Nobody's Apprentice

Nobody's apprentice. It's a name I've called myself for a while. I have never taken a real woodworking class in my life. No shop classes in high school, no woodworking or tool related vocational training after high school. Heck, money and time have always been in slight supply when it comes to traveling to take a woodworking class, or even attend an event like WIA. So not a whole lot of in-person instruction.

What I have had is a voracious appetite for woodworking books, magazines, some videos and, of course, the outstanding world of woodworking bloggers and podcasters. Thanks to this blog I also get lots of help, often via email, from guys who have been there and know better. They see me do something wrong, make a mistake or have poor technique doing something and they feel confident enough to offer advice. I really appreciate when that happens because it means a couple things, 1: they care enough about the craft that they want to see it done well and done right. and 2: they are reading my work, and care enough to offer advice that will help me enjoy and perform better in the craft.
Really, I couldn't be more wrong when I call myself  "nobody's apprentice" because, in the best way possible, I could almost call myself "everyone's apprentice." I pray all my teachers out there consider me more of a Thomas than a Sam.

But like all apprentices, I would like to grow up eventually.

Early on in my sawdust years, back when power was king, I read somewhere that in order for an apprentice to make the jump to journeyman they must pass the test of building their own tool chest. I know enough now to feel that this particular statement of fact is suspect. We know from "The Joiner and Cabinetmaker" that the apprentice Thomas had already started buying his own tools very early on, starting with a folding rule. I would assume that in a shop with multiple joiners, that apprentices would want to secure their tools somewhere safe as well.

I wasn't ready then and I knew it. There's no guarantee I'm ready now, but I'm going for it.
60 board feet of 5/4 rough cut poplar, 18 board feet of rough cut 6/4 hickory, and 12 board feet of 4/4 cherry take up a decent amount of room in the back of the mini van. The poplar and some of the hickory are tagged for the chest. The cherry is for some future projects. 
I have been dwelling on the idea of a tool chest for a long time. I had collected a sizable folder of photos copied from eBay auctions and other sites, to use as reference as I tried to figure out how I wanted my tool chest to look and work.

Then last summer my Father In Law gave me a tremendous gift. The tool chest brought over from Norway as they immigrated to America. It was packed full of cacophony of old tools. I recorded the whole experience under the heading Old World Tool Chest. But the result of that experience was that I had an old traditional tool chest, but it was in some seriously rough shape. I decided that the right thing to do would be to build a new version of the chest

Then, this past summer, Chris Schwarz published what I thought was a great book. The Anarchist's Tool Chest. Since I had my mind turning my way towards a tool chest it almost seemed written for me. It answered the questions I had about this build in such a convincing fashion. I decided it was the direction I had to go.

Re-reading the sections on the sizing of traditional chests, trying to make up my mind on the lengths  and widths I need to achieve the goals I had set forth for this chest
I've spent a lot of time and effort the last two three years focused on my shop. I've built other pieces as well but since the summer of 2009 I've built two workbenches, a full sized one and a smaller joinery bench, a pair of saw benches, a saw till, a storage shelf for my planes. I've focused on making some tools and getting my hands on some others. I've focused on bringing myself from a shop where I spent the day with ear plugs stuffed in my ears to protect me from the the whine of electron driven steel and carbide blades to a shop where I can hear "A Prairie Home Companion" or an NFL game play on the radio while I play in the sawdust.

Dimensions decided upon, I start to move forward with breaking the stock down to size. 

Speaking of sawdust I sweep up more shavings than sawdust most of the time these days and I'm kinda proud of that.

I'm not saying I'm at the point where I've completed my hand tool education and I'm ready for anything. The journey still continues, but the path looks different from here on in. It's like driving through the mountains and coming down into the flat broad plains of middle America. Suddenly your surroundings look very different, The sky is bigger and you can see for long distances in many directions and there are possibilities that just didn't exist while you wove your way along the serpentine mountain roads.

All four sides of the chest, cut, set, and ready for the process to begin. 
I'm not making promises, but I think this may be mostly it for shop projects, at least for a long while. I'm not saying a small one might not sneak in from time to time, but once I complete this chest, I've managed to fit all the major components into place. It will be time to stop building my shop, and start building furniture. In many ways I believe I saved the best for last.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Great post and good luck with that chest, no doubt you will do a fine job.

  2. I am following eagerly. I too think that The Anarchist's Tool Chest is a great book. I have taken the "no more sheet stock" pledge, though I still like pocket holes.
    A tool chest is on my list and I'm curious to see how yours works out.
    good luck,
    Ian W

  3. Good luck, a tool chest is on my list too. All the more since I read the anarchist's tool chest. I have taken the no plywood pledge too.
    Why poplar as the main wood?
    cheers, Ian W

  4. I like the idea of nobody's apprentice. It shows clearly how we learn these days. A survey last year of craftspeople in the UK showed that less than 8% had done traditional apprenticeship. over 50% described themselves as self taught. I dislike this term as it does not pay tribute to the sources of our knowledge as you do very well here.
    Good luck with the chest, looks a nice project.

  5. Thanks for the support guys.

    As to why poplar? For me it is cheaper and easier to get 5/4 clear poplar that it is to get similar white pine.

    I also watched an episode of The Woodwright's Shop where St. Roy was investigating an old tool chest, he was very focused on the dovetails, but I got a kick out of the fact that it was built from poplar and Roy called that wood distinctly American.

    I kind of liked that. So I decided to make the chest using poplar, and and other wood I think of as American, Hickory.


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