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Tool Chest 2

Antiques stores are often a draw for me and I’m sure for many fellow woodworkers. You can be sure to find inspiration and education in equal measure. While browsing through one of the local venues I found a smart-looking tool chest. Chatting with the owner I discovered the chest was brought in by a person late in years and was reputed to belong to their Grandfather, who was a lifelong tradesman. It stands about 36” long, 20″ high and 20” deep, more than ample for a core of essential tools.

Tool Chest 1 Cover

What pleased me as I looked more closely is that Mr. Langmaid was able to construct a handsome, durable and well-made piece that was highly likely to of been there with him throughout his life’s work. Looking at the external surfaces the joinery is typical. I could just about make out the dovetails through the faded paint, still as tight today as when they were first made. The dust seal is mitered and the plinth is just a plain butt joint. These areas have taken a beating but in the process helped protect the chest from any serious damage. The joint between the lid and the dust seal is emphasized with a cock bead. This detail is also reflected as you look inside. Lift the lid up and it supports itself perfectly without noticeable strain on the hinges and without the need for a chain, thanks to the interaction between the back of the lid and the dust seal.

Tool Chest 6

Although on the outside the chest is pine, the inside has been lined and tills made from Mahogany. The tills are sensibly proportioned with convenient divisions. They also feature a very cute use of the cock bead detail. By nosing the base and then nailing it to the underside of the till, a cock bead is created, softening the transition between each till. The tills really do have some of the tightest-fitting half-lap dovetails I have seen, fine furniture included. I could not find even a trace of a gap or an overcut line anywhere. Clearly this person was able to produce first-class work even within the constraints of time and money that were as much a part of yesterday as they are today.

Tool Chest 7

There were also some tools left inside. Most of the tools that are still relevant to the DIY enthusiast or tradesperson, such as screw drivers and chisels, are long gone. However, an early Stanley No.6, a toted wooden smoother, wooden jack and a few other morsels were still in there. A couple of rogue saws had found refuge but alongside them a very handsome tenon saw was resting. I’m always delighted to find tools in this condition. Although neglected for some time, this tenon saw has seen a lifetime of use. The handle is in fantastic condition, no broken or missing parts and with a similar patina to the rest of the chest. I feel it’s likely that when Mr. Langmaid placed the saw in the chest for the last time it was free from rust and had sharp teeth, but had been totally exhausted. The crooked and wonky teeth do not fit the person behind this chest and were most likely caused by good intentions of someone else without the skills of Mr. Langmaid.

Tool Chest 5

The store owner felt it most likely the chest would be cleaned up and used as a piece of furniture within its own right, and while I might like to think it would be special to see this chest used again for its original and intended purpose, I am also happy to think of this piece transitioning into furniture.

Tool Chest 8

And so, if you can tell a person by their shoes you can surely tell a craftsperson by the chest. Mr. Langmaid understood how to proportion and make long-lasting, strong and flawless joinery. He could combine wood and detailing to create an impression of understated quality that is as easy on the eye now as it was then. You’d only have to peer inside his tool chest to know that if you had commissioned him or he was assigned to your project you were in safe hands. I like to think of the person I know only through a short meeting with his tool chest as a reflection of his tenon saw. A long and productive life with every ounce of potential used and now resting peacefully.

— Graham Haydon


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Showing 12 comments
  • NHWoodworker

    It is a beautiful chest, in the article you think it was made by Mr. Langmaid. This might not be correct, I have a chest that has been passed down through my family that is almost identical , so I wonder if this was a commercially made item. The interior of my chest is a little different in that it does not have a cover on the top one of the 3 interior boxes, these appear to be original and there is also a saw box, but this seems to be homemade. There are no casters on mine and none of the interior boxes have divided compartments. Mine is a faded blue in color and the pictures with the article look to also be that or a gray (mine is a little darker, possible the years were a little kinder to it). Like one of your other reader, there is no way I would turn it into a piece of furniture. It resides in my shop, filled with some old planes and other hand tools. My only problem is deciding which of my 2 sons to leave it to.

  • koldsteel

    I think this tool chest becoming modified as furniture is a travesty. I’d be ok with it as a storage chest. But something inside of me wishes that someone with a passion for hand tool joinery would give this chest a home.
    I built my son a tool box and reworked two Stanley planes (Type 11, 3 & 4), made him a mallet, etc. At 15 he has lost some interest in his tools in favor of cars and girls, but I still catch him in the shop looking through his tools. I know he will not part with them. Just something special about a handmade chest. Just my thoughts.


  • PhilImp

    Mr. Haydon and all,
    I have been blessed to have received as a gift from a friend, thier father’s tool box. Although it is not as “antique” as Mr. Landmaid’s, it was as finely crafted of pine and mahogany as well. Rather than let it sit as a collectors piece, I have it well stocked with moulding planes, hierloom saws, and hand planes; all passed down now for generations. I am proud to have the tool box, and was explaining the thought that goes into the design, “All tools are within an arm’s length,” to as family member just the other day.

    By all means these items as well as the tools they contain should be used as they were always intended to be worked, not dust gatherers.

  • tms

    Given the good condition of the saw’s handle and back, would you be tempted to have a new blade inserted?

  • Ken-The English Woodworker

    Very nice read Graham, so much that chest can tell us if we take the tine to look.

    Good job buddy

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