Tool Musings - Thoughts about tools and working with them. #2: Organizational Discipline

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Blog entry by David Kirtley posted 06-18-2010 07:11 AM 1733 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Dr. Frankenstein's Lab - Hacking away at a brand new tool. Part 2 of Tool Musings - Thoughts about tools and working with them. series Part 3: Thoughts of the Tool Orphanage. »

I am making a small bit of progress toward getting my working tools organized. I look at all the fitted tool cabinets and love how they look but I just can’t see myself working out of one. Come on, how do you work out of something like this?

It is beautiful. It is a tool shrine. But seriously, how do you work out of it? I need a chisel. Here, let me take out two saws, get the chisel, put the saws back, work, take the saws out, put stuff back in, put the saws back. You either spend the whole day shuffling stuff back and forth or end up unloading the chest to get started for the day and then pack it all in just before the whistle blows to go home.

I tried one of the little tool boxes like Roy Underhill has in his books.


Mine was even smaller but by the time you get some tools in it, you would need a forklift to move it around the shop. I can’t even imagine what it is like with one of the big ones that would actually hold a real set of tools. Shove 50 lb tool tills back and forth to get to the stuff you want. What do you do if you need to move it? Unload it, move the chest to the new place in the shop, then load it up again? It is for sure you are not moving it around to bring it close to your work. Accidentally leave it open and you will have to spend a couple of hours unloading and cleaning out shavings and sawdust. Keep it closed and you loose the convenience of having the tools at hand.

I realize that you could put casters on it, but lets see how that works out driving over a pile of wood chips and plane shavings. You move it to sweep underneath and you drag the shavings back and forth under the wheels and the plane shavings all wind around the axles. Not too practical.

I think that they were more geared toward deterring tool theft. Lets make it too heavy for someone to haul off. It sure makes it easier to track down the culprit though. Well, officer, since they just walked off with a 800lb box of cast iron, steel, and wood, I would either suggest searching the emergency rooms for someone with a hernia or go look for the Russian Olympic power-lifting team.

Then I look at some of the stuff that people design to hold chisels. Something like this is really cute:

Yeah, but how many times a day do you knock that over and have chisels all over the floor? Where do you set it? Do you nail it down on the bench to keep from knocking it over? Do you pick out the two small chisels on the right only to have it overbalance and tip over with the heavy ones on the left? I have paring chisels from 1/8 to 2” by eighths, a set of 10 Japanese chisels, firmer chisels, mortise chisels, a couple of slicks, a set of gouges, and a few carving tools. Should I set them all up around me like some weird, silent pipe organ?

Then I see something like this and wonder, who comes up with this stuff?

Hmm, let’s hide the blades so we can’t even see which chisel is which. Let’s stick up all the handles on the end of the bench so we can’t even use that side of the workbench which also just so happens to be where the vise is. How nice. Don’t these people ever work with something that has a board longer than 10 inches? Let’s see how that works out when they are building an armoire with 6 foot long stiles and you have 4 of them up on the bench, chopping mortises and dovetails, and cutting groves for the panels. By the way, notice the lack of chips and shavings? Where are all the other parts and tools? What are we doing here, just sitting around doing dovetail demos? What bizarre parallel universe is this picture from? Not the one where I live.

As a side project for my last big build, I picked up a one of the least talked about power tools, a sewing machine. Not a little dainty one for sewing clothes but a manly chunk of cast iron and steel that punches through multiple layers of heavy canvas and webbing with ease. I started sewing some tool rolls to hold chisels and such. That way I when I want a chisel, I just reach in and grab a roll that has the set. No more playing a deadly game of pickup sticks digging out the one I want. No more ruined files from them rubbing against each other in the drawer. No more resharpening because the chisels banged into each other and nicked the edges. Nice, neat, movable packages.

The sad thing is that sometimes it feels like I spend more time organizing and caring for tools than making anything with them.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

8 comments so far

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4270 days

#1 posted 06-18-2010 01:22 PM

That’s my problem with organization. I get done working and am usually too tired to put everything away and clean up.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View a1Jim's profile


117115 posts in 3601 days

#2 posted 06-18-2010 05:01 PM

Being organized has many different levels

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2995 days

#3 posted 06-18-2010 06:19 PM

Well, military tools are often in rolls and they are the best at organizing IMHO. I think rolls are the best storage solution for chisels, screwdrivers, nutdrivers, files, punches, and small wrenches. In other words, anything long and narrow, and with a blade or surface to protect or is used in a set. I like a board on the wall for big and or heavy stuff. I use a sheet of plywood, finished or painted a light color, and place tools on it supported by nails, dowells, screws, or cleats. Then I take a marker and outline the tool. When it’s not hanging up, there is a graphic there to tell me what goes in that space; makes it easier and faster to clean up. The graphic board has helped me not loose tools as well; can tell at a glance if something is missing.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3139 days

#4 posted 06-18-2010 11:23 PM

the first picture sure is a very niiice toolbox
but don´t forget the man whas traveling around repairing pianos like steinways etc.
and has need for this kind of toolbox (small and overloaded) (have you seen his workbench)
it has the same minutius work in it , all build with scrap pieces from costummers projects

the second picture show one of those that whas common in the 17-1800 centuries
it whas standing beside the bench and they was working out of the box day in and day out
the toolbox was only moved if they change workingplace/master or traveled to another town

you can read alot about this in the toolbox book by Jim Tolpin

take care


View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3022 days

#5 posted 06-19-2010 02:23 AM


Yes, that is a lovely book. One of my favorites.

The Studley toolchest would almost be a reason in itself to visit the Smithsonian. I can look at over and over examining all the detail and thought behind it. I realize that these are also their working references, resume, and handtools all in one bundle.

I just can’t get my mind around working out of it though. A completely different mindset and approach to work.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3139 days

#6 posted 06-19-2010 05:03 AM


yes it is, but think like this

take a way all kind of powertools, electric light , engines, etc.
so you barely don´t have anything left of what you have of modern things
and barely own the close you walk in
that´s your startingpoint .
the toolchest on the floor beside the bench. what do you need to do is take out
the sliding box and place it on the bench then you have acses to all the tool
when the lid on the toolchest is open
saws in the lid , drill /planes in the bottom of the toolchest and cheisels/layout tools/drillbits
in the box on the bench
when you know your chest , wallhanged toolbox it is very esay to use without
looking for the tool you just know where it should be
and in the evening you can with one look see if any tool isn´t where it should bee

here is two links you can study

in the last there is this link to an interresting toolchest replicabuild
the Seaton toolchest

and in the old days was the chest not so much somthing to prevent someone
to steal from it , everybody knew that touching others tool was the same as asking
for serius trouble big time

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3022 days

#7 posted 06-19-2010 06:30 AM


Thanks for the links. The Seaton chest was a new one to me. I still am not sure what I where I am going for my personal storage solution yet. I have pared down my working set of tools considerably from what I used to use. Also changing the way I am working with stuff. I have plenty of time to think about it though. I am going to get started on my new bench this weekend and see where that leaves me. I am most anxious to have a real vise again. Everything just kind of pales in comparison to that right now. Today I also got some new holdfasts delivered. I picked up the Grammercy ones since I don’t really have access to forged ones right now. The cheap cast ones are better than nothing but still leave much to be desired. It is so much nicer to work with stuff when you don’t have to chase it all over the bench or have it slip out of the vise.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3139 days

#8 posted 06-19-2010 08:43 PM

LoL…....then try to hunt it all over your garden…....LOL
remember once I had to use a grinder and the piece shoot right
thrugh the air and over SWAMBO head in the moment she open the door…Brrr..scary moment

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