Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thoughts on the Dutch-style Toolchest

I've been using my Dutch-style toolchest for over a year now, since early October 2013.  In that times, I've learned some things about it, some good, some bad.

The Bad

On the bad side, in one respect the design is a complete failure.  Part of the idea was that I should be able to pick it up and move it, fully loaded, on my own.  That's just not going to happen.  It weighs far more than I can comfortably carry, and I suspect the handles would tear out of the sides if I tried.  If I replaced all my metal planes with wood it might be different, but I don't think that would be enough of a change to solve the problem.

In addition to that, I'm running out of space, and some of my tools (the combination plane being the primary offender) just don't fit conveniently.  The combination plane is too long, tote to toe, to just slide in, so I have to put it in sideways, at which point the adjusting rods inevitably trap something else behind them.  I've also accumulated more tools than I really expected to want to store in it, and I'm going to have to make some hard decisions sooner or later, or else build an auxiliary toolchest and try to split things up into "used frequently" and "used rarely" categories.

The Good

There's far more good to say about it, though.  The primary goals of a toolchest, in my mind, are to keep tools safe, and to keep tools easily accessible.  This chest accomplishes that, and in far less space than I would have expected.  Things do get tangled up in that combo plane, but other than that everything is easy to reach.  I can grab a chisel, screwdriver, saw, or a plane (mostly) without having to move anything else.  The top compartment holds a full set of bench chisels, a 1/4" mortise chisel, screwdrivers (including a small Yankee drill/driver), bit adapters and a countersink for a brace, rip, crosscut, carcase, tenon, and dovetail saws, along with #3, #4, and #5 planes, a block plane, and an old transitional jointer plane.  I've also got my box of auger bits in there for the moment, for lack of a better place to put it.  Everything in there can be grabbed without having to shift anything else, and those are the tools I use most often.

The lower case holds moulding planes (what few I have), a hammer, the brace, an eggbeater drill, squares, a coping saw, scrapers, and various other bits and pieces that don't make sense to store up top.  They're more or less just tossed into the chest, though, so finding things can be a bit of a challenge.  Still, it rarely takes more than 30 seconds to find something, and at worst another 45 seconds to extract it.

The biggest advantage is in the convenience of cleanup.  Every tool has either a defined place or goes in a pile in the bottom.  That means putting everything away takes a few minutes, and there's no real thought involved beyond "does this need to be cleaned?".  As a result, my tools spend more time put away, and less time sitting out on the bench.

What's changed?

It looks like the last thing I published about this chest was in 2013 (here), and some things have changed since then.  I plan to do a more thorough breakdown, but here's the short list:

  • I did, in fact, add a shelf stack to the right end of the lower compartment.  It holds a Stanley #78 rabbet plane, my squares and gauges, blades for the combination plane, and scrapers.  Getting the small stuff out of the way has helped organization a lot, and makes it less likely that something will fall out of the chest when I open it.
  • The lid was completely replaced with a frame and panel arrangement.  The lid now has safe storage for a cacase saw and a dovetail saw, which has been really nice.  It's now one step to get to either one, or to put it away.  I used the lid for about 6 months without any glue (the frame is a pegged mortise and tenon arrangement) and it worked great:  this morning I knocked it apart, added glue, and put it back together... I'll paint it tonight, and reassemble it for the final time and photos tomorrow morning.
  • I've moved the tool rack to the back wall, gotten rid of the divider in the top, and added a saw till.  I just couldn't find a better way to store long saws, and it seems to be working quite well.
  • I painted it bright blue.  I like blue, and I found some cheap paint in a remarkably bright shade.  Yes, there will be pictures.  I ended up not priming it first, and I really like the sort of battered appearance the re-used wood has, and the slight variations in color from old stains on the wood.  It doesn't look like a show-piece, it looks like a chest that has had a long and productive life.
  • I build cleats to hold a 16" combination square and a coping saw into the removable front panel.  It means I need to keep that panel accessible when I take it off, but it works beautifully.
  • I gave up and bought something for the chest:  handles for the sides.  They're cheap steel chest lifts, but they fit and they make it simple to just grab the chest and move it (at least when it's empty...).
Once everything is back in it, I'll get some pictures to show the current layout.

Overall, I'm thrilled with the chest.  I admit I still love the idea of doing a big traditional tool-chest, but there's just no space.  My "shop" space is still only 6'x6', and a 2x2x3'+ chest just wasn't going to happen.  Someday I'll get my garage insulated and heated, and maybe I'll build one there.  Or maybe I'll just stick with the chest I have and am used to.

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