Traditional Style Tool Chest

  • Advertise with us
Project by tomfidgen posted 04-16-2008 01:00 AM 7512 views 16 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Simple Joinery makes for Quick and Sturdy Construction
I’m just finishing a major cabinet project and have found some time between finishing coats to build a traditional style Tool Chest. I always had a tool cabinet in my shop as well as a peg board wall for hanging odd size tools but never seemed to be able to find the time to build a proper Tool Chest.
I think I started this train of thought after reading the latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine and seeing the great article on Gerstner & Sons. Truly amazing, 100 years. My initial thought was to simply copy the Gerstner style chest of drawers but once I started taking inventory of the “must have” tools I’d be putting in this thing,I quickly realised the chest of drawer design wasn’t going to suit my purpose. What I did like about the Gerstner design is the simple construction methods that clearly could stand the test of time. Dadoes and rabbets, no fancy joinery; reliable and sensible I decided this would suit what I needed and wouldn’t eat up alot of shop time. Having a background in wooden boat building I’ve always loved the old Mariner style Sea-Chests and thought of a way to incorporate the two styles while keeping the Chest relatively light.

The Carcass and Interior
For the top, bottom and two sides I used 4/4 Cherry. I joined the corners with a simple rabbet and dado joint. A stacked Dado on the Table Saw set-up with a wooden sacrificial fence made the job of cutting the joinery here quick and painless. Glue and Cherry dowels will assure this stays put for a long time. The front and back of the chest I made frame and panel style; the frame is again 4/4 Cherry joined with through mortise and tenons while the panels are off cuts of 1/4” plywood. This is a safe and stable material that will keep things from moving around in future climate changes. I built two drawers into the front bottom and installed sliding panels out of plywood to keep the drawers in place without having to resort to mechanical fasteners. Again on the table saw, a simple dado for the drawer corners keeps everything running smoothly. The drawers are solid Cherry for the front, back and sides while again plywood for the bottoms. The right hand drawer has a false bottom for two levels of storage. This is dedicated to drill bits, knives and chisels leaving the left drawer for lay-out tools. On the inside of the lid I made a custom cleat that holds my full size cross-cut saw, (this actually determined the Chests’ width during the design stages of this project) to hold the end of the saw blade secure during transit, I added a strip of leather. I knew I wanted to leave the majority of the Chest interior open to accommodate larger items but always liked the whole “till” system you see in the old Mariner style Sea-Chests. I secured two cleats at the top inside of the Chest sides, about an inch lower than the lid bottom which enables the tills to hang safely inside. The rear till is slightly wider and deeper than the front to accommodate two back saws as well as some other items. I made some custom dividers and tool holders that actually can be a real mind-bender when you have to put things away. It’s sort of a puzzle in the making when fitting tools into a small space like this. The front till handles some screwdrivers, spokeshaves and hammers. I’ll include a full inventory of the Chest at the end of this article. I used some ‘Flame Birch’ for the tills I had kicking around my shop; it was good and dry as well as an aesthetically pleasing contrast to the Cherry.
At this point it came time to make one of the hardest decisions of the entire design; which hand planes to take? Which ones were worthy of coming along to ‘on-site’ locations? I quickly got into the whole “If you could only take ten items to a desert island scenario…” I made myself a plywood template of the Chest bottom and on my Bench I started to arrange my hand planes. Moving them here to there, taking this one away and adding that one; when I finally decided on my plane selection as well as the orientation of the lay-out I traced around each one and using a small jig-saw, cut out the shapes. I then took this perfect template of the lay-out and glued it into the Chest bottom creating a kind of French-Fitted compartment which is much fancier than I originally anticipated. This method also helps to keep items from shifting when moving the Chest around.

Finishing Touches
I used a Piano style hinge across the back to hold the lid with a heavy-duty Bronze closure for the front. I had it left after a boat build I was working on last year and this proved a perfect application for the Naval hardware.(Note: A Ship Supply Store can be a great place to find interesting hardware suitable for all kinds of furniture making as well as being different than the stuff you’ll find in most hardware stores.) The handle on the top is made from 5/4 Walnut. I made it wrap over and around the top to add some extra surface and help keep from pulling off while carrying it. Some glue, walnut dowels as well as some 3” wood screws driven up from the inside will hopefully take care of any movement in the handle. For the finish I decided to try a homemade method of ‘Ebonising’ the plywood panels. A simple mixture of steel wool in a mason jar covered with household vinegar and left to ‘cook’ for a few days turned the wood a rich Black. I added a second coat when it dried and finished it off by taking a card scraper and lightly scraping the black residue left behind. Over this as well as the entire Chest I rubbed on my now exclusive Oil and Varnish mixture. This really brought out the grain in the Cherry and will provide a strong finish. The Tried and True Oil/Varnish product has become the only finish I use and every time I apply it I like it more and more. This Traditional style Tool Chest was a quick and relatively painless project that will protect my tools for many years to come while keeping me fit everytime I have to move it.

Width: 28 5/8” Height: 16” Depth: 9 1/4”

-- tom fidgen,

19 comments so far

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3736 days

#1 posted 04-16-2008 01:10 AM

Great chest, craftsmanship and story. Thanks for the post.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View BobR's profile


136 posts in 3954 days

#2 posted 04-16-2008 01:25 AM

I like it! A tool chest is something I have always wanted to build, so I understand how it took you so long to get around to making one. May be one day.

-- Bob

View grovemadman's profile


556 posts in 3741 days

#3 posted 04-16-2008 01:31 AM

Great chest Tom. It looks pretty rugged and able to stand up to some use!

-- --Chuck

View Ad Marketing Guy - Bill's profile

Ad Marketing Guy - Bill

314 posts in 3768 days

#4 posted 04-16-2008 01:35 AM

VERY nice chest – looks like a classic – sound be around for another generation of woodworkers – Great job!

-- Bill - - Ad-Marketing Guy, Ramsey NJ

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3865 days

#5 posted 04-16-2008 02:04 AM

I’m jealous——a classic that will be a family heirloom.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3958 days

#6 posted 04-16-2008 02:35 AM

Fantastic box. Looks like everything is very organized.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3791 days

#7 posted 04-16-2008 02:42 AM


This is a gorgeous tool chest as it should be. It harkens to times past when these chests were used to advertise the craftmanship of their owner. This chest certainly falls within that category and is something that is largely missing from today’s society.

Nice job and you built a superb chest.

Thanks for sharing this post and the story behind it.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4063 days

#8 posted 04-16-2008 03:32 AM

I appreciate this project very much. Something similar is on my short list. Having just finished a 10 week class at one of our local design colleges (continuing studies), I can relate to its purpose. I was continually wishing I had a chest for my traditional tools that would also house some of my other ‘necessary’ tools for the class. Toting two tool bags vs. one manageable chest got to be a drag.

Thanks for sharing and providing inspiration.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View SteveKorz's profile


2134 posts in 3683 days

#9 posted 04-16-2008 04:43 AM

Very nice, and well built… you’ll enjoy it for years

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

View blackcherry's profile


3337 posts in 3792 days

#10 posted 04-16-2008 05:38 AM

Great looking tool chest…and a nice collection of handtool which show in the const. of the chest itself…its sort of a inspiration for me as well to one day hand down my handtool to my son and what a great way to store them in a chest sort of like this one…but first many miles of shaving to go God willing…great post Blkcherry

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4069 days

#11 posted 04-16-2008 06:50 AM

Man is that nice!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3966 days

#12 posted 04-16-2008 08:15 AM

Love it!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Bill Akins's profile

Bill Akins

425 posts in 3668 days

#13 posted 04-16-2008 04:01 PM

Absolutely Fabulous! The older handtools really set it off. I have recently aquired similar plans and plan to build 1 each for my 2 sons after I finish my current project.

-- Bill from Lithia Springs, GA I love the smell of sawdust in the morning.

View motthunter's profile


2141 posts in 3768 days

#14 posted 04-16-2008 04:04 PM

WOW.. great chest and great explanations.. Thanks for the post

-- making sawdust....

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4188 days

#15 posted 04-16-2008 05:27 PM

Excellent tool chest and description!

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

showing 1 through 15 of 19 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics