Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tool chest update

I have been using my tool chest for several years now and I thought there might be an interest in an update.  Overall, my experience has been outstanding and I am very happy with it.  As I began preparing for this post, though, I started thinking about a criticism I often read, that you have to bend over to get out your tools.  I want first of all to emphasize that I have never found this to be a problem, not even a little, even though I am 65 and not terribly flexible.  But, what if you think this is a problem, what could you do?  I decided to try something I haven't seen anywhere, basically putting the chest up on a base.  Primarily using material on hand for this experiment, here is what I came up with:

The chest is 2'x2'x3' and I built a base 2' high, so the top of the open lid is 6' high, 2" shorter than I am.  This seems like the maximum practical height.  In limited use so far it is comfortable and convenient, enough so that I decided to add a shelf and try it for a while:

This shelf is where I am storing my bench accessories, like a bench raiser, Moxon vise, shooting boards, etc.  This is a really good place for these things, readily accessible but out of the way.

Is this base a good idea?  Don't know yet, but seems like it might be.  So why have a chest if you are going to do this, why not have wall cabinets?  I am not going to get into the debate over wall cabinets vs. chests, among other reasons because I think each has advantages and your choice should depend on your preferences, workspace, tools, etc.  My point here is that this is an option, particularly if you think bending over to get into a chest is a problem.  As I said, bending over was never a problem for me but I do think an advantage of the base is that it allows you to make better use of shop space near your bench.

Now, on to the update.  With a major exception, I think I was very lucky with the layout of my chest.  I store my planes in the bottom and I really like this arrangement.  They are very easy to grab and are well protected (I need to finish out dividers in the back).  When I moved, I put an old comforter over the top of them and left them in place; they arrived without a scratch (In fact, I left all my tools in the chest without incident).

In the bottom till, I store my panel saws, drills, brace and bits and a tool roll.

In the next till, I have my coping saws, dowel former, scrapers and extra plane blades.  In the top till I have measuring and marking tools as well as chisels.  The paintbrushes are there because I brush off my planes before I put them away:

On the underside of the lid, I have most of my saws:

Finally, I made a tote that fits into the space in front of the tills that is miscellaneous storage right now.  One of the reasons I made it was to secure the tills when the chest is being transported and it does that very well.  When the chest is in use, the tote sits on a nearby shelf:

After several years, I am really sold on tool chests and I am mostly happy with the way I constructed mine.  It is so convenient to have your tools a step away from the bench in one extremely compact space that can be secured and protected.  I don't have a lot of nearby wall space so this is a much better option for me than wall cabinets.  I also like the fact that my tools are protected from our damp winter climate, since my shop is in the garage.  The thing I don't like about it is the saws on the lid, which I find awkward and not a good use of space.  A second thing that seems less than ideal to me is the way the small tools in the top till are jumbled.  I have decided to make a change.

My current thinking is to make a new top for the chest and fit in custom racks for many of the small tools that are in the top till now as well as other small tools that are stored elsewhere.  I would have a removable inside cover to hold the tools in place when the chest is closed.  The weight will not be a problem because of the very heavy duty Lee Valley piano hinge I used for the top.  If I leave the chest up on the base, the top will, in effect, function like a wall cabinet.  I would move all of my saws into the tote, which I think will be much more convenient to take out and use.  That will also free up space in the tills.  What do you think?

I know that some of you will scowl at my use of baltic birch plywood for the chest and I sometimes feel the same way.  However, it really is an excellent material for a tool chest and the maple "exoskeleton" hides the edges as well as providing structural strength. 


  1. I like the base, looks like it works great for all your bench accessories. The removable tote is an absolute genius idea!

  2. You make a good argument for this. I am almost convinced this is something to consider but I have lots of wall space.....