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Thread: Thoughts on tool chests

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    GTA Ontario Canada

    Thoughts on tool chests

    For ages now i have a hankering to build a decent tool chest. This issue just keeps coming to the fore each time i set foot in my shop with tools scattered in different draws and outta site. I have come to realize just how this affects my woodworking and the fun of it.

    So having accumulated a ton of pics on the subject and seeing what others have done the question arises as to where the cut off point is for what goes into the tool chest.

    Were i a journeyman of years gone buy there would no doubt be a limit on what i might have put in my tool chest.

    But with many of us today having DIY home tools mixed up with woodworking hand tools where and how does one determine where to draw the line and this begs the question is there a line?

    When i look at the requirements and purpose for the tool chest i see them as follows:
    • allowing easy access and visual access
    • protecting the tool and its cutting edge
    • having them all available in close proximity
    • making them quasi mobile so they can be moved to where the work is. (thinking here of either mobile base or even the old carry type tool chest)
    • creating a dedicated location for storage that not only keeps the tool where it should be when stored but makes putting a tool back when you done with it easy as pie. This to me allows for keeping clutter off the work surface at least to some extent based on the thought that its not much effort to put it back instead of down.
    Assuming this is pretty much it the next thing on the list is the tools to be loaded.

    My thoughts at present are:

    Planes all of them and room for ? more and here i include items like speciality type planes such as say a shoulder plane or a router plane and cabinet scraper.

    Chisels. But do i put all in and do i leave space for future for more. Right now i have no intention of buying more but i have been there before with other tools and it has not worked out that way.

    Also where does one draw the line on clutter versus need.

    Spoke shaves and what about expansion in this area? I currently have one decent one and two old WW2 units handed down they not bad users now so they surely must get a place based on use and sentimental value.

    Hand saws, here is a category i dont have many in, would one put specialised saws in besides the general say tenon or dovetail saw. Then right now i dont own a decent panel saw so do i make space for one?

    Hammer i am thinking crosspene and leave the ballpene in the draw

    Mallet this is another area of question? Which mallets ...wood, rubber, deadblow?

    Ruler but which size i have a set of 5 steel ones do i make allowance for each one?

    Same with squares?

    What about screw drivers and then what about drills. I dont use hand drills at all. But i do have two nice small 12v bosch drills that are my go to drills/drivers now.

    I have a yankee screwdriver but again its more of a hand me down sentimental value item that it is a item i choose to work with. Its only flat head bits in it and i dont particularly care for the fact that i cannot feel the torque being placed on the screw when i use it. Same with the brace and its bits.

    Then there are files and rasps. Rasps seem logical but ihave also used a normal file on woodworking.

    So chime in if you will please, I would love to hear thoughts from other neanders on how they view this dilemma. Do you see it as a tradditionalist kind of thing where you stick to certain fundamentals or does one go free for all.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    RETIRED(!) in Austintown, Ohio
    Are you travelling with your tools? If not, a cabinet or drawers makes more sense. A tool chest consumes valuable floor space, and since it has a flat top, it's likely to 'collect' stuff on it which limits its accessability.

    To me, a rolling tool cabinet would be better than a chest. It'll still take up floor space, but at least it could be moved around.

    Most of my stuff is in wall cabinets or drawers, although I do have one rolling cabinet. It hasn't rolled anywhere in a couple years, but it could if I wanted it to...
    Jim D.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    SW Minnesota
    A traditional tool chest is on my list to do. Before I do, I want to get a copy of Chris Schwartz's Book "An Anarchists Tool Chest". I have read Chris's thoughts on tool chests and agree with him that the old timers that used hand tools to earn their living had it right.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Gonzales, Louisiana
    I'm sorry I have no suggestions for you... But I'm sure going to enjoy the build thread!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Central NY State
    A tool chest is on my bucket list, but like Jim said, it takes up valuable floor space, and could get to be yet another clogged up horizontal surface. Up til now, I use shelves, walls and some drawers. But once you see Schwarz's chest and how he uses it, it does seem pretty nice.
    If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Kansas City, Missouri
    Honestly Rob, most of my hand tools are in a mechanic's tool chest stack (HF brand). I have some odd tools in a few drawers at the bench, but I have considered just buying 2 more of the mechanics chests as the drawers are small and the set of three are on wheels to move where I need them. For things like planes, chisels, and such, I'm planning to build in some cabinets and storage on the bench where they'll get used the most.

    To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word “boo.” – Robert Brault

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    The Gorge Area, Oregon
    Chris's book was pretty interesting but I haven't been completely sold on the idea yet....

    I think the key things I learned from it is flexibility and accessibility. Make it so that you can get to your stuff easily and that you can change what is stored in your storage as you and your tools evolve. A lot of the tool chests were built by folks who did similar work day in and out, most of us hobby workers tend to be a bit more eclectic so its a weirder problem. Looking at some of the chests folks have built they really can be marvels of accessibility and space efficiency (looking at just pictures it took me quite a while to figure out how you actually got to some parts of some of the chests and then was like oooooohhh... ), they do have some good ideas even if you don't build a chest.

    I agree that having to walk back and forth to tool storage on the other side of the room is way inefficient, but I don't think most of the old tool chests were really made to be moved much from what I can tell.. A rolling base might work, but once you get that sucker loaded down you'd have to be Hercules to regularly move it.

    My shop space is still evolving (and will never end..), I'm leaning towards a more hybrid approach with something more like "pluggable" tool racks for stuff that needs to move around and fixed storage near the workspace its used at for stuff that doesn't. Generally I find that I'm working with a few "types" of tools at a time. Like I'm on a carving project or a flatwork project and they each take different tool sets. Having some commonly used tools in hands reach seems like a good idea, like all of the bench planes and hand saw rack should be close to the bench I think. On the other hand I have something like four disparate classes of chisels (roughly: bench/paring, mortise, carving, lathe) and am never using them all at once (for example: I might want the bench and mortise at the bench at once; the carving chisels might be used at either the bench or occasionally the lathe but probably not at the same time as most of the other chisels) so having those in portable racks that keep them organized would be useful (currently they're all in drawers at the wrong end of the shop and litter the workbench until I get annoyed and "put them away" - really do need to do something better..).

    Picking what tools go where is always an interesting project. If its a tool you use all of the time, make a place for it (sure power drills may not be traditional - who cares - if you use need one or two handy make a place for them to be handy). If you have "to many" of an item, maybe you really want one in several places, two rules at the bench (6" and 12", maybe a 36") is likely sufficient, but it can be handy to have the others in strategic locations around the shop (like maybe a rule for the lathe or ???). Ditto screwdrivers and allen wrenches; I have an allen wrench dedicated to the bandsaw guides, it stays with the bandsaw, also have wrenches in little pockets for the spindle sander and TS that stay with them so I don't have to go hunt for the correct size. If its a sentimental tool you don't ever use, make a nice place to display it and don't clutter your "at hand" space with it. Rarely used items like (for me, today ) molding planes would do well in a less immediately at hand place where you could still get to them without unturfing the world (and ideally can see all of the profiles, etc.. so you don't have to pick up each one when you do want them).

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Escondido, CA
    What tools are in is not nearly as important as where tools are. I like mine within a short reach. Last week I cleaned out tool boxes, relocated one of them and repacked them. I have two Grizzly one on ones, one with a mid section as well. One of them is full of drill things and stands next to the drill press. The other is full of hand tools and is in the middle of the shop. Fewer steps to reach it. I also have an HF top tool box. Right now it is a catch-all for odd tings. Like most I love the wooden tool boxes with all its cute drawers. The reality was that by the time I would get one finished, I would wear out 13 cardboard boxes that stuff was in. I opted for the quicky route and bought them. I also built a buddy cart that houses the most used tools. It's on wheels and follows where I am working. The other great thing is the back board above one of the benches. It holds the layout and measuring tools. It likewise is in the middle of the shop. Too late to go out and take pictures.

    Some say the land of milk and honey; others say the land of fruits and nuts. All together my sort of heaven.

    Power is not taken. It is given. Who have you given yours to? Hmmmm?

    Carol Reed

  9. #9
    Sounds like you need a tool chest like this.
    Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    First one is the home tool chest. Second is the work tool chest.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails tn_wp1 001.JPG   tn_arr 001.JPG  
    It could be worse You could be on fire.
    Stupid hurts.

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