All Replies on Why build an Anarchist's Tool Chest?

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Why build an Anarchist's Tool Chest?

by jonasramus
posted 01-04-2012 08:05 PM

40 replies so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15341 posts in 2611 days

#1 posted 01-04-2012 08:13 PM

Jeff- i’m a schwarz fan from his first Workbenches book through Handplane Essentials, joiner and cabinetmaker, and essential woodworker. That said, not so much TATC. Not the social commentary (he’s entitled, and rational, but I don’t agree with his world view). And while I understand and respect his love of toolchests, I’m not going there, either. I’ve been fascinated by them always, but especially since his book came out, but I’m not building. Wall and under – bench (blasphemy!!) storage is what I prefer. So, you’re not alone…

For what it’s worth.

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

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3457 days

#2 posted 01-04-2012 08:17 PM

havent read this book of his, but I wouldnt put my stuff in a chest. I much prefer them hanging vertically in a cabinet or on a wall.

what’s the social commentary like?

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15341 posts in 2611 days

#3 posted 01-04-2012 08:33 PM

Aaron, please don’t read this as a cop out but I have respect his view enough to say I dont want to recap (mis-represent) what he invested many pages presenting. It’s interesting for sure, and not at all offensive in any way. But for me, it distracts from working wood so I dont focus on that aspect of the author’s work.

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

View Loren's profile


10371 posts in 3641 days

#4 posted 01-04-2012 08:43 PM

I don’t follow Schwartz at all, haven’t read his books and in fact
no longer read any woodworking magazines. That said, before
automobiles and electricity, journeymen used to haul their
tools in a single chest from job to job so the work was portable.

Furthermore, carpentry was more a matter of timber framing
stuff back in the day, so the tools were taken to the work, not
vice versa. If you were a bodger you would go out in the woods
with your tools and make chairs where the trees are.

I got a look at a friend’s patternmaker’s bench at least 100 years
old. The thing was stocked with an incredible collection of
carving tools that just wouldn’t be accessible or sensibly stored
in anything but drawers close at hand.

If you want to trip-out on hand tool woodworking as some sort
of spiritual journey you are welcome to it. I’d recommend you
read James Krenov if you haven’t though – even though his
books are old now his approach to hand vs. machine tools
was balanced and practical. He neither obsessed about collecting
hand tools nor high-end machinery, but he did produce
beautiful, masterful work.

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2873 days

#5 posted 01-04-2012 08:46 PM

I love to look at tool chest that others have made especially the antique ones that were made long ago but I have no need for one. I would like to make one someday just for the fun of crafting one but I am pretty sure it will just get filled with tools I don’t use and it would act more as a show piece.

Tool chest (in my opinion) make sense if you are doing a lot of on the site work but if your only working out of your shop then its not my ideal choice for tool storage. Everyone will have their own opinions though.

I also store stuff under my bench. Why the heck not?

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2964 days

#6 posted 01-04-2012 08:47 PM

I havent read the whole book, just parts, but in response to the question, “why store your tools in a chest?” I did read a few relevant pages. His explaination is that the tools inside the chest are protected from moisture and salt (sweat) that would have been present in a woodshop of the day. Also, it’s a place to sit and rest.

About 40 years ago, one of my early woodworking projects was a tool chest. I didn’t even know why I built it; just seemed like a good thing to have. Who knew?

View walkerwg's profile


6 posts in 2329 days

#7 posted 01-04-2012 09:49 PM

My general perspective is to make storage that creates a more efficient shop for what YOU do. If you travel with your tools and want to display your skills to the customer, then make a tool chest that accomplishes those goals. If your shop is in your basement, create an environment that makes YOUR process a more enjoyable one. 19th century and earlier Jointers and Carpenters utilized the tool chest as a means to display their skill and craftsmanship. They ALSO serving as a means to get their tools to and from the job by horse and buggy. Form vs Function, sometimes they are both necessary, sometimes not. If making an elaborate tool chest gets you into your shop improving your skills and gaining more experience and understanding in the craft then do that. Most of the things we encounter are not A or B type questions. While working in Fine Art over the years I have learned to allow the work I DO determine what I NEED and then sprinkle in a few WANTS.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2991 days

#8 posted 01-04-2012 09:58 PM

I personally don’t care for chests. I much prefer drawers under bench and taller cabinets. It is a real estate issue for me. If I were working in someone else’s shop, the toolchest is better security. In my own garage, not so much.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2560 days

#9 posted 01-04-2012 09:59 PM

The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is in the box delivered to my front door today from Lee Valley (along with a nice shoulder plane). I decided to read it based on many many reviews, both good and not so good. My theory is even a bad opinion may be useful if it makes me think about what I do and how I do it.

So far I’m on the fence about Schwarz. Some of his stuff goes beyond opinion, but again, if it makes me think.

I like the thought of a chest, but I’m like most of the others so far. It would be a cool project, but then what would I do with it. I’ve got 4 or 5 old woodworking chest I’ve picked up along the way antiquing. None are being used except the ones my wife is using as coffee tables

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

View David_bignell's profile


1 post in 3295 days

#10 posted 02-21-2012 12:03 AM

I recently built a toolchest from Chris’s book and I can’t understand how I worked without it. The wheels are the best part since I can easily roll it around the shop and everything I need is right at hand. I made it a little bit smaller so I could handle it into my car for demonstrations. The project was a little more advanced than I typically do, but it is functional despite some less than perfect dovetail joints.

-- David Bignell

View ksSlim's profile


1275 posts in 2883 days

#11 posted 02-21-2012 01:26 AM

We have a beautiful antique tool chest that arrived in this country in the mid 1700s. Its in use as a coffee table/Magazine storage. I prefer to have my hand tools stored near or under the bench. I presume that in yesteryear, some of craftsman’s work was done “on site” as opposed to in the shop, ergo the need for somewhat portable tool storage.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View David's profile


172 posts in 2835 days

#12 posted 02-21-2012 02:45 AM

I have not read his book yet but plan to in the future. From the short video he posted seen here: and from reading his blogs, this is my take on it.

This is more of an enlightenment as to really what a wood worker needs. A shop full of pricey, expensive, one use tools, not, a simple box full of carefully selected tools, yes. For centuries woodworkers used these same tools and produced great work. To me that is all the book is about. Fill the need for tools not the want.

Also in the video you see that for each days work the tools have a place on the bench at close range. If you have your own shop, then really tool storage and this chest is unnecessary, just leave the tools on the bench, lol. Why put them away if no one is in your shop to steal them. Back in the day the chests were a means of securing your tools also, not just storage. They were the JoBox’s of there time.

-- “Don’t tell me what can’t be done, tell me what you want done then shut up and get out of my way and let me do it!”

View HorizontalMike's profile


7754 posts in 2907 days

#13 posted 02-21-2012 02:55 AM

Thank you Loren, I believe that your interpretation is balanced spot on. OR, we could all just obsess about our own little niche hobby as if nothing exists outside of it. ;-)

BTW, there is reason behind Yin and Yang, IMO.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2468 days

#14 posted 02-21-2012 03:08 AM

I use pelican cases. Water proof, air tight, sturdy as hell and I won’t sit on the sidewalk and cry if one of my workers or someone else on site puts a scratch on them.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 2976 days

#15 posted 02-21-2012 06:39 AM

i like the schwarze, but i prefer my tools in drawers or on the wall.but if you’ve got to go to job sites, then this box would be handy. or it’s just a good excersie in making something;and then sell it.

View BobM001's profile


388 posts in 2323 days

#16 posted 02-21-2012 08:08 AM


-- OK, who's the wise guy that shrunk the plywood?

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3108 days

#17 posted 02-21-2012 11:43 AM

back then even if they worked in a shop
it was most of the times a shop that they worked in was the masters
and they had to buy there own tools it wasn´t the master who bought tools for them
other than the most rare that have to stay in the shop
the basic tools they needed to buy them self
they didn´t worked a lifetime for the same master so they need the toolchest
both to protect the tool from theft (coworkers ) and from the humidity in the shops
beside they used it to have the tools in when they moved on to the next master
they used the inside to show the new master how skilled they were as well as maybee new costummers
the toolchest and tooltotes have all day been used as silence advertiser for how skilled the craftman was

working from a toolchest doesn´t meen you approch the chest every time you need to change tool
you basicly take out the tools you think you need for the rest of the days work and place them on the bench
and put them back in when the work of the day is over

a good book to read and see many different toolchests and store solution is
The Toolbox Book
Author : Jim Tolpin

have a great day

View poopiekat's profile


4353 posts in 3727 days

#18 posted 02-21-2012 11:54 AM

I recall reading a profile of an old-school journeyman who built amazing high-end furniture. His ENTIRE tool collection sat on a shelf one foot wide and six feet long. I mean, everything he owned! That was my moment of epiphany! I too have ATC and wish to slowly wean myself off of power tools, save for maybe my bandsaw and possibly my ancient jointer.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Hoosierdaddy's profile


81 posts in 2634 days

#19 posted 11-24-2013 06:19 PM

I unfortunately haven’t purchased a copy of TATC book, only had it for a short time from the big city library system and had it for a couple of weeks before someone else had thrown their hat in the ring for wanting to read it. I barely got 50 pages into it but what I took away from it was CS’s list of must have tools. As I’ve started down the path of trying to replace all those electric tools with hand tools I found his insight and detailed explanation of the pro’s and con’s of various tools, like whether to get a wood or metal plow plane. So, take it for what it’s worth so far as whether you need a Tool Chest but I look to his experience with what the must have tools should populate your humble workshop.

-- I don't know what this is going to be like, but there's only one way to find out..........

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2377 days

#20 posted 11-24-2013 08:24 PM

Working out of a tool chest is not difficult…as others have said,

however, I will saw that it only makes sense if you are dedicated to having a relatively small set of tools. If you want to have 5 smoothing planes, 3 different sized braces, 30 chisels, 4 block planes, and 3 jointer planes, and 20 saws…its not going to work…

if don w. Tried it, he would need about 10 chests…tools on the wall makes more sense the more tools you have.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Tom Clark's profile

Tom Clark

88 posts in 3014 days

#21 posted 11-27-2013 08:06 PM

Since I had just recently finished building my own tool chest, this post caught my eye. However, I did not know what a Roubo chest was so I googled it to see a photo. Now I understand what everyone was talking about!

My personal opinion was that that chest idea may have been fine a couple hundred years ago when no one owned their own woodworking shop and worked in someone else’s shop, but in today’s home workshop world that kind of chest would be a big waste of time.

As this photo shows, I agree with those who said that they prefer drawers to keep their tools in and readily available. Having them all piled into a box on the floor would really be a big time waster.

However to answer the original posters questions of why anyone would want to build rather than buy. That is easy. I take a thousand times more pride in something I designed and built myself than something that I just threw money at…

-- Tom

View theoldfart's profile


9691 posts in 2444 days

#22 posted 11-27-2013 08:22 PM

12 string, I have a bigger inventory of hand tools than what you mention in your post and have no trouble woking out of my ATC.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15341 posts in 2611 days

#23 posted 11-28-2013 04:07 PM

I bought the ATC book, read it, found the snarkiness to be somewhat of a distraction, then decided there was no motivation to build a chest for use.

There is a chest in my shop full of tools, however. And that’s a long story. It’s been in place for a couple months and my impression so far is not strong one way or another. Not everything fits inside but that’s not the expectation either. I’d like it to be a one-stop shop for odd jobs, but stocking a smallish chest in a complete fashion has proven to be elusive so far.

It does take up a lot of floor space.

Bottom line? Jury is still out.

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

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2377 days

#24 posted 11-28-2013 04:48 PM

Oldfart…does it hold all the hand tools you use?

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Andre's profile


1827 posts in 1799 days

#25 posted 11-28-2013 05:24 PM

Having read the TATC and most of Krenov’s books, I will stick with Mr Krenov.
But having travelled many times a great distance in the pursuit of learning more about wood working a tool chest would be real nice!

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View theoldfart's profile


9691 posts in 2444 days

#26 posted 11-28-2013 05:45 PM

12 string, yes it does. I have a few power tools for dimension lumber, but for the most part I try to use hand tools only.
When Chris Schwatrz wrote the ATC he was putting forth the idea that you don’t need a lot of tools to do quality work. The chest was a by product of this though process.. I asked him about this and he said he was surprised at the amount of people that built the chest. The chest was not the primary point of the book but rather the tools.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View a1Jim's profile


117083 posts in 3570 days

#27 posted 11-28-2013 07:44 PM

I know that Schwatrz has his fans, but I’m not one of them,having seen him in the woodwright show (way to often)
I agee with Smitty about his snarkiness (great word) puts me off,so when ever he’s on the Woodwright show I don’t watch the show .I like Roy and most of his guest but Schwatrz is not worth my time. I suspect that his fans are younger folks than myself and are totally into old school woodworking ,there’s absolutly nothing wrong with that. As far as his chest I agree with Loren on his explanation of why someone would use or need a tool chest. I also suspect there’s the nostalig reasons for the building of his chest and a want to be like Schatrz aspect too.I know the Norm want to be thing was part of brought me into woodworking. Even haviing the need to transport tools,using a large chest like this chest is totally impractical from my point of view. I don’t put down anyone for wanting to build this chest or liking this chest or for that matter being a schwatrz fan.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2468 days

#28 posted 11-28-2013 08:08 PM

One thing no one mentions is that these chests were usually filled with wooden planes, as the worker usually made his own planes for work. My pelican case with only 4 planes, 2 small planes, chisels, saws and measuring tools weights at the limit of what I consider viable for on site work and I am glad it has wheels.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Woodknack's profile


11600 posts in 2373 days

#29 posted 11-29-2013 05:49 AM

This type of chest isn’t meant for lugging around although I do see tradesmen everyday with large tool chests in their trucks/vans. Tool chests are about efficiency whereas drawers and cabinets are about organization. One is not right over the other; it just depends on the tools and what works for you. I don’t like drawers so the few I have tend to stay open while I’m working so I can just reach in and out quickly. Wall space is mostly used up so I can’t store my tools there either.

-- Rick M,

View Rick's profile


9589 posts in 3026 days

#30 posted 11-29-2013 07:12 AM

I guess this is the kind of Chest you Guys are talking about? This one is apparently quite Famous.

It’s the H.O. Studley Chest. (1838-1925) Made Sometime in the Late 1800’s. He was employed at the time by the “Poole Piano Company” It’s. 19-1/2” Wide, 39” Long, 9-1/2” Deep. It Holds 300 Tools.

It was in the Smithsonian Institution, then the National Museum Of American History.

Then Sold for an Undisclosed amount to a Private Collector. The One Stanley Plan on the Far Left Side was Appraised at $800.00




-- LIFE is what happens when you're planning on doing Other Things!

View Woodknack's profile


11600 posts in 2373 days

#31 posted 11-29-2013 07:25 AM

Never heard of it.
Well, that’s not entirely true, Henry and I were like brothers … until that day over Macho Grande.

-- Rick M,

View lj61673's profile


261 posts in 2392 days

#32 posted 11-29-2013 11:50 AM

I’ll never get over Macho Grande…..

View diverlloyd's profile


2723 posts in 1850 days

#33 posted 11-29-2013 08:08 PM

I second Jims post. I was starting to think I was the only one who thought and did the same thing about the guy. Remember these chests keep all you nice tools in one place making it easy for a thief to take. My insurance man lowered my rate because my tools are in cabinets and drawers and not all grouped together in one easily stolen spot. Although the chest would be good dovetailing practice.

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

332 posts in 2041 days

#34 posted 11-29-2013 08:55 PM

Chris got my head straight where and when it counted. But the ATC doesn’t fit my shop style. I have built one, gotten as far as finishing the dovetails and sat looking at it. My shop is narrow and I don’t have much floor space. I decided to cut it into two shallow boxes and cover with two boxy doors mounted with piano hinges. Each will have a simple bottom. The two boxes I plan to mount side-by-side on the long wall of the shop on french cleats. The entire thing should move easily if I have to move again. The exact spot will be for the least amount of walking to get to the tools. Hopefully I’ll just pivot to grab a tool wherever I am. Call me an anarchist if you will; I think I’m finding the easiest way and tha’s what counts.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

View Rick's profile


9589 posts in 3026 days

#35 posted 11-29-2013 09:19 PM

Rick M.
2391 posts in 740 days #31 posted 14 hours ago

”Never heard of it.”

Of that I have No Doubt. Especially Considering your probably in the same AGE Bracket. ;-}


”I’ll never get over Macho Grande…..”

Prosecutor: Then Howie survived?
Witness: No, ‘fraid not. We lost Howie the next day.
Prosecutor: Over Macho Grande?
Witness: No. I don’t think I’ll ever get over Macho Grande. Those wounds run…pretty deep.


-- LIFE is what happens when you're planning on doing Other Things!

View Woodknack's profile


11600 posts in 2373 days

#36 posted 11-30-2013 07:28 AM

Well it gets posted about 10x/month; hence the joke. It’s an impressive tool box but I wouldn’t want to to use it.

-- Rick M,

View Rick's profile


9589 posts in 3026 days

#37 posted 12-01-2013 12:06 AM

Whatever YOU say Rick.

-- LIFE is what happens when you're planning on doing Other Things!

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 2976 days

#38 posted 12-06-2013 08:01 PM

ok Rick; what is “macho grande” is it from a movie? i have several of the shwarze’s books. the idea of a chest is down sizing his tool amounts; to what fits in the box. and is a good choice if you travel,(move locations) and no wall space. I do prefer the wall mounted chest myself. i’m in the process of thinking what to eliminate to fit a wall cabinet in. but I think there is a place for the old style tool chest. i’d like to make one for the heck of it, cuz they look cool! my 2 cents…

View Woodknack's profile


11600 posts in 2373 days

#39 posted 12-06-2013 10:03 PM

Ted Striker is the main character in Airplane & Airplane II. He was a wartime squadron leader until he lost his entire squadron over an area called “Macho Grande”; afterward he refused to fly and developed a “drinking problem”. The movies are a spoof of Airport ‘79 and in each Ted Striker boards a plane to be with his ex-girlfriend and in each case the pilots die and he is the only hope for landing the planes. Specifically I was referencing William Shatner in Airplane II which is about a space shuttle flight to the moon.

Shatner: “Who’s in control of that rocket Lieutenant?”
Lieutenant: “Some guy by the name of Ted Stryker, sir.”
Shatner: “Ted Stryker?”
Lieutenant: “You know him, sir?”
Shatner: “Never heard of him. That’s not exactly true. We were like brothers…. before Macho Grande”

Probably way more than you wanted to know but I love those movies.

Back on topic, I’ve been meaning to build one of these chests for a year but have never gotten around to it.

-- Rick M,

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 2976 days

#40 posted 12-07-2013 12:10 AM

thanks rick for the knowledge, I have seen airplane, but its been so long ago, I didn’t remember the dialog.
my brothers and friends always recite movie dialogs too.
ever seen the” mad mad mad world ”? its got a treasure of one liner dialogs in it…
anyway we’ve got to build a chest for the challenge of it. maybe after the first of the year.

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