The ongoing everchanging toolbox saga.


Like everyone else that does woodworking in some shape or form, I am always on the lookout for the ultimate workbench and tool storage.

Workbench theory will be saved for another day, now it is time to focus on putting things into other things and then writing about how they make me feel.

Anyways, the basic dilemma is how to effectively store tools so that they can be secured safely and retrieved easily. From there, it centers on what to do when you get more? Should you get more? It is all very philosophical.

Philosophy though, seems to be the luxury of those with time on their hands. Back when I worked construction, power tools went on shelving in the van and hand tools went on the tool belt and you got on with life. Chisels and smaller tools had small boxes or totes and were stacked next to each other on the shelves too. The van itself was one large toolbox. Not much dovetailing going on.

In a shop making furniture though, there are a lot more hand tools, each with sharp edges that have to be kept sharp and also put away so that you don’t get cut when retrieving them. They’re not too likely to be banged around as there’s no real way of them being shook about, but it is good to not have them rubbing up on one another.

To see what others had done, I read as much as I could and watched as much as I could. From books to blogs to PBS shows like Norm Abrams on The New Yankee Workshop and Roy Underhill on The Woodwright’s shop.

While I had always enjoyed watching Abrams show, he always had an expensive tool for everything he did. I also liked to watch Roy Underhill, but he always had some vintage tool for everything he did. The sheer amount of tools they had for every task was impressive. All the magazines had a heavy bias toward selling me the ultimate router. Where to start?

Eventually, I came upon Chris Schwarz’s blog and writings for Popular Woodworking. Evidently, “The Schwarz” as he is nickname online, was vexed with the tool shopping bias of the magazines and wrote “The Anarchist’s Toolchest”, a book which can be summed up by: Don’t buy junk; build decent things; quit obsessing over tools because here’s a list and description of what you need to build furniture; here’s how to build a decent box to put them in.

Here’s a photo lifted from Schwarz’s blog. The toolchest is about 38″ long by 24″ high by 24″ deep. It had three sliding tills with room in the bottom for planes and some saws.


So, I was all set to make me one. That is until I found something close enough.


This chest is one I bought when I found it at an auction I went to in order to buy an old saw. I have chopped and changed it to suit.

It started off life a plywood box 36″ long by 15″ deep (front to back) by about 8.5″ tall internally. The lid also has another 1.5″ of height, so that is where I mounted my backsaws.

It had one small sliding till and I wanted more storage and I also figured out that I could store the long hand saws in there if I was smart about it.

So, I took off the lid and added 5.5″ of height all they way around the sides. This was achieved ingloriously by gluing on some 1×6. I then made two sliding tills, each at 3″ internal height. Then I fitted a saw till, which can be taken out and hung up on the wall.

toolchest3  toolchest2

This set up had suited me fine for a while but I have been bothered by the tills in that they are too tall for all the small tools I have. The toolchest over all is fine for the bulky items like planes, and saws, but I never could figure out an effective way of storing chisels and measuring devices all pile up on themselves in the tills. Even in photos here, I have already removed all the measuring tools and put them in a mechanics toolbox that has sliding drawers.

So, make a bigger box? A series of small boxes? A wall mount cabinet with a place for everything and everything in its place?

Ideally, I would like something that I could carry on my own. One hangup with my present toolchest is that it is too much for one person to carry. It probably is too much for two people to carry. It is on casters and still can be a pain to move around.

I don’t anticipate lugging these hand tools to any jobsite ever, but the idea of a couple of smaller boxes, or even three, seems to make more sense.

It is fair to say that this latest round of second guessing has been prompted by a toolchest on Paul Seller’s site This online classroom works on different projects and a joiner’s toolchest is the newest one. I was intrigued by the design and wondered if it would suit, so I started off by drawing a model in Sketchup.

I can’t upload a model to this site, but here’s a picture.


The dimensions of this toolchest are 32-3/4″ long x 13-3/4″ deep x 12-3/4″ tall. It has two sliding tills and room in the bottom for saws and planes. Pretty similar to what I have already.

After making the model, I then downloaded some models of tools and started populating it.


I still doesn’t look like it would hold all my many many planes. According to The Schwarz, you can do just fine with three, but I beg to differ. Why did they make so many different ones if not so that I can collect them all?

Also, I checked on the dimensions of this joiner’s toolbox and it still would take two people to lug it around. And the tills don’t seem to be the right shape to hold chisels effectively. I realize that this design is for a joiner to take his tools to site, so I don’t think it would suit me at home.

Paul Sellers also has another design for a toolchest, one that is for sitting on a shelf or countertop. The top opens up like a clam-shell and it has a couple of drawers. The size of this is 24″ long x 18″ deep by 11-3/4″ tall.


It still would not hold all the planes, but it will hold a No. 7 just fine, maybe needs a little more headroom. Also, the chisels could go in a drawer. So, maybe two of these would do the trick.

Now, how about a toolchest that is mostly drawers?

I chanced upon a toolchest by Tommy MacDonald. His is based on the design that is part of the curriculum at North Bennett Street School in Boston.

MacDonald hosts Rough Cut on PBS and can be a bit of a frenetic show trying to cram in a lot of information into a half hour. On his website though, you could see the toolchest being made in a methodical fashion. The toolchest too was featured in Popular Woodworking and they have a link to it in the Sketchup warehouse.

Here is a link to the model


This chest is 28″ long x 14″ deep x 13″ tall.

So, maybe I could make something like this for the chisels and combination squares, marking knives etc and make a couple of Sellers’ toolchests for holding planes with a big sawtill to hold all the saws. Decisions decisions.


Now, Sketchup is fine and dandy, but what is needed is a dose of reality.

I put all the small tools into a 3 drawer mechanic chest. This actually seems to work just fine. This little chest would have to be put on a stand.


The chisels fit in there OK, but I left them back into their own wooden box so they wouldn’t get banged up.

Next up is mocking up a 24″ x 18″ chest. I lugged this tall mechanics chest along for a comparison. The bottom section is 26-1/2″ x 14″.


This would lead me to believe that a chest 18″ deep is a bit big. Also, Tommy Mac’s cabinet is that little bit too wide at 28″. I don’t think I could get my arms comfortable to the sides of it.

Oh well, that’s where I’m at. No conclusions yet, just more questions.



Not pretty, but I’ll try this out for a while.


For comparison:


From left to right: Tommy Mac’s NBSS toolchest, Paul Sellers’ benchtop toolchest, my large toolchest, my small one that I have for taking to jobsites, Paul Sellers’ joiner’s toolchest with loaded tills, Chris Schwarz’s Dutch toolchest, Chris Schwarz’s traveling “anarchist” toolchest, Chris Hasluck’s large joiner’s toolchest, Roy Underhill’s joiner’s toolchest.


2 thoughts on “The ongoing everchanging toolbox saga.

  1. Richard

    Great blog. I find myself using Paul Sellers tool box and an anarchist tool chest. Between the two they hold just about everything. They were both great projects to build. Of course there is that cardboard box under the bench with a couple more saws and bits of pieces of planes. Now where will I put them…….


  2. chairmakerjim

    Well said. Plain and simple, I think a serious woodworker makes choices based on preferences. In the theological realm we often refer to interpretation of Scripture based on context. Our preferences for storing tools is like the context for woodworkers to opt for one kind of tool storage over another. Some prefer to store tools on a wall, in cabinets, in drawers, and some look for the best design for a toolchest with tills/trays. I started out with metal toolboxes and, like you, the gradual acquisition of tools changed my needs. Writers can suggest the preference thing, but their recommendations don’t work for everyone. Schwarz, Underhill, Carlyle Lynch, and many others in books, videos, and magazines have offered us toolchest designs, but I thought your retrofit toolchest was clever. I’m at the point where I have two toolchests, but don’t want to store everything in a box. Bottomline, this woodworker will have more than one toolchest and recognize that wall and drawer storage has some distinct advantages. As a group we don’t say enough about ergonomics and this might be an opportunity for many older woodworkers.
    Great job on Sketchup too.

    Liked by 1 person


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