Toolchests Part 14 – Repairability

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A wet grand piano. Dave, Freaktography.com

The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.

John F. Kennedy

This article is based primarily on an online discussion with Gary, a truly Beloved Customer, regarding his wise observation about the need to make a toolchest easily repairable, especially if one intends it to be useful for 200 years. I preached about durability, longevity and the joys of bubble-wrap in previous articles in this series but failed to address the subject of repairability. In this article I will try to clarify a few points relevant to this subject.

Categories of Repairability

There are several types of repairs that a faithful toolchest may require during it’s lifetime if it is to remain useful, but I think the two main categories are cosmetic and mechanical.

So what did your humble servant do to facilitate Moby Dick’s “repairability,” and what would I change to improve it in this regard? Perhaps you may learn from, or at least giggle at, my mistakes. Soft giggles only, please.

Planning Repairability

It’s just a wooden box, but it would be wasteful to make it quickly and cheaply, get it out the door, receive payment, and hope cheap materials, crappy hinges, sloppy tolerances and loose joints won’t matter because, with a target useful lifespan of 200 years, Poor Quality Equals Miserable Failure.

In my experienced professional opinion the only effective way to ensure quality is to actively plan for it during the design phase.

Cosmetic Repairability

This is one aspect of my toolchest that caused the pooch to walk funny for a few days because I screwed it good. But wait, there’s more to this tale of shame. When I realized my mistake and tried to remediate it some years later, I only compounded it. Poor sore Poochie!

You, Gentle Reader, have of course never suffered this sort of humiliation, but in the interest of sad and abused toolchests everywhere, I bow my shiny bald head, place my hand over my heart (it’s rattling around here in my chest somewhere, although my wife frequently disagrees) and humbly confess all. One or two teardrops fall, …

When new, my toolchest was striking in appearance, with highly figured solid mahogany wood panels (not veneer) exposed on the lid surfaces and a clear, high-gloss, rubbed-out catalyzed varnish finish. It was a thing of beauty, but not a joy forever because, after several years of use in drafty, dusty, pixie-infested garage shops combined with several long-distance moves and more than a few months of exposure to wind and sun it was scratched, dinged and crazed.

In my foolish vanity I repaired it using what I thought were sound techniques and quality materials, but which eventually proved to be inadequate.

I’m a highly-edumacated fella, you know, and during my studies at the University of Stoopid, School of Hard Knocks (Lower Outhouse Campus) where I earned an MD degree (Master Dipstick, Summa Cum Loudly) I learned that catalyzed varnish was not tough enough. Out of an abundance of well-earned humility I don’t display my UoS graduation certificate on my “I Love Me Wall,” so please don’t ask to see it.

Drawing upon my training at UoS, I next refinished the toolchest with a brushed-on spar-varnish finish. Not as pretty, but it was more flexible and more resistant to scratches and UV rays. But ultimately, it too failed. Poochie wept!

As the wise Nigerian Prince Musa Adebayo once told me (in exchange for a small wire transfer to his bank in Abuja, of course), “ Time destroys all things.” This eternal truth definitely applies to woodwork finishes, but I didn’t realize at the time the Prince was talking about credit ratings!

A decade or so later the toolchest (aka “Moby Dick”) was as scratched and gouged on the outside as its fishy-smelling namesake such that no translucent finish could conceal the repairs, forcing me to seek a more practical solution, one that would spare long-suffering Poochie further indignity.

On that bright day I said to myself: “Self,” (of course, I don’t address myself as “Mr. Covington” when deliberating with myself, because that would be insane), “Would you wear a bespoke tuxedo with handmade alligator skin dress-shoes to a muddy jobsite to perform a foundation rebar inspection?” I had to think about it for a while because, as you know, fashion is my life, but with a sigh of resignation I eventually answered myself, because that’s the only polite thing to do. The response was a resounding “No.”

In my supervisory role, I’m obligated to perform periodic construction jobsite inspections as part of quality control measures to ensure compliance with plans and regulations, but I wouldn’t wear a black tuxedo and delicate loafers to a jobsite any more than I would wear board-shorts and flip-flops. Instead I dress in tougher clothes that protect my legs and don’t instantly tear if they get hung-up on a rebar cage, and that won’t look filthy if they get a little muddy. And when the paparazzi’s cameras aren’t rolling (they seem to follow me everywhere, donchano (ツ)) I prefer sturdy leather boots that actually protect the tasteful glitter-varnish finish decorating my fuzzy pink toes.

With greater age and experience I finally concluded that, in the vanity of youth, I had erred by trying to make a toolbox look like pretty furniture. Feel free to mock the fool if you must but no tossing of rotten eggs, please!

So, determined to not make the same mistake a third time, I researched finishes that might get the job done. In the end I rejected the extremely tough but expensive and difficult-to-repair industrial solutions such as Imron and Polane and settled on a cheaper, friendlier and easier-to-repair solution; I sanded my toolchest down to bare wood and refinished the exterior with distressed milkpaint per Mr. Dunbar’s recommendations, as discussed in a previous post, and shellac on the inside.

When cured, milkpaint contains oodles of hard mineral solids with few volatiles to evaporate over the years to cause shrinkage and cracking (unless you want it to craze). It is not as flexible as latex paint but much tougher long-term than any clear finish. UV protection is absolute.

Like a Tabasco Sauce stain on camo pants, repairs are nearly invisible, indeed they even improve the chest’s character. With a bit of primer, milkpaint completely concealed the bondo I used to repair the cuts, scratches, and dings incurred during international moves, the ravages of rabid forklift attacks, and even injuries received from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (yes, here at C&S Tools we quote literary giants such as Shakespeare and Red Green). Latex paint works too, but milkpaint looks better and it’s far tougher.

But Gentle Reader, you are no doubt wondering what this rambling discussion has to do with “repairability.” The point is that repairs to a distressed milkpaint finish are easily accomplished and don’t look like repairs even when made to localized spots, they just give the overall finish more “character” making it look more interesting. No other finish I am aware of looks better with age and wear. Now that’s true repairability.

I only regret it took so long to stumble upon this excellent solution. So does Poochie.

Mechanical Repairability: Hinges & Screws

Hinges always wear out. The historical record shows that artistic iron hinges secured with small steel screws, while inexpensive and “historically correct,” always fail, usually sooner than later, as Murphy dictates. And when they fail, Murphy also ensures that they cause interference and maximize secondary damage.

Would you use flimsy sheet-metal cabinet hinges to attach the tailgate of your pickup truck knowing that one day you may see that same tailgate in your rear-view mirror scattering festive sparks as it skates over the highway behind you? Why, then, would you put them on your toolchest?

Being in the construction industry I know the solution to hinge durability is to use more, bigger, corrosion-proof hinges because larger internal bearing/wear surfaces free of abrasive iron oxide wear slower and keep things tighter. Think stainless-steel or brass door hinges. Commercial ball bearing door hinges are good too, but the thrust bearings are oriented for an axial load, not a side load, so the cost-benefit analysis of bearings in this application is weak.

But I digress. How does one plan for repairability in the case of hinges? The answer is simple: “R&R,” as in “remove and replace.” Let’s look at “replacement” first.

Unless you or your descendants (assuming the chest stays in the family, which it should) intend to have replacement hinges custom-made when the original set wears out (funded by the generous cash inheritance you will no doubt bequeath them and the voracious tax maggots will graciously leave un-spoiled) I recommend you plan for the original hinges to be quality products matching industry-standard specifications that will be easy to procure even in a century or so. Consider the wisdom of using custom-forged hinges that look “antiquey” but that aren’t a standard dimension for which replacements are easily purchased. I double-dog dare you. A toolchest ain’t a little jewelry box, after all.

I recommend you use door hinges in standard sizes so they can be easily replaced without hiring a blacksmith when the time comes, a day that certainly will not fall within your lifetime if you heed the advice in the previous paragraphs. This is the essence of the “replace” aspect of “R&R” as it applies to hinges, IMO.

Moving on to the “remove” aspect of R&R, what else can go wrong with hinges? That’s right, those pesky screws.

If you use the skinny, short screws that are packaged with store-bought hinges, sure as eggses is eggses they will begin to dance the reverse macarena after a decade or four. I promise you that when that inevitable day comes, replacing them and their worn-out holes will be a pain in the shorts. And what happens to the wobbly lid before you or your great-grandkids get around to fixing those idiot screws?

But wait, it gets worse (stay away Poochie, stay far away!). What happens when the hinges wear-out or fail but you can’t remove the blasted screws to replace them because they have broken-off in their screwholes during the removal attempt? That’s right, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth will ensue because a clean replacement will be difficult, and perhaps never happen, turning a measly two-hinge chest into a lop-sided one-hinge chest. Why would you give Murphy the satisfaction?

The best way to improve the “remove” factor in R&R therefore is to use oversized, extra-long, stainless steel grade 18-8 screws actually made in American, Europe, or Japan.

“Oversized” because strength improves durability.

“Extra-long” because the deeper a strong screw is embedded in the wood, the more resistant to the reverse macarena it will be.

“Grade 18-8” because this is an industrial specification that tells you something about the screw’s quality, reducing doubt. They cost more, but are worth it when you consider what would happen if a cheaper screw, one made to no quality specifications, breaks off in the hole when it comes time to remove/replace it.

“Stainless steel” because brass is too weak and a rusty carbon-steel screw will become a loose screw every frickin time.

Made in America, Europe or Japan because, while Chinese-made screws are cheap (often sold under false pretenses as “quality fasteners”) one must assume they are ALWAYS defective and will SURELY break. Indeed, it’s not a matter of “ if” they’ll break but only “when.“ Murphy won’t need to lift a finger.

If an inexpensive stainless-steel screw is sold at a big-box retailer, even if it’s represented to be Grade 18-8, assume it’s made by Godless, bait-n-switch commies. No, not the gangsters that burned down Portland, Seattle, Kenosha and Minneapolis, nor the ones that govern the coastal hell holes between Mexico and Oregon, but those in Beijing.

Reputable marine supply stores may be the best source for quality stainless steel screws.

I also encourage you to prep the screw holes in the hinge plates by countersinking them to the right depth and angle for solid, maximum contact between screwheads and plates.

Prep the screw holes in the wood too. Drill pilot holes the right size and right depth, and put epoxy or glue in the holes just before inserting the screws to penetrate the wood and reinforce the threads the screws cut into the wood.

And if a screw becomes loose, figure out why and repair it instead of just screwing it in tighter and tighter until it strips out.

Remember: History always calls an optimist who didn’t prepare for the worst eventuality a careless nitwit.

Mechanical Repairs: Tray Sliding Surfaces

Besides hinges the other things in a toolchest that always wear out and need repair are the surfaces that support the trays and on which they slide. This normal wear is easily remedied by planing the old, worn surfaces flat and gluing in durable hardwood wear strips. The lower the coefficient of friction the better. I have installed six replacement sliding surfaces to the ledges of my toolchest. In retrospect, it would have been better to rabbet and glue these strips in-place when new so they would be easier to remove & replace when necessary.

Knowing these surfaces would wear and need replacement, however, your humble servant had the foresight to use screws to fasten the ledges that support the trays to the chest’s sides so they could be removed and easily worked on with handplanes instead of gluing/doweling them in-place. I highly recommend this design detail.

Adhesives

The subject of “reversible adhesives” such as hide glue or starch glue is interesting, and relevant to repairability because such adhesives make non-destructive disassembly of wood joints possible. Unfortunately I have no experience with hide glue and so cannot comment.

A renowned master joiner taught me his philosophy on the subject of glue, however, and it has stuck with me (pun intended). He held that it’s the craftsman’s job to make his work as precise and durable as possible when new, therefore obligating him to use the strongest, most durable glue available to him and reasonably practicable to ensure that, if repairs are necessary, it won’t be because the glue failed.

He learned the trade when the only available woodworking adhesives were “nikawa” hide glue, or starch glues made from rice, so he knew all about reversible adhesives. But when I knew him, he used PVA glue.

When I once mentioned I had read that rice glue should be used for fine joinery work to make repairs easier, he looked at me like there was a wriggling cockroach’s leg hanging out of my mouth, and turned away in disgust. Nuff said.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading this series of posts about toolchests. I hope you found it interesting, or at least amusing.

I would like to conclude with a Japanese saying relevant to the subject of this article: 「石橋を叩いて渡る」pronounced “ishibash wo tataite, wataru.” A direct translation of this idiom is “Strike a stone bridge before crossing,” meaning to “take every precaution.” I have a similar saying that goes “Belt, suspenders, safety harness.” I encourage Gentle Readers to consider this principle when designing and constructing toolchests for their personal use.

YMHOS

A sturdy old stone bridge. Best to wack it a few time to makes sure it won’t fall down while crossing. After all, you never know…

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, thuggish Twitter or the Congressional IT department of the Democrat Party and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. If I lie may my belt break, my suspenders snap, and my safety harness become wrapped around my stupid neck as I dangle from a stone bridge.

Toolchests Part 13 – Finishes

Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.

Neil Gaiman

In this post I will briefly summarize the finishes used, mistakes made, and latest improvements to “Moby-Dick; or, The Toolchest.”

The Original Finish – A Tale of Woe

More than 26 years ago when this toolchest was new, your humble servant applied a rubbed-out catalyzed lacquer finish inside and out which showed the grain pattern and color of the wood nicely, but proved to be less-durable than I had anticipated. I refinished the chest once, but after years of rough use, many moves over many years, and painful encounters with trucks, shipping containers, forklifts, and one-legged meth-head moving company employees, the finish was in poor condition. I concluded that lacquer, varnish and even polyurethane do not really qualify as durable finishes for a piece of working casework with a target useful lifespan of 200 years, at least if it’s not to be pampered like a baby grand piano in grandma’s drawing room.

Exterior Refinish

While living on the Pacific island of Guam in 2011 and with free time on my hands due to international political corruption (difficult to imagine huh (ツ)), I gazed upon my toolchest and despaired for, yea verily, it was in bad shape, cosmetically that is, covered with scratches, dings and gouges topped off with yellowed, crazed and crumbling varnish. It had been a good and faithful servant for many years and deserved better so I girded up my loins, scraped and sanded off the old finish, leveled the scratches, dings and gouges with auto body filler, and refinished it.

Mr. Michael Dunbar and those sexy knees.

When considering how to refinish my toolchest in a way that would provide improved UV and abrasion resistance while also concealing past external cosmetic damage, I was intrigued by an article in a woodworking magazine by Mr. Michael Dunbar about milkpaint. Mr. Dunbar is a wise and retired professional Windsor chairmaker, not just a scribbler, so I take what he writes seriously.

I removed the old varnish finish inside and out and, following Mr. Dunbar’s recommendation, applied multiple coats of red, green, and dark, almost black, burgundy-colored milkpaint to the bare exterior wood surfaces. I then sanded and distressed the paint to expose the various color layers, and applied one coat of thinned clear Epifanes flat polyurethane as a protective topcoat. This was a 2 week process.

This milkpaint finish has proved effective not only in concealing past cosmetic damage and the Bondo used to repair it, but at the time these photographs were taken it had endured one international move by ship, two local moves inside Japan by truck, and months banging around inside hot humid shipping containers and dank warehouses since it was applied. It has only improved with age and abuse. Thank you Mr. Dunbar.

View of the lid’s frame & panel joints
View of the lid’s top, warts and all. Often used as a working surface, it has endured a lot of abuse, but the distressed areas with exposed red and green milkpaint are original to this finish. You can, however, see areas where the clear polyurethane top coat is failing. Again, so much for clear coats.
The right front corner of the skirt/base joined with through dovetails. These corners take the most abuse and are especially tough. The skirt is attached to the sides by glue and white-oak dowels.
The lockplate. The burgundy-color top coat of milkpaint as well as the green and red undercoats, and even a little bare wood, are visible.
The top front corner of the lid, joined with through dovetails. The perimeter frame of the frame & panel top is connected to the sides with dowels, which have pushed out round spots in the clear Epifanes polyurethane top coat as the frame has shrunk around them over the years since the toolchest was refinished in constantly high-humidity Guam, an unavoidable reality in wooden casework. Someday I will need to shave these flush and refinish the round spots, but since the finish is milkpaint, the repairs will disappear entirely.
The front right corner of the lower case. What were once flush through-dovetails joining the sides have become visible as the wood has shrunk in thickness due to the relatively lower humidity of Tokyo. No joints have been repaired and all are still tight as a drum.
Front-view of the sawtill. The through-dovetails joining the corners, as well as evidence of the dowels connecting the horizontal F&P divider panel above the drawer have become visible as the wood has shrunk in the drier Tokyo humidity. Nosireebob those are not plugs concealing screws. Removing and replacing prickly saws has been hard on this little chest, but doesn’t look any worse now than when newly refinished, and will only improve in appearance with future wear and tear.

Milkpaint is an interesting material. It is non-toxic, which is nice when applying it. It doesn’t out-gas toxic compounds into the air either which is even nicer.

It has a water carrier with mostly mineral solids instead of volatile resins, so when cured it forms a hard, abrasion-resistant, non-shrink, no-peel surface unaffected by UV light, unlike latex, lacquer, varnish, and polyurethane.

The user can mix most any color they want using the available powders providing an endless palette.

It’s easy to use, forgiving and doesn’t take special tools to mix and apply, just glass jam jars, stirring sticks, strainers, paintbrushes, sandpaper, an old blender, and paper shopping bags.

Milk paint makes possible an easily-applied, inexpensive, tough, UV resistant, non-toxic surface finish with an antiquish, unique appearance that not only resists damage but even improves with time and abuse. What more could you possibly want? Egg in your beer?

Interior Refinish

I refinished the toolchest’s interior surfaces with shellac to eliminate the stink of curing resins. Time will tell how well it holds up, but so far so good.

Conclusion

My toolchest is far from perfect, but it meets all my performance criteria and works pretty darn good for me.

If I were to do it over again, I’m not sure I would change the current design or finishes, other than the way tools are mounted inside the lid. Compared to the original design, the current arrangement is more functional, but there is always room for improvement.

I think the most important thing this series of articles about toolchests has to offer is not the design itself but rather the performance criteria developed and the decision process that led to the design and ultimate construction.

As I mentioned in Part 5 of this series, there are many decisions that must be made when planning a tool storage system. I hope you, Gentle Reader, got my point that you can either take the time and make the effort to plan, or neglect to do so and let the decisions be made through default and happenstance whirling down and around the porcelain scrying bowl of chance. Either way, the decisions will be made.

Perhaps reading the performance criteria and seeing the design and execution of this toolchest will stimulate your planning. Many of your requirements will be the same as mine, but others will be different, so the solutions and design details you employ will be different too. At the very least you now have a detailed, practical example to reference when planning storage solutions for your valuable tools.

I also hope you also noticed how tradition can provide solutions to universal challenges of tool storage, but that through careful consideration you can improve on tradition.

In the next and final post in this series I will explain how “repairability” was incorporated (or not) into the design.

YMHOS

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, thuggish Twitter or the Congressional IT department of the Democrat Party and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. If I lie may every piece of paint I touch turn to lead, curl and crumble.

Other Posts in this Series:

Toolchests Part 12 – The Sawtill

A view of the Sawtill’s lid nested into the opening in front of the trays.

I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

William Shakespeare – Hamlet

Every woodworker worth his salt uses handsaws. I don’t mean to impugn those who use machines exclusively to perform all sawing activities, I am sure they are all fine folk; I wish them health, happiness, and hundreds of fat children, but they are more machine operators than craftsmen in wood, in your humble servant’s un-exalted opinion.

Saws are important tools deserving of protection, but which we need to access quickly. Not an easy performance criteria to satisfy. Saws have wide metal “plates” that collect dust and condensation and develop rust. And sharp little teeth like those of a Bandersnatch that catch, cut and scratch things and are easily damaged in turn through contact with other metal tools. How best to store this tool in a toolchest filled with other tools unlikely to become fuzzy buddies with the prickly handsaw?

In this post we will examine the challenges involved in storing saws, and the solution I learned from an old dusty book hidden in a Japanese university library far back in the mists of time.

Saw Storage Performance Criteria

High-carbon steel is without doubt the best material for handsaws, but it rusts. Rust produces a rougher surface increasing friction, and if it progresses will cause deep pitting, damaging the teeth forever and permanently impairing cutting efficiency

We can apply oil to the plate and teeth to prevent/reduce rust, but oil attracts dust which often contains hard particles that dull teeth, not to mention chemicals that accelerate rust. Therefore, a good storage solution must protect saws not only from dings, but from dust and temperature swings that invite condensation and rust.

Clearly the exposed saw rack published in woodworking magazines ad nauseam as DIY projects for amateurs is easy to access and great for displaying handsaws for worship and veneration (especially grand are those with twin candlestick holders (ツ)), but they are not a good long-term storage solution because, while the saws are in plain view for daily worship, they are also exposed to dust and temperature swings that encourage condensation corrosion.

One traditional solution is to mount saws to the underside of a toolchest’s lid. I have tried this method before but long ago concluded it takes up too much real estate I need for other tools. And the saws still collect some dust in this location anyway.

I especially dislike one traditional solution, namely nailing a sawtill in the bottom of the toolchest up against the front wall, because it makes the saws difficult to see, a pain to retrieve, and more importantly, limits the travel distance and width of the all-important trays. Codswallop!

Some may insist that the internal sawtill is the only valid “traditional” method. To all the self-appointed Time Lords and Holy Arbiters of Everything Traditional that look down their patrician noses at the solution I selected I respond that there are other traditional designs they may have not seen before. Perhaps they need to… I dunno… do something crazy like… put down their congac snifters and visit different libraries?

After months of deliberation I decided I needed a sawtill that is an enclosed, sealed, insulated space in itself, that can be removed to serve as an independent toolchest most of the time but will still fit inside the toolchest when necessary, will contain many saws, not just five or six, and is at a convenient height where I can clearly see and easily retrieve/replace them. These criteria are what attracted me to this extremely intelligent design when I saw drawings of it in an old bug-chewed British book in the University of Tokyo Library. I modified the design considerably, especially the lid and the drawer, but there is nothing new under the sun.

The Execution

My sawtill nests inside the toolchest, as you can see from the photo above. In this location the lid can be closed without interference. Saws in the top compartment can be accessed, but not the saws in the bottom drawer. Tools in the top tray and those mounted inside the lid are also easily accessible, but those in the 2nd and 3rd tray and in the dungeon are not accessible without removing either the sawtill or the trays. This may seem to be a serious flaw, but au contraire, mes amis!

When the toolchest is in my workshop, the sawtill spends no time inside the toolchest. Instead I take advantage of its greatest virtue, set it off to the side, and use it as an independent toolchest dedicated to saws. In my current workshop it sits on the ledge of a bay window located 1 foot from the mothership. In other workshops I rested it on sawhorses. It is a very intelligent and flexible solution.

Do I need candlesticks and incense? Nah.

The sawtill resting on the toolchest’s walls. The top and drawers are closed. The drawer has recessed brass pulls and a brass lock. Nylon straps attached to each end of the sawtill make it easy to lift out of the toolchest’s interior.

Like the toolchest proper, the sawtill is made from solid medium-density Honduras mahogany joined with dovetails. The lid, central horizontal divider, and bottom are all solid-wood frame-and-panel construction. Like the toolchest, the sawtill’s lid has deep vertical sides to add stiffness and prevent warping, but unlike the toolchest, nothing is mounted inside the lid. A wooden lip projects down from the lid aligning it to the base and sealing it tightly when closed.

When open, the saw handles protrude above the sawtill’s sides making them easy to see, remove, and replace without fiddling around. This is important.

Due to this construction, neither drawer nor lid have ever warped or become sticky.

The sawtill with the lid and drawer open. The top opening is filled primarily with Western saws and larger Japanese saws (e.g. bukkiri gagari), while the drawer is stuffed full of thinner Japanese saws as well as sharpening files, chalk and a sawset. I tend to store many of my saws wrapped in newspaper because the out-gassing of the ink is a good corrosion preventative, at least when the newspaper is new. Strange but true.

The top compartment is sized to house 8-26” Disston No.12 saws, or a mixture of Western and larger Japanese saws. The drawer underneath will hold a dozen Japanese saws along with files and other saw-related tools. 

The sawtill’s width is a hair narrower than Moby Dick’s sliding trays, and its overall height with lid closed is the same as the combined height of three trays. It therefore rests neatly on the bottom tray’s ledge and nestled inside the space created when the three trays are slid to the back. The toolchest’s lid can be closed with the sawtill in this position locking it in securely.

Dividers

When this saw till was new I installed boards with the classic slits & slots in the top compartment to retain saws, but changed to plywood dividers long ago because they are more flexible, quicker to access/replace, keep saws from banging against each other when removing/replacing them, and allow me to wrap the saws for additional protection during long-term storage and transit. I would never go back to slits or slots.

Due to potential fire hazard I didn’t mount candelabra or an incense stand to it.

In the next post in this series we will examine the finishes used. I think you will find this especially interesting. Until then, I have the honor to remain

YMHOS

© 2020 Stanley Covington All Rights Reserved

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, thuggish Twitter or the Congressional IT department of the Democrat Party and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. Not even if the Chinese Communist Party asks nicely. If I lie may I my mattress be as hard and prickly as sawteeth.

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Toolchests Part 10 – The Dungeon

Welcome to the Dungeon. Please relax, take off your shoes, pull up a chair and sit on a spike.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

JRR Tolkien – The Hobbit

In the previous post your humble and obedient servant described the three sliding trays in my toolchest. In this post we will descend beneath those trays into the lowest depths, a lonely space I call “the Dungeon.” So light your torches, unsling your axes, and let’s meet what lurks in the dark. Don’t worry about me, Gentle Reader, I’ll be right behind you!

Chisel Storage

Many things suffer durance vile in the toolchest, but by far the largest number of denizens are chisels. They are sharp, dangerous tools and difficult to both store securely and access safely.

As mentioned in previous posts in this series I have a handy dandy 10-pc set of chisels mounted in the lid. This is a high-quality set of hand-forged shinogi oirenomi but they are not my best chisels; Those are stored in four wooden chisel boxes kept in the dungeon.

One chisel box contains a 10pc oirenomi set, another a 10-pc mukomachinomi (mortise chisel) set, the third and fourth boxes contain various usunomi, kotenomi, atsunomi, and other specialty chisels. Approximately 38 Kiyotada-brand chisels reside in these boxes, mostly custom-forged.

The Toolchest’s Dungeon with its residents. Neither gold nor gems nor dragons are to be found here, but there are plenty of pokey things. Two green wooden boxes are stacked atop each other, the one on top contains mostly paring chisels; The identical box underneath it contains mostly atsunomi and kotenomi. Not seen, because they are shy, are two old re-purposed cryptomeria (akita sugi) wood chisel boxes, one containing a 10-pc set of mortise chisels and the other a 10-pc set of oiirenomi chisels. These boxes were originally made to house precision measuring tools in the Tokyo Imperial College’s artillery department. Pre-WWII, of course. The 2 brown plastic boxes on top contain mostly plow planes. The canvas rolls contain handmade files and rasps. The black and white thing in the front is a box containing a traditional Japanese tool for checking plane soles called an “Awase Jogi,” the first tool I made during my training in joinery, and one which may or may not be the subject of a future post. The Lie-Nielson box contains a router plane, a tool not available in Japan.

l have, and use, too many chisels to store in trays, so my work philosophy is to store them, sorted more or less by types, in wooden boxes which protect them thoroughly even outside the toolchest. I can remove my box of mortise chisels, for example, along with my box of usunomi paring chisels from the dungeon and set them either on or under my workbench and have quick access to all widths without wasting time digging around in the toolchest. When I am done with a chisel for a time, I wipe it down, oil it with my oilpot and return it to its place in its box keeping my workbench uncluttered and my valuable chisels protected.

Removing these four chisel boxes is as easy as sliding the 3 trays to the rear and reaching down into the dungeon which, along with the trays is designed specifically to provide adequate clearance for easy removal.

When I need to grab an oiirenomi chisel for a quick job, however, the 10-pc set mounted in the lid is handiest.

Four chisel boxes have been temporarily released from the dungeon and opened for your perusal.

Other Implements of Torture

You will also notice two tan-colored plastic containers holding plow planes of various widths and a moisture meter. To avoid noise and dust problems I don’t have any electrical routers with me here in Tokyo, so while not as efficient, these rather old-fashioned and sometimes cantankerous tools are the best alternative.

Also visible in the photo are several canvas tool rolls containing mostly handmade rasps and files, as well as a cardboard box containing a router plane, another essential tool for the unplugged shop.

Besides chisels and planes I can also store a hewing hatchet, an adze, and a large Japanese “bukkiri gagari” rip saw on top of the chisel boxes, but I usually remove them, wrap them up, and hang them on my adjacent wire shelf when the toolbox is in residence.

In the Dungeon’s far left-hand corner one American framing square and two Japanese kanejaku squares, one in centimeter scale and the other in traditional shaku/sun scale, can be seen resting against the back wall. They were sleeping quietly at the time of the photo probably because of a late night. Judging by the ruckus they made at the time and the dead soldiers they left laying about in the morning, they must have spent the entire evening drinking, playing dice on the chisel boxes and arguing loudly about the superiority of the Japanese “Shaku” measuring system vs. the metric system vs. the imperial system. Fortunately, while squares have both tongues and blades, they lack arms and legs, so their drunken deliberations never become more violent than rattling. I don’t allow them any stogies, however; One must draw the line somewhere, I’m sure you’ll agree.

This arrangement keeps everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion, an idiom especially suitable to a toolchest with so many tools mounted in the lid even if it is not subject to the tides.

In the next post in this we will examine the toolchest’s bottom panel. Not as sexy as you might imagine, but more important than you may realize.

Hmmm, now where did I put that darn ootsukinomi?

YMHOS

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, thuggish Twitter or the Congressional IT department of the Democrat Party and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. If I lie may I spend every Thursday night dicing in the dungeon with argumentative squares.

Other Posts in this Series:

Toolchests Part 9 – Trays

The top 2 trays. Each tray has 4 brass flush ring-pulls (2 on the front and 2 on the back) installed to help move the trays forward and backwards.

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

In the previous post in this series we looked at the the lid of your humble servant’s toolchest, and the tools mounted inside it. In this post I intend to liven things up with an exciting discussion about trays! Be still my heart!

The Trays

Item No. 4 in the Performance Criteria list in Part 5 of this series is as follows:

“Tool Access: Tools used regularly are to be easily and quickly accessible without bending over or moving trays around.”

This was a critical factor in my mind, but one traditional toolchest designs often do not satisfy, so I had to get creative: always a dangerous thing.

The logic for this criteria is simple: Bending down and pawing through a jumbled toolchest is both unpleasant, inefficient, and distracting at a time when concentration is important. Shifting trays hither and thither every time a tool is needed is irritating and wasteful too. In addition, knees and backs do not last forever, no matter what we imagine when we are young, so a lot of bending is not acceptable. Therefore, contrary to some toolchest doctrine promulgated nowadays, the solution I struck on was for the tools I use regularly to be either mounted in plain view in the lid, or contained in exposed trays as wide as the chest’s internal dimensions would permit.

With the lid open, the top tray positioned to the rear, and the second tray positioned to the front as shown in the photo above, the tools I use most are all positioned front and center so I can quickly locate, extract and replace most of them one-handed without bending over, shuffling trays, or digging around. Maximizing the width of the trays and visibility of their contents was therefore of prime importance. Tool access is faster than any other “tool storage system” I have used besides exposed pegboard and open shelves, inefficient storage methods that do not provide adequate protection for my tools without a climate controlled environment.

A rough cross-section sketch of the toolchest. Skirt and rolling base are not shown. Dimensions are only approximate.

The design includes three trays each dimensioned to half the chest’s internal width. All three trays differ in depth to accommodate specific tools and to leave adequate space in the lower dungeon for larger tools and chisel boxes.

The four corners are dovetailed and bottoms are twin frame-and-panel construction. Three panels might be better, and would certainly be luckier, being an odd number of course, but two is OK. Just where did my lucky fuzzy dice run off to….?

Unlike many traditional toolchests, but true to the British design that inspired it, I did not mount saws, chisels, screwdrivers or anything at all to the inside of the toolchest’s front wall, so the trays are the maximum width possible with nothing obstructing travel backwards or forwards.

This decision came from my strong dislike, for the three reasons listed in the previous post in this series, of storing sharp or pointy tools in a situation where I might cut myself on them while trying to dig out another tool. Run your wrist over the edge of a chisel or your knuckles along the edge of a saw just once and you will understand. The current mounting system places these tools in plain view with edges protected. I also find mounting tools to the front wall of the carcass to be an inefficient use of space. You will need to do the math yourself, but whatever you decide, please don’t let your chisels bite you!

The Top Tray

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In this photo the top tray is in the rearward position and the second tray in the forward position. All the tools in both trays and inside the lid are easily and quickly accessible with one hand and without bending over.

The top tray contains more of the tools I use all the time, including precision straightedges, layout tools, more hammers, inkpot, scrapers, jigs, odds and sods. The shallow depth of this tray is intentional.

Despite appearances, it is not a rat’s nest: I know exactly where every single tool is located. I believe excessive tidiness to be a mental illness people of intelligence should vigorously eschew.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” – Albert Einstein
View of the empty top tray angled forward, showing the frame & panel bottom. The middle tray is pulled forward. The plane in the foreground with the blue belt is a special kiwaganna rabbit plane with fence and nicker blade I use a lot.

Middle Tray

View of the top tray’s frame and panel bottom. Gravity has caused the brass flush ring-pulls to flop out of their rest position. Each tray has four such ring pulls installed. The second tray is in the forward position and stuffed with 13 planes.

With the sawtill removed and placed nearby to serve as an independent toolchest dedicated to saws, the second tray normally resides in the forward position so I can see and access all the tools in the lid, the first tray, and this middle tray without moving anything. I will present the sawtill to you in a future post

As you can see, this tray contains 13 planes, (I like planes and use them a lot), including a 48mm mame plane, 60mm, 65mm, and 70mm hiraganna, LN rabbet block plane w/nicker, and an LN skewed rabbet plane. Molding planes are stored in a separate chest of drawers.

Japanese planes are more compact than their Western counterparts, as Gentle Reader no doubt observed. I haven’t calculated the necessary volume, but it is certain 13 Bailey-style planes would not fit in the same space, and the weight would be triple.

Third Tray

The third and lowest tray is deeper than the other two, and contains heavier and larger tools I don’t use as often, or tools I remove once at the beginning of a woodworking session and leave out all day.

You can see a Lie-Nielson No.6 and No.7, and scrub plane. I also have twist drill bits, two digital vernier calipers, spokeshaves, various jigs, a precision bevel square, two 80mm planes, shoulder planes, two kiwaganna planes (skewed rabbet planes), an adjustable 45° chamfer plane, etc. stored in this tray.

Thank you for your patience so far with this lengthy show-and-tell. In the next post we’ll peek into the toolchest’s dungeon to see what shall see. Rusty chains and moldy bones, perhaps? Please stay tuned.

YMHOS

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the see the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, or thuggish Twitter and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. If I lie may my chisels make me leak sticky red stuff.