Dutch Tool Chest #1: Design Considerations

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Blog entry by Brandon posted 04-01-2013 04:53 PM 11551 reads 9 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Dutch Tool Chest series Part 2: Building the Carcass »

The topic of tool chests has been quite polarizing on The benefits, some would argue, are that they protect the tools, efficiently store them, cause one to think about what tools are absolutely necessary (i.e., getting back to the basics), and last of all, provide the woodworker with somewhere to sit. Others see tool chests as antiquated storage devices that were theft deterrents in their age and provided some mobility to those who worked on job sites, rather in their own shops or garages. They say that compared to drawers or wall cabinets tool chests are essentially difficult to use since one has to bend down to find the tools in the dark tool chest. Still others would say it’s just a matter of taste or aesthetic. For me, I didn’t really see much of an advantage to tool chests, especially since I was relatively new to hand tools and was still putting together a basic set of tools.

Now I have planes in tills, saws in tills, chisels and other hand tools hanging on the walls, and just a bunch of other tools sitting in a tool tote haphazardly. There’s a place for everything, but my whole system just doesn’t make sense. Thus, the need for better organization got me starting to think about tool chests, but also the desire to separate my finer, more used tools from the others. For instance, I have seven or eight back saws, but primarily use three of them. I own dozens of bench planes, but I usually only grab for one of about five frequently used planes. Building a tool chest will help make the whole process of which tools to use slightly more efficient. Yet what turned out to be the ultimate motivating factor was that many of my planes, sitting in their open till, were starting to show signs of rust, which makes it imperative to get them into an enclosed box of some sort.

Many people here are familiar with Chris Schwarz and his book, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, which I would crudely describe as being one part memoir, one part hand-tool apologetic, and one part tool chest design and instruction. Here’s the traditional-style tool chest which he builds in that book:


I was never fully convinced that this is what I needed in my situation, especially since real estate in my one-car garage is very limited. Yet when Chris Schwarz was at the Highland Woodworking Hand Tool event back in February and he brought with him his newly crafted smaller “Dutch tool chest.”


To be honest, I don’t know much about Dutch tool chests, their provenance, history, and prevalence, but in terms of style they really appealed to me. I was especially attracted the one that Schwarz brought with him to Atlanta. I’ve seen Schwarz’ larger Dutch tool chest and liked some of the features of that one as well.


See also, the accompanying YouTube video:


What I like first and foremost about these Dutch tool chests is the accessibility of all the tools in the top section: planes, saws (big and small), and smaller hand tools. Compare this to a traditional tool chest which may hide many of those critical tools underneath sliding tills that tend to get in the way. In the Dutch tool chest, the tools that are used less frequently can be placed in the lower shelf/shelves accessible from the front. The Dutch tool chest also appeals to me aesthetically. Here’s a beautiful example of an older tool chest:


Here’s What I’m Doing

My own design of the tool chest fits somewhere in between the smaller and larger Dutch tool chests built by Schwarz. Honestly, I don’t know the exact dimensions of his tool chests, but mine will be based on need. First, I wanted to fit a few of my larger planes in there, including a jointer plane, and my larger hand saws, including my D-7 ripsaw which is about 31” long with the handle. I also liked the idea of including a smaller shelf for items that site flat such as a bow saw (for this idea I credit the Frontier Carpenter ). My tool chest doesn’t need to be as small as Schwarz’s because I don’t lug my tools around the country, thus I’m adding some casters on the bottom to make it easier to move around in my garage. Also, unlike the Anarchist’s tool chest, this one will not be a demonstration of fine joinery. I’m hoping to be done with it sooner rather than later and so I’ll be using screws for most of the joints. The hardware will probably be on the cheaper side as well. Lastly, like Schwarz, I’m building it out of light, white pine in order to keep the weight and price of it fairly low.

I don’t have any fancy plans for it, just some crude drawings, so I don’t think I’ll be posting any sketch up drawings or anything like that. I think Schwarz plans on writing an article on the Dutch tool chest in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking, so there will be much better information contained in that, I presume.

The next blog will start walking through some of the construction. Questions and comments are welcome as always.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

21 comments so far

View Boatman53's profile


848 posts in 943 days

#1 posted 04-01-2013 05:46 PM

Looks like a good start Brandon. The are interesting tool chests I’ll be thinking about your project this afternoon.

-- Jim, Long Island, NY home of the chain leg vise

View lysdexic's profile


4892 posts in 1370 days

#2 posted 04-01-2013 05:57 PM

Interesting. I thought you were considering a wall hanging cabine?

-- It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe. - Muhammad Ali

View Brandon's profile


4145 posts in 1698 days

#3 posted 04-01-2013 06:58 PM

Yes, I had considered making a hanging wall cabinet, but I really don’t have the space for one in my garage because there’s something parked at every open space on the floor against the wall, which makes accessing a wall cabinet very difficult.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


10340 posts in 1365 days

#4 posted 04-01-2013 09:13 PM

I’m glad to see someone pursuing a Dutchmen’s Cabinet. This will fun to watch!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View Eric in central Florida's profile

Eric in central Florida

3672 posts in 2322 days

#5 posted 04-01-2013 10:00 PM

Good luck with it Brandon.
I hope it works out to your liking.

-- All glory comes from daring to begin.

View Philip's profile


1154 posts in 1286 days

#6 posted 04-02-2013 01:30 AM

I like this idea MUCH better than the original tool chest. Just seems like a box with nifty sliding tills…this on the other…this has me thinking.

-- I never finish anyth

View ShaneA's profile


5449 posts in 1345 days

#7 posted 04-02-2013 01:42 AM

Sweet, are you going with the angled top too? To me, that aspect seems like a benefit and detractor all at once. Benefits seem like it will give added space inside, easier to reach in, and keep you from piling things on top of it, thus restricting access. Detractor…since it is angled, I can’t pile stuff on the top. With a work area like mine, I am always looking for space to set crap down. : )

Looking forward to seeing more.

View Brandon's profile


4145 posts in 1698 days

#8 posted 04-02-2013 02:20 AM

Shane, yes, I’m definitely going with the angled top and to me that’s one of the benefits because whatever horizontal surfaces exist in my shop get covered with clutter.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View CL810's profile


2392 posts in 1735 days

#9 posted 04-02-2013 03:30 AM

I’m really glad you’re doing this. I too was intrigued by Schwarz’s Dutch chest when I saw it in Highland’s video and have been thinking about it a lot..

Did you consider making two chests – the smaller one with the angled top sitting on top of a chest? That would enhance portability while allowing for more shop storage.

-- "It's amazing how much can go wrong when you think you know what you're doing."

View Brandon's profile


4145 posts in 1698 days

#10 posted 04-02-2013 05:04 AM

Cl810, this is a good suggestion and I actually did consider doing this. I think if my rip saw wasn’t so big, I would have made a smaller chest and a mobile base for it with a drawer in it. I still may do this, but I first want to see how much I like using the tool chest before building apparatuses for it.

Also one more thing I like about the angled lid is how inviting the tool chest when it’s open. It just says, “come and take a look!”

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View RGtools's profile


3314 posts in 1401 days

#11 posted 04-02-2013 01:11 PM

A few things I noticed.

1.Chris overstuffed his chest around the joinery saw till. This is really evident when he puts the tenon saw back.
2. The angled top makes all the tools much more visible.
3. You have to do a deep squat to get to the lower storage (on the traditional chest it’s more of a light bend and you can lean on the chest wall when you do it).
4. The Panel Saw set up has to wrap around the saw plates or the saws would fall out when the lid was closed. This means that you have to factor in clearance on the side of the chest to pull out your saws.
5. The Dutch chest takes up less room and seems easier to move around.
6. The lid construction is MUCH simpler than the Anarchist’s tool chest.
7. The Dutch chest has a better place for chisels than the traditional chest.
8. Leather cozy for the block plane…nice.

Overall, I think when it comes down to it tool storage is a bit like the workbench. There are a lot of forms that are trying to attempt the same goal, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. What matters is that you get one built that suits you and accomplishes the following:

1. Keeps your tools safe and sharp.
2. Organizes your tools so they can be either retrieved or returned quickly.

Thanks for sharing this, I enjoyed it. Hope you build an awesome place for your tools.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Brandon's profile


4145 posts in 1698 days

#12 posted 04-02-2013 01:26 PM

Ryan, your observations are spot on. I confess that I hadn’t really thought about the accessibility of the panel saws needing clearance on either side of the box. I may have to rethink their location or how they’re attached.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View RGtools's profile


3314 posts in 1401 days

#13 posted 04-02-2013 03:36 PM

I was actually thinking about that on my way to work and had an idea. What if you built the chest so that the back was full depth (I mean a gaping hole from the top all the way to behind the lower shelves. There would be a dividing space between this hole and the top box, still giving you a space for your you chisels/planes/whatnot, but in the back you would have a place where you could put 3 rails with 1/2” gaps in between so you could slide saw plates in there and they would hang by the handles. Then you just needs airspace above the chest to get to your saws.

This approach has drawabacks too of course (such as the possibility of chewing up your saw handles has you retrieve and, replace your tools). With some care and other dividers you could prevent this issue though.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Brandon's profile


4145 posts in 1698 days

#14 posted 04-02-2013 04:11 PM

Ryan, that’s an excellent suggestion. I wish I had thought of that before beginning my build. I’m already too far gone to include that.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View RGtools's profile


3314 posts in 1401 days

#15 posted 04-02-2013 06:10 PM

Sorry sir.

Love to see current pics though.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

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