When I was a new woodworker in the early 1980s I was in need of a general-purpose shop tool and storage cabinet. I had recently completed a cabinetmaking course at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College and was eager to put my new skills to work.
At about the same time I signed on to a small group tour that would spend a day with Sam Maloof in his shop. He lived and worked at his compound outside LA amidst acres of orange groves in Rancho Cucamonga. Need I say it was an inspiring experience! One of the many things I took note of that day was a storage cabinet Maloof had behind his table saw. He was known for using the saw as a workbench so the cabinet location was handy for his style of work. It was totally utilitarian and plain as dirt but I figured if it was good enough for Sam it was good enough for me.
So I built the cabinet you see above, based on my mental notes from the Maloof visit. His was different insofar as it had doors and mine was intended to have doors. I guess you could say 30 years on it’s still not finished. I’m not the ultimate procrastinator. I’ve concluded, or convinced myself, that door swings in a space-challenged shop is a luxury I can’t afford.
For my purposes, this cabinet has served me well. How well? Well enough that I stood the expense of moving it (along with my family, other household and shop goods) from Los Angeles to Ohio 20 some years ago. Good enough that I cut the bottom riser section off to get it down the basement stairs and into my shop at our last house, then cut out a chunk of the riser so it could straddle a hunk of foundation footer that arose from the floor.
I have a real relationship with old the piece. It’s like a close friend of 30 years. I know everything about it. I know exactly where to find everything, in spite of the fact that it appears rather disorganized. I’ve used the graduated drawers to hold the same categories of tools or supplies in the same order since day one. I have a history with it.
This cabinet will never be written up in a woodworking magazine. It’s just not pretty or exceptional in any way except to me. It doesn’t have a grand theory or historical rationale for its appearance and how it should be used. It’s no “Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” Yet, it could very well be the most useful thing I’ve ever made.
My grown son and I now share a shop space and that’s where the cabinet resides. He knows the contents as well as I do. After all, he’s been rummaging through it since he was a young boy.
We woodworkers often talk about building “heirloom” furniture that may be handed down to future generations. Here’s an example of a strictly utilitarian cabinet that was never intended to be such a thing yet seems to have made its first step in that direction. And it isn’t even finished.