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 my 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 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 the ones 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 the encourage condensation corrosion.

One traditional solution is to mount saws to the underside of a toolchest’s lid. I have tried this before but long ago concluded this method 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 a dusty old 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 in 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 overall height with lid closed is the same as the combined height of Moby Dick’s three trays, and nestles neatly 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-n-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-n-slots.

Due to potential fire hazard I won’t mount a couple of 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. Please come back.

© 2020 Stanley Covington All Rights Reserved

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Toolchests Part 10 – The Dungeon

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

In the previous post I 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 see 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 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. The green box contains mostly paring chisels. There is an identical box underneath it which 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 10pc 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 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 “gagari” rip saw on top of the chisel boxes, but I usually remove them, wrap them up, and hang them on my 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 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 and the dead soldiers they left laying about, they 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 do not have arms or legs, so their drunken deliberations seldom devolve into violence. I don’t allow them any stogies, however; One must draw the line somewhere.

This arrangement keeps everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion, an idiom especially suitable to a toolchest with so many tools mounted in the lid.

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 know.

Hmmm, now where did I put that darn ootsukinomi?

YMHOS

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Toolchests Part 9 – Trays

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

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The top 2 trays. Each tray has 4 brass flush ring-pulls installed to help move the trays forward and backwards.

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, 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 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 45mm 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 Readers no doubt noticed. 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 probably be nearly double.

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 use the questions 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 or incompetent facebook and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. If I’m lying may I swallow a thousand needles.