Friday, July 6, 2012

Tool Chest? Nah... give me an open tool box.

There's been a lot of talk about lidded tool chests over the last year or two in the woodworking world, aided by the US woodworking legend Christopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press. His wonderful book The Anarchists Tool Chest has been a manifesto of hand tool woodworking both since it was published last year and in the lead-up to it.  Chris is an advocate of lidded tool chests for woodworkers - preferably made by woodworkers themselves to keep all their own tools in. It is true, storage in an almost airtight tool chest does help protect tools from moisture, salt air, dust, etc. After all, we are talking about quality tools here, which will last the user a lifetime and be worthy of passing on to future generations.

Despite all this wonderful talk, I confess I am still more keen on an open tool box, with a carry handle.
My new open tool box. It carrys nearly all of the hand tools I need on the job.
These are not so good for carrying on aeroplanes (yes, that is the correct British/Australian spelling) but ideal for living inside the cab of my dual cab ute (North American readers, for "ute" please read "pickup truck"). The back seat carrys a lot of tools in assorted containers. More stuff lives in lidded plastic crates in the rear of the vehicle. As a professional woodworker, I probably spend half of my time in the workshop and half of my time in my customers' homes, on building sites, etc. So portability of tools is important. In reality, I have two sets of tools - those in my workshop and those in my vehicle. Over the years, I have used a range of open tool boxes.

For  while now, I have been working out of a small overflowing jarrah open tool box and a big plastic crate to hold my most used hand tools in the ute. The little tool box has been great, but the big crate is not good for the tools which just lived in a pile inside. I have been dreaming about a change for some time. While I was following Chris's unfolding lidded tool box story, I had to question my open tool box preference and look at what tools I really needed to cart around. It's been a good process. However, I emerged convinced that the time had come to make one tool box to replace the other two containers. An open tool box, housing specific tools, so that it is harder to lose track of them on building sites. The time had come to stop dreaming and do it... now I had a plan.

The jarrah box in the foreground (plus a big plastic crate) were replaced by the box behind.
I use hand tools a lot. Sure, I have machines in my workshop and power tools in my ute, but hand tools figure largely in both environments. Ooh yeah, I love my handtools and use them every day.

Getting time to make this box has been a challenge. I have made it over several weeks, doing a bit here and a bit there every few days. Eventually I got it finished. It's a bit rough, but it works well. I'm very happy with it. Every tool has its place.
The new toolbox has one tray, made to fit the space available.
The external dimensions of the new tool box are as follows: 840mm long (33"), 340mm high (13.5"), 200mm wide ( 8'') and the base is just under 200mm (8") deep. When loaded up, the whole thing weighs right on 25kg (55 pounds).

The box and its tray is made from recycled plywood. Plywood derived from crates which carried goods from the US to Australia. The handle is made from Vitex, a hardwood from the Solomon Islands, and a scrap discarded by a joinery shop years ago. It's been in my stash. There's that recycling theme again. The whole thing is coated with a couple of coats of shellac brushed on, and a canauba wax coat to finish it off.

So exactly what is in there? The hand tools I use for on-site carpentry, joinery, and general woodworking. OK, not everything got in there, but about 95% did. More stuff lives in my apron pocket all the time, plus there is the oil stone and oil which just live in my ute...

The whole booty!

So what's in the box? Here's the list:
Saws: Rip panel, cross cut panel, tenon, dovetail, coping, mini hacksaw, keyhole. Spare blades for coping and hack.
Planes: No.5 1/2 jack, No.78 duplex rebate with full fence, No.60 1/2 block, No.71 router, No.75 bullnose rebate, No.151A spokeshave.
Marking/measuring: 600mm steel rule, 300mm steel rule, large sliding bevel, small sliding bevel, marking gauge, spring dividers, 300mm combination engineers square, variable angle measurer.
Chisels: bevel edged 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", 1", 1 1/2", 2", 2 1/2", another 1", and a veining tool.
Striking tools: wooden carvers mallet, claw hammer, warrington cross pein hammer.
Screwdrivers: spiral ratchet screwdriver and assorted bits, slotted driver, philips driver, combination driver.
Pliers: pincers, bull-nosed, long-nosed.
Other: hand drill and bits (1/16" - 1/4"), half round rasp, 2 small F-cramps, 2 x nail punches.

Now that is a bunch of tools you can make a lot of stuff with!!

Never mind those lovely lidded tool boxes, good as they are.
I like my delicious new open one... it's a real beaudy!


  1. Great toolbox, it's a Mary Poppins bag?

  2. Greg,

    I am a woodworking teacher in the US (Missouri). I would love to pick your brain about a woodworking ed project I am working on. How can I contact you outside the comments section on the blog?


    1. Sure thing, Jacob. If you go to to my profile on the blog, you'll find my email address. It's

  3. Your toolbox is deceptively spacious! Woodworking is more of a hobby to me, so I prefer to use lidded toolboxes. There are going to be times that I can’t work on any projects, so the toolbox actually helps to extend the life of my tools. In the end, what’s important is that our toolboxes should be able to store our tools effectively. Great insight!

  4. This toolbox is superb! The work you have done in it seems beautiful and appreciable.
    Tool Storage Chests

  5. That's a good item. You can bring your hand tools and even your power tools easily! I'll need this one, I'll create my version using milwaukee tools from United Tools Clayton!:D A handy tool chest.