When I got the privilege to measure an antique Japanese toolbox in 2013, I knew I had to build a reproduction. I just didn’t know it was going to take me two years to get around to making this simple but beguiling box.
The first problem was the hardware. I spent entirely too much time searching all over the world for manufactured dome-head nails to secure the toolbox’s finger joints. I came very close to finding the right nails in France and then again somewhere out in the desert. But there was always something fouling the works – the size of the head, the length of the shaft or the raw material (silver is probably a poor choice).
So I conned John Switzer at Black Bear Forge to make the nails and pulls. Note to self: Start with a blacksmith next time.
The wood was the next hurdle. Logically, I should build the toolbox using pine or cypress – a lightweight and strong wood that is easy to get. But I want the venti experience, so I started looking for Port Orford cedar. A fair amount of this stuff is exported to Japan for woodworking and building temples, so that would be a nice wood to use.
As I’m in the Pacific Northwest this week, I decided to spend a morning hunting up some Chamaecyparis lawsoniana in the Portland, Ore., area. After about 10 phone calls, I found a yard that had some. When I got there, I found they had three short boards. Three short boards that were split, warped and pecked with loose knots. I call this stuff: firewood.
Luckily, the yard had some gorgeous, dry-as-a-popcorn-fart vertical-grain Douglas fir. So I purchased an 16’-long clear stick of this wood as a backup plan. The antique toolbox I measured was quite possibly made from Douglas fir, according to the people who studied the box along with me.
The employees at the lumberyard were nice enough to cut the stock up into manageable chunks for my rental car so I could ship it back to Kentucky.
Mission accomplished. Or perhaps not. More on this story on Monday.
— Christopher Schwarz