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).
When I built my first tool chests, I dovetailed the carcase and then immediately nailed on the bottom boards. My goal was to use the bottom boards to pull the case square (if it needed it) and then hold it square as I attached the skirts around the outside.
The downside to this approach is that the bottom gets in the way of clamping the lower skirt to the carcase. Once we changed the order of operations, it became much easier to get the lower skirt attached to the carcase with few (if any gaps). Here’s what we do now:
- Dovetail the carcase, level the joints and plane off any machine marks.
- Assemble the carcase, and work like heck to get the case square at both its top and bottom. You need to check for square at both openings.
- Dovetail the skirts, as per the book’s instructions.
- Nail temporary 3/4”-thick blocks to the bottom rim of the carcase. These represent the future location of the bottom boards.
- Glue the lower skirt in place, making sure it is flush with the temporary blocks mentioned above.
- When the glue has dried, remove the blocks and put in the bottom boards.
We’ve also changed the bevel we cut on the skirts. In the original book I planed a 45° bevel on all the skirts. That’s fine, but a steep bevel looks much nicer. Now we use an approximately 30° bevel and leave a flat at the top of the bevel that’s about 3/16”. That flat area allows us to miter a 3/16” bead moulding around the skirt (if the customer wants it).
For many years, we made our own bottom boards for the chests and used shiplap joints or (my preference) tongue-and-groove joints on their long edges. Now we purchase ready-made tongue-and-groove pine boards from the home center. It’s cheaper and saves time.
The material is sometimes sold as pine “carsiding” in 1×6 or 1×8 sizes. You can find it in different grades. I suspect they are No. 1 and No. 2 grades, but they aren’t always marked that way in the store. You’ll know when you find No. 2. It looks like No. 2 (yes, that’s a scatalogical joke).
On the original chest, the rot strips were installed flush to the bottom edge of the lower skirt. Now we make the bottom boards flush to the bottom edge of the lower skirts. And the rot strips are proud of the skirts. This new arrangement prevents the skirts from getting wet and rotting. And the rot strips are now easier to replace when they get funky.
Finally, we now plane a 45° bevel on the long edges of the rot strips to make it easier to slide the finished chest across the shop floor.
— Christopher Schwarz