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Mere Toolboxes Speak In Depth On Vernacularism

DSC_0090The weeks pass so quickly and I might find it hard to call it work if I were to compare what I do with the work others leave for every day in their cars. If you know me at all I never stop making and this week’s been no different in that I finished replicating the new version of the old toolbox from some knotty pine I bought some months back from the same carboot sale. This type of toolbox is actually the simplest of any and I think with the tills it’s probably about three days work start to finish. Skills-wise it’s comparable to say something like a larger kitchen drawer and as most of this build comprises three boxes I suppose I might say three simple kitchens drawers in three sizes. Now, that said, the toolbox is pleasing to make because of its simplicity and of course its functionality as a tool box.

DSC_0088In times past I might have made a box with thicker walls and thicker bottom but I am converted to thin walls. I have rarely seen boxes with such thin walls and that’s why I chose this on over the dozen others I could have picked that were, well, in better shape, thicker walled, and better jointing. But this one intrigued my with thinness and weight. The box weighed in in its completed form today at just 30lbs. Its size too intrigued me. Most toolboxes of this type are more awkwardly cumbersome to the point that they can be difficult to place usefully. Discovering this one made me rethink  a little. Would it be better a large box made all the more awkward when a stuffed mass of hard to place tools or to have perhaps two boxes better matched to the tools themselves. Doors started opening as i dismantled the man’s thoughts inside the box. Restuffing this box with old planes I could see better the care and consideration he had for the planes and saws he must cary and lift and stow and save. In the big boxes it seemed always a struggle to get to the tools needed and so I found that both box and tools were almost always in the way.


I made some changes t the box but I want to talk about the wall thickness here. My dovetails are much tighter than those on the original box. Those were made quickly as was common on toolboxes of old. In measurement and so the original has pretty accurate distancing and squareness. My first thoughts as I cut the walls to dimension and then the cut the dovetails was, my, these walls are pretty bendy when this thin. Another thought was that there doesn’t seem much there when the joints are formed independently of one another. But then suddenly, when I pressed the joints together tree was an immediate stiff  rigidity I loved. As I progressed around to the next corner and then the next there came something I might only describe as a sincere wholeness to it. Dismantling the box, smoothing off the faces in readiness for the final gluing up of the parts, I felt I reached a new level of recognition in seeing a fineness index I might not have accepted before. I have seen fine work, yes. Even the very finest ever. I have been acknowledged for my personal fine workmanship too, but what I am describing is not fine work in the sense of pretentious fine work like the work done in past generations only for the wealthy, but what I can now describe as a fundamental vernacularism of a working man like the man I am. It was the most wonderful association of space and time I ever experienced and not at all unlike the discovery I experienced in making the tapered leg table for the past film series opt the Shaker Deacon’s bench seat. I am so glad to be living in a world as a lifestyle woodworker.

DSC_0082Gluing the box wall corners together brought with it the conclusion I always search for with a sort of momentary hesitancy in closing the joints for the very final time. This is like watching the deer drinking from the brook and you fear losing sight of it. My search for completeness concludes in the harmony of each portion of the composition and I feel the peace joinery should always mete out in completion. When the four corners were together I felt the very best of peace come over me as the work came to rest in its phase of completeness.DSC_0050


  1. Mark Evenson on 28 September 2014 at 3:25 am

    Hello Paul, thank you for all the knowledge you share with us. I am about to make my first tool chest so this post is very timely. When making the tills are the bottoms nailed on or glued on? If glued on can this be a problem with cross grain wood movement? I live on the Colorado plains witch is a very dry climate. Thank You,

    • Paul Sellers on 28 September 2014 at 4:51 am

      Usually its best to aclimate your wood to the shop atmosphere or place of final occupancy for a few days. Obviously you have that consideration with the toolbox lid too. I’ve had my wood in for several months for this first one of the two I will build. The next one for the film is wood I will have had in the shop for two weeks before I begin. I let the wood ‘air’ with air circulating each board so that movement can take place before I begin. I will the n plane out distortion as I build.

  2. Hal Corbin on 29 September 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Paul, this greeting comes from sunny Barbados, I started watching your videos about a year ago, I find them very interesting and I look forward to your postings of new ones.
    I am now 60 years old and have been doing woodwork from age 20, but watching your videos took be back to being a boy when the parish carpenter would turn up with wooden tool kit on his Humber bicycle and set up a work bench under our cherry tree and do the task at hand with all hand tools, wooden planes, hand saws, brace and auger set nothing electric, so Paul now my wooden planes are back out….hands saws are back out…..brace and augers back out…..and really enjoying the feel of “real woodworking” (your words).
    Please keep up the good work.
    Thanks Hal

  3. Lukasz Budzynski on 1 October 2014 at 4:39 am

    Hello Paul!

    Thanks for the great series. Waiting for the WW Masterclasses on this one 🙂

    The bottom is still a little mystery. Is it one wide panel or a couple of ship-lapped boards, screwed or nailed on, rebated in?

    Kindest regards,
    Lukasz Budzynski.

    • Paul Sellers on 1 October 2014 at 9:19 am

      I changed a couple of things on the bottom but they are shiplapped and they are secured by the cleats underneath. I have a couple more posts to do on the making for the blog yet and will get tom it shortly.

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