Chris Schwarz's Blog

Screw this Anarchist’s Tool Chest Stuff

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I’ve now built more than a dozen traditional tool chests entirely by hand. Hand-cut dovetails. Hand-cut mouldings. Hand-cut shiplaps and beads. Hand-cut blah blah blah.

These chests take me about 40 to 50 hours of pedal-to-the-metal work to get ready for finish.

Today, I built the entire shell and lid of a chest in less than five hours. The secret? Screws, of course.

When it comes to building a chest, I prefer the old methods. But not everyone can spend a month of Sundays building a chest to protect their tools. In some climates, their tools might be piles of rust by the time they finish building a chest.

And so I have reluctantly spent the last few weeks designing a chest that uses home center materials, home center joinery and only 16 hours of shop time to complete. To be a success, it had to function just like a traditional chest. It had to look like a traditional chest. But it had to be built with tradition shackled and gagged in the trunk of my Toyota.

The entire process is being filmed at F+W Media Inc. for a forthcoming DVD.

In the meantime, here are some details about the project that I think are interesting:

1. It requires one sheet of 3/4” shop-grade birch plywood and one sheet of 1/2” shop-grade birch ply. These make the carcase, lid and sliding trays.

2. The skirts and dust seals are made entirely out of one 12’-long 1×12 of some solid wood.

3. The case is assembled with No. 8 1-1/4” screws, plus some finish nails and glue.

4. The required tool list is shockingly small.

5. Most shocking is how quickly the thing goes together. As one female friend would say: It’s faster than a hormonal teenage boy.

Of course, skeptics will say that I am building something that will not last. To which I say: poppycock. The construction methods I am using are taken directly from historical chests from my personal collection. And these chests are at least 150 years old and have been beaten like a filthy rug.

Yes, I will always prefer dovetails and the mortise-and-tenon joint. But not everyone has the time to do this. And if I had to choose between having a home-center chest or no chest at all, the answer is simple.

— Christopher Schwarz

If you want to know how I build a tool chest, you can check out the many videos and blog entries I’ve written on the topic here on the blog. A good place to start is here. If you want to read a book on the process, I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for you.

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38 thoughts on “Screw this Anarchist’s Tool Chest Stuff

  1. MStone

    We didn’t get an answer to the “When” question, as in When can we purchase this DVD? i’d like to make one at work but my bosses would never go for me spending 40-50 hours on a personal project, even if I did it after hours on my own time. The fast path, in this case would be appropriate.

  2. ausworkshop

    When will the video be ready? I’m dying to start on my chest but if I dont watch the video till after I make it I know there will be something I’ll regret. Hopefully the dvd will be better value than the $35 – 30min scraper sharpening video I bought recently. Watched once. Learned nothing new but hey it’s the Schwarz!

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick

      The LN video? Pretty sure that’s only $20. If we overcharged you, please let me know and we’ll make amends. And I know we’re making the final edits on the new Schwarz DVD – should be soon!

      1. ausworkshop

        I bought the video at the hand tool event here in Australia so maybe that’s why I paid so much more (we always pay more for things here in Aus), never mind, I got to meet Chris and got a signed copy of his book which is great, just thought the DVD was a bit over priced for 30mins. I learned more from the free online video which went longer and cost me nothing. I didn’t get a receipt so i guess I can’t prove anything anyway. Maybe next time I’ll order direct from the USA and pay postage, might work out cheaper.

  3. johnover

    Hello Chris

    This is Perfect – I was going to try this to hold some tools, while I cut and dried wood for the permanent Anarchy. Not to push you to hard, But Hurry, Hurry, Hurry!

    Oh, and if you need someone to test????

    Thanks

    John

  4. dthorpe@sbcglobal.net

    I like the cheast and believe it is completely in the spirit of traditional chest. But also I see the portable chest on your bench. That is exactly what I have been looking for. I want to carry around my tools when I go camping or go to another shop. That looks like it is big enough to carry around by my self and hold my saw ect. Can you share more details on that?

    David from Austin

  5. PWFan

    Both the plywood and the solid pine chest published in ATC have their strengths. An advanced beginner/ budding intermediate woodworker, I could have come up with a similar plywood version if all I wanted was tool storage. I chose the pine version because I wanted to develop traditional joinery and construction skills for larger pieces at the same time I built something that looks good and is useful. I only have hand tools and a few hours every week to work on projects, which is why it’s taken a year to complete the chest, but I am happy that I used the chest and the ATC book as an intensive self-paced woodworking course.

  6. fortrat

    The dovetailed boxes are undoubtedly more beautiful in execution, but we have to remember why craftsmen of old used dovetails. Aside from being not as strong, screws were very expensive and not as easy to get as today. By the mid to late 1800s, hardware as we know it was becoming more plentiful, and many craftsmen turned to mechanical joints for simple projects like this.

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