By Christopher Schwarz
Not everyone has the time, materials or skills to build a full-scale traditional floor chest, which can have as many as 100 dovetails and banks of precisely fit sliding trays.
And while I’m a fan of my large English tool chest, I’ve always been intrigued by the Dutch form, which I first spied in Jim Tolpin’s “The Toolbox Book” (Taunton) years ago. And after studying an authentic Dutch example owned by Roy Underhill, I decided to build a pair of these chests, try them out and see how they worked.
The Dutch chests turned out to be a surprise at every turn. They are simple to build – each took me only two days of shop time, compared to the 40 to 60 hours needed to build a full-size English chest. They required much less material. And, most surprising of all, they were great chests both for the shop and on the road.
Now I won’t lie to you, these Dutch chests aren’t as sturdy or as good-looking as a quality floor chest. But they are stout enough. And if you are short on time, materials or skills, they might just be the option you are looking for.
Built for Speed
These Dutch chests – one small and one large – are built identically. The only difference is the large chest has an extra lower compartment. If you have a lot of tools – and I mean a lot – then build the large one. Otherwise, build the small one; it holds plenty.
Made from dimensional pine, the sides of the chest are 1x12s. These are dovetailed to the bottom board. The shelves are dadoed into the sides and then nailed with cut nails through the outside for good measure.
The front and back pieces are all attached to the carcase with screws and glue – if you use a dry softwood, then the wood won’t move much in service and wood movement won’t be a problem.
The lid is attached to the carcase with strap hinges and falls at a 30° angle. Some written accounts say this angle is to keep rain off the chest; others tout the angled lid as a place to do some paperwork on the job.
The fall-front is the most unusual part of the chest and bears some explanation. The fall-front has two battens that lip behind the bottom lip of the carcase – kind of like a primitive hinge. The front is held in place by a sliding piece of wood that threads through the carcase, through catches on the fall-front and back into a notch in the bottom of the chest.
The result is that when the lid is closed and locked, the fall-front cannot be removed. It’s a clever precursor to the locking mechanism of machinists’ tool chests.
Start with the Hard Part
After cutting the chest’s sides and bottom to length, begin the joinery by dovetailing the sides to the bottom. Cut the tails on the sides and the pins on the bottom – this will make the chest stronger overall – even if the glue fails.
After cutting the tails on the sides, transfer the layout to the bottom and cut the pins on the bottom board, then fit the joints.
Videos: Take a video tour of both the large and small Dutch tool chests.
Blog: Read a comparison of Dutch and English tool chests.
Blog: Finish the Inside of a Tool Chest? Not me.
Online: Download SketchUp models of the Dutch chest in both sizes – Small Dutch Chest and Large Dutch Chest.
Blog: Read about other woodworkers who have built a Dutch chest.
Blog: Details on the Dutch Tool Chest.
To Buy: “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” by Christopher Schwarz.
In Our Store: “Two-day Tool Chest,” a DVD by the author on building an English chest using home-center materials and screws.
From the October 2013 issue, #206
Buy the issue now.