What we are learning.

I did design this project from a practical standpoint. Old tool chests held lots of tools but they were often impractical in terms of access to the inner cloisters. I like my personal arrangement and it has held good for years. I have cupboards because I have so many tools not because I need cupboards. I just have thousands of tools after 50 years of working wood. I don’t pass up bargains and so if something costs a pound I buy it and move it on or keep it. This chest will suit both modern and traditional hand tools and of course you can stack tool chests as I often do. This usually means more drawer making and whereas drawers are ideal for some tools, other tools, moulding planes for instance, are best retrieved from shelves within cupboards rather then the bottom of a box. I found that few craftsmen owned full sets of beading planes or even full sets of hollows and rounds. With over 350 moulding planes in different profiles and widths ranging from 1/2” to 3” wide that stacks side by side to a few hundred inches all tolled.

Designs designed to develop skill

In designing my tool chests I saw the opportunity to incorporate important working knowledge and at the same time build the all important skill students need. The construction of my tool chests incorporate several skills, different unique tools and a wide range of techniques. This single project uses dovetails, housing dadoes and mortise and tenon joints. We hybridize joints to develop exactness in workmanship and then we work all surfaces to master planing techniques and such. The list becomes extensive. Each tomorrow holds a new technique and every day each different tool develops new possibilities. Imagination becomes a possibility and then too reality.

What we build and can build

Beyond the list of endless possibilities, our quest is simple in all of its complexities. Box making starts the main body of construction, dovetailing and layout, accurate sawing, paring, fitting and fixing flaws professionally. The following phase introduces the lost art of hand cutting mortise and tenons joinery in paneled doors. These skills are identical for other joinery types; a massive range of such work and yet my methods remain simple and clear. I am equipping my students and they are receiving the best I can give. Panels raised with a simple smoothing plane works so effectively and efficiently. I admit, it wasn’t as easy as I made it look in my demonstrations, but guess what? They each did it and the panels look lovely now framed within a mortise and tenoned frame that they jointed, grooved and raised by hand.

Today we started drawers with very fine half-lap dovetails and a complex looking special joint to the back corners. I am content to see these men and women do this. I have been so for 20 years and so below is a list of the tools they used, the materials they worked and worked with, the equipment they used, the joints they made and the techniques they learned:

The tools we used are: 



Marking gauge

Mortise gauge


Chisel hammer

#4 or 4 1/2 smoothing plane

Bevel-up jack plane

Dovetail saw

Tenon saw

Paring chisel (3/4”)

Plough plane

Router plane


Auger bit

Drill-driver h

Twist drills

Square awl

Equipment used:

Clamps (various types)


Vises (quick release)

Materials used

Swedish redwood pine

PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue


1/4” plywood

Handles (student provided)

Brass hinges (2 1/2”)

Brass screws (3/4” x 3m)

Steel screws (1 1/4” x 4m)

Techniques learned

Planing: smoothing, jointing, routing, ploughing

Sawing: Dovetailing, crosscutting, ripcutting, tenoning

Project layout

Project assembly

Panel raising by hand

Joint fitting

Shaping: beveling, chamfering, bullnosing

Project gluing up and clamping

Hand cutting wooden plugs

Joints made

Common through dovetailing

Half-lap dovetailing

Through-tenon cutting

Housing dadoes

1 Comment

  1. Jim Thornton on 22 January 2019 at 3:33 pm

    What a great post! I’ve seen pictures of the tools laid out at each student work station and have tried to figure out just what all there was. It’s amazing that a person can do that much joinery with that few tools. Really puts hand woodworking into perspective.

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