Fair Woodworking

July 6, 2015

Dutch Tool Chest One Year Later

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorite tools,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 1:08 am

One thing I can’t really stand is the opinion of someone based on their first impressions because how I expect something to function for me can be way, way different from how it will actually function.

What I’m saying is, Love at first sight can easily fall prey to the seven-year itch, and it’s interesting how expectations are tempered by the test of time.

So lets compare today versus what I had as expectations last year. You can read about them HERE.

One year ago today I was taking a class in Warren Maine building what was to be my second Dutch Tool chest, having just finished building my first DTC to house the tools I needed to bring to said class.

IMG_20140705_175213 copy

I really didn’t need or want a second chest, but it was a great opportunity to take a class taught by my #1 man crush in the red shirt. In the end I decided that if one DTC is good, two would be better since I seem to be a minimalist with a hording disorder.

So 1 year later, how are things going?

One of my big requirements for a chest was portability. Not moveability from one corner of the shop to the other, but out of the shop, up the stairs down the hall, out the door, up the driveway, and into my truck. Then from my truck, across the parking lot (in the rain) up the stairs, and into my hotel room. The following morning, back down to the truck, across another parking lot, through the door, up the stairs, snake my way through a bunch of sweet Lie-Nielsen benches to the furthest corner (what was I thinking). All to be repeated two days later in reverse.



Splitting the chest into two pieces was a very good call. If you are reading this post and considering building a DTC, build it in two pieces. An additional benefit of this small design change is the ability to grab just the top part for a quick visit to a friend’s house or a day class. The top half is easily capable of holding enough tools to keep you busy for a day.

But here is the down side. Just because a tool chest is capable of containing a large quantity of tools, does not mean it’s nice to work out of. A chest packed full of tools quickly begins to feel more like the kitchen junk drawer we had as a kid. If I have to pull 5 things out to be able to see the tool I want, I will quickly become frustrated, but we will get to that later.

Last year I praised the design of the lower shelves, and mocked the sloping lid of the upper half, and it all seemed well founded. Boy was I wrong. Well, to a point.

When we all first were introduced to the “Anarchist” tool chest, one of the most common negative observations was that nobody in their right mind would be happy stooping down to reach into the bottom of the chest. The thing is, before stooping down, you can look directly down at the tool you are after, and then with one hand resting on the side of the chest, reach down with the other hand and grab the tool. With the shelves of the DTC, you must stoop down just to see some tools, and there is no place to lean against as you do it. Often times to look into the very back of the bottom shelf I find myself down on my knees. That was not the plan…

On the other hand, the upper part with its ridiculous slopping lid has been a very pleasant surprise. The ability to look down at my tools is wonderful, but I have to admit the top access has actually turned me more and more on to the English style chest with sliding tills. Trouble is, tills add weight, and weight lowers portability.

Well shortly after my trip to Lie-Nielsen, I was faced with the challenge of moving my entire home over 5,500 km (3,400 mi) across the country. This was a great test on how the chest packed into a truck with a whole mess of other prized possessions. Did I mention that the DTC has a sloping top? I have to admit, I found it challenging to say the least to pack efficiently around this heavy chest with a stupid sloping top. The Dutch Tool Chest does not play well with others…

So let’s get back to the whole capacity thing. When I look at an open space in a tool chest, I just can’t help but want to try to fit another tool in there, you know, Tetris style, but then to access many of the tools, you nearly have to empty the entire chest, leaving your bench covered in tools. When you cut back the number of tools in the chest to the point that you can grab any tool without having to lift any other tools, the chest looks barren and under utilized. Finding that happy medium has been a challenge. Really, I think I just have too many tools, but I’ll deny it if you tell anyone, and that may be my biggest problem with the DTC. It suits a very limited, very lean yet functional collection of tools. Meanwhile, my idea of having a second DTC to hold my additional nick-knacks and misc oddities is an oddity in itself. The second chest is wasted as a catch-all for peripheral odd shaped widgets as it is odd shaped itself based on a very specific set of tools in the first place.

All in all, I still think the DTC is a very good design.

Its strengths are in its day to day portability, and smaller footprint than an English floor chest.

It struggles with larger tool collections, and as cargo. It’s also not ideal for people who don’t like bending over to get access to the lower shelves.



  1. thank you so much for this review – I just bought wood to make one of these and this is very helpful

    Comment by Matt Rae — July 6, 2015 @ 9:29 am

  2. Great writeup. I haven’t broken ground just yet, but I’m noodling on the idea of a two-piece dutch chest, in which, instead of breaking the dutch chest in half (as you have above) there would be a stationary component (with casters) that stays in the shop (on the floor). It won’t necessarily solve the problem you describe of making light work of taking tools to class, but it may solve the problem of too many tools for a standard dutch chest without having to resort to the “stooping” world of the English chest.

    The other (very valid) issue you describe, is the issue of English chest drawers and not wanting to stoop to see what’s on the lower shelf of a DTC. Because of this, I’m considering one shallow drawer at the top of each lower DTC compartment, such that the drawer can ‘normally’ be out, and its contents fully visible. Seems like it may be the best of both worlds. Any thoughts?

    Comment by karlfife — July 7, 2015 @ 1:15 am

    • I think what I’m coming to realize is that with tool chests you can either get functionality or portability, or you can do a compromise and get neither. The idea of drawers tempt me constantly but they add weight that kill portability. Also remember that the DTC has a fairly small footprint. Consider how the open drawer fully loaded will move the center of gravity. Especially when some of the chests tools are being used at the workbench. Have fun.

      Comment by fairwoodworking — July 7, 2015 @ 7:14 am

  3. Thanks for the update, I’ve been tempted to make a DTC since all the cool kids have (and it looks fast to build) I think the points you make are valid and it’s nice to have long term followup, something that is lacking in most tool storage projects in magazines etc. which means I’ll go back to my previous ideas on the topic,

    Comment by Jeremy — July 7, 2015 @ 7:32 am

  4. I was in that class with you. I found that having both a Dutch and English style chest works best for me. I use the Dutch for my most used tools and when traveling. The English (read ATC) houses my less frequently use specialty tools as well as my full size saws, larger braces and so on. I like the blog and will continue to watch.

    Comment by Kevin Costa — July 7, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

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