Portable Tool Box Build

Wooden Tool Box

After posting this image of a tool box on Facebook, I soon had many comments such as, “Made one of these 30-odd years ago at college during my apprenticeship,” and “Made one of those in 1975 before I went to uni.” Freddy Roman had also picked one up. It’s not a common design within the books I have. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I’d speculate that perhaps it’s so humble as to be overlooked in favour of chests, stand-alone units and wall-hanging cabinets. In addition, it typically uses plywood (a relatively modern industrial product) fixed over a wooden frame to keep things strong and light. A fellow apprentice made one when I was at college, too. I never got around to making one; I used an open plywood tote for many a year before “upgrading” to my current Stanley tool box.

I did find an example in H.F. Marfleet’s “Pictorial Guide To Woodworking Tools.” Please don’t feel you need to hurry to get a copy, but if you find one cheap, it’s good fun. It’s a book that is never afraid to tell you are WRONG in capital letters. It’s almost as if it’s written by a long-suffering woodshop teacher who had seen enough untidy benches and poorly maintained tools to last a lifetime!

Tool Box Book

I’m going to be making the tool box from Beech – mainly because there are a few boards of it hanging around our shop; also, it’s a nice, easy timber to work. That also raises another point: Many people mentioned (on Facebook) how within North America, beech is deemed unstable – but the European stuff we use seems pretty reliable. If you have any thoughts on that, I’d be interested to know. (perhaps it’s how the boards are milled and kilned, or perhaps it’s a variation of species?)

What this tool box is not is a “perfect solution” – but let’s face it: there never a perfect solutions to anything in life. However, it does offer a degree of portability for some essential tools, or a neat way to store a more pared back hand tool kit, for when more of the work is done with power tools. The construction methods are simple too – and they can be really simple if you stick with the tried-and-tested plywood, but if you want to make it as a bit more of a skill builder, use solid wood and add in a bit more joinery.

Tool Box Build

I hope to have a video up next time; more than likely it’ll be over two or three installments. I’m not going to do a heavily detailed build and I warn you there will be heavy use of FFWD where I deem it appropriate – but I will endeavour to share some sizes and reasons for choices within the video, too. I’m also trying to source a better mic so I can try to improve the video experience a touch in the short term before I can get a halfway decent camera. Anyway, if you’ve used or made a tool box like this feel free to leave a comment below.

— Graham Haydon

CATEGORIES
PWM Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs
Graham Haydon

About Graham Haydon

Graham Haydon is a Joiner based in the UK, working in the same woodworking business his great grandfather started in 1926 alongside his father, brother and a small team of craftspeople. The business makes custom architectural joinery, simple furniture and custom kitchens along with a variety of other woodworking projects. He served an apprenticeship in both Joinery and Carpentry and also gained a National Certificate in Building Studies. During his spare time he enjoys woodworking mainly with hand tools.

30 thoughts on “Portable Tool Box Build

  1. whitebear

    I’ve been using one similar to this since 1974.Also similar to the one Saint Roy featured on an episode of his show-the episode is available from Popular Woodworking videos-season 21 episode 3. There was a good how-to in Fine Homebuilding magazine Dec1996/Jan1997 issue,written by Scott Wynn. On mine the tray pivots out to about thirty degrees(just enough to allow full access) rather than slides out like a drawer,which I find more convenient-it stays attached to the box,lessening the chance of it getting upset,lost,or “borrowed”. Some people say this type of box is inconvenient to work out of when working at a bench. I made my bench a little wider,then set the box on the bench at the back-works good for me-I still have two feet of bench space. It’s more convenient than a cabinet mounted to the wall over the bench imho. I’ve been thinking about building another with multiple drawers to store some of the tools I’ve acquired since getting more into handtoolwork,so I’m looking forward to your build-up.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks for the comment whitebear.

      Good to hear yet more love for this design. I’ve finished up a few projects an will be posting some info on them today, then it’ll be back on to the tool box.

      Best

      G

  2. keithm

    Roy Underhill had a plan / show on one of these a few years ago. He called it a 1940’s carpenter’s box. He used to have a plan online, but it seems to have gone 404. Ted’s Woodworking might have a copy 🙂

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi keithm

      Sound like my initial thoughts although it seems popular before the 1940’s too. I’m sure Roy made it a very enjoyable project!

      Best

      G

  3. stevetech99

    If you look at the first illustration you should have all the dimensions you need. Basically it needs to be long enough to fix your panel saw to the back of the lid and thin enough you can carry it under your arm on the bus. All other sizes are optional. I would suggest either ½” or ⅝” pine for the caracas and ½” ply for the front and back. It needs to be right but strong as this a a box for taking on site. Some people put a handle on the top to carry it.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Good tips!

      This first version I’m making will be a partially portable box. Some nice features but likely to be a touch to heavy. I’ll go for the more honest workmanlike version too, just as soon as this one is done.

      Best

      G

  4. stevetech99

    Thats a standard British joiners toolbox popular in the 1940s and 1950s. You see loads of then at yard sales.

  5. pizza

    I actually have two of these. Both having been made by my dad, a carpenter. One is a more crude one and the other much more refined with three trays instead of one and it also has those brass outside corner protectors at each outside corner. He has since passed and I treasure that toolbox. And still use it. I am currently looking for a replacement handle though since it was made of leather and the leather has disintegrated long ago. Its been tough to find a suitable handle. The box stores two Disston hand saws (one rip and one cross cut) nicely as well as various essential tools like hand chisels, door hinge jig, brace and bits.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks pizza!

      They do seem to be the carpenter’s friend! Nice that you have two examples from your Dad. I’m really drawn by the simple versions too so I think I’ll knock one up after getting this one done. Thanks for sharing your experience, hope you track down a decent handle!

      Best

      G

  6. Jnock

    As a retired builder in the UK I can say that this design of toolbox is far from unusual here. I have seen many similar ones during my career.
    Regarding the comment that the rarity may be due to the best material being plywood for lightness, well ply has been around a good many years; far longer than I have. (Wiki mentions a patent going back into the 18th century but larger scale manufacture seem to have got going in France in the mid 1800’s)
    I think the popularity of this design lies in its simplicity and ability to be adapted to suit the owner’s needs. It’s also closed and capable of being locked; regrettably a necessity these days.
    JohnN

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Hi Jnock

      Agreed, ply is not new but perhaps decent(ish) ply and a reasonable price has? Not sure on that I must admit but they do seem to work really well with ply. Must do some research into the history of ply now :-). Agreed, It’s a shame about locks, regrettable but necessary.

      Best

      G

      1. Jnock

        Graham
        I don’t think carpenters or joiners working on site would be too worried about cost as they would have ample opportunity to use offcuts or spare material from the sites they work on.
        With regard to the comment about ply thickness I would suggest 12mm ply (half inch) would be a bit too meaty (heavy) and 6mm would be thick enough for cladding the sides, especially if you take the trouble to reinforce the corners with campaign hardware.
        And on the subject of replacement handles there are plenty on the Net if you google ‘toolbox handles’ and I have seen it suggested that buying an old suitcase might be the answer.
        J

        1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

          Good point Jnock

          I think 6mm ply would be more than ample and make it easier to carry. i found some nice fittings on ebay. I’ll pass on those for this version but I will use them on my ply version to follow on from this one. Like the idea of raiding a scrap suitcase!

          Best

          G

  7. trevorhamilton

    made one of these back in 1973 or so ; made of pine and 1/4 ply with box joints two’ full size drawers& saws hang on door, misplaced when moving house

  8. papa1peterson@gmail.com

    My dad and his brother Lloyd both had one I think their father made them for them. I’m 69 so you can see they’ve been around for a long time.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      I’m quickly discovering that these are perhaps one of THE most popular ways to store and transport tools and for longer than I first assumed.

      Cheers

      G

  9. Tom

    I have one similar to this that I bought used close to 30 years ago. It’s larger: 31 1/4 x 13 1/4 x 6 1/2. No dovetails, just rabbeted corners on 5/8″ pine frame and 1/4″ fir plywood panel sides. Heavy brass corners (8) let in. Single latch and a steel handle; piano hinge on the door. Four separate drawers/trays on the inside (2 rows of 2 each). It has served me well over the years.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Sounds Perfect Tom!

      I picked up a version too, shop made, very similar to yours. I’m looking forward to making a version of this classic!

      Regards

      Graham

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks Bill,

      It’s been a long time since I went fishing but the format would make a nice tackle box for sure.

      Best

      G

  10. TikhonC

    I very much appreciate your regular use of FFWD. I can be so tedious watching videos that show every action in real time.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks TikhonC

      It is good to get the detail from full length videos but in the same breath time is short. The FFWD are good for the more entertainment side of things that I do, my kids enjoy watching them as well which is kinda nice.

      Best

      G

  11. blefty

    I made one of these 17 years ago based on a plan in Fine Woodworking. The author had made his to be a worksite tool box. His was made from Paulownia. I couldn’t find Paulownia in East Tennessee so I used red oak and Baltic birch. It was my first set if dovetails, I didn’t bother to cut any practice ones…I should have..but they look pretty good I must say. I added a set of drawers on the inside and used the inside of the door for saws, etc. The bottom holds 3 hand planes and a 2 ft. level protected under the door hinges. I still have it.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Thanks for that blefty,

      I think I have underestimated just how popular and how long this design has been used for. Strong ply, dovetails, no surprises that yours at countless others have remained very durable.

      Best

      G

  12. jurgen01

    I made two of these toolboxes about 15 years ago — one for each grandson at age four. I made the toolboxes of walnut, finished them with several coats of oil finish, and then added brass campaign hardware to the corners. The tool boxes turned out beautifully. I then stocked them with a tool kit appropriate for young children and gave them as birthday gifts. Nice projects; nice gifts.
    Great work on the videos!
    Thanks.

    1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

      Nice one jurgen01!

      That’s a neat idea on the campaign vibe, Walnut too! Very nice. I have a bit of Walnut that I might use for the tills/drawers. I’m sure your crafted gifts stuffed with potential were well received.

      Best

      G

    2. joerenta@yahoo.com

      A great idea and one I know the grandsons still hold dear. Would you have any direction as to where I could go to find plans? I built my 3 year old grandson a wooden toolbox w/tools. So far only 1 has been broken. I would like to make him something more like what you mentioned if plans are still available.
      Thanks
      Joe

      1. Graham HaydonGraham Haydon Post author

        joerenta@yahoo.com

        I will get around to doing a more honest and simple version like most people are describing. The picture at the top gives a pretty good overview. A wooden case with ply glued and nailed/screwed on and a door aperture cut out. Give me a few weeks and I’ll have a version up.

        Best

        G

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