Building a tool cupboard

Ignore the measurements here in, they will vary in the final drawings.

In a couple of weeks on we build the tool cabinet everyone has asked for and it’s a busy time in the making of it and the series. Carcass, drawers, tills, doors, panels all come from hand tools only. It’s the way to go and the way to grow your real woodworking skills. The patterns we use are ancient and new and in this project we use a system of dovetailing I developed that means all of the dovetails are indeed interchangeable from one corner to any other and that they can even be flipped to reverse the inside to out and still they will fit. P1150624Ever seen that between four sets of dovetails with an 8 dovetail joint? How about that. Most of it will not be on my blog but you will still enjoy the progress. I did cut my initial dovetails with a regular dovetail saw and my favourite, which is my very old Groves, but then I switched and made one corner differently. It’s one thing trying different saws out on different projects so this past weekend I used 7 different saws side by side on one set of dovetails on an 8-dovetail corner. That’s the one you see me tapping together here below.

See how strong dovetails are; no nails, no glue!

I experimented along the way as I often do. This was an interesting one, switching from a home made frame saw to a 150 year old dovetail saw. Then I switched to one of those new ones from the Thomas Flinn stable. The pricey ones. I ran the gents next to two Japanese pull-strokes and guess what? My dovetailed corner dovetails all came out the same and all the saws worked fine too. P1150627The truth was that the European mainland frame-type saw I made from oak worked equal to the most expensive specialised dovetail one and believe it or not the special-toothed Japanese hard-points, both of them, that’s the cheapo and the expensive one, did as well as one another and as well almost as my old Groves P1150622. Well, not really. Perhaps 70% as efficient though. The ancient or associated problems with each saw type remain the same. Friction, loss of visibility through sawdust, buckle and flex, alignment, overt floppiness. Things like these. But my micro-adjusting to compensate for the individual flaws inherent to each one meant near perfect dovetails no matter the saw I picked up and used.P1150623

I have always enjoyed the willingness of woodworkers to share what they know with others. My concern at one point years back was that too much information started to take over that was based more on mere opinion and not life’s longer term experiencing. One thing that my research over the years repeatedly turns up is that with the dearth of skill-based, experienced teaching and training a void was left and that has as the proverb goes left a vacuum that nature seems yet still to abhor. The vacuum means that for over three decades catalogue companies have assumed the position of experts. Their blurbs express that they are now the new-era experts but not by self declaration in so many words so much as being the Presenters of information. P1150678Express bold and confident statements in their texts seems as if to come from their experiential knowledge when we really know that that cannot be true. Most salesmen and staff in catalog companies don’t work with their hands or ever actually use hand tools. It’s as if their purchasing power entitles them to a transferred energy of experiential knowledge by osmosis. Here is an instance. For years now I have seen that the quotes of different companies could be written by one and the same technical writer. I read all the time how western handsaws are much thicker than Japanese saws because western saws buckle and warp under thrusting pressure. I read that pull stroke saws, because they are so thin, are much much easier to use. But I have not really found this to be altogether true at allP1150621. Whereas western saws can sometimes be marginally thicker, not always, in my experience they never buckle unless badly used. I have however experienced that people new to both saw types, that’s Japanese saws and western saws, do struggle with saws buckling either on the return stroke or the pull stroke. Now I do know this to be true. It is a funny thing that most videos using Asian saws are made by westerner ‘experts‘ and not Asian craftsmen. So I haven’t watched any yet. Anyway, my work this week tells me to tell you to choose your saws carefully and considerately. Read the catalogue information remembering with each word that it is an advert. P1150625Choose them culturally and try where possible to use two or three types for an extended period. Be prepared to sharpen them from the get-go. Of course the Japanese saws are not resharpenable these days mostly, even though the websites of some might say their’s are sometimes. Oh, and I measured my Groves’ saw kerfs with Japanese saw kerfs and then I measured other makers and guess what? In most cases the Japanese saw kerfs were around the same and then thicker or thinner. So the catalogue companies tell me that their saws are thinner. I try them and they cut nicely, but they didn’t cut better than my saws. It has been an interesting thing to work through these type of things through the years.P1150632

35 thoughts on “Building a tool cupboard”

  1. I just got my detached garage finished for woodworking. I am half way into building a Paul Sellers workbench. This project is perfectly timely!!!

  2. Would you mind publishing the materials list in advance? Just once I would like to have the materials on hand for a project. I have been researching such a cabinet for a while and was hoping you would build one. Looks like a good collection of joinery. Thanks for all of your tutoring. Masterclasses has changed my retired life.

  3. I’m sorry for asking for the materials list. I just saw it on the drawing at the top of the video. These old eyes don’t pick up on things like that right away. That being said, what is the wood in the photos? It is very nice. I’m thinking cherry, but then again, these old eyes.

  4. I’m really excited about this!
    I better get practicing my dovetails some more.
    Thanks a bunch Paul

  5. I don’t have access to old good quality western saws. But I do have western saws from brands like Stanley and others (new) I do use them frequently. But I have 2 japanese saws and they do are finer in scarf, a lot faster and require less force to cut. I found they are very good for short cuts like in dovetails or when I need small wedges or small tenons. For cross and rip cuts in general and big or medium sized tenons I use the westerns. At first I was afraid that the japanese blades would blunt fast, but today they feel as sharp as new.
    Im very happy to be able to use both styles of saw.

    1. Fraid comparing western saws to those made by Stanley and many others is not really a good comparison any more, sad to say. If Stanley saws set the standard then Asian saws win hands down no doubt, but when compared to other western saws the western can be every bit as good and achieve the same levels in the cut. The problem then is that they are often over priced by about four times but then you do get a nicer hardwood handle rather than wrapped bamboo or plastic and all western saws are designed for single handed use to so you can kneel on the wood, hold the wood and have other benefits too many to list. Just hate the fact that many do diss western saws all the time when they served and still serve well and they can be resharpened which 99% of Asian saws cannot.

  6. While building a tool tote for the Dungeon Shop, I used a Panel saw to cut the pins for the dovetailed corners. All four sides splay out @ 22-1/2 degrees. Six pins per corner. Worked as good if not better than the 9ppi backsaw I normally use, and a LOT better than the Disston No.5 I used to use. I keep the Disston around for crosscuts, nowadays.

    Maybe it is not so much the saw…as it is the operator of the saw?

  7. I was just wondering what project was next. I was hoping for another casework project, and BAM! You never disappoint, Paul.

      1. Hello Peter. It came and went. It was a 10 part series for When we make a project I designed that is not a tool or a technique members pay. When it is something like how to make a plane or a technique such as restoring or sharpening or using then we have a free subscription you sign up for and the subscription is free. If you join WWMC you can watch any of 400 videos from the archives including making the chair. You can join and pay the £10 per month but cancel whenever you want to with no penalties and no rejoin fees if you want to sign in for just one month to catch up on a particular episode or series. Hope you will come and join us!

        1. I take it that the chair project is not for purchase in the “Past Projects” list?
          I bought a few of those and thought it might be on the list.

    1. Joe, I put a caption under the drawing saying not to go off the measurements there as this is my rough starter sketch. I use another sketch book too and put my finalised notes in there when i have checked all measurements on the project just in case.

  8. Come on people Paul’s already said he’ll put the cut list up later. I know it’s exciting but patience is key, unless you want the wrong dimensions.

  9. You make an excellent point Stephen. Beginners/novices like myself struggle to know whether an “old” tool is worth purchasing and whether I can refurbish it. Also, when refurbished is it then any good.

    I purchased a Japanese pull saw and I have to say I find it excellent. I have tenon and dovetail saws (Disston) and no matter how often I sharpen them they don’t come anywhere near to the Japanese saw. That’s just me.

    An expert such as Paul will get excellent results with almost any type of saw. We all aim for that, I guess.

    1. You can do it. Mastering skill be it saw sharpening or using comes with steady deliberation and in the book I just finished we cover the important issues. Japanese saws, even though throwaways, are good to go from the box and good, less expensive start, but they do work very differently. My view is that it may not be an either all and we have to get skills back into the hands of ordinary men and women and stop the mentality that only experts can do it when it doesn’t take that much to do some things including saw sharpening. There is no mystery or mysticism to common craft. A hundred years or so ago everyone knew people who made things. Today we know almost no one who makes anything. Let’s put the imbalance right again and believe that with practice and the right instruction things start to click.

      1. I don’t disagree with you Paul. Practice makes perfect….as they say.

        One thing I would point out is the “throwaway” issue can be a false one. If the Japanese saw provides 10,000 hours of work before it needs a new blade then, imo, it’s worth investing in. I appreciate that quality Western saws will last a lot longer and re-sharpen well at the hands of someone who is skilled. However, a Japanese saw is not a bad start for a beginner as it gives good results straight out of the box. Is there a western equivalent at a reasonable price bought new?

        My guess is you could sharpen my Disston tenon saw and have it work as good as or better than the Japanese. At this moment I can’t. I’ll keep trying!

  10. Paul I look forward to seeing how you create the drawer pockets, dividers, and support system, I’m sure the skills / methods could be transferred for other projects – say a desk with drawers.
    thank you for sharing your knowledge,

  11. In reference to your observations, Ted Williams, a renowned American baseball player said that if you know how to bat you can bat with a log. I think this speaks to your ability to “microadjust ” as you say. Something that only experience can provide. I won’t enumerate all the ways your online help has been appreciated, but as a retired heavy eq. mechanic, again, I really appreciate the fact that there are still a few skilled craftsman in the world that are also concerned with passing on the traditions of our generation, and of those that have passed, in addition to making money. Again thank you.

  12. Paul,

    My comment is not specific to the tool cabinet; it’s about the inspiration that you have given me–and no doubt thousands of others, as well.

    I’m a “self-taught” woodworker, which is not quite a true statement. I’ve learned from some of the best over the last 40 years by reading endless books, magazine articles and blogs. I have become a very accomplished amateur, and woodwork is still my all-consuming hobby and sometimes profession.

    But, I’m bound to say that, except for my earliest days of reading James Krenov, none of those authors has inspired or taught me as you have done with your writings and videos. And that’s saying a lot after 40 years.

    What you offer for free is more valuable than most of what I’ve paid for over those years, and I’ve also subscribed to your paid MWWC’s and feel every cent in well spent.

    I know, too, that many just starting out will find the confidence they need to go ahead with even a small collection of tools.

    Keep up the good work, and may your work give you longevity and satisfaction.

  13. Will we be learning how to include mouldings in with this project? That would really open new doors for us. For example, I’m unsure how a cornice integrates with the casework, whether it extends above the case, whether glue blocks are needed, or whether it is simply applied. If this is a case on case, then that’s even better so as to learn how the mouldings are adjusted and applied at the meeting of the cases.

  14. Wow, this is perfect timing for me. A hand tool cabinet is next on my build list. I can’t wait to get started. Since you have covered so many items in your classes, I couldn’t imagine was was next. Yahoo, as we sometimes say in Texas!

  15. Hi Paul ref your new book …..I gave asked SO many times about ….how do I order with no answers?

    Thank you cornflowers

    1. It’s coming, nearly there but no confirmed delivery dates just yet. Yes, should have been November and really close but I think it is worth waiting for.

  16. In one of your videos (perhaps one on saw sharpening) you comment that you almost never sit down. After watching the introduction to the upcoming project, I believe you!

  17. Paul. THANK YOU so much for your reply, I would love a signed copy.

    I can’t put into a few words what you have done for me, I really appreciate your teachings. Every time I stand at my bench I am reminded of your words of encouragement…………..I even have a pencil sharpener mounted one end of my bench…… you were told “there is no point to a blunt pencil”. Thanks again John

  18. Looking forward to this new series even though this was my 1st wood working project 40 years ago. I made it out of 3/4″ Baltic Plywood with ( 2 ) inner doors but i would like very much to update it and look forward to your cabinet for inhancements. Also can’t wait for your new book as well.

    Keep up the good work and what you do for all of us.


  19. “over priced by about four times”

    That was the reason for me to go with japanese saws. Only thing I dislike is their unresharpability. I guess in the long run in will be cheaper to learn to sharpen saws right away and pickup a second-hand western-style saw.

  20. Hi Paul,
    here in Italy I bought that red and black handled japanese saw at Lidl. It’s a razor in crosscutting, but it’s a real pain in rip cut along the grain. I counted the strokes to travel the same distance on a 2 cm stock: I had to make 69 strokes with the Lidl saw and 11 with a Drabble and Sanderson filed rip.

    Best regards from Italy,

    1. But that’s not comparing apples for apples Andrea. A rip Japanese saw will go the course better, but thanks for your input. Crosscutting will bet the drabble and sanderson hands down i think.

      1. Yes, I know that it is like comparing apples with pears. Believe me, with my previous comments I did not want to debase the Lidl saw, that I reiterate I think it is a razor in crosscutting. I just wanted to convey the right message. I know that you know the difference between different saw filing, but in this case, a newby who read this post will learn that any saw worth another, while it is not so, because, given that in absence of anything else, everything works, a rip-cut saw work better along the grain then a cross-cut one and viceversa.

        With unchanged esteem for your work in the disclosure of hand tools woodworking, best regards,

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