Besides his skills, a woodworker’s most important asset is his tool collection. Historically, a good hand plane would be worth the equivalent of several week’s wages for a journeyman craftsman, so he needed a way to protect it from damage and theft and carry it around with all his other tools. Therefore, the final test for an apprentice before he ventured out on his own was to build a quality tool chest. This chest would be built of the highest quality and was meant to last for a very long time.
I’m at the point in my woodworking journey that I want to build myself a tool chest in the very near future. I’ve accumulated a number of tools, many of which are very valuable in either monetary or sentimental terms. They are strewn around my shop, vulnerable to damage or rust, and often end up contributing to very significant bench clutter when I am in the midst of a project. Also, it won’t be long before I am living on my own and likely moving around somewhat frequently, so a chest would help me with transport. A chest has limited space and forces its maker to consider which tools are most important and used most frequently.
I’ve considered making a chest ever since I read an article by Mike Pekovich in Fine Woodworking Magazine. His chest was only big enough to hold his most important tools. It was small enough to carry out to his car but also set down nicely on a rolling stand for use in his shop. And, it is a beautiful design that shows off his woodworking skill. I could build a replica of his chest, and I considered that for a while, but I decided that I would prefer to design my own.
I know it will have to hold three handsaws, a set of chisels, a few hand planes, layout tools, sharpening equipment, and other miscellaneous tools. Many tools won’t fit in the chest such as clamps, but that is unavoidable. Also, since I do use machines in my work, they will have to remain separate. I do hope that having a chest with the most critical tools for woodworking all grouped together will encourage me to work by hand more and build the skills that aren’t developed or practiced when using a machine. Practically, when I’m living in a small apartment I might not be able or allowed to use the large machines and therefore forced to make do with what I decide to include in my chest.
I sketched out an idea in my notebook more than two years ago now and really haven’t returned to it since. I’m sure that as I get closer to actually building a chest the design will change based on the tools I wish to put in it.
I’ll leave you with perhaps the most famous tool chest ever, built by the piano maker H.O. Studley. It holds more than 300 tools in a package only 39 by 18 by 9 inches.