Fair Woodworking

July 21, 2014

Going Dutch on the Dutch Tool Chest

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorite tools,Favorites,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 11:23 pm

Tool chests are stupid!

There.

I said it, and it feels good.

I literally don’t like tool chests, but I also don’t really like to brush my teeth. However, like having teeth, owning tools may require some things we don’t like. I also don’t like, no screw that! I HATE top lifting lids. What a stupid idea! If you have a 12″ deep chest, you lose at least 12 inches of valuable real estate directly above the chest. Then you have morons that do these sloping lids that turn 12 inches into 15 or more inches.

It’s a fool’s paradise.

Sooo… With such strong opinions about this topic, how did I get here? Well I’ve been designing the perfect tool chest/box/shelf/backpack for nearly 15 years now.

After my first day as a trim carpenter, I went to Walmart and bought the largest Rubbermaid container I could wrap my arms around to hold all my new tools. It was perfect because I was certain that I could fit all my tools in it, and I could make just one trip from the work site to my truck at the beginning, and end of the day. Once I carefully fit all my tools in that tub, I discovered that I couldn’t much more than drag the blasted thing.

It was frigging heavy.

The next day I’d replaced the big tub with two smaller tubs and a 5 gallon bucket. It took me 3 trips now, but there was no risk of needing surgery after lifting any of them.

When the world rediscovered the monstrous/traditional English Tool Chest, my first thought was that it had the same problem as Gigantor the Rubbermaid container. It’s not portable, well, not with a one man crew at least. I recently learned that the awesome size of these chests was intentional so thieves would have to team up to steal them, and since thieves are not great at sharing, they would often get caught.  Well my tools will stay safe by staying with me, so the ATC is dead in the water.

When I first got into hand tools, I tried making different styles of small tool cases that fit the tools I had at the time.

But then I’d buy a new tool and the case was suddenly too small.

In the past couple of years, the DTC has found overwhelming popularity. I immediately approved of its lower half, but despised the upper half due to its massive gaping top lifting lid. The lower shelves with the removable front face was perfect. However the DTC had become so trendy that I felt like spitting every time it was mentioned.

What the world doesn’t need is another “I made a Dutch Tool Chest” post, I thought.

Now If you just have a couple of shelves for a tool chest, you will have a great place to store your block planes, smoothers, a plow plane, and what have you. But at some point you will start looking for a home for, oh, I don’t know… Perhaps a jack plane or a jointer. Oh, look I own saws as well…

This shelf idea falls flat on its face with these tools.

So let’s soften our stance a little on this top lid idea a little. Sloping lids are stupid, but I could live with a simple flat-topped lid.

Hey, a tool rack to hold my chisels, and screwdrivers would be awfully nice on the back. Ya, that is a good part of this lidded chest idea.

Hmmm. My chisels are kind’a tall. This is going to be a rather deep chest if they are going to stand on end like this.  Well they fit so nicely there on the back, I think it will be worth it.

Hmmm. The front of this chest fits my longer planes really well, but with a flat-topped lid, there will be tons of space above the planes, and reaching over the high front is going to be awkward. It may be better if I lowered the front a little…

Ahhhh Crap! How did that lid get sloped?!?

Through years of struggle, I finally accepted that the Dutch Tool Chest despite it trendiness and idiotic sloping lid, was actually very well designed.

Well it’s at least half well designed.

It’s still a little too big and heavy.

I know people will argue this point, and say “what are you talking about? I can lift my DTC. You are just a wimp”

Well just being able to lift something does not make it portable. Being able to lift your chest off one stool and set it down on another stool does not make it portable either. It makes it moveable.

My shop is in the basement. To get to my truck I need to get the chest out of the shop, up the stairs, down the hall, out the door, down the stairs, and up the driveway. The large DTC, and even the smaller DTC are not especially portable in my opinion.

That’s why I decided to go Dutch.

If you haven’t noticed, this chest is really two chests stacked on top of each other, just like my two smaller Rubbermaid tubs. You may also notice that the top chest is a little wider than the lower one. I know this may bother some, but it’s for a reason.

The top one is 27″ wide so that it can fit saws on that darned sloping lid. The problem with that is many door openings in many houses are for 30″ doors. Most door openings also have a 1/2″ thick door stop on both sides of the jamb reducing the opening to 29″. A wide chest is a problem in a small doorway.

In the lower chest, most of the tools are stacked side by side. The longest tool in there is my framing square, and it is only 24″ long, so I was able to get away with just over 25″ wide. That makes it just possible to walk through most doorways with out scraping my knuckles.

But there is more.

Part of portability, is being able to bring as much of your workshop with you as possible. I built a simple stand that the chests sit on that also makes the top of the lower chest just the right height for free hand sharpening.

That’s right!

My tool chest is also a sharpening station.

How cool is that?

I’ve already talked about the sweet rope handles, so I’ll just let that alone except to say that the upper chest handles still need some tweaking, and have not had the ends trimmed yet. I’ll get to that… or I won’t.

And finally the gravity latches.

Once described as a “Cool locking system”, is not really that big of a deal. Almost every fence in the free world has a latch on its gate that utilizes gravity to make it latch. The idea was simple. Getting it to work in all levels of humidity was the real challenge, and resulted in the guts of it looking a little less “realwoodworker”ish than I would have preferred.

I’m still making friends with this whole tool chest idea, but I think I’ve come up with a chest that I might one day come to tolerate.

Editors note – It’s been over a year now. I’ve posted recently about how it has performed HERE.

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5 Comments

  1. My shop is upstairs, really no room to work so I need to move my tools down to a bench on the front porch. So it has to be portable not movable like you mention. I am slowly coming around to this tool chest idea.

    Comment by forbeskm — July 22, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

  2. The thing I’ve also found is to be sure not to over fill a chest. Just because you can fit it, and it’s portable does not mean that it’s easy to work out of. In these pictures here, I’d say it’s over filled, and a little frustrating to work out of unless there is somewhere to place a good number of loose bits.

    Comment by fairwoodworking — July 22, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  3. For what it’s worth I like youR chest. I built two. Originally my plan was to make it, mess around with it, and give it to my dad, which I did. I was then going to store everything in an oak pantry that my wife had access to. Unfortunately that fell through, so I made the smaller version of the same chest.
    I agree with your assessment: the chest is movable but not portable, kind of like a refrigerator. But I did think the chest was fun to build. I liked the joinery-dovetails, dado, tongue and groove. So it was good practice, and straightforward to make with all hand tools if that was the route chosen.

    Comment by billlattpa — July 23, 2014 @ 8:19 am

  4. I’ve fought building a tool chest for as long as I can, but it’s a losing battle. I don’t need portability, but I have ZERO wall space in my shop (garage). I have to store wood and clamps (one whole wall) and all of my lawn/garden/ladder stuff in there as well. So that’s all my walls. I have shelves everywhere, but I’m now stacking planes on planes and have to move 13 things to get at my boxes of chisels. However I do have floor space. It’s time for something like this. The two piece design is really what convinced me. I have access to some very inexpensive Catalpa and I think I will use that. It’s very light, but very strong for it’s weight, and has the shrinkage characteristics of Baltic birch plywood – and it’s ugly as sin so I won’t be at all hesitant to slap down some paint.
    Love the gravity latch btw

    Comment by joe laviolette — July 25, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    • Sounds like we’ve found another “minimalist” with a hording disorder.

      Comment by fairwoodworking — July 25, 2014 @ 11:29 am


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