Rethinking the Traditional Tool Chest
But not with tool chests.
I’m OK if you make your sliding dovetails with a router. I’m just Jim Dandy if you sand, scrape or plane your finished surfaces – we all end up at the same place (with differing amounts of debris in our nostrils). You can cut your tenons with a tenon jig, dado stack or multi-router. You won’t hear me complain.
But I’m adamant about the superiority of tool chests.
I’ve been working out of a traditional tool chest since 1997, and I did everything I could to resist it. Before I built my first chest, I built a wall rack. Then I built a wall cabinet based on an old Stanley design. Neither the rack nor the cabinet were as capacious or convenient as the simple tool chest I built based on an 18th-century design.
At the time, I wasn’t expecting the chest to be the answer to my prayers. It was a box to store stuff – nothing more. But after years of kicking the thing and reaching into it to grab the tool I needed, I began to understand things about tool chests that aren’t easy to explain with words.
Their design transcends rational thought. They are like an ark that carries something more than mated pairs of every living animal. They carry the ability to shape the environment around us – to change the future.
After I built my first chest I tried to deny its superiority. I built several wall racks. Then I made a beautiful tool cabinet. And I made even more racks in the window above my workbench. But my old tool chest was always right at my left hand. It held everything (and then some). It protected every tool from dust. I’ve never pulled a tool out of my chest and found it spotted in rust. That’s a big deal. I’ve had tools go to ruin that were wiped down and stored in the special “plane socks.” But tools in my chest have always stayed clean.
Why? In the end, who really cares why? The tools stay clean. They honestly and really do. I want to know why, but in the end I am just grateful that they are as pristine as the day they were made, even though they are 12 years old (or older).
In the December 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine I have an article on how to design a good tool chest. It’s an OK article, but it doesn’t address they fundamental and crazy advantage of tool chests – that they are the ultimate vault for the objects that allow you to build anything.
I don’t expect to convince the tool cabinteers or the wall rackers that they should build a tool chest. They have made their choice, and they can write their own articles or blog entries. But me? I have many long years invested in trying to snuff out the idea that tool chests are irrelevant to a 21st-century woodworker. I can’t. So I won’t.
— Christopher Schwarz
Want to explore tool chests in a deep way? I spent more than two years probing the historical and physical record of tool chests and their contents. The results changed the direction of my woodworking (and my career). You can read all about this in my latest book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” available in ShopWoodworking.com. Click here to begin your journey.