Back in the Mule’s Saddle


After the busiest Spring on record, I’ve managed to turn down the volume a bit in the workshop and return my focus to the new projects for “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” One of the projects I’m most excited about is a so-called Mule Chest.

I’ve always liked the format. It’s a chest with a couple drawers and it is incredibly easy to build with nails and rabbets. (Much easier than a traditional chest of drawers.) Mule chests look great in pine or an inexpensive hardwood. And they go together as quickly as a six-board chest.


In designing my version for “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” I wanted to retain its historical simplicity but bring the form into the present day. That meant reducing the ornamentation and adding some asymmetry.

It looks good on paper. And the mule’s skeleton is looking promising as well.

The good news is that if the design looks like crap, it will be easy to bang out another one with different proportions.

— Christopher Schwarz


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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18 Responses to Back in the Mule’s Saddle

  1. asarumcanadensis says:

    The Anarchist’s Design Book unshakingly became my saviour and bible (I’ hate to think about the pretentious road I would have gone down without the paradigm it opened up). So I very much look forward to another epistle. Bravo Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ken says:

    I don’t like the asymmetrical drawer arrangement.


  3. Daniel Williamson says:

    Incompetent person here, why is it called a mule’s chest? Based on the name (mane?) I can form some assumptions. But I’m not familiar with the piece.


    • Here’s the bit from the forthcoming chapter:

      Much ink has been spilled on the origin of the word “mule” in relation the chest. While the furniture form is old – examples abound from the 17th century – the term “mule chest” is not. It appears in our language about 1911, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

      Most accounts claim that “mule” refers to the idea that it looks like a hybrid between a chest of drawers and a simple chest. This seems the most likely explanation, especially when you consider the alternatives.

      1. The drawers were good for storing women’s slippers, which were called mules. The word “mules” was indeed used for women’s slippers from the 16th century on. But it seems unlikely to name a piece of furniture after one very particular item of footwear. Contrast the general terms “blanket chest” and “linen press” with a Queen Anne jockstrap chest.
      2. Peddlers would strap this sort of chest on both flanks of a mule, allowing the roaming merchant to get at goods in the drawers without removing the chests from the animal. That would be quite a rigging job, and I’ve yet to see an image or description of the practice that wasn’t in the “theory” section of a furniture book.
      3. The chest had secret compartments, allowing you to hide or “mule” items. (This is the least likely explanation because the term “mule” as it relates to contraband didn’t emerge until the 1970s.)

      Despite the murky explanations and sketchy origin of the word, I still like to call this form a “mule chest.” If anything, it’s shorter than saying “a chest with drawers below.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • tsstahl says:

        “…saying “a chest with drawers below.””

        Yes, because that would be a dress maker’s dummy. Or worse if you have a lewd imagination. 🙂


  4. Gavin says:

    So great Chris. Love mule chests. Was hoping you would add one. Anarchist Design Book has been one of my go to books for my shop students. The projects are all so accessible and buildable for high school kids. Thanks for all you do.


    • tsstahl says:

      Ding ding! +1. Like. retwit. Whatever titillates your digital bits. The projects are incredibly accessible and very utilitarian. I would also throw most of Adam Cherubini’s (sp?) ‘boarded’ pieces into the same category. They are great, if not perfect, non-trivial gateway projects to the world of making stuff.

      Also, kudos to your district for keeping shop classes.


  5. Geordie Smith says:

    I think it’s fine. My eye is satisfied by the symmetrical pull punctuation.


  6. To save some work, and in keeping with the simplicity theme, you could make a single drawer with a false 2 drawer front.


  7. Evan Worthington says:

    What program do you use to design your plans?


    • It starts with pencil sketches – lots of them. When I get it close (and if it’s complex) I’ll draw it in SketchUp or Illustrator. I’ve used a lot of CAD programs and don’t really have an opinion on them. Most home woodworkers can probably skip them – unless they really enjoy the drafting and 3D modeling process.


  8. Pascal Teste says:

    I like your design. Putting it on 7″ feet will help with the reach to get things into the chest. I’m building two staked beds right now (full size). My wife and I like your design and the fact that they can be knocked down after the guests have left. Looking forward to your new book!


  9. john gainey says:

    please dont use phrases tha tare uncouth== undignified we are not on a building site ==say words you would use around the family table please


  10. bgmillerbrian says:

    This is great ! Looking forward to seeing the final product. Like Like Like…


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