An Important Change to the Skirts

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The moulding profile on the skirts surrounding the tool chest can be almost any profile – I’ve used everything from a chamfer to an ogee to a square ovolo.

After much fussing, I’ve settled on a 30° bevel that suits both contemporary and traditional tastes.

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On my first few chests I used 7/8”-thick skirting material and cut a 45° chamfer on the corner and left a significant flat at the top edge – about 5/16”. That looks fine, and it’s the profile I have on my current chest.

After studying another 50 or so chests, I became fond of a second sort of profile: a 30° bevel with a 1/4” flat on top. In 7/8”-thick material, this bevel is about 1” tall. This 30° bevel makes the chest look a lot less blocky and it doesn’t take any additional time to create.

After more than 20 years of building tool chests, I try to avoid complex mouldings on the skirts. They are easily damaged and they date your chest (which is not necessarily a bad thing but is not my thing).

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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28 Responses to An Important Change to the Skirts

  1. NR Hiller says:

    My chest is dated. Is that bad?

  2. Rick De Roque says:

    My chest is married, it no longer dates 🙂

  3. Willard Anderson says:

    How does a more complex edge date a chest (skirt)? Almost every molding commonly encountered nowadays goes back to Greek or Roman times so that seems quite a window.

    • There are very distinct moulding profiles for different furniture periods. Not to sell our stuff, but our Hayward books lay this out in detail, as does Walker’s “Mouldings in Theory.”

      • Willard Anderson says:

        The simplest moldings (cove, ovolo, and ogee) are the most likely to be used as the planes are readily available or can be shaped easily with H&R. These are timeless moldings, dating back thousands of years. I sometimes use a quirked ogee but could not say what exact time period this may or may not belong to. Not sure what the impact would be that a modern chest could be dated to some time period by the molding on a skirt. Just sayin’.

        • Sure. Simple curves are hard to date. But I was talking about complex mouldings (see original post). If you have the Hayward books, check out pages 1300 to 1305 for some examples. And then carry that forward – Arts & Crafts mouldings don’t look like Hepplewhite. Deco doesn’t look like Chippendale. But they are all concavities, convexities and arrises.

          I’m not trying to be pedantic. But mouldings help date a piece – just like the hardware and construction.

        • jenohdit says:

          I thought exactly the same thing when I read that line. Even if we acknowledge the truth of the statement “there are very distinct moulding profiles for different furniture periods” we have to also admit that textbook dates for periods are fuzzy at best and that examining numerous aspects of any object is the only way to even be able to guess at when it was made. No common classically derived molding alone is going to date anything. If anything, the use of a handplane rather than a router would be a more significant clue and date it to circa now to someone knowledgeable about populist handcraft revivalism of the early 21st century.

  4. Do you trim the pieces that overhang on the top? and how do they hold up over time if you do not? I currently build a lot of traditional style sea chests with “shadow boxes” incorporated into the bottom of the lids for retiring Navy Chiefs. I do not build any chests the same and every one of them is a little bit different to reflect the Sailor i know. I am always looking for new ideas….

  5. Rachael Boyd says:

    I did a square edge on my chest and I need to brush the dust off it all the time. I wish I would have put that 30deg on mine…

  6. Stan says:

    After 20 years and hundreds of chests, no doubt you have seen wear, damage, and maybe some breakage. Any pointers on how to increase strength/durability/longevity, and the tradeoffs thereof, e.g. cost, weight, added fabrication time, etc.?

    Is the wood shown in the photos Sugar Pine? Is it worth while to use a harder wood at high-wear locations like skirts?

    I understand that the bottom is the first thing to go bad on old furniture and chests. Is it worthwhile to use a more rot resistant wood for this location? Pressure-treated wood might be going too far, but how about mildew-resistant paint?

    Any insight would be appreciated.

    Stan

    • Hey Stan,

      This design is my response to seeing the wear and damage to vintage chests plus the first chest I built in the 1990s. Here are a few of those details.

      Skirts and Seals: The dust seal around the lid takes the most abuse on any chest. It needs to be dovetailed (or something equivalent). A miter won’t hack it. The lower skirt takes significant abuse, ergo dovetails. The top skirt doesn’t see much wear at all. I dovetail it for consistency, but you could nail it on and it would be fine.

      The Lid: Lids crack, especially when they are one flat panel. Hence I use a frame and panel with a thick panel. The joint I use is covered in detail in the book.

      The Wood: I’ve never seen a shell crack. So I prefer pine for its low weight and low expense. Heavy chests are brutal to move and don’t offer any meaningful improvement in strength. If you can’t get pine, try poplar.

      The Bottom: I’ve written a lot about bottoms here on the blog. Summary: Either go plain pine or something like teak and seal the heck out of it. What you don’t want is anything in between that will soak up moisture and distribute it to your tools as it slowly rots. Pine will rot immediately. Teak and its oils will resist water. I choose to use plain pine because of its low weight and the fact that I have the chest on casters and don’t work in a damp shop.

      Hope this helps.

      • Dan says:

        I was surprised to see your reverence for the tongue-and-grooved bottom, because in AT you said something along the lines of “the bottom will rot eventually, so use something that’s easy to replace.” I would have thought the T&G would make replacing any given rotting board a relatively major project. No?

    • Stan, I suspect Chris wouldn’t say it out loud, but… I mean, those topics are covered fairly thoroughly in The Anarchist’s Toolchest. It’s like… a big part of the book. If you don’t yet own that book, it comes highly recommended.

      By people other than Chris, that is..

      Me. I mean me.

      And I re-read it at least every other year, if not with more frequency. If you do already own it, I’d also highly recommend revisiting it with deliberate intention.

      • Stan says:

        Thanks. Yes, I own the book. Bought it via Lie-Nielson very soon after the first publishing. Great book. Have read it 5 or 6 times. But I’m pretty sure I asked questions not specifically addressed in the book.

        Chris didn’t directly answer my question: “Is the wood shown in the photos Sugar Pine? ” Obviously it is a pine of some sort, but I was interested in the specific variety. Since he didn’t directly answer, I must assume he thinks it was a stupid question.

        He didn’t directly answer my question: “Is it worth while to use a harder wood at high-wear locations like skirts? ” This is not touched on in the book either, IIRC. Since he didn’t directly answer, I must assume he thinks it was a stupid question.

        He suggested teak as an optional wood for the bottom, which was much appreciated. Not touched on in the book, BTW.

        He didn’t directly answer my question about pressure-treated wood, or mildew-resistant paint for the bottom. Once again, I must assume he thinks it was a stupid question.

        He went into more detail on the lid, which was nice, and other readers may benefit from, but this is covered in the book in great detail, and is common sense.

        He went into more detail on the carcass’s wood, which once again is addressed in great detail in the book, and so I did not ask this question.

        Chris went into more detail on the dovetailed corners on the top skirt and bottom skirt. I appreciated this, but it too was addressed in the book in great detail, is shown in his pictures, and is common sense, so I did not ask about them.

        In summary, you seem to imply that I am either too cheap to buy the book, or too lazy to read it if I did buy it, or too unintelligent to understand the words if I did read it, and that I wasted Chris’s time with stupid questions. Implied rebukes are unpleasant so I will refrain from asking any more questions.

        • Ah… yeah, I didn’t think either of those things, man. Sorry you read it that way. I tend to be a pretty light-hearted person, so it’s unfortunate my comment didn’t translate as such.

          Hope your day gets better, Stan.

        • Hey Stan,

          I don’t know if it’s sugar pine. My lumberyard sells it as white pine. I think it’s really immaterial which white pine you use.

          “Is it worth while to use a harder wood at high-wear locations like skirts?” I thought my discussion of the shell answered that question. Pine is fine.

          “He didn’t directly answer my question about pressure-treated wood, or mildew-resistant paint for the bottom.” Once again, I thought my my answer: “sealed teak or pine” answered it.

        • tsstahl says:

          Stan, never ever use treated wood in anything that will contact steel. Never. The reaction is quite caustic and almost fast enough to watch.

          Good luck with your chest!

          • Stan says:

            Steel galvanized to either meet either A153 or F2329 specs should be adequate in a dry (vs marine) environment.

            I made my toolchest 25+ years ago, and am still using it, although I have since remodeled and repainted it. No bathroom.

            I built it based on drawings in an old British woodworking book I found in the Library at Tokyo University, and published before photos (don’t remember the title). It is different from Chris’s in significant ways, but the tradition is very similar.

            I had spoken with antique restorers before making it, and learned about rotten bottoms being the bane of wooden chests. Forewarned, I used Chrome Arsenic pressure-treated boards in frame/ panel secured with wooden pins through the sides, not screws or nails. Sealed with primer and latex paint. It has spent many years in wet, tropical climates. No problems so far. But I think Teakwood, as Chris suggested, would have been a better solution. Certainly more attractive, and less toxic.

            All the wood is Monduras Mahogany, no pine in sight. Heavy, but tough as boiled owl, and very rot/bug resistant. I can’t imagine putting all those hours into it and using a less-durable wood.

            The lid is 3-panel F&P construction. Much deeper and stiffer than Chris’s, which makes it nice for mounting a lot of tools inside the lid. Hinges are heavy duty ball-bearing brass butt hinges intended for doors.

            Anyway, having done it before Chris published the Anarchist’s Toolchest, it is fun to read/see another way of getting the job done.

            • johncashman73 says:

              Unless your tools are galvanized to meet A153 or F2329 specs, I would avoid using pressure treated wood in a tool chest.

              • Stan says:

                Good point. Hasn’t been a problem so far.

                • jenohdit says:

                  The questions you started this thread with seem like questions you already had answers for.

                  • Stan says:

                    What’s your point? Obviously, I asked the questions to learn of other solutions from someone who has made a lot more toolchests than I have, as I prefaced my questions. Chris has unique insights and tremendous experience. I learned at least one new thing that I wish I had known before, but will use in the future. I would not have learned it without asking the question. Perhaps others benefited too.

  7. Michael Brady says:

    If that is the finished configuration of the joint, I find it begging for for refinement. The sharp exposed corners look to be ankle-biters; kind of like my neighbor’s pug.

    • Michael Brady says:

      Please excuse the above typo; and I forgot my original question:
      My Eastern white pine stock is 17″ wide and knot-free. The downside is that it is almost 5/4 thickness and I have no machine to plane that width of board. I could rip and join the boards after thicknessing. If I paint the chest its not at issue, but that beautiful stock begs for a clear finish over its seamless expanse. What would you do?

      • jenohdit says:

        Sell the pretty wood, build a painted chest, move on with life. Alternatively, keep the pretty wood and use it to make something else.

  8. Jars Family says:

    You know your a pro when you get dovetails that crispy on pine! Love that bevel too.

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