w, before the first colonists set their toolboxes down on the eastern shores of this vast "new* world, indigenous craftsmen of the Pacific Northwest were safeguarding their chisels, knives and gouges in cleverly made bentwood boxes. Eons before them, at the dawn of woodworking, people made, used and stored tools. Imagining myself seated at the hearth of an elderly ancestor, I watch as he gathers up his precious bone and obsidian cutting tools. With great care, he wraps each tool in a scrap of oiled sealskin and places it gently into an elegantly made satchel of hardened leather. As he turns the box-like bag in his hands, light from the cooking fire glistens off the intricate ornamentations formed from shells and teeth. As much a tool as the implements it contains, the satchel protects and organizes the fragile extensions of his gifted hands. And more: I imagine this primordial toolbox as a totem—a symbol of the ancient craftsman's stature as a creator of life-giving tools and weapons for his people.
Back to the present. I am invited to the shop of a fine furniture maker to see a desk she has made, yet my eye is drawn more to her exquisitely made standing tool cabinet. The cabinet is at once a thing of unabashed beauty and of ultimate practicality. Placed just a step
"There are many [tools] which a cabinetmaker soon collects... which take up room and need their proper places, and to provide them is a task which becomes a pleasure to a craftsman interested in his tools."
- from Modern Cabinet Work by Percy Wells and John Hooper (London: Batsford, 1909).
away from the vise end of her workbench, the hand-joined hardwood box with its bookmatched panel doors contains nearly all of her most commonly used bench tools. As she shows me how she made the high-style dovetails on one of the drawers, I find myself watching with growing fascination as one tool after another flows out from the cabinet, down to the work, and then back again to its resting place.
Suddenly I make a connection: Like the ornamented leather satchel of the Stone Age toolmaker, this furniture maker's toolbox is also a totem—a symbol of her commitment to a trade and an expression of the best of her art and skill. And 1 realize that the toolboxes that hold our tools are, like it or not, a highly visible testament to ourselves as woodworkers, a measure of the care and skill we instill in the objects that we create and offer to the world.
In writing this book I hope to pay-homage to these containers that cradle our tools, and also to encourage you to build 3 toolbox of your own. The book begins with a look at tool chests from the golden years of the last two centuries, highlighting the cabinetmaker's tool chest. These chests richly document the highly evolved technical skill and artistry that flowed from the hands of master craftsmen. Following that is a gallery' of tool chests built by the students of North Bennet Street School in Boston. The rest of the book explores contemporary toolboxes, both those designed for use in the shop (chapters 5, 6 and 7) and those meant to travel to the job site (chapters 9, 10, 11 and 12).
To help you choose the box best suited to your needs, there are discussions of f undamental design considerations for both types of boxes: in-shop tool storage in Chapter 4, and site boxes in Chapter 8. These more theoretical chapters will help you design your own tool-storage system by analyzing how and where your toolbox will be used and what tools to store in it. Knowing these things will allow you to develop the outside proportions and the layout of interior compartments and tool holders. There is also discussion of materials, joinery and finishing.
Perhaps you already have a mystical, irresistible desire to build your own toolbox (or should I say totem?). If not, here are some down-to-earth reasons for doing so. The first is that there are surprisingly few commercially made toolboxes for woodworkers—most ready-made boxes are designed to contain mechanic's and machinist's tools. The layout of the drawers and other compartments—and the fact that many of these boxes are made from metal (which is notoriously unfriendly to cutting tools)—makes them generally unsuitable for the woodworking trade.
The second reason for building your own toolbox is to gain the opportunity to design and construct a storage system that perfectly accommodates your specific tools and your own working situation. Finally, it's a pleasure to own a carefully planned, well-built toolbox where every tool has its own well-protected, easily accessible niche. In a box you make yourself, your hands know where to find each tool, and your eyes tell you in an instant if one is missing. A toolbox is the kind of project that makes you wonder not only why you waited so long to undertake it, but also how you ever got along without it.
Most of the projects and techniques described in the book are well within the reach of a woodworker familiar with basic woodshop skills. There is nothing particularly tricky, for example, in the building of my hanging wall cabinet (pp. 83-91), my rolling tool cart (pp. 114-123) or my toolbox for carving chisels (pp. 160-167). To be sure, some of the toolbox projects contributed by other professional woodworkers are considerably more complex. But illustrated step-by-step construction notes should ease you through some of the fussier procedures and specialized techniques. You may also be pleased to discover that many of the projects— especially the smaller ones-can be built from scrap stock, costing you next to nothing.
Consider the building of your own toolboxes as a challenge to push your skills. Use these projects as an opportunity to try out new joiners' techniques, to work with woods you haven't touched before, and to apply previously untried finishes. At the worst, you'll end up with a good place to put your tools. But at the best, you'll have built for yourself an object of lasting pride, utility and beauty—a symbol of your joy in woodworking both for yourself and for those around you.
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