Student Toolchest Project

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We n the students of the cabinet and furniture-making program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts, have completed their six-week introduction to the fundamentals of drafting and benchwork, they are given the opportunity to embark upon their first start-to-finish project—the building of a tool chest.

At the outset of the project, the students are given five parameters to guide the building of their chests. The outside dimensions of the case must be 17 in. high by 33 in. long by 20 in. wide (a size that will fit under the school's workbenches). The carcase must be dovetailed. Drawers should be relatively few in number—six is recommended, although this requirement is not always strictly insisted upon. The wood chosen must be appropriate, with good working characteristics. Finally, hardware may be individually selected, but there must be a simple means of locking the chest. Complex construction systems

Tool chest by William Clayton, built while he was a student at North Bennet Street School in Boston, features fine, handcut dovetails on the drawer boxes. For other views of this chest, see p. 53.

and embellishments are discouraged to keep the student's involvement in the project within a two- to three- month time frame.

On a practical level, the students will need this chest to store their personal collections of hand tools when working in the school shop. But the project provides much more: Through the building of a relatively straightforward tool chest, the students learn fundamental woodworking skills, as set forth in the official school prospectus. These include:

♦ blending machine and hand woodworking techniques—with the emphasis on handwork as a way to create a broade range of design and construction solutions on a project.

♦ practicing safe, efficient bench work and machine-room techniques in the areas of layout, sizing and milling of stock, and applying finishes.

♦ basic joinery, including the dovetail and the mortise and tenon.

♦ other basic woodworking procedures, including dadoing, rabbeting, edge joining, making and fitting divider frames and partitions and door construction (both frame and panel and cleated).

♦ learning about grain and growth-ring considerations, and designing to allow movement.

♦ accounting for time and cost in the planning of a project.

The photos that follow, which were taken by Lance Patterson of North Bennet Street School, represent 17 student projects. As you can see, the restrictions do not resulted in bland, homogenous toolboxes. Instead, students create chests that strongly reflect their own sense of design—and sometimes their sense of humor as well. (Notice that Stephen Alexander's box, shown in the top photo on p. 54, protrays the face of the North Bennet Street School building.) Though humble in dimension and function, the tool-chest project has carried scores of students from theory, through woodworking practices, to the creation of an attractive, functional object.

Woodworking Tool Chest


Locking system

Approximate size: 17 in. high by 20 in. deep by 33 in. long


Locking system

Approximate size: 17 in. high by 20 in. deep by 33 in. long

Appropriate wood, with good working characteristics

Woodworking Tool Chests

William Clayton's tool chest has an unusually well-proportioned case. Its design is securely founded in the Arts and Crafts era. with primary woods of quartersawn white oak and birds-eye maple. Altogether the box features 160 hand-cut dovetails. Note the handmade solid-copper pulls and the inlay work of copper. pewter and dyed beech on the doors.

Handcrafted Tool ChestsBuilding Hidden Compartment Furniture

Stephen Alexander employed a painted trompe I'oeil finish to mimic the stone exterior of the North Bennet Street School building on the outside of his toolbox. The "carving" on the end board of the box is also false-the date and symbol are painted, not carved. Faux brickwork and a painted front view of the school's entryway complete the illusion.

North Bennet Street School Tool Chest

Drawing on the techniques used in period furniture designs to create hidden compartments. J. Fischer disguised the side trays containing his chisels as pilaster moldings. A drop lid slides open to reveal the drawers.

Eric Englander drew heavily on the Arts and Crafts style for inspiration when he built his tool chest. The basic form of the box comes from a Gustav Stickley furniture piece, and the inlay is inspired by the work of Harvey Ellis, a colleague of Stickley. The side-opening doors and long, narrow central drawers give the chest a pleasing, stable appearance.

Eric Englander Furniture

The chest at right, by Tom Sulvalskas. is influenced by the Baroque furniture of Louis XV. More a miniature piece of furniture than a toolbox, the chest is reminiscent of a classic bombé commode.

Student Woodworking ProjectsPeter Cabot Woodworking

Enchanted by the furniture of the Ming Dynasty, Peter Cabot incorporated many Chinese elements in the design of his chest, above. A campaign chest influenced the shape of the box. a tea table inspired the top. and an emperor's bed suggested the form of the stand. The box is finished with a traditional tung-seed oil.

The chest at right, by Tom Sulvalskas. is influenced by the Baroque furniture of Louis XV. More a miniature piece of furniture than a toolbox, the chest is reminiscent of a classic bombé commode.


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