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.