Tool Chest Refurb #3: Back to Square One

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Blog entry by Smitty_Cabinetshop posted 07-08-2012 02:14 AM 2743 reads 0 times favorited 32 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Prep for Re-Work Part 3 of Tool Chest Refurb series Part 4: Skirts are for Tool Chests »

Each of the four sides are comprised of two boards, and the dowels ‘n glue that held those pairs of boards together bought the farm decades ago. But for the front board, where I was able to get them apart and check out the locust (?) dowels.

To get back to four tight boards from eight loose ones means clamps and glue. Oh, and biscuits. Yes, Norm-loving, electron-killing, can’t-believe-a-true-galoot-would-ever-use- them biscuits! Why would I do such a thing? Why indeed. Let’s discuss for a moment, shall we?

The mating edges of these boards aren’t necessarily square, and they have glue residue. Not square, I’m guessing, due to a century of wood movement impacting the boards in non-linear ways. To clear the glue / dirt, I can (and will) use a scraper with some light pressure to for an improved gluing surface, but it won’t result in a joint as good as one that were hit with a #8 jointer, for example. Removing material, however slight, increases the change the dovetails won’t align, but I’ll also do that if it addresses a significant gap. And I haven’t mentioned before that the boards are kinda thin for a chest. The back board, for example, is 5/8” thin on one end and ¾’ thin on the other (yeah, it tapers).

So for max integrity of the carcase, the dovetail joints have to be glued up tight, the bottom needs to fit well, and the eight boards that make up the four sides of the chest need to be whole. For the latter challenge, I can do what the builder did and use dowels OR I can go with biscuits. The dowels are quaint and all, but for the front, they did fail. And I’d rather use a methodology with which I am more comfortable. Enough chatter, let’s move on.

Pick a pair of boards. Any pair will do. I happened to start with the back board of the chest, and it figures the fit of the boards was an issue: a rise in along the center prevented closure at the ends of the board. I thought about it for about a second, then opted to use the #8 jointer as well as a LAAM block to kill the bump via the same method used for creating a spring joint.

On, then, to biscuit cutting. I placed biscuits at each (old) dowel location with small pencil marks placed for alignment of the cutter.


I brought the pieces together and the joint looked great. Glue applied, then, and clamped it up.

Proved a concept, I have a clear path forward, and was sweating like crazy. Time to quit. In the couple days it took to get back to the shop, the second guessing began. Why did I remove material from boards that had fit together just fine for a century? What was I thinking? If that action alters the size of one pin and tail set, will paring for fit create additional gaps up the joint? And will that have an impact on every corner? Gotta do a fit check and see what I’ve done / try to figure this out. So the next trip to the shop, I clamped the jointed and biscuit’d board upright in the leg vice, grabbed it’s side board mate and worked the joint together.

Snug… Good! Too snug? Maybe. Trim it? Man, I just can’t… We’re moving forward. Working the other edges, I noted maker’s marks in pencil to show pairs and, apparently, faces.

More pairs, more gluing and clamping. Oh, and I planed out a ‘bump’ in the front panel edges, too.


I also repaired a couple of slip ends before assembling all side boards with screws. Yes, screws. In a jointed edge, pre-drilled for a counter-sunk screw and applied lots of glued to the pieces as I pulled them apart.

I wiped all glue sqeeze out from the exterior of the boards; didn’t want to plane or scrape residue there! Thing is, can’t be too aggressive as the paint comes off with water!

With all side boards in clamps, it was a good time to refresh the inside face of the boards that will be the new bottom of this chest. A good job for the cambered jack plane, I think, so the bottom of the chest carries scallop marks like the sides. It was a fun but very short workout.

One top tail is particularly nasty, a victim of a very bad chisel job.

Gluing up the whole carcase was stressful. I went with building two halves first, and used a face clamping setup to get ‘er done.

I set the first one on the floor, clamped it with a framing square, and moved on to the second one.

Applied lots of glue.

Then clamped everything together.


With the sides in clamps, I traced the bottom boards and cut them with the RAS, following the lines. They were quite square. A few hours passed and I removed the clamps and was able to move on to nailing the bottom to the carcase. For that, I had a couple options: vintage cut nails or modern cut nails that are sold as masonry (hardened) nails. Because my supply of vintage square nails isn’t endless, and this is only the bottom of a chest, cut masonry nails got the nod.

Okay, then. Time to invert the carcase, apply the bottom, clamp it in place and drive nails. First to transfer mid-point lines to the faces of the bottom boards using the #197 gage.

I wanted to avoid driving new nails into the old holes of the carcase, so I drew marks along the edges of the bottom boards for the new nails.

Pre-drilled the nail holes, of course, because I’d hate to have a side blow-out at this point. And angle was applied to each nail for additional holding power.

Time to drive nails. Masonry nails were way too big, so vintage nails were straightened one at a time and driven home without issue! The end result was a box that’s back together and ready for a skirting.

Why not get starting making the top? Well, I’ve decided to finish off the bottom of the box because it’s what I started with, I have the material for the bottom skirt, and I’m not quite sure how I want to build the top and integrate it with the chest…

That’s next, so until then thanks for reading!

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

32 comments so far

View ShaneA's profile


6929 posts in 2598 days

#1 posted 07-08-2012 02:38 AM

Holy reclaimed tool chest Batman! Seems like some nervous moments, but you got the ol’ chest looking pretty good. I had my doubts on the wood, but it looks like you made it to the summit. Got to be all downhill from here from here…right?

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15353 posts in 2618 days

#2 posted 07-08-2012 02:48 AM

Shane, thanks. Yes, it’s together and very stable. I’m very happy at this point! Some concerns getting skirting on this thing, but I have a plan. Still nothing for lid progress, that’ll be the biggie…

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

View JayT's profile


5632 posts in 2211 days

#3 posted 07-08-2012 03:10 AM

Great job so far, Smitty. I love how you are preserving the age of the chest, it is obviously a lot of work. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View GrandpaLen's profile


1650 posts in 2272 days

#4 posted 07-08-2012 03:23 AM


The first thing I learned tonight was, You can’t, although I tried, hold your breath through this entire ‘blog’.

The second lesson learned, likely the most important, is appraisal, deduction, method, execution, ...exhale.

On the edge of my chair with this nail biter and loved every minute of it. :-)

Thanks for the ride, Smitty. ...I need a cold compress.

Hope to be back in time for the next episode. – 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 Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15353 posts in 2618 days

#5 posted 07-08-2012 03:40 AM

Jay, I admit to anly having the next two steps clear in my head, with the rest being ‘out there’ for the time being. And it bothers me more than a little. I’ll figure it out though, and that’s half (?) the fun.

Thanks again, Len, for the smiles your comments bring! Think I’ll have a cocktail and ponder my next moves; appraise and deduct, if you will. :-)

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

View lysdexic's profile


5254 posts in 2622 days

#6 posted 07-08-2012 04:06 AM

What the hell Smitty?! Given your title, I kept waiting for the thing to blow up. Kudos to you to be able to convey your angst onto the reader. That’s good stuff. That’s good writing.

Oh, love that jack. Just my “type.”

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - out_of_focus1.618

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15353 posts in 2618 days

#7 posted 07-08-2012 04:14 AM

Square one means a box with five surfaces, the way I got it! :-)

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

View ShaneA's profile


6929 posts in 2598 days

#8 posted 07-08-2012 04:29 AM

Yeah, I agree with Scott and Len’s assessment. I was nervous reading the whole post, thinking the last paragraph was going to include the details of how the entire thing just crumbled, followed by a picture of ruble. But after I read it, I got the square one reference. Very clever, and suspenseful. It is just different than anything I could/would undertake, that is why it is so interesting!

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 2224 days

#9 posted 07-08-2012 04:31 AM

Wow. I agree with he comment above about holding my breath! I was getting stressed just reading this – I can not imagine having it happen in my own shop. OK, now I am going to go read parts one and two. I just had to stop and thank you for taking the time to document the project – a real eye opener for me.

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15353 posts in 2618 days

#10 posted 07-08-2012 05:08 AM

Kay, glad you liked the read, it was a good day in the shop!

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

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2856 days

#11 posted 07-08-2012 11:36 AM

Smitty your doing a great job.

I like that you used biscuits it shows a time line

for when it was restored, should it need restored

in a hundred years. What will they use then.


-- 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

18715 posts in 2567 days

#12 posted 07-08-2012 11:58 AM

I just realized I don’t know what you do for a living Smitty, and that realization came when I realized in a previous life you were a wood craftsman. It takes more than just talent, it takes vision to do a job like this. It’s like you were there the first time, scolding that guy for the nasty chisel job.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Sylvain's profile


706 posts in 2499 days

#13 posted 07-08-2012 12:24 PM

I was wandering : shall he have to cut all the ancient dovetails and make new ones, making the chest a bit smaller in the process? But then he will have to color the new exposed end grain in blue. How?
Then, no , it was ok. we can relax.

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

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15353 posts in 2618 days

#14 posted 07-08-2012 12:41 PM

Jamie, I wonder if it’ll make another hundred, despite me efforts in 2012? Fun to ponder.

Re: the bad chisel job, I woder what the motivation was if it not to get a better fit? Hack surface mtl or cut the pin board a little deeper, and he opted to ‘thin’ the pin? Gotta inspect that specific area for a ‘tell,’ I think.

Sylvain, it never did occur to me that I could cut new dovetails if didaster had struck, and that would have been better than the recovery methods I had in mind! :-)

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

View mafe's profile


11725 posts in 3089 days

#15 posted 07-08-2012 04:37 PM

It’s going to be a winner!
Looks wonderful.
Best thoughts,

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

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