Another 16 Tool Chests are Born (It was a Difficult Labour)

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When people who teach woodworking get together for a beer, there is an inevitable discussion that is about as fruitful as the pins-first or tail-first dovetail debate.

Here’s the teachers’ debate: Should woodworking classes focus on building skills or instead emphasize getting a project complete and out the door?

During the last 10 years that I’ve been teaching I have tried to see if I could do both – teach skills and “git ‘er done.” But I can tell you this: It involves a lot of yelling with a horrible German accent to make it happen.

This week I wrapped up a class with beginning woodworkers that was designed to teach 16 students a lot of basic hand-tool skills and also to build a traditional nailed-together tool chest using only hand tools. I think we almost succeeded at doing both. (Download all the plans and instructions for this chest for free here.)

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The class was at Bridgwater College in Bridgwater, England, and put on by the New English Workshop. The class was offered at a very low cost (95 pounds for five days) to make it possible for young and aspiring woodworkers to afford. I think seven of the students camped during the week to save money.

Before I launch into some of the cool stuff we all learned, I have to thank Paul Mayon and Derek Jones of New English Workshop for allowing this class to happen. In the end, I think all three of us lost money on the class, but that’s OK. The students were thrilled with their new skills and their chest.

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Day 1: Panel pandemonium. We had more than 60 panels to glue up for the chest but only about 20 or so clamps for the job. Solution: Spring joints. By hollowing out the edge of each joint with a handplane we could glue up each panel using only one clamp. The easiest way to do this is with a trick that Bob Van Dyke showed me: Clamp the lowest board of the panel in your face vise. Glue up the panel vertically in the vise and clamp it all up in the vise. It’s a brilliant space-saving solution.

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Day 2: The day of the jack. Some of the stock we used had some variations in thickness, and some of the students had some panel joints where the seams didn’t line up perfectly. So we took a detour to the grinder to make more than a dozen newly minted fore planes with a radically curved iron.

Many woodworkers I teach are afraid of the grinder. But these students didn’t know to be afraid. It was nice to see them just step up to the machine and do beautiful work at their first go (you can do it, too).

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Day 3: Rebates by saw, chisel and plane. After teaching hand-cut rabbets (rebates over here) for many years, I’ve concluded it is difficult to expect perfection on the first go. So I’ve switched to teaching cross-grain rabbets and dados using a fence, a saw and a plane to remove the waste.

This week we experimented with using a block of wood to press the sawplate against the fence. Every rebate wall was dead 90° as a result. I am quite happy with this technique. A few of us began assembling the carcase on day three but….

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Day 4: I am so hammered. We nailed the chests together with hammer and cut nails. We imported some Tremont clinch roseheads for the job, but one of the students brought some interesting nails that looked exactly like a Roman nail but were machine-made. Crazy. More details on these nails after I find out where his parents bought them.

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We also attached the shiplapped bottoms and learned about beading planes. Beading is a sickness. One of the students who likes modern furniture said: “I don’t want to like the bead, but I can’t help myself.”

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Day 5: Finishing. Thanks to the hard work of one of the students, we were able to bring in some amazing casein-based paint that we tinted in class and applied with foam rollers. Lucky for us England has an industry that caters to the historic trades. So we bought the most amazing milk paint I’ve ever used for a small fraction of the cost I pay in the States. (I don’t have the name of the company with me – I’m in a hotel. When I find it I’ll post it here.)

The class was a bit tiring. Or let me put it this way: I’m looking forward to a relaxing time on Monday teaching a workbench-making course with hundreds of pounds of ash to throw around.

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to Another 16 Tool Chests are Born (It was a Difficult Labour)

  1. Thanks for this Chris. Because of your generosity you’ve got some folks on this side of the pond building along too!

  2. toolnut says:

    Was the fore plane making an unplanned detour or Part of the class and, how did they turn out?

  3. Paul McGee says:

    Would that be “pounds” of weight or Sterling? 🙂

  4. nealm44 says:

    Both you and the New English Workshop deserve the thanks and admiration of everyone interested in seeing the “old skills” retained and maintained. Making this class available to people without the means to pay several hundred Pounds was a true gift to the future. And thanks for making the plans available here — my only problem is deciding which of several sets of your plans to work on first! I look forward to seeing the name of the place you got the Milk Paint to add to my list of suppliers along with the nail source (I’ve a son in Scotland who restores old houses/apartments and he’s interested as well). Whose idea was the wood block against the saw plate? It seems like one of those “well of course!” things that we all “should have thought of earlier” but didn’t.

  5. Sounds like Monday you’ll be ‘dragging ash’! Lol!

  6. josef1henri says:

    Please explain more clearly how the panels were glued together using only one clamp.

  7. Ryan Starkey says:

    Vertical panel glue-ups on the bench, never thought of that. Great idea.

  8. wb8nbs says:

    Thanks for a good post. Did the class have time to build the internal trays?

  9. John Lhotka says:

    Enjoyed following the journey of these chest builds via this entry and Instagram. Look forward to using the rabbet sawing technique.

  10. momist says:

    Chris, I know you have probably already left the UK, but I just stumbled on this on eBay, and thought you might like to see it:
    http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1871-Wood-Engraving-Frederick-Starke-Carpenters-Bench-Woodworking-Wood-YSA3-/371392231169?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5678b3b701
    I’ve been spending the last few days shooting edges to make the boards for an ATC, from old reclaimed timber. I’ll be using dovetails, but thanks for the posts about this quick build, and I’ll look out for the source of suitable nails here in the UK.

  11. slmpress says:

    Would you describe these chests as being born in beech birth?

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