Open Shoulder Totes

A, the end of the 1960s and fresh out of college, I decided that rather than adding yet another suit to the corporate world, I would instead move to the woods of coastal New Hampshire and add another pair of overalls to the world of woodworking. With little knowledge and even less skill, I was hoping to find employment with either a timber framer or a boat carpenter—I had been told that both were plentiful in this area. After much searching, and stooping to offering my meager services for next to nothing (it was nothing, come to think of it), a timber-frame house builder finally took me on.

Heeding my new employer's advice, I gathered together the tools I would need to make other woodworkers think I belonged among them. My employer assumed—correctly, it turned out—that hunger, if not the raw enthusiasm of youth, would soon drive me to learn how to use the tools. Indeed, the realization that I would need to create

Inger Olsen's soft and pliable canvas hand tote, described on pp. 136-137, can hold as many tools as a comparably sized wooden tote. Photo by Craig Wester.

Jim Tolpin's toolbox for timber-framing tools. The side compartments contain chisels and other small carpentry tools; a slotted partition holds panel saws. A canvas cover provides a measure of protection from the elements. The original closet-pole handle has been replaced with a pipe clamp. Photo by Craig Wester.

a device to carry and store my new tools initiated my first real woodworking project: the making of an open shoulder tote of 3/Vin. plywood. Nearly 25 years and two handles later, this box is still with me. It sits in a corner of my shop in semi-retirement, holding a set of rough carpentry tools in readiness for occasional shop repairs.

During a three-day period of very intense woodworking, I worked on the toolbox project, building a series of three prototype toolboxes (although I didn't realize at the time that I was making prototypes). As I remember, I made the first box about 16 in. square and rather shallow. It lasted only as long as it took for me to fill it with some tools, pick it up, and then set it down again, at which point I pried the box apart. I realized immediately that its shape would be a serious problem. I could not carry the box at my side without literally walking into it. A square tote larger than about 12 in. wide was not a good solution.

I decided to build the second box long and narrow—as long as the 48-in. width of a sheet of plywood (how clever of me,

1 thought, to make such efficient use of materials). I figured that a tote of this shape would keep out of the way of my legs, fit through doors easily, and, best of all, hold virtually my entire collection of tools. This box in fact met all my design criteria; the only problem was that I couldn't pick it up. Loaded with tools, it weighed over 75 lb., far too much for me to lift with one arm. At first I thought the problem was the sheer weight of the load. But after unloading some tools, I still found the box difficult to carry—my wrist quickly tired and begged my other hand to come around to help. With my other hand now in the game, the box ended up in front of me, putting a tremendous strain on my back and making the box even more awkward and troublesome to carry.

I realize now that the problem was one of leverage: With some tools up to

2 ft. away from my hand on the handle, their weight exerted a tremendous amount of torque on my wrist. The remedy was either to concentrate as much weight as possible directly below my hand (which is not very practical with woodworking tools) or to shorten the box. I opted for the latter, cutting the box down to 3 ft. in length. So much for efficient use of materials. The size reduction reduced the carrying capacity to about 50 lb. worth of tools—a manageable load. The result is the third box, shown in the photo above left. Its sides and floor are 3/<-in. fir plywood, rabbeted at the corners with glue and fastened with threaded nails. Two levels of side compartments contain chisels and other small tools. A slotted partition holds panel saws; ledge strips contain a 30-in. level and a 24-in. framing square.

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