Editor’s note: As promised, Megan Fitzpatrick and I are writing a series of blog entries that explain how we have improved the construction process for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” during the last nine years (and several hundred chests).
First, let’s get this out of the way: When I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I didn’t think many people would build the damn thing. The chest was intended more as an idea. I love using floor chests, but I thought they would be a hard sell with readers. I was wrong.
When I started teaching classes on building the chest – the first class was in Germany before the book even came out – I struggled to get the students with a finished chest and lid after five days (never mind the interior tills and trays).
That forced me (and later Megan Fitzpatrick, who now teaches the tool chest classes) to rethink the process and see if we could make a chest in five days without using the “punishment whip” on the students. The first change I made (which saved a whole day of work) was to change the dovetails.
In the book, I used 13 dovetails at each corner – that’s 52 dovetails for the basic shell. And it is overkill. Nowadays we use seven dovetails at each corner. The chest is – in my opinion – just as strong. And most students assemble the shell by the end of the second day.
The second change was to eliminate the shallow rabbet I cut on the ends of the tail boards. The shallow rabbet assists in transferring the tail shape to the pinboards. In the book I show how to cut the rabbet on a table saw and with a rabbet plane.
When I started teaching this method, I found that most students had never used a rabbet plane. And so all their rabbets sloped down. Horribly. Chaos and gappy joints ensued.
Now I have the students temporarily tack a yardstick to the baseline of the tailboard (I call this the “Other Ruler Trick”). This helps everyone make the transfer with ease. No sloping rabbets. And no one locks themselves in the bathroom sobbing (not even me!).
— Christopher Schwarz
28 thoughts on “Anarchist’s Tool Chest Update 1: Dovetails”
This chest is an exercise in over-building. It is a statement. A few less dovetails here and there won’t make any difference in terms of strength. The important bit – that should not change! – is the lid – that interlocked panel is the toughest component I’ve ever built.
The problem I had with the rabbet method for dovetails was having two different marking gauges set up. I screwed that up a lot, and ended up with a LOT of excess pin to trim.
Glad the project is still evolving and improving. Bravo! Also nice to know I wasn’t the only student who, never having used a rabbet plane, made dramatically sloping rabbets.
Nice to see the chest evolve with improvements. I just can’t wrap my head around working out of a chest on the floor, I don’t work exclusively with hand tools though so what am I missing – is it nostalgia? No doubt a great project for a beginner woodworker, I actually have one from the 1800’s with the old tools and history of it I found in a house in Montpelier Vt that I bought in my shed -maybe I should pull it out and give it a try.
Floor space, under a bench, in a corner, between machines, is an easy sacrifice. Working height space, any horizontal space that is flat, comes at a premium in many shops. It’s also easier to look down and see the entire contents of the chest, rather than going through multiple drawers or missing something behind another tool or in a corner of a chest that you have to look across into. Having everything in one (relatively) small chest forces decisions about what you really need, and declutters a shop really quickly.
I can see your points, The floor space is what I don’t want to give up and I am with u on tools in drawers, i like everything out and accessible for the most part so its on the wall (like a tool cabinet), I can’t imagine looking down into multiple till’s over top of one is another is easier than looking on the wall at eye height at your tools but whatever works for the person is always the best, Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an excellent project and nostalgic which can add a nice feel to a woodshop.
I made a scaled down version of the Dutch tool chest for my hand tools I use for work at clients houses and as most say- I should have done it years ago. I don’t know about the working on the floor bit, if I can place it up off the ground I don’t have to bend over as much but either way having my tools together, protected , knowing where they are and being accessible just makes life easier. Now if I can make everything lighter….
That’s a really good idea to make a scaled down version, didn’t think about that. Still a scaled down version for me is a cabinet on the wall, I still don’t like doors though because when open (which is most often if not all the time the items on the wall behind the doors (when open) are hidden, i am figuring out what i don’t use often but want available and will put that stuff there. Thinking maybe a hybrid solution would work because I like the idea of the chest but for me it’s not practical but the “scaled down version” you described has me thinking deep thoughts…
Thank you very much ! I didn’t bu8ld this one yet: more focused on the small Dutch tool chest. But it’s on my list. Chris: if I understand right, this evolution is in the new version of the Anarchist book?
I have not updated “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” since it’s first publication in 2011. These blog entries are a way to explain how we now build the chest. “The Anarchist’s Design Book” is the one we expanded this year. This tool chest is *not* in that book. Sorry for the confusion.
Cheers for pointing it out 😉
Glad I’m in the “52 dovetail club”. I guess… I’m sure the reduction in dovetails makes a big difference, but getting mine squared up and assembled was a major win…
(of course I’m still completing the lid, though,…)
I appreciate the updates, as after owning the book for seven years, I am now getting around to building the chest. I want a safe place for my edge tools after I pass. They are now on shelves and in cabinets in the shop. My worse fear is my edge tools will be dumped in a cardboard box and stored in a damp garage when the time comes. This chest along with the casket I made last summer and I’m good to go. Bob Glenn
OK, I have to know. Do the casket and tool chest match?
I didn’t give all the dovetails much thought when reading “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” as I’m using my Great-grandfather’s chest as the guide for my chest. The photos of his chest reveal five visible pins with possibly 2 or 3 behind the skirts on each corner. The skirts are mitered and nailed. It amazes me that it has withstood basement and garage humidity in western Indiana for over 100 years. When I photographed it 5 years ago the tools were in fairly good shape including his handmade scraper and a saw with the Winchester “Old Trusty” rifle, horse and rider still visible.
I’ve benefited from all the blog posts as I worked on my “2 day” chest. It would be great to index the posts as there were so many. Some that I used/found really helpful are:
-changing angle of the bevel on the skirts
-extend till slides to front of chest
-how to wrap the dovetailed skirts around the chest. I used this approach to wrap the dust seal around the chest. Rear dust seal is hinged to upper back skirt.
-using a single pull in the middle of a till
I struggled with how to get the dust seals tight to the upper skirt and have the lid close to the top of the chest walls. I ended up planing the edges to fit tight to the upper skirt. The lid was placed on the chest with spacers (tissue box cardboard), then The dovetailed dust seals slid down the lid to rest on the skirts. I pinned with finish nails to re-align during glue up.
I would like to sign up for the “punishment whip” class. Is that wrong? Sent from my iPhone
I really appreciate that yard stick tip. The part of dovetails I’ve had the hardest time dealing with is marking the pin board. I always seem to mess up getting the boards lined up. I’m going to give this a try. Thanks.
A Stripe of blue tape should serve the same purpose.
I’ve found with the large carcase panels, there’s often enough cupping (doesn’t take much!), to make blue tape at the baseline ineffective. I tend to show that on the skirt DT transfer; more reliable on those 6”-wide pieces.
I’ve signed up for a class this summer with Megan to make the ATC. I’m excited. Looking forward to seeing what the changes will be and this series. To get ready for the class, I am retreading the ATC book. Also, I have started to read The Tookbox Book by Jim Tolpin. What a fantastic book.
You might find this funny, I wanted to use my own tools to build the ATC. As such, I have nearly finished building a toolbox so I can build the tool chest. Figured it was better than showing up Lowes buckets with my tools,in them. I decided to go,with a medium sized Japanese carpenter box that held a solid set of tools but not everything I own. It measures about 30″ long by 15″ wide by 13″ tall. I then found an old post you did about how tool chests fell into about three sizes and mind solidly met the middle size. It was kind of cool.
I’m very much looking forward to building the largest sized ATC.
I forgot to add that the recommended process of fitting the till bottoms before building the tills and keeping the bottoms slightly longer eliminated a lot of stress and anxiety…
Hi Chris, I am currently building your chest and I have been trying to figure out how to handle the saw till/sliding till heights. You said in a blog entry a long time ago to make the saw till 9 1/2″, but that would leave over 1 1/2″ of empty space at the top of the chest (9 1/2″+1″+6″+3″+3″=22 1/2″ out of 24″). Is this intentional to have more space at the top or am I missing something? Seems like the saw till could afford to be 10 1/2″.
I am also trying to figure out a lid stay that is just a little more elegant than screwing bar stock to the side of the chest like you did after disposing of the chain. Having that extra space at the top of the chest might allow for that lid stay bar to be fit in some special way to the inside of the chest instead of the outside.
This is the kind of stuff I look forward to in an updated version of “The Anarchist’s Toolchest”!
I’ve written a lot about the chest over the years, so I don’t know the exact context of the sawtill comment. I can say that we make the sawtill lower now because we can. It allows more space above for whatever you want. Deeper tills. A lid-mounted sawtill. So configure things as you want, but the sawtill doesn’t need to be 13″ or 10-1/2.
The biggest change to the interior (which I’ll discuss in the coming week and have discussed before) is changing the runners so all the tills run the full depth of the chest.
On lid stays, my favorite is leaning the lid against the wall. I’ve tried a lot of other things.
Great. Now he needs to build a wall.
Could you update this blog post with the tag “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” please. It will make it easier to find this useful update when doing a search about the Tool Chest. Thanks!!!
Done. Thanks. I thought I had tagged it, but no…
I’ve used dovetails on many, many projects over the years but did not on this this chest. Having built the plywood version eight years ago with glued but joints, I’ve never regretted the time saved. If this chest as it sits today needed to be dissembled, it would have to be burned. Strong can be 20 times more than required and the version without the dovetails is 5. I’m good with that.
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