Tool Chest Refurb #2: Prep for Re-Work

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Blog entry by Smitty_Cabinetshop posted 07-03-2012 03:41 AM 6938 reads 0 times favorited 29 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Some Background Part 2 of Tool Chest Refurb series Part 3: Back to Square One »

Take a look at a couple of (re-posted) picture for the nails that are evident… The ones left in the one remaining topper board / original lid, and the nails midway down each corner, holding the dovetail joints together.

These nails, heck, all nails but what’s in the hinges, need to come out to take the chest apart completely. Yep, I’ve decided to dis-assemble the chest. Why? Because, even though the box itself seems to be stable, the dovetail joints are loose and the boards that make up each side have separated. Also, the bottom of the chest is nailed on and apparently stable, but there’s compelling evidence these nails are severely rusted. And some nail heads are gone. To get this chest tightened up for the next century of service, the thought of brushing glue into cracks and hoping for the best just ain’t working for me. So now to get it apart without breaking it apart…

I began by cleaning the chest with a stiff brush to remove dirt and dust. Then removed a clenched nail that was holding a lid remnant at the right (bent) hinge.

This single ‘lid board’ is dovetailed on each end, but too short to be part of a skirt surrounding a lid. So I had to remove it, too.

The hinges are nailed and clenched in place, and are very stable that way. I’ll leave them and integrate the new lid and vintage hinges. There is a crack or two in the top board to address, though.

To re-assemble means total dis-assembly, including the removal of those corner nails. To do that, the bottom had to come off (pulling the side boards apart while the bottom is nailed together will simply result in a splintered pile of old, blue kindling); I’ll re-use whatever is salvageable from these bottom boards, but I’m not at all hopeful in that it looks like junk wood. And what better place use crappy stock? J So I pulled the boards apart with flatbar and hammer. Most of the nails weren’t doing much at all because little remained of their head. Others were swollen with rust inside the walls of the chest. But everything came out!

Without a bottom, it was finally time to address those four dovetail nails. Yes, I’ve been obsessing a bit on them since the day the chest came into the shop… they don’t belong there, and it’s been clear from the start I’d find a way to defeat them… Anyway, there are no pictures, but after a bit of coaxing I was able to wiggle a ‘sip saw hack (metal cutting) blade into each of the joints. A couple trigger pulls and the nails were cut with no damage to the wood. Now to pull this carcase apart!

With the chest knocked down to its component pieces, I noticed something done by the original builder of this chest: his method of chopping the waste between tails and pins left a substantial back bevel in the middle of each cut. Don’t know if I’m saying that right, so a picture will help.

Makes for tight fitting joints to the eye, but there’s also remnants of glue (hide glue??) in those cavities that obviously had nothing nearby to hold on to. I’m going to opine that it’s not a serious structural issue, re: the lack of glue surface, but it’s interesting to see how this joinery was done a century ago. As another aside, I held one of the boards in a way to allow the light to bounce off the scallops left by hand planning the interior surfaces. It’s what’s visible here:

Clearly camber on the iron he used to work these boards! Does it mean this is just a simple box vs. tool chest? Or, like the accountant’s checkbook, the carpenter’s tool chest isn’t the smoothest? I’ll never know.
Another construction detail to note is the use of dowels to join each side’s pair of boards. The dowels bought the farm long ago, but they’re clearly visible and were obviously put there to hold the boards together in the building of chest.

How about a pic of all the metal removed from the chest thusfar?

Glad to be rid of that stuff!

Now to find new bottom material and get the reconstruction underway. Went to the cut-offs bin and was very surprised to find what I did: A pair of boards already joined via T&G and of the right size! I’m not kidding, I don’t remember stripping whatever it was and putting it in there, but I’m glad I did. It’s got some kind of crate stenciling on one side, too. But what’s most important is the size is right (with a little trimming). And because they’re already joined it’s work I don’t have to do. Huzzah!

So, here’s the pile that is the tool chest, including new as well as old bottom boards and a board I found that is blue and ideal for as much skirting as I can make from it.

And that’s a good ending for this installment. Next time, we should have a chest that is all (re-)glued up, with a new bottom. As always, thanks for looking.

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

29 comments so far

View ShaneA's profile


6499 posts in 2104 days

#1 posted 07-03-2012 04:03 AM

This is an ambitious project Smitty. You got guts my man. Looking forward to see what you can do with it. Oh, and the Hoosier cabinet too! : )

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


13826 posts in 2124 days

#2 posted 07-03-2012 04:24 AM

I can see my way through getting the bottom of this chest up to snuff, but the lid specifics are confusing me still. So I’ll do the bottom while I’m thinking about the rest.

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

View Brit's profile


6811 posts in 2349 days

#3 posted 07-03-2012 07:30 AM

What a great path you’ve chosen to tread Smitty. So interesting to see how the joinery looks and their use of clenched nails. I’ve found that on some pine I’ve worked, if you chop out the waste from both sides of the board, the fibres in the centre tend to break away, so I doubt the maker intentionally undercut the dovetails that much. I think there is a lot to be said for removing the waste with a coping saw when working softwoods like pine and then light paring cuts with a very sharp chisel. That would hopefully prevent some of that breakout. Looking forward to the next episode.

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

View mafe's profile


11215 posts in 2595 days

#4 posted 07-03-2012 08:20 AM

Smitty this is going to be interesting, this is a true restore, how wonderful that you have decided to go the full way here.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View GrandpaLen's profile


1643 posts in 1778 days

#5 posted 07-03-2012 09:54 AM


This one has TLC written all over it.

You may want to check with Cozmo and see if he has any more of that ‘REALLY AGED’ lumber, left over from his artistic endeavor, posted recently, “The UGLY’. lol

Work Safely and have Fun. – Len

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4167 posts in 2362 days

#6 posted 07-03-2012 10:14 AM

Very enjoyable Smitty

You are going to have a great box.

You have guts


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View Don W's profile

Don W

18049 posts in 2074 days

#7 posted 07-03-2012 10:14 AM

you’ve taken recycle to a whole new level. It’s fun to watch. I can’t wait for the finished product.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View terryR's profile


6417 posts in 1814 days

#8 posted 07-03-2012 11:40 AM

Wow, what a ton of work, Smutty, I mean Smitty! :-)

You put such passion into in these old antiques that I just love to watch! Looks like another potential heirloom build to me!!! Thanks for taking time for all the photos…can’t wait for more….......

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View Brit's profile


6811 posts in 2349 days

#9 posted 07-03-2012 11:50 AM

Agreed Terry. Smitty’s photos are probably the best on LJs. Not necessarily from a photographic point of view, but Smitty always takes the right shots that tell the story better than a 1000 words. He has an eye for the details that matter. Lovely to see.

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


13826 posts in 2124 days

#10 posted 07-03-2012 11:50 AM

Thanks, Gents! I’m anxious to get back at it, hopefully before the week is over. Somehow, some way…

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

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 2152 days

#11 posted 07-03-2012 12:02 PM

“The Old Smitty Work Shop”...sponsored by Folgers.

Great job. This is one of those blogs you can go back to time and again. Thank you.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View Sylvain's profile


642 posts in 2005 days

#12 posted 07-03-2012 02:44 PM

Thanks ones again for showing how far recycling/restoration can go.
You do not shrink the difficulty (I hope google translation is good here)

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View AnthonyReed's profile (online now)


8801 posts in 1946 days

#13 posted 07-03-2012 06:52 PM

Alright, more Smitty projects!

Smitty i see a Kobalt coping saw on the bench, just take it back now you are only going to get pissed.

Do you ever suspect Andy of lurking in your projects just so he can get a glimpse of your cherry condition Workmate?

Thank you for posting Smitty, it is a real treat to watch you work.

-- ~Tony

View Brit's profile


6811 posts in 2349 days

#14 posted 07-03-2012 07:12 PM

Tony it is a nice Workmate, but if I was lurking in Smitty’s shop, I’d probably be looking at his nest of saws and all the other cool tools he has acquired.

-- Andy -- "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." (Michelangelo)

View Don W's profile

Don W

18049 posts in 2074 days

#15 posted 07-03-2012 07:16 PM

he does have a nice collection.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

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