new small toolbox

In between a few recent projects I made a new small toolbox. Pretty early in the year for me to cut dovetails. It’s white pine, 11″ high, 12″ x 28″ on the outside of that lower skirt. Made it to replace an open tray that housed my boring tools and jigs for making JA ladderback chairs.  It was a great amount of blank space that bothered me, so you can see I started laying out some chip carving on the front.

But I can switch stuff out & travel with it too. Those snappy iron handles by Peter Ross make me want to pick it up.

There’s a till inside, for bits, line levels and other small stuff. Till lid is American sycamore.

One long divider inside, to separate the bit extenders we use in for boring the chair posts, the oak blocks for holding the posts when boring, etc. I’m going to make a removable tray to sit on top of that stuff next.


But I couldn’t leave it at that. I have two joined stools I’m coloring recently, so have been making a mess with milk paint. I had some mustard paint around that wasn’t going to make it on the stools, so I put some on this box. Then began the carving. I like chip carving, but don’t have the discipline to do the perfect job you see many doing these days. It’s too slow. Mine are best viewed from a distance.

Here is the toolbox with the open tray it’s replacing. And some of the stuff that’ll go in it.

And open.

It’ll never look that good again, it just got shoved under the other workbench. And there it will gather dust & get kicked around. That’s why I built it with the skirt to reinforce its construction. The chairmaking tools – braces, drawknives, bit extenders – are heavy. My mid-1980s Japanese-style toolbox is just to the left of it under the bench. In that are mostly student tools – extra spoon carving tools, random metal-bodied plane or two, extra braces, etc. Usually I move all that stuff to a temporary box when I travel. Now that will stay put & the yellow box will become the schizoid tool box. At home one thing, on the road another.

Here’s the toolbox that doesn’t move. I built it after Chris Schwarz wrote his book about them. And painted it too. I couldn’t bear to look at all that blank wood. I see from the links below that was January 2012. Time flies.


another argument for working out of a tool chest

I am a recent convert, like many, to working out of a tool chest instead of hanging tools on racks, using shelves, etc… (here are some old posts about it )

but there’s still lots of tools hanging around. I put a chisel away today, and found yet another argument for using the tool chest.

good reason for a tool chest

So I know some of what I will do in the shop tomorrow.

tomorrow’s task

Here is one of many boxes I made in the summer, when it was too hot for real woodworking. The blocks to separate the chisels were based on something I saw in the new edition of the Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton. (this detail is in the old edition too, but I was only looking at the book because I had got the new edition…)

mortise chisels

I got my copy of the Seaton book by joining the Tools & Trades Historical Society… – it’s worth a shot if you haven’t already done so. But it might be you have to buy the book at this point…I don’t know. You gotta have it either way.


what’s happening to me? walnut & dovetails – what’s next?


last year I finished this walnut chest. I was way out of my league making it, but it came out generally OK. I was left with a bunch of walnut leftovers…so many became parts of my tool chest. The main tool trays within the chest are quartersawn walnut that I resawed from the 1” thick stuff.

sliding trays, walnut

Then I continued by making smaller trays that within trays – and now I can’t stop.

I have gone on a tool-organizing frenzy. This past week I made a couple more, one for some carving tools, one for mortise chisels.

mortise chisels, carving tools

Today I got it in my head to make a small box with a drawer underneath. Ultimately this is going to  be divided up somehow to store a slew of piercer bits.

walnut tool tray w drawer

This batch of trays is homeless, the tool chest is already full. Maybe next winter I’ll make tool chest # 2.

Next week, I plan on finishing this walnut carved box. More DTs…I’ll get the hang of them yet. 

carved walnut box

Tomorrow, I plan on posting some of Jennie Alexander’s tools we have for sale. Starting with some bench planes. 

another day of painting

well now I’ve done it. I have to get this tool chest painted so I can get on with the rest of my life. But today I painted for about 4 hours or more. And was it tiring! Standing in one position all day. And there’s more to go.  but here’s what I got today.

I marked out some artificial spacing – created “stiles” on the ends of the chest front, and a center muntin. this way it mimics the lid above it.  Then I started outlining the designs for the resulting two panels. I chose to use stuff I know well, that reduced how much head-scratching I had to do…then I outlined the pattern in bone black pigment.

beginning the outline

The pine chest is not primed in any way, so it’s quite absorbent. Helps the paint dry quickly.

well on its way

Then came some yellow ochre, just like I did yesterday.

details & backgrounds


As before, I am figuring this out as I go.  Getting some paint on there helps to see where I have to go next.  There’s a lot of area to cover. Can’t leave anything blank.

the drawers

I knew I wanted fake drawer fronts on the skirt around the bottom of the chest; but I didn’t outline them in black, just scribed them with marking gauge & awl. So I will go back when this dries, and add outlines.

half done

This is the front, about half-done. Gotta figure out the “muntin” for this section; and add some details.  Next week I hope to finish the painting. Then I can start using the chest.

One nice part was standing at the window all day. Saw a red fox scoot by; but the camera was up on the tripod, so no shot of him. He’s a regular – I’ll get him at some point.


A solution to too much blank space…

first color

So I started painting the lid to my tool chest. It’s part 17th-century English, part 19th-century Pennsylvania. The lid has two flush panels in a frame, so it was easy to break it up into components. Here I have outlined some of the patterns in bone black pigment mixed in linseed oil.

yellow ochre

Next came yellow ochre, to do some of the backgrounds, and some small details on a long rail.

iron oxide

When I started these flower-shapes in red, at first the red ran all the way out to the black background. Then I quickly realized I like a white-ish outline. So I will go over this when the colors dry & outline these in white.

compass work in muntin

This is as far as I got; I hadn’t figured out the patterns for the rest of it yet…




it was the rust that got me…

Yup. I am one of the many who have followed along with Chris Schwarz’ book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest  & made a tool chest.

It was the rust that got me…

My shop at the museum has an ocean view. Good for the soul. Good for birding at lunchtime. But tough for iron & steel. When I read Chris’ note that one benefit of keeping tools in a chest was rust prevention, I was sold. I changed a bunch of things, some intentional, some otherwise. The lid I made has two panels that are flush with the framing. This way I can use strap hinges on the inside…those are on order now.  The dust seal on my lid is fixed to its bottom surface, not the edges. It gets the same effect, I think.

I’m not much of a dovetail-er…but now I have had some practice.

dovetails on box for gouges


My carcass is white pine, but the trays inside are walnut. I ran out of pine, and had a fair amount of the walnut leftover. So I ripped a bunch of it down to ½” thick and made the three trays from that. “Trays” doesn’t quite seem the right term for them, but I guess they aren’t quite drawers either.

I have never studied antique tool chests, so all I had to go on was the book; the way these trays ride is pretty nice. The lowest tray rides on slats fixed to the inside walls of the chest; but the trays are different widths. The narrowest is the bottom, the next one a bit wider and the top one is the full width of the chest’s interior. So to keep them from flopping laterally, you need to fix spacers beside the trays. In the case of the bottom tray, the spacers also serve as the runners for the next tray, and this repeats once more for the top tray. Chris used quartersawn white oak for his. Nice tough wood for sliding those heavy trays across.

re-used carvings

I decided to use some odd bits of carving demos for mine. (in this view, the top tray doesn’t have its bottom yet.) Couldn’t bear to use up new blank pieces of oak. This way we’ll know this chest is mine. Some of these were done during the shooting of the DVDs on carving. Some I make boxes from, but I don’t need three versions of each box around here. Others were carvings I did for demonstrations, but never finished them…

The trays’ bottoms are also oak, in this case riven clapboards I conned the carpenters into letting go. I planed them down to ¼” thick. Using a period-style bench makes planing this very thin stuff quite challenging. I used a simple lap joint between the boards; ship-lapped it’s sometimes called. In this case, I used machine-made nails; no sense using hand-made nails for this tiny work.

1/4" thick oak bottoms, ship-lapped

So far, I have put dividers in two of the trays; the clapboard bottoms flopped around a bit in the wide open middle of these long trays. So I inserted a divider, and nailed the bottom boards up to that.

top tray's divider, with another box inside

Today I made a tray-within-a-tray; to keep carving gouges in. This way I can just lift the small tray out of the box, and bring it to the bench. We’ll see how it goes. At this point, I’m at the stage where I am fitting various tools into the trays, etc.  It’s been a fun project, but I am continually reminded that I am a joiner, not a cabinetmaker. And that’s a good thing…joinery I can handle, this I’m barely getting by…

box for carving tools

But as I finish this part, I am planning the paint. And it’s not going to be any solid-color plain job. Wait til you see it. Remember the MFA cupboard?