Anarchist’s Tool Chest Update 4: Tool Rack & Sliding Tills



The tool rack on the front wall of Christopher Schwarz’s Anarchist’s Tool Chest – the chest he built for the book.

Editor’s note: As promised, Christopher Schwarz 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). But the tool rack discussion isn’t an improvement; it’s an addition. And because the choices on saw storage can affect the tills, I’ve written a bit about them, too.

Tool Rack

When Chris and I were discussing what to include in this series, I said, “What about the tool racks?” which he and I do differently. He replied, “The tool rack isn’t in the book.”

You’d think I’d remember that…having read the book a time or two!

So here are our tool racks – in each case, a piece of scrap stock with a series of 1/2″ holes drilled 1-1/8″ on center. They have a bead on the top edge because we’re fancy…and we like our beading planes. Both racks are simply screwed in place on the inside front wall of the chest, which makes them easy to remove if need be for repair or replacement.

But they are slightly different. Chris has a saw till in the bottom of his chest, because a) that’s traditional and b) he has more long handsaws than do I, and needs a place for them in his chest. I have but two panel saws, which are stored on the underside of the lid of my chest at home. (If I need a large handsaw at the Lost Art Press shop, Chris is kind enough to let me use his.) Note: Chris has improved/changed the way he now builds the floor saw till; you can read more about that here.


Here’s a detail shot of one of the two uprights in Chris’s saw till. Note the backsaw on the left edge of the picture, stored toe down between the longer saws. The wall at the back of the till keeps other tools from getting knocked into the saws, and serves as a stop for the lowest till.


Here’s my first ATC, which is in my shop at home. I used the underside of the lid to store my longest saws (which, like me, are actually rather short).

Chris uses the space between his longer saws to store his shorter backsaws, putting them toe down in between the longer saws. I store mine behind my tool rack, which is bumped out a little bit from the front wall of the chest with some scraps.

So while Chris’s tool rack is about 1″ thick x 1-1/4″ wide, mine’s closer to 1-1/4″ x 1-1/4″, because I need the extra width to catch one side of my saw handles, and have enough room for the holes and handles of the pokey tools that hang in them (chisels, screwdrivers and the like). The little scraps that bump it out from the wall are about 1/2″-5/8″ thick.

Mine is also a bit lower in the chest – at around 8″ – because I needed enough vertical space for the my saw handles. Chris based the location of his off his longest chisel handle (plus an inch or so). Yours should be located based on what you’re going to put in it – not our measurements (though 6-1/2″ to 8″ is a decent starting point).


This is the tool rack in my chest at the Lost Art Press shop.

In the detail shot of Chris’ chest above, you can see a similar setup on the front of his saw till – he added that rack a few years back to hold larger chisels and the like when his front rack got full. It’s a few blocks to hold the tools out from the till wall, with a 3/8″ thick (or so) scrap in front to catch the handles.

Sliding Tills

The front-to-back depth of the sliding tills is based off being able to fully slide them just past one another so that you can easily access stuff in the lower tills. Because I have no floor saw till for the sliding tills to run into, I was able to make my tills slightly wider than what’s in the book … but I must confess that on my first chest (the one in my basement), I made them about 1″ wider than is ideal. They’re 10″ … because the carcase interior is 20″ front to back. But of course the top one runs into the handles of the tools in my rack, and the middle ones runs into the rack itself. Oops. (Still, it’s not debilitating.) Now, I make the tills about 9-1/4″ front to back, which is only 1/4″ more than what’s in the book. I guess I do that just to be different; it doesn’t gain me much storage!

But as I noted above, Chris has changed the way he builds the saw till, so it now sits just below the runners for the bottom till, allowing him to bring that runner (and the one for the middle till) all the way to the front of the chest.

— Fitz

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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10 Responses to Anarchist’s Tool Chest Update 4: Tool Rack & Sliding Tills

  1. Steve V says:

    This is a very useful series. About a year ago or so I tricked myself into building the plywood version of this chest (as a prototype for the real thing I told myself) using the improved saw till method. I absolutely love this chest. The proportions are on the larger end of the spectrum as I wanted a wider lower saw till to accommodate my 3 panel and 3 back saws. Upshot is its built like small Sherman tank and comfortably fits every hand tool I own and then some. The sliding tills also work beautifully.

    I’m currently tricking myself into thinking I still need to build the “real” version – you know, the one made out of “real” wood with dovetails etc. I just need to figure out what to do with 2 ATC’s and a Dutch toolchest (with lower storage unit). I like your innovation for storing back saws. Having lived with my chest for a while now, I think it’s the only thing I’d slightly change. I’d keep the low profile to permit the lower sliding till to travel fully but would probably opt for narrower saw till next time to maximise real estate for hand planes. A more efficient saw till could probably be accomplished by alternating the seating direction of saws so the handles don’t abut, or by using your innovation.

  2. eahiggins121 says:

    Megan, this is super helpful. I have yet to completely outfit my Dutch Tool Chest and will use these tips for that. Also, I am still looking forward to taking the ATC class with you when things get back to normal–or however you would describe the situation up to January of this year.

  3. Bob Glenn says:

    Keep it coming. I am gluing up the raised panel lid today and will move on to the interior later in the week. Your timing, or mine is spot on. Appreciate your updates. Bob Glenn

  4. I’d like to picture myself as someone using hand and panel saws. But I’m not. I have a crappy bandsaw in the garage I use for breaking down stock that I can’t fit down the cellar stairs.

    So, I took out the saw till on the floor of my ATC. No more hand saws taking up valuable space. I did a tool rack on the front face exactly as you did — back saws hanging behind chisels, marking gauges, dividers, etc. I set the rack to leave room for the handle of my longest backsaw, a Wenzloff 77.

    Most woodworkers seem to focus on the tool chest’s shell. But over time, smoothly gliding tills and the sweet hanging tool rack is what makes the ATC such a joy to use.

  5. TABlank says:

    Have you given any thought to posting these ATC modifications as .pdf files? Would make them simpler to save for future reference when I build my ATC.


  6. Rye says:

    Thanks for these updates LAP. Anyone know what would be the disadvantages of putting the tool rack along the back wall?

  7. John says:

    Hi All,

    I am finishing up the outside of my first Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and I am at the point where the hinges are installed, but I have not yet glued on the lid’s dust seal. Everything is looking good (nice 1/16″ step all around the edges of the front and sides), but I am concerned about installing the lock.

    Should I install the lock now, before gluing on the lid’s dust seal, or after? See, if I glue the dust seal now, I wont be able to use a small router plane when cutting the shallow mortise in the lid for the strike plate. But if I install the lock first, could that cause unforeseen problems with gluing/fitting the lid’s dust seal? I’ve never seen anyone online discuss this problem and there is very little information about installing the lock in the book.

    It seems to me that if you cut the strike plate mortise just a fraction too deep, even on one side, it won’t engage with the lock. With that kind of depth-of-cut accuracy required, I think a router plane is a boon. But again, after the dust seal is glued on, there isn’t enough space for a router plane.

    Any help or thoughts would be appreciated.


    P.S. Lie-Nielsen has discontinued their drawer lock chisel pair. They are not really necessary for a large tool chest like this, but does anyone know of an alternative source? I would like something nicer than a sharpened allen wrench. Thanks.

    • fitz says:

      You can get in there with a router plane once the seal is on. Just find some offcuts the exact depth of your seal’s projection, and slap them up against the seal to either side of the area to be mortised. You then have a level surface on which to register the plane’s sole (you’ll have to lower the blade a bit more, of course)

      • John says:

        Hi fitz,

        I didn’t even think of using spacers like that! Yet another consideration for the updated edition of “The Anarchist’s Toolchest”, I suppose.

        These blog posts outlining the updates have been really helpful for me especially considering I am nearing the part that has been racking (ha!) my brain since the start: laying out and organizing the innards of the chest. In this post your chest’s tool rack seems to be a hybrid between Chris’s 1/2″-holes and this one from a blog post 6 years ago!

        Thanks again!


        • fitz says:

          A combination, rather … but Chris’ from six years ago is based on mine from 10 years ago 🙂

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