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Tool Chest Restoration

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Blog entry by ChuckV posted 05-05-2015 08:48 PM 2014 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A few months ago, I started volunteering at our town’s historical society. Shortly before that, a large tool chest filled with wooden planes was “rediscovered” in a storage room. The planes, some 60 in all, were mostly manufactured between 1830 and 1850. Another volunteer and I prepared the planes for display in the historical society’s museum.

The chest itself was in pretty bad shape and had become a home and food source for rodents. But, the wonderful construction could still be seen. I took on the job of restoring this piece so that it could be displayed along with the planes. I had never done a project like this. My goal was to allow the chest to be displayed without disturbing its historical character.

Here are some photos of the original condition of the chest when I got it home:

My first task was to repair the broken panel in the lid. This panel is about 14” x 26” and made from a single wide board. It is rabbeted and housed in grooves in the stiles and rails. In addition to the break of the panel, a piece of one of the rails was snapped off below the groove. This piece was still inside the chest and is seen here as the lighter piece along with the broken out chunk of the panel and a few other pieces:

I had thought that perhaps I would be able to get the piece of the panel back in and then glue the broken piece of the rail back. But, the way that the lid broke made this impossible. The break followed the twisting grain in such a way that one end needed to go in from the top and the other end needed to go in from the bottom. The only solution I could find was to disassemble the frame.

The outer layer was a metal band around the perimeter of the lid. The next layer was a thin mitered frame. Both of these were attached with all sorts of nails and screws. I was able to remove some fasteners intact and saved them for later use. But many were hopelessly rusted and crumbling. For some of these, I resorted to a hacksaw.

Fortunately, no glue was used to construct the frame. In fact, I did not find any evidence of glue anywhere in the chest. The rails have large haunched tenons fitted into mortises in the rails. Each of these joints is secured with two wooden dowels. The dowels look like they were hand carved from twigs. Each has a unique shape and orientation in the hole, so I marked everything carefully. Here is one of the tenons:

The dowels were mushroomed over on the outside of the lid. They came out easily when tapped from the inside. Then using a small dead-blow hammer and a protective wood block I was able to remove one of the stiles. Here are the pieces once I got them apart:

Here is the top panel being glued back together:

I reassembled the lid frame with the repaired panel in place. Then I glued on the broken piece of the rail:

As I mentioned above, the mitered frame around the lid was attached with all sorts of fasteners. This was one place where I allowed myself to use shiny new screws. These screws are not visible once the metal band is attached around the outside of the lid. But, I noticed that one of the new screws did show through a break in the mitered frame:

I dug through the pile of rubble that I took out of the bottom of the chest and luckily found the missing piece which I was able to glue back in place and hide that screw:

The next task was to repair the area on the lid that holds one of the hinges. This was a real mess:

There were large holes all the way through the lid. Someone had tried to fix this by using longer screws that protruded all the way through. I also found evidence of dowels inserted into the holes. To fix this, I increased the depth of the hinge mortise by about 1/2” and made a patch to glue into this mortise. The progression of the repair can be seen here:

The major fix that I made to the body of the chest was to close up one of the dovetail joints. This is in a frame around the bottom. Again, there was no glue, but there were five screws driven in from the inside. Here is the damage:

Here is the piece once removed:

Here is the piece being glued back on:

There are two trays that fit into the stepped interior of the chest. These needed a bit of work, but were in relatively good shape.

At this point, the chest was in good physical shape but was still very grungy. Another volunteer and I cleaned all the surfaces with Murphy oil soap. Then we applied Johnson paste wax.

It was a treat and an honor to work on this wonderful piece of workmanship. It was a thrill to take apart the joints and see the maker’s scribe, saw and chisel marks. I am happy that others will now be able to view this piece in the museum.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters



13 comments so far

View Texcaster's profile

Texcaster

1140 posts in 1141 days


#1 posted 05-05-2015 09:03 PM

Nice work Chuck. All too often this sort of artifact is spoiled by going too far.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

9451 posts in 3520 days


#2 posted 05-05-2015 09:28 PM

COOL Restore job!

Looks like a COOL tool box!

How many levels of sliding trays are there?
Can you take your hand all the way to the bottom, depending on how the trays are positioned?

Thank you!

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: http://www.WoodworkStuff.net ... My Small Gallery: http://www.ncwoodworker.net/pp/showgallery.php?ppuser=1389&cat=500"

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2882 posts in 2995 days


#3 posted 05-05-2015 11:38 PM



COOL Restore job!

Looks like a COOL tool box!

How many levels of sliding trays are there?
Can you take your hand all the way to the bottom, depending on how the trays are positioned?

Thank you!

- Joe Lyddon

There are two trays, one at the top level and one at the middle. I have a feeling that there was once a deeper tray as well. I am not sure if that would have left enough room to reach to the bottom without removing one.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View Dark_Lightning's profile

Dark_Lightning

2635 posts in 2576 days


#4 posted 05-06-2015 12:30 AM

Nice work!

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3024 posts in 1719 days


#5 posted 05-06-2015 02:39 AM

Nice restoration. I’m glad for you that the piece of the broken top was inside the chest. I like your thinking about the degree of restoration, too. It still has its history intact. BTW, did I miss the post/pics of the restored tools?

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

13738 posts in 2086 days


#6 posted 05-06-2015 03:21 AM

There are two trays, one at the top level and one at the middle.

It’s a great restoration of the chest, first and foremost. But it sure looks like the trays are at the top, it’s just the one towards the back (in the above pic) is a ‘double deep’ tray. Hadn’t seen one of those.

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

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2882 posts in 2995 days


#7 posted 05-06-2015 11:39 AM



There are two trays, one at the top level and one at the middle.

It s a great restoration of the chest, first and foremost. But it sure looks like the trays are at the top, it s just the one towards the back (in the above pic) is a double deep tray. Hadn t seen one of those.

- Smitty_Cabinetshop

You are correct. The tops of both trays are at the top of the main box. On is deeper than the other. Here they are out of the chest:

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2882 posts in 2995 days


#8 posted 05-06-2015 11:46 AM



BTW, did I miss the post/pics of the restored tools?

- Don Broussard

Don,
I posted the first two planes that I worked on here. There were many more after that.

It looks like you live only 1,600 miles from me. If you are here in central MA on June 11, you can see our presentation about the history and restoration of the planes and the chest. I hope to see you there!

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View helluvawreck's profile

helluvawreck

23214 posts in 2334 days


#9 posted 05-06-2015 11:53 AM

I love that old chest. You did a fine job on it.

helluvawreck aka Charles
http://woodworkingexpo.wordpress.com

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

13738 posts in 2086 days


#10 posted 05-06-2015 12:49 PM

That deep drawer was quite a feat to build! Wow! Three sets of staggered dovetails on either end. Can you tell if there were saws stowed inside, or ? Can you tell from what’s left why the deep drawer was built? Thanks for those pics, very interesting.

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

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2882 posts in 2995 days


#11 posted 05-06-2015 12:53 PM



That deep drawer was quite a feat to build! Wow! Three sets of staggered dovetails on either end. Can you tell if there were saws stowed inside, or ? Thanks for those pics, very interesting.

- Smitty_Cabinetshop


I agree. Those joints are amazing.

I never got to see the chest before the contents were removed. But all the pieces that we have are planes, drawknives and marking tools.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View canadianchips's profile

canadianchips

2361 posts in 2465 days


#12 posted 05-06-2015 04:56 PM

Thhis is why I like LJ,s.
This was fantastic description of a restoration.
Nicely done. I enjoy reading and seeing the photo’s.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2882 posts in 2995 days


#13 posted 05-08-2015 12:47 AM

Here are two photos of few of the planes that are in the collection. The first shows some small molding planes and the second shows a magnificent fillister plow plane.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

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