You Asked About My Tool Cupboards

I never thought my workbench would really be of much interest to others but then it was. Now you ask about my cupboards.

P1020341My tool cupboard is nothing special. It’s not a statement of craftsmanship but it is like most tool cupboards I would have seen throughout my formative woodworking years and especially during my time as an apprentice. A workshop isn’t supposed to look like a sterile kitchen and neither is a tool cupboard I might use either. I remember when I first saw the Fine Woodworking poster three or more decades ago, of the piano builder H.O Studley and his prized accumulation of fine woodworking tools and meticulous way he condensed them into a cabinet I was awestruck that the man had such reverence for his craft and expressed it in something as simple and as complex as a tool chest filled with his tools. P1020794 With every component part interlocked with perfect fitments, and admiring the work of art the chest itself became, I think the standard surpassed all others although I am of no doubt that there will be others out there around the world that may well also be extraordinary. The Studley tool chest, for all of its finery, looks to me like a working tool chest to be admired firstly for its functionality and harmony, and then for the fact that it was user friendly, and then for the fact that it was indeed used by the workman who made it with such love and care. These things matter.

So, the cupboard behind me (shown top) houses mixed tools two-thirds of which are my planes. My day to day planes are on my benchtop or on a mobile trolley I wheel to task by my bench as needed.DSC_0128

P1020797Occasionally I use the compass plane, 6th from the left left side, when I want to replicate an exact curve say for a window frame or door frame. I made some gothic arch pieces for restoration work for the National Trust’s Plas Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey a few weeks back. The plane comes in useful for things such as that. It’s also useful for creating forms for curved and laminated work too. To get exactness. Nearer the top I keep some planes for refining work.P1020827 Long planes like the 6 and 7. I don’t use them much but they come in from time to time. P1020796To the right on the same shelf are my different plough planes, not all of them, just the metal ones. They’re tucked behind the routers hanging on the front edge. I like to have the different types because they of course all feel different and so I might want the compactness of the 043 for tight spaces or just because I can cup it in the palm of my hand and use it singlehandedly. In this plough plane I use the smaller cutters like the 1/4”. In fact it’s permanently in there generally. For convenience. I have an 044 there too and I keep this with a 3/8” cutter in. the slightly bigger plough works well with wider cutters you see, because of the handle. It’s also a handy spot for router planes that aren’t hung so  I have a couple of hand-mades there and also a Veritas plough too.P1020686

P1020796P1020829On the top shelf you see boxes, some with contents and some empty. I have two or three 50s , a Record 4905  and some others. sandwiched in between are a wooden compass plane and a toothing plane I use for veneer work mostly. I keep two full bit rolls and two braces for the boring jobs. The wooden router over on the left is now one of my favourites. It doesn’t have an adjuster but you can pinch and tap adjust so easily it’s as quick as the adjustables with mechanisms and it always feels so good on the wood too. Inside on the underside of the shelf I have a small additional shelf that takes two of my inshaves that otherwise are hard to find homes for.

P1020825P1020824P1020822The angled plane shelf works for holding smoothers but these are ones I collected for different reasons. P1020807On the opposite side are my favourite specialist planes like shoulder planes and bullnoses, block planes and such. I like to see the old and the new side by side like that. Funny really, I use them equally throughout any given day.

P1020802On the inside of the left door you see two 80 cabinet scrapers and four spokeshaves. these again are my users. The blue Record 80 I have had from new and forever. I’m on the third blade in that so that’s quite a history of scraping.

A friend bought me the router in the middle and I haven’t really used it yet but I will.

P1020801On the opposite door are daily-use stuff like small hacksaws and sliding bevels. I keep a drawknife  handy too, even in a furniture shop like mine they are very handy. P1020840The cap iron is a treasure someone gave me as a present knowing my high regard for the brilliant inventor and tool maker Leonard Bailey. It’s marked as shown and records the date of the well-earned patent. I like the fact that he had the guts to go forward on what became one of if not the single most widely used and copied patterns of metal-cast planes in the history of the world. The counterculture of the time must have been phenomenal and yet no modern maker has come up with a better design despite the incredible access to the most advanced technologies including robots, CNC machines and of course the computer software for design. Leonard Bailey was an incredible designer and engineer.

P1020794As a side, literally, I use a rolling cart for additionals needed throughout the day. It holds planes and clamps and cramps and boxes of screws, a frame saw. P1020795It works great for pulling to task and pushing out of the way and freeing up workspace. On the one hand it takes space, the other it makes space.P1020792

31 comments on “You Asked About My Tool Cupboards

  1. Hi Paul, This is a great topic. Learning how the shop is equipped and how the volume is organized for practical use has always been of great interest to me. Another English gentleman I admire for his knowledge and his workshop was Jim Kingshott. I enjoyed him as I do you so very much. Did you ever have the opportunity to cross paths with Jim? Best regards, Lester

  2. Wow quite a history of scraping indeed if your are on the third scraper blade. That is an impressive amount of ‘work’ over your working life as a craftsman and that is only ONE tool. Thank you for taking the time to write on this. I find posts like these enjoyable, educational, and i love the insight you can provide because you choose to live this every day.
    Brian

    • Yeah, thank goodness the engineers left the scraper blades alone and didn’t persuade us that we needed thicker irons here to stop scraper chatter too. I remember when Stanley UK sent their irons to the scraper to be made in France and they came back half the height so you couldn’t hold on to anything to sharpen it. Only one edge was sharpened to a bevel and the price for half as much was the same as when you had twice as much steel.

  3. Thanks for the rundown on your workshop and contents Paul. It helps for all those who have never been there to ‘flesh’ out the details a little more. The succinct and informative descriptions along with the photography give a much clearer picture to the educated and uneducated observations people such as myself are inclined to as I follow your blog and classes. Small details such as the cap iron above also have a greater degree of relevance and interest to readers when you place it in an appropriate personal context.

  4. It’s more the construction of the cupboard itself that interests me – I need to make one!
    By the look of it it’s a set of door-type panels. How are they held together, screws?

  5. Hi Paul, I too am interested in whether you built the cupboard and if so how. I’ve been looking around at various bits of second hand furniture to use, but have concluded it may be better to just build one.

    • I am not sure if any of you realise how much work would need to go into detailing the cupboard construction, to make it a how-to, to make the video of building the cupboard. The planning alone is a huge investment. No it’s not screwed together as such, it’s jointed throughout. I do plan to do this, but pulling it together and keeping everyone else in the loop too takes some thinking through as we have a majority that would never want to build such a project.

      • Thanks Paul – I’m in the process of making up a shallow (30cm deep) tool cupboard at the moment using a solid pine timber carcase with panel back and raised panel doors. The main reason for the solid pine being that I really need to up my game on making multiple dovetails and need the extra practice before I go to hardwood and make up a toolbox for the wife’s sewing stuff.

  6. Thanks for the info Paul. Fascinating to see how you organise so many tools. I just wish I had more room and a drier space to keep tools in. I think if I left my planes out on the bench like that they would start showing signs of rust inside of the week, so they’re oiled and stored in a well sealed tool chest along with a couple of corrosion inhibitors.

    I do like the rolling cart. Is there any chance of seeing a few more close-up photos of that to get some idea of how it’s been put together?

    Many thanks for everything you share.

    Nick

    • Nick, I don’t know where you are living but I do believe most woodworkers think that they can work in damp buildings for some strange reason. I have done that only when the control was outside of my control. In my view any woodworker should first establish his or her working space. Solve damp in the walls and foundations issues first. Dry line the walls as necessary. Put in a plywood floor over rough concrete or irregularities. Never let sawdust and shavings hang around to soak in atmospheric moisture and work as a steamer. Fix roofs and gutters, make sure water flows away from the building. Then work on heating the place to offset dampness, further season bought in kiln dried wood and so on.

      • Hi Paul,

        I’m based in the UK in East Anglia. Sadly I only have half a garage to claim for a workshop. The garage has a new roof and guttering and the floor is covered, so it’s about as dry as a single skin brick building is going to be without dry lining it (which would impinge on space more than I would like I think). But I shall investigate that and the possibility of heating it further.

        Thanks for the advice.

        Nick

        • I know it’s hard and space is a premium. if it’s yours and not rented and you spend any amount of time in the shop, other than that there’s the living room the spare bedroom or the kitchen. Just joking.

  7. Hello Paul,
    maybe this is not just a tool cupboard, but a starting platform for cabinet construction.

    What is the difference(s) between a (book)shelf and a cabinet (structural)?
    There are different types of doors, what are they, how are they build and how are they hinged?
    How to build a (cabinet) door anyway? What to consider?

    Questions like these spook around in my mind.

    I’m sure these questions are not to answer in one go.

    I think a theoretical/constructional overview, a consideration why you choose one way, not the other would help us to grow, to be designers of our own, in some future.

    It is one thing to read about it in a book, but it’s a big difference to see you talk about it and then realizing it in front of our eyes!
    Best wishes
    Jens

  8. I vote humbly for something like a cabinet project as well.
    Maybe not a full size one like your tool cabinet, but a scaled down version of something like a kitchen cabinet would most likely suffice to explain and demonstrate the joinery involved. Most plans or stuff that’s being made by companies or contractors are butt jointed stuff with more or less fancy screws and other hardware, depending on how much you are willing to pay. (which inevitably translates linear to the time it will remain in its original shape)

    Eventually we aspiring woodworkers would have to learn how to design and scale things to our particular needs anyway.
    For me personally I find it very useful to see how to do the tricky things, so these techniques can be used in other projects.

    Diego

  9. This is a very interesting thread I think. I wonder how many woodworkers are thinking like me, in that they have friends who want frame and panel kitchen cabs, or well made built-ins in their living room. This is the sort of work that woodworkers can charge decent money for and could easily supply a second income, enabling them to cut back on the desk job. I look forward to the smaller tool cupboard project!

    • One and the same. The original UK term is cramp, US uses the term clamp. Globalisation and education distills everything down to commonality and the US being the most dominant influence means clamp has been adopted universally pretty much. I drift between both and did plan at one time of readopting my native vernacular but I drift back and forth. Same with feet and inches to degree too. I think there are only three counties using imperial though and it’s unlikely the world will adopt the imperial system again.

  10. Hi Paul. Yes. I would love to see the smaller tool cupboard as a set of videos as mentioned above. I guess from this we could scale to suit. Ultimately I want to build a cupboard like the one in your workshop. In particular I am keen to see the production of the doors and making and fitting of the draws.

    Off at a tangent and with next winter in mind (at least here in England) I would equally love to see some wood bending / laminating say in the stile of a Nordic sledge – which I would love to make for my seven year old son. He is starting to see some of my offerings appear around the house and loves making things with me. I have started building up a set of tools for him which he is enjoying greatly.

    Finally, I want to say how fortunate I feel I am in having found your blog etc. As an apprentice trained Engineering Craftsman / Draughtsman of the 1980’s what you are offering is incredible. In essence you are providing the answers to all the questions I needed answering before I could confidently commence my woodworking journey. I had started to loose hope, that soon there would be nobody to ask for those answers. I think you are in the process of achieving something incredible for I am sure there are plenty of people like me now who will be able to provide their sons and daughters with all the facts they will need should they choose a woodworking journey. You have impacted on two generations in my family. Well done.

    Many, many thanks, Neil and Benj.

  11. Paul,

    While reading your blog, I noticed your reference to Bailey planes. Many years ago I acquired, actually my wife acquired for me, an old plane marked as a Bailey. It has a cast body, screwed to a piece of perhaps pine as its sole. It is marked as a ‘BAILEY’, ‘Stanley Rule & Level Co’, ‘No 26’ on the forward end. BAILEY is also cast into the nosing just before the forward knob.

    The plane has an OAL of 15″ and its pine block is approximately 2-9/16″ wide. I have always supposed it was a fairly common plane, but your reverence for the Bailey name above causes me to investigate. Someone used this plane a lot, the plane iron has a faint stamping that starts with SH…I haven’t rubbed on it as it is faint. There is no Bailey markings on the iron.

    If you or others have more information on this plane I would love to hear it. As you might tell, I watch and read much more than I do…but newly retired from a 45 year career in the mines and have always been intrigued by the skill of woodworking, dusting off the old hand tools I have acquired over these many years.

    Dave

    • You describe a USA made plane known as a transitional plane. They were indeed developed by Stanley to entice woodworkers to give up on their wooden planes after Stanley Rule & Level had developed the fully orbed but basically shunned all-metal counterpart in the form of the Bailey-pattern bench plane line of planes we commonly know and use today. Stanley went back to the drawing board for a season and the strategy worked. What Stanley saw in the all metal plane body blinded them to something they failed to address; wooden-bodied planes, even if heavier in actual weight, were lighter to use as wood on wood is nigh on frictionless compared to steel on wood. So transitionals came in with much less complex need for skilled work surrounding the wood, which was indeed responsible for the demise of the wooden plane. Although it doesn’t take too much woodworking skill to make a standard wooden bench plane from seasoned wood, the process is time consuming. It takes half a day to make a regular wooden smoothing or jack plane using standard processes and the right tools and equipment none of which are scarce or unusual. Pouring cast metal planes on the other hand is complex in some measure because of the diverse steps of setting up the moulds and flasks and then pouring the molten metal, but once done the pour means you create hundreds of planes in a single day. The following steps are mostly milling the components and assembling them. It’s a guess for me but I would think a small foundry could produce a thousand all metal planes in say five days. Yes the castings must be acclimated to allow stresses to be relieved but once the cycle is in motion you are still producing a thousand planes a week with a dozen men. Wooden planes on the other hand back then needed several years of wood seasoning. 24 planes a week from a dozen skilled plane makers isn’t really comparable and in the industrialising of society it was only a question of time before the wooden plane was finally finished.

  12. Hi Paul,

    I assume your cabinet is really heavy, especially so much steel tools put inside. Could you please write a post on how such an heavy cabinet would be fixed safely to the wall, the alternatives, etc.

    Thank you,

    • These cupboards are tool cupboards I use for my daily work but also my research and my teaching. In other words they contain about ten times more than most people need. Also, the top cabinet is on top of a lower cabinet and this could support ten times what I have in it because it is in direct contact with the floor. That said, we just finished filming a series as a cabinet making course on building a wall hung cabinet. In that the cabinet is strong enough to fix and hold the cabinet filled with tools directly to a wall. I have added two brackets for the cabinet to sit on that gives even more strength so that is easy enough to deal with.

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