cubbies so that I can rearrange on a whim. It doesn’t hold the entire toolset, but it comes pretty close — big rip and crosscut saws will have to sleep on the couch.
In response to Rule #3: I can’t open all of the drawers at once and see their contents at a glance like you can with your tills, but my organization is simple enough that I don’t have trouble remembering where things are: bottom drawer = chisels; middle drawer = measuring & marking; top drawer = miscellaneous (screwdrivers, rasps, drawbore pins, burnisher, card scrapers). I don’t have so many tools that the top drawer is ever much of a mystery.
This was my first mostly-hand-tool project – everything except thicknessing – and I’ve been pretty happy with the result. Tools are safe, organized, within easy reach, and dust-free. Thank you for all of the advice and inspiration.
Chris, your game is rigged. I think elephants are the best animal. I defy you to come up with an animal that is gray, huge, has floppy ears, a long prehensile nose, etc.
Precluding drawers is especially silly. Pulling open a drawer is no different than sliding a till or opening a lid. I have nothing against chests, but rolling carts and wall hung cabinets can be just as good or better.
Tills are not drawers. I array the three tills in my chest so I can see everything. You can’t do that with drawers.
And I don’t think my (personal) principles of storage force a tool chest design. I agree that a wall chest can be great, I just haven’t seen one that works.
I didn’t say tills were drawers. I said pulling a drawer open is no more effort than sliding a till, opening a cabinet door, lifting a lid, etc. And while you may be able to align your tills to see everything in the tills at once, I’m guessing at that point, you can’t see the planes in the bottom of the chest, and so on. In my woodworking, I’ve never found it especially important to see every possible tool at once as each various tasks tends to call for a specific tool or handful of tools. In the middle of cutting dovetails, I never wish I could glance at my molding planes a spot all their profiles. In the middle of ripping a board, I never wish I could see all my chisels.
Your storage requirement that the whole kit be in a single chest is where the forcing begins. If you are not traveling, a wall hung plane cabinet, a chisel drawer, a saw till, etc. can be arranged around a bench and be every bit as convenient – if not moreso – as a combined kit. Each to their own.
My question is didn’t you already design and make one? Like the one you made in the Arts and Crafts stile for Popular Woodwroking? Woulnd’t you just make it bigger?
I liked some things about that wall chest from nine years ago. But that is where my dislike for drawers became more acute.
I understand where you’re coming from with your opinion on tool chests but I think that there are a few important points made here that I’ve considered fairly frequently myself. The most important of these is the practical matter of floor space. While a traditional tool chest MAY be the most efficient way to store tools, they do occupy floor space that many of us with small basement shops or who must share space with 2 automobiles simply do not have. My wife and I purchased a new home (just yesterday in fact) and my shop will be relegated to the garage. In addition to 2 cars, I’ll have my workbench, table saw, jointer, planer, and router table in a space 8 feet wide by roughly 20 feet long (when the cars are pulled in). At this point, I have FAR more wall space than floor space.
The most obvious benefit of a chest may be the reason you are so attached to them. They are mobile. I think that the historical record is filled with furniture makers working out of chests for exactly this reason. You yourself travel with your tool set (or at least a portion of it) quite frequently. Most of us, however, never take our tools anywhere unless we move from one home to another. Therefore, this benefit is lost on us. Prevention of rust, it seems to me, is mostly a matter of keeping the tools clean and dry, which both the chest or a wall-mounted unit will provide. As long as these conditions are met, the most likely source of rust would be the moisture and salt associated with your sweat.
The other concern I have in the idea of a tool chest is that without a fair bit of custom fitting or extreme vigilance, the chest would in time come to resemble the “junk drawer” in my kitchen. A mish mash of things piled on top of each other. A chest provides organization in that it keeps all of your tools in one location, but it doesn’t appear to offer any organization within it AS DESIGNED. I will be honest that I have not read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” but I have read just about all of your blog posts and a couple of your articles on chests and see that there is a saw till but beyond that there is no built in organization/dividers in the chest as designed. To me this would be a serious concern.
Just a few random ramblings…I hope I’ve added something useful to the discussion.
Without writing an entire book, a few responses.
1. On floor space. Tool chests earn their floor space in my 10 x 25 shop (shared with a big ass furnace) because they are work surfaces. I glue things up on top of them, I assemble on them, I finish on them, I sit on them when working, I saw on them, etc.
2. On mobility. Historically, chests weren’t moved constantly. In fact, in a fair number of accounts, the chests were owned by the master and never left the shop. Some traveled. And I think it’s fair to say that people are more mobile today than they were 100 or 200 years ago. So I think mobility is still important.
3. On rust. I wipe my tools constantly. When they are on racks, they get covered in dust and rust blooms. In a chest, they don’t. This has been my experience in the Midwestern river city in a basement shop. Your mileage may vary.
4. On organization. Most chests allowed the peas to mix with the gravy. You can get far more tools in the space without little dividers. I have seen very few old chests that have lots of dividers. I went down the French-fitting path 15 years ago. I turned back and am glad I did.
Bottom line: Chest users like myself are in the definite minority. After beginning with a chest and then working every possible other way, I returned to a chest. All the reasons above are why.
Here’s another Studley-esque cabinet. A bit less ornamentation – but still beautiful.
I haven’t been able to find any other reference to this chest. The guy only got 3rd place – he was robbed! This should have been 1st hands down.
I have read and liked the ATC. I wont be building a trad chest for a few reasons. 1 – My back isnt great any more and I dont want to bend more than I need. 2 – I need tool storage ASAP and the trad chest is a lot of work. 3 – I like the Dutch chest :-).
So I have nearly finished my jumbo sized dutch chest, its made from rubbish and will possably look rubbish, it contains rubbish joinery (ie none) and wont be featured in any book.
And I might paint it grey :-p
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