Here’s my contribution to the vast body of literature on the subject of Dutch tool chests. I started last month and I’m most of the way through the build. I started woodworking this January and this is my biggest project using hand tools only. I did “cheat” a bit and used a heat gun to reduce the cup of the boards, plus some of the thin stock is scrap from another project that I resawed on my table saw a few months ago.
I’m using Ponderosa pine 1×10s and 1×12s from a big box store, plus some Douglas-fir I had laying around, mostly kiln-dried 2×4 cut offs. The carcass is nailed together using cut nails, the first time I’ve used this kind of nail. Bottom is dovetailed. Back boards are tongue and grooved with a bead. The tool rack is screwed on to be more easily modified, and the battens and lock piece on the fall front are also screwed on. I didn’t have enough period screws that were the right size, so I just used modern construction screws; I believe these are brass-coated.
The carcass went together without too much trouble. The main problem was dealing with the cupped, warped boards. As I said, I used a heat gun to get most of the cup out. First time I’ve tried this method, but it worked surprisingly well. Didn’t take much planing to get them flat after I gave them the heat gun treatment. There was so much cup that I would have lost too much thickness if I had planed them flat from the get go.
Beginning to take shape:
The biggest challenge in terms of joinery was getting my Stanley 45 dialed in for the tongues, grooves, and beads. Not my favorite plane to use. The dovetails were fine, I’ve done a couple dovetail boxes and did some dovetails for my workbench, but I’m still not great at them and I’ve never dovetailed boards this wide. A couple gaps, but not too bad. Pine is a heck of a lot easier to cut dovetails in than Douglas-fir.
I’m drilling pilot holes for the nails and screws using an eggbeater drill. The nails are going in great, no splits. I really like cut nails.
I’ve made most of the rip cuts with a little 100+ year old 18” Disston 10 point panel saw I got on eBay a few months ago. A previous owner had filed it rip, but I could never cut straight with the thing, plus it was dull as hell, so I used it as my first saw sharpening project. I jointed it, reshaped the teeth, filed it, and set it. It cuts beautifully now, I can actually cut straight with it. Rake seems to be a bit off for the softwoods I’m mostly working with, not as aggressive as I’d like, and I think it could be a bit sharper, but I’m happy with the results of my first saw sharpening venture. I think another pass or two with the file will make it even better.
The other main tools I’ve used for this project are my Stanley #4 and #5, my Stanley #30 transitional jointer, a 22” Disston crosscut saw, a Veritas carcass saw, the Stanley 45, a Japanese razor saw and ryoba for the thin stock, and various chisels. My router plane, an early Stanley 71, came in handy for the shelf dadoes, and my wooden moving fillister did a great job cutting the rabbet on the fall front.
The tool rack took an inordinate amount of time to build. I think I’m happy with the results, but I won’t know until I use the chest for a while. I mostly ripped off, er, was inspired by Marilyn at She Works Wood. I liked the way she put her saws in the back hanging vertically instead of in a saw till sitting on the shelf. This is one of those things I may regret, but hopefully it’ll work out. I’ve played with it a bit and it seems to work fine. The longer items in the front like my 18” combination square and a couple of my long chisels fit into the cut outs I made for the saws, which is nice.
Playing with tool placement:
Right now I have the lid panel in clamps, I glued up two boards to get the 16-3/4” wide panel I needed. I’ve cut and squared the breadboard ends and was going to cut the groove in them tonight but the fence on my Stanley 45 broke, so I’ll have to wait until I get a new fence in the mail later this week. A piece of the casting around the thumbscrew that secures the fence to the rods broke off, taking some of the thread with it. The screw will still fit in, but it won’t tighten, so the fence wobbles around a bit. Dang it. I epoxied it back together but I don’t have high hopes this will work, so I just went ahead and bought a “new” fence on eBay.
What it looks like now:
I plan on painting the chest with milk paint, then putting a couple coats of BLO on it. I’m torn about what color. I had planned on Lexington green, but I really like the look of Schwarz’s black chest. I didn’t want to be too much of a copycat, but I’m thinking now that I’ll paint it black anyway :) I’ll probably leave the interior unfinished, though I’ve been toying with the idea of shellacking it. I like the smell.
I got two sets of handles. The first set is the one many folks use, the cast iron chest handles like these. They’re OK. While I was looking for chest handles on eBay I came across some antique iron handles that appear to be hand made. I like them much better and will be using them on the chest. I’ll also be using Lee Valley’s 9-1/2” unequal strap hinges—-these are also just OK, not great. They’re a bit twisted so I think I’m going to have to gently coax them flat with a large hammer. I’d like to put a hasp on the chest, but I haven’t ordered one yet.
The next step is to plane the lid panel flat and attach the breadboards. I’ve only done breadboards once before, massive ones for my workbench. That was kind of a nightmare, but I think it prepared me for smaller breadboards like the ones on the tool chest. I’m not too worried about them. I’ll be using maple plugs I’ll make myself using a dowel plate.
I am a bit nervous about the hinges, though. I’ve never cut hinge mortises before, and the angle of the top and the size of the hinges make me hesitant. Seems like it’d be easy to screw up. I plan on doing a test on some scrap before I cut into the carcass.
It’d be nice to have it ready to paint by the end of next weekend, but I tend to underestimate how long projects take….