Tool Chest
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The Woodwright's Workbook: Further Exploration in Traditional Woodcraft By Roy Underhill

The Lid

Half-lap the frame of the lid, maintaining the tongue for the central panel.Half-lap the frame of the lid, maintaining the tongue for the central panel. A tool chest is intended to protect the tools. Getting caught in a rainstorm on the job is a lot less worrisome when your tool chest is built right. This lid is designed to shed water and to stay tight regardless of changes in humidity. The top is made up of a frame which holds a panel and a lip attached around the underside to stiffen it and fit around the upper edge of the chest.

Cut the four boards that comprise the frame to dieir proper lengths (plus a bit) and plane them square and true. Mark the top faces and the outer edges. The inside edges of the boards may now be prepared to accept the grooved panel. This entails cutting a shoulder, or rabbet, into the lower inside edges of all four pieces. Gauge down a quarter inch from the upper, face side of the frame boards on all of the pieces. This quarter inch is the wood that must remain as a tongue to fit into the groove around the panel. The wood that needs to be removed for a depth of % inch (also laid out with the gauge) can be dealt with by a rabbet plane or a chisel.

The rabbeting complicates the half-lap joints of the corners of the frame. The best way to deal with this is just to cut the tongue off in the area of the joints and start with a clean slate. Set the long boards on top of the short ends as they will be situated in the finished lid. Mark the long boards at the inner corner where they intersect the short boards. Make saw cuts through the tongue on the long boards at this point and then cut away the tongue to the ends of the boards. Now the lapping can proceed.

For the half lap, set the gauge at half the thickness of the wood (% inch) and, always fencing the gauge from the top, face side, mark around the ends of all four boards. Scribe across the grain where the edges of the boards cross each other, first testing the alignment for squareness. Mark the waste (the lower half of the long ends, the upper half of the short ends) with big Xs and saw the wood away. It will be a perfect fit.

Make the panel to fit the frame. The groove around the perimeter of the panel can easily be cut with a plow plane or a quarter-inch grooving plane. But it can also be easily cut with a sharp chisel. Lay out the width of the groove (the middle quarter of the %-inch thickness) with the gauge. Start at the far end of one of the long-grain sides with the bevel of the chisel down. Work your way backwards, rolling out curls until you have gone in half an inch. On the end grain you need to reverse the procedure and work with the bevel up; start at the near end and slowly work away from you. A sharp chisel is the secret of success.

The groove around the central panel can be quickly cut with a chisel.The groove around the central panel can be quickly cut with a chisel. When you assemble the top, glue and screw the corner joints, but leave the panel free. As the Builder's Dictionary noted, "This will give Liberty to the Board to shrink and swell." If you glued it in place, it would "so restrain the Motion of the Wood, that it cannot shrink without tearing." Leave the panel loose and it will "last a long Time, without either parting in the Joints, or splitting in the Wood."

Screw the lip to the underside of the lid with common butt miters at the corners. The lip needs to fit around the top with enough clearance that it can be closed as it swings in the arc. You may also want to make a rim for this lip to mate with. It may be made in the same manner as the skirt, but in any case needs to be securely fastened to the case, as it is an obvious place to grab the chest to lift it.

A chest from the nineteenth century is happy with butt hinges on it. They began to replace the strap hinge in the mid-eighteenth century. I once explored the ruins of a house built about this time in which every door was hung on butt hinges screwed to the surface like the oldfashioned strap hinges. A chain or a hinged iron strap will keep the lid from falling clean over when you open it, or you can have the back edge of the lid strike a bar fastened across the back of the chest.

Old chests can look as common as an old shoe on the outside and yet be beautifully inlaid masterpieces on the inside. I am happy with simple open trays that slide back and forth to let you get to the bottom of the chest. If you decide to make two trays to a tier, be sure to make each no wider than one-third of the interior width of the chest. I made the trays of my wheeled chest a bit too wide, and it is a tight squeeze between the trays when I need to get something out from the bottom.



"The Woodwright's Workbook: Further Exploration in Traditional Woodcraft" By Roy Underhill
© 2012 The University of North Carolina Press

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