Boarded Tool Chest After 50 Months of Abuse

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As I revise and expand “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” I’m also examining the pieces I built for it five years ago to see if I can learn anything to improve them.

The Boarded Tool Chest in Chapter 15 is one design I was worried about. When I make a tool chest, I dovetail the ever-loving snot out of it. The boarded tool chest, however, is all rabbets, nails and glue – like a cheap kitchen drawer.

But I built it on a leap of faith. In February 2015 I saw Jonathan Fisher’s tool chest at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. It had survived 200 years and was in good shape – no major repairs or loose joints. Plus, I had come to really appreciate the holding power of cut nails and Roman nails. After making some test joints, I tried to take them apart and ended up destroying the wood before the fastener would give up.

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The Fisher tool chest at the Farnsworth Art Museum in 2015.

The chest shown here is one of about five or six boarded tool chests I made. I kept this one to use as a site box as we remodeled the storefront in Covington. For the first three years of its life, it held carpentry tools and was battered endlessly as I dragged it around the first floor and machine room. (Eventually I added nice casters that I’d scavenged from another chest.)

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Now the chest holds tools for students and still sees some bumps and bruises. It also serves as a sawbench, a stool and a way for short people to reach things in high places.

Honestly, I have no problems with how the chest has worked. The corner rabbets are as tight as the day I made them with hide glue and rosehead nails. The tills – also nailed – still move smoothly and nothing has come loose. The pine top has remained flat thanks to the oak battens on the underside.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love a dovetailed tool chest. But for home woodworkers who might not have the time for such a complex project, building it with roseheads, rabbets and glue is a sound alternative. Just make sure your joints are tight, you use the right nail, your pilot holes aren’t too big or too deep, and you size the end grain of the joint before assembly.

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Boarded Tool Chest After 50 Months of Abuse

  1. Steven Vlahos says:

    I love my plywood ATC (made based on your DVD). I it is as strong as a Sherman tank will no doubt outlast me by several generations. That said, I still can’t take my eyes off the dovetailed version and won’t be satisfied until I make one.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. kv41 says:

    Does size the end grain mean dimension?

    Like

  3. Ed Clarke says:

    Why doesn’t this chest have a front dust protection piece on the top? The battens should be fine for the sides, but there’s nothing on the front edge? Were you just trying to duplicate the Fisher chest exactly?

    Like

    • You could add one if you like. The front stays well sealed all in all. But a small moulding on the underside would improve things I’m sure.

      When I build pieces based on old work, I try not to improve on their ideas until I have tried their ideas.

      Like

  4. KA Cruise says:

    I built my Dutch tool chest much the same way. I have yet to have it show and cracks or splits. And my shop can swing in temps even with being in the house.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The Story of a Swedish Warship? If you are going to tease us with a picture of part of your bookcase, show them all.

    Like

  6. gregla2 says:

    Could you remind us about the source for the strap hinges? Blacksmith made?
    Thank you.

    Like

  7. Pascal Teste says:

    Weren’t some of these old boarded chests just butt joined? Rabbets sure add a lot of strength by preventing racking movements. Would be interesting to see how a simple butt joined chest would fair over time. The last pic of your post, Fisher’s trademark?

    Like

    • tsstahl says:

      That would be a shipping crate. My experience is that is fine for something being dragged around a shop. However, any box that spends a lot of time bouncing around in a truck is doomed to shake loose. Caveat is that the boxes constantly in transit used ring nails, not cut/roman nails. Just one anonymous troll’s take on nailed up boxes. 🙂

      Like

  8. Pascal Teste says:

    Sorry, the last pic that’s your logo!!

    Like

  9. Johnathan Akers says:

    It’s amazing how similar in construction and dimensions yours is to the Fisher tool chest?! And you hadn’t seen it before the ADB?? That’s pretty cool…

    Like

  10. Ryan Rich says:

    With the revision and expansion of the book what is the timeline you are looking at for the release? I have been wanting to pick the book up for sometime already.

    Like

    • It will be done by the end of the year and released in early 2020 – barring some crazy alien abduction.

      Like

      • Ryan Rich says:

        Thanks!

        Like

      • Justin Reuter says:

        Fantastic…I have read through most of the projects in ADB at least a dozen times. I am currently working on the boarded tool chest.

        Thoughts on adding a saw till to this chest?

        Although I appreciate the digital downloads for the recent ADB projects, I find myself reaching for the book rather than my phone or computer. I can’t wait to get my hands on the expanded edition!

        Like

  11. windfallwood says:

    My one of these chests is one of my favourite possessions. I made it on the fantastic course taught by Chris at Bridgewater college back in 2015. This course was a fantastic bargain that kick started me to change careers and was charged a reduced fee for young students which was very generous. I’ve since retrained as a joiner and work in a workshop making kitchens, furniture and many other things. This tool chest is used every day and is nocked into and moved around etc and has worked perfectly. It’s the right size to accommodate all the tools I use daily and I enjoy sitting on it to eat my lunch at the bench (with castors attached it’s the perfect height). I’m sure it will be with me for the rest of my career (probably another 40 year’s) and will always remind me of where I started out.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. windfallwood says:

    My one of these chests is one of my favourite possessions. I made it on the fantastic course taught by Chris at Bridgewater college back in 2015. This course was a fantastic bargain that kick started me to change careers and was charged a reduced fee for young students which was very generous. I’ve since retrained as a joiner and work in a workshop making kitchens, furniture and many other things. This tool chest is used every day and is nocked into and moved around etc and has worked perfectly. It’s the right size to accommodate all the tools I use daily and I enjoy sitting on it to eat my lunch at the bench (with castors attached it’s the perfect height). I’m sure it will be with me for the rest of my career (probably another 40 year’s) and will always remind me of where I started out.

    Like

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