Dutch Tool Chest Build: Challenge Accepted

Lately I have been more than passingly obsessed with efficiency in the workshop. Many of us swim the historical waters of hand tool woodworking for different reasons. For some the journey leads to obsession over detail. The perfect surface. The perfect hand cut dovetail. The perfect and pure experience found communing with the corpse of an ancient Black Walnut because the work of my hands will be it's sole chance at redemption and reincarnation.

It often starts like this. Happiness is new stock in the back of the truck headed home to the shop.
I spent an hour flipping through the 1x12" by 12' stock at my closest home center
to bring home a couple of boards destined to become my traveling Dutch tool chest. 

How much more will my grand children's grandchildren appreciate this inherited artifact when they hear the unbelievable story of Great Grandpa Oldwolf and how he cut down a hundred trees with his teeth and planed the wood smooth with his toenails to achieve such a perfect jewelry box. (Clearly I have developed some irreverent ideas about the concept of "heirloom" furniture as well)

Getting the stock to size and gang cutting the dovetails was the first job. 
Careful stock selection had yielded pieces flat enough to not need extensive surfacing.  

I keep coming back to a passage in "The Joiner and Cabinetmaker" that's admonishing care in taking measurements. The tragic tale of Bill Sharp tells how this journeyman was careless in recording measurements at a client's home. He built the cabinet two feet wider than the space and "not high enough by several inches."

This was not Journeyman Sharp's first mistake, but it was his last at this shop, He was dismissed of his duties despite the face that he finished a rather large piece of commissioned furniture in the span of a week. Oak and pine> Bespoke. Entirely by hand. (though there are apprentices around to probably assist in the grunt work of planing and surfacing the stock to dimension.The book is vague on this.)

I actually screwed the side boards together temporarily to cut and plane the slope
so both matched exactly. Then I separated them and lined them up
to lay out the dado for the board dividing the top and bottom compartments.
If you ask me, this is the real challenge passed to us through history. There is much rumination and romance on the labor of working by hand. Everytime I go on a historical site tour the guides are quick to point out "Frontier Jim built this cabin by hand, That means he didn't even have a chainsaw." or "It took twenty men with twenty shovels twenty days to dig this stretch of ditch twenty feet deep."

Hand work is labor, and labor is sweat, but a little sweat is not equal to Herculean feats of effort. It mostly requires finishing something you start. I do a lot of handwork and I'm a fat man of questionable health, what's your excuse?

All the case joinery cut, it was time to glue it up

The challenge is not "Can you do it by hand?" The challenge is, "Can you do it as efficiently?"

Power tools, CNC, hand tools, lightsabers: bring them all to the starting line. Everyone gets a pile of rough sawn oak and pine. The starting pistol fires and Go!! Plan a large cabinet to customer specifications. Include doors and drawers. Cut, plane, join, glue, screw, and tattoo together a aesthetically pleasing work and have it ready to deliver. (since the book is vague on whether Journeyman Sharp's cabinet had finish applied we can leave that out)

Did you meet the deadline? I believe it's a doable thing, but it would take some long days. I'm certain Journeyman Sharp didn't have the a 40 hour work week or hour long lunch breaks either.

As the glue set I cut and glued up the panels for the lid and the fall front.
Once the glue had a couple hours of set up I removed the clamps.
cut recesses for the drop rod that holds the fall front,
and nailed on the front pieces. 

I had a concept and a challenge, I'd started a while before building a simple shelf for the shop in a single evening of effort. I took to my instagram account, posting pics and bragging about building the carcass in a day. I failed but some things got in my way.

First, I didn't really start until the afternoon, so it was really dutch tool chest in an afternoon. A different prospect. Second, when it's not a real job, life is allowed to interrupt, We took some time that evening and the next to step through the process of adopting a rescue dog. A "one in a million" breed, ball of energy we call Jojo.

"Why hello ladies . . . Have you been missing a little Jojo in your life?"
This Guy!!
By the end of the first night in the shop I had the carcass joined together and the front nailed on and the back screwed on. I used screws because if I want to modify anything it's easy to back out a couple screws and go.

I finished the fall front and the lid the next day I decided to breadboard the lid with oak to for wear and to help keep the panel flat. It took a few more days to fit the hinges and hardware and paint the beast.

In the end I fell short of the challenge, but I was close enough I'm certain it's something I could accomplish and I feel that's a big deal.

When you reach the point where you can efficiently move through the basic steps you've achieved a certain plateau. I won't say the words "Don't have to think about" because if you're not thinking, you're probably screwing the pooch. Thoughtfully and directly moving through the basics frees up a different portion of your mind and you can see and envision farther along the path.

Suddenly while you're cutting dovetails, you're organizing and prioritizing beyond the next glue up. As a craftsman, it's not a bad place to stand.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Derek,
    Please keep "cutting dovetails... ...organizing and prioritizing beyond the next glue up." And sharing your thoughts with us about it!
    Random ROG

  2. One thing missing from the article in PWW and Chris's blog posts is the location and attachment of the hinges for the top. I think the barrel has to be behind the plane of the back so the top can open over vertical.
    Is this correct? How did you do it?

    1. Michael, I didn't end up using strap hinges, I used some standard brass butt hinges because I had them hanging around. I would agree with what you're saying though.


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