Roy Underhill’s Nail Cabinet
by Christopher Schwarz
One of the enduring features of Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop” PBS television show is the familiar and rambling backdrop of former projects, parts, tools and wood that frames most episodes. My favorite item in his shop is his nail cabinet – a pine wall-hung cabinet tucked in the far back corner.
On the inside of the door of the cabinet, Roy has hung a print of a lovely lady holding a bock beer alongside an admiring goat. And while that’s some nice lens candy for the television cameras, I’m more attracted to the 21 drawers on the right side of the cabinet. These drawers are more useful to the married woodworker.
Nail cabinets show up frequently in traditional workshops of many trades, and they are illustrated and discussed in books about traditional shops. These cabinets stored the screws, nails and bolts that a workshop might need. And because these fasteners were valuable, many of the cabinets would have a lock.
The last time I visited Roy, I asked permission to measure and reproduce his nail cabinet, which he purchased during a yard sale in Washington, D.C. As I measured the piece, I was bemused by its unusual construction – it was a finger-jointed carcase covered in nailed-on battens.
Then Roy showed me the reason for the odd construction: The cabinet was built from an old crate for Ohio Blue Tip Matches made by the Ohio Match Co. of Wadsworth, Ohio (1895-1987). For me, this made the project even more fun: I had to first build a crate and then turn it into a wall cabinet.
As a result, some of the construction techniques might seem a bit odd. If you don’t like them, feel free to change them. My goal was to make a respectable reproduction of this charming cabinet because I’ve always liked the one on Roy’s show.
Blog: Read about the fasteners the author recommends for a traditional shop.
Plan: Download a SketchUp model of Roy Underhill’s nail cabinet.
In Our Store: Classic episodes of the “The Woodwright’s Shop” on DVD.
To Buy: “Mastering Hand Tools 2-Disc DVD,” by Christopher Schwarz.
Blog: Learn a few indispensable tips to make age-old fasteners invaluable for simple, strong joinery.
Blog: “Hey, is that a ‘Nib’ on Roy’s Nail Cabinet”