A Day in the Life


Some day I will count up all the tool chests that I have built and those that have been built during classes I’ve taught.

In the meantime, here’s an important thing I’ve observed when building tool chests. I can build a complete tool chest in a white pine (Eastern white or sugar pine, for example) in about 40 hours. If I make one out of poplar, a yellow pine or worse, that adds at least eight hours to the process.

Harder woods make for harder work.

This week we’re building tool chests from perfectly clear Eastern white pine at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. The pine (and the two dozen doughnuts) are keeping us on schedule. Never underestimate how a mild species can make your work easier.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. More photos from the class are here.

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29 Responses to A Day in the Life

  1. waltamb says:

    Spot On Chris!
    We overlook the power and simplicity of little things like Pine.
    I was fortunate to recently obtain a truck load of EW Pine Logs and while some will make common boards for rough projects, the Large butt logs offered up lots of Select and better boards up to 24″ wide and some 4″ thick. At the Dry kiln now. This will be for my next series of furniture buils and boxes.
    Keep spreading the word… Less is more!

  2. woodworkerme says:

    I have been using Ponderosa pine for tools chest and it works so nice.

  3. Eric R says:

    Gotta say that I think the harder stock is worth the extra time.
    Pine has it place and I’ve made some really nice projects out of it, but for a tool chest, I think hardwood is better.

    • until you try to lift it…

    • waltamb says:

      That is the nice thing about our craft, no wrong choices.
      We only have control over 2 things, Time and Money but less time spent in the making is also equal to less money spent or more profit.
      Then there is the weight to consider, EWP = Average Dried Weight: 25 lbs/cuft. Something like Yellow Poplar is 29 lbs Red Oak $ Hard maple are 44 lbs.
      If I had it available and could afford it I would use Paulownia it is stronger than pine in some regards and only 18 lbs.
      Wonder if Chris ever calculated the total volume of wood in a chest to do an empty chest weight comparison for woods?

      • woodworkerme says:

        a dutch tool chest is about 25 BF

        • waltamb says:

          If that measurement is true, 25 bdft of surfaced Pine would weigh about 39 pounds. In Oak it would be more like 69 pounds. So, that means you will have to leave out 30 pounds of tools.

      • steveschafer says:

        The oak chest could be made of thinner stock and still be as strong, so the weight difference is not quite that great. (For example, 9/16″-thick white oak has greater stiffness than 3/4″-thick Eastern white pine.)

        • Steve,

          I say build it and let’s compare. One of the big factors is what is available – 9/16″ oak means buying 4/4 oak.

        • Eric R says:

          That’s true, and smart .
          Good thought Steve.

        • Brian says:

          This is the ATC, so even more bf than the dutch. I have plenty of white oak at home and am hoping to build this exact chest in 3/4 wh oak next year. If/when i complete that, i will happily send the respective mass measurements to Chris

    • woodworkerme says:

      A good pine board 3/4 in. used to make a dutch tool chest even with it full of tools I can still lift it .. on the other hand the same chest made with oak may look stronger but if you were to drop it full of tools it would break . but pine would only dent

  4. momist says:

    Interesting Chris. Unfortunately, here in the U.K. we don’t get such choice of well identified wood. The ‘construction lumber’ we can easily buy from a builder’s merchant or the DiY store is usually “redwood”, which infers a reddish hue to some kind of pine from the Baltic, or “whitewood”, which if you are lucky might even be Sitka Spruce, but is usually some other knotty spruce, also from the Baltic. These are termed just ‘reds’ or ‘whites’ by the trade, and the whites are usually softer and lighter, while the reds have more chance of movement and bad knots, but are heavier and stronger, and exude resin in places. All are termed “pine” regardless of species.
    We are also afflicted by the metric system, which means we buy the wood as e.g. 38 x 19mm (1-1/2″ x 3/4″) P.A.R. (planed all round), in lengths such as 2.4m. These do not refer to the actual measurement of the wood, but the metric equivalent of the inch based system they might have been if they had not been planed, in lengths that go up in non-metric steps to suit the old foot measures. Prices per cubic metre are I think also converted from the old per linear foot, with some weird results. It’s hard to get your head around.
    I need to go buy some redwood soon.

  5. Soft woods are nice to work, but I think I’d prefer something a little harder for a chest I was moving a lot. Yes, it would weigh more, the weight wouldn’t come close to the weight of the tools inside.

    Maybe, you could create a campaign chest that would give us the best of both worlds.

  6. What is the advantage of raising the joiner’s mallet above the head?

  7. smkindem says:

    and warped poplar adds a few more hours…

  8. Bob Snyder says:

    I have selected poplar for my chest. Slightly thinner than yours though (looks like skip planed 4/4 and is 15/16″ to start). The only pine we can get cheaply is SYP.

  9. proclus153 says:

    I’ll put in a plug for bald cypress, which I’ve been using a lot and which I find is even more amiable than white pine. It seems slightly harder, but works easier because it’s less crumbly and lacks the extreme contrast in hardness between the early wood and late wood that makes pine get nasty blowout and tearout sometimes. Also, it’s cheap in Texas. The only drawback is that, instead of a nice piney aroma, it gives off a faintly sour one reminiscent of a drunk’s breath.

    • Where do you pick up your bald cypress? I’m in San Antonio, and can’t find Eastern white or Sugar pine at the hardwood places (duh, probably because they’re not hardwood!), and I don’t know of any softwood distributors!

      • proclus153 says:

        I’m in Dallas, and both Wood World and Hardwood Lumber Company of Dallas seem to keep it in stock most of the time. I’m also planning on checking out a little sawmill in Sanger that seems to cut a lot of cypress and longleaf pine. I think even some specialty lumberyards carry it because it gets used a lot for exterior architectural woodwork.

  10. nealm44 says:

    I would LOVE to use clear white pine. Sadly the closest read lumber yard is about 200 miles away and the local big boxes sell pine that is really sad. I tried making some shelves for the garage/shop and resin pockets in the stuff almost exploded every time I tried to pare out dovetails and rabbets. I think I’m stuck with poplar or some other alternative, at least for now.

  11. woodworkerme says:

    so come up with a test. I will provide a pine dutch tool chest for a toughness test. like dropping it 4 feet with tools in it.( not real tools but some kind of weight )

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