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My favorite project from 2014 is one I haven’t been able to talk much about, until now.

Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted and I collaborated on building a tool chest for a two-article series in Popular Woodworking Magazine. My article on building the chest will be in the August 2015 issue; Jameel’s article on the lid will be in the October 2015 issue.

The idea for this special chest spawned from my study of tool chests for three years leading up to my book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” While the vast majority of chests I studied were plain and utilitarian, a handful were not. The maker adorned the interior with veneer, banding, stringing and even framed and moulded photos of half-naked women.

Why did they do this? Popular myth is that it served as the calling card for the woodworker as a display of skill, or that it was a project required by masters of the apprentices as a rite of passage. The equally compelling explanation is the woodworker did it to please himself or herself – end of story.

That’s why Jameel and I embarked on this project together. We thought it would be fun. And it was.

The chest itself is a design I have refined after years of studying and building chests. Nothing about it is arbitrary. As a result, it can hold an impressive number of tools in a compact space (18” x 18” x 30”) and make them easily accessible to the user.

It also is designed to be easier to build than a full-size floor chest, but the joinery is carefully designed to withstand the type of abuse I’ve seen on chests that have survived 200 years or more.


The interior panel is all Jameel. While you might know Jameel for his workbench hardware, his MagBlocks or perhaps his painting, he has incredible marquetry and carving skills. And he pulled out all of the stops for this panel, which took more than 100 hours of work.

The most nerve-racking part of the project (for me) was fitting Jameel’s panel onto the assembled carcase and then building the dovetailed dust seal around it without nicking the finished panel or getting any glue on his polished marquetry.

But it all worked out OK.

The chest is outfitted with hardware from blacksmith Peter Ross, including chest hinges and a sexy crab lock. (If you want to learn more about the hardware, check out these DVDs.)

For me, the best part of the project is where it is sitting right now: In Jameel’s workshop. He plans to use it to store tools. And that’s what it was built to do – not to be on permanent display under glass somewhere.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 4 comments
  • amvolk

    I didn’t realize in the previous post that the dividers, saw and chisels are not inlay, but 3-D carvings based on the shadows they cast in the second photo. I’d really like to see a real close-up view of them with an angled light to really appreciate the detail.

  • robert

    And if you want to be amazed at the amazing variety of people and viewpoints that populate the web, google “sexy crab lock.”

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