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Build a traditional tool chest in ? days …

I can tell you right off the bat that I had no real expectation I would complete this Christopher Schwarz style tool chest in just 2 days. I didn’t want to feel pushed and I have nothing to prove. My wife is constantly telling me, “it’s not a race”. Obviously build speeds will tend to increase as skills and shop instrumentation develop but otherwise, I’m not putting myself under any time pressures. My goal is to simply learn, have fun and hopefully end up with a serviceable build. Saturday morning Susan and I rose fairly early as she had work, and I had a chest to start. My first problem was how to process the two full-sized plywood panels. I knew that it was going to be a challenge but when I started really looking at the (massive) sheets, I realized that I hadn’t thought things through…. at all. I figured I could cobble together two saw horses, but that wasn’t going to get it done. I’d need 4 to make that work, and I didn’t want to spend all morning building saw horses if I could help it. So looking around my car port it came to me that rather than building 4 saw horses, I could just reassemble the dilapidated picnic table I was storing. A few deck screws later, I had half the problem solved. Now I needed a matching table for the falling pieces. My wife has a lot of cool stuff that she has accumulated and I remembered a folding table that I was storing in my shop. It was perfect albeit a bit too short. Again I was fortunate enough to have a piece of scrap that was actually perfect to support the cutoffs. Let the rough cuts of sheets goods, proceed.

 Saturday – Build Day 1

Cutting Down Sheetgoods

The bonus information to the DVD that Chris provides is perfectly adequate for this build but this is not to say that one doesn’t have to use their head. The Sketch Up drawing has the sheet goods optimization for both the 3/4 and 1/2 ply but you need to have your computer close by to make sure you don’t mess up. I tried to print this out but that didn’t turn out to be all that usable because the dimension text was a bit small and there are a lot of measurements you really want to have handy. Anyway I did a bit of running between my computer and my saw to make sure that my cuts were where they needed to be; the last thing I wanted was to mess up and need a another sheet of ply. I took my time with this phase. I was also careful to mark a note about the size and purpose of each of the panels because once you have 4 or more of them, it is very easy to get them mixed up. And hours later you’ll be sorting through your stack again looking for the correct piece.

Now I shouldn’t have been surprised the dimensions are clear for anyone to see, the chest is 24″ x 38″. Heck, I’ve even watched the video several times but let me just say this sucker is HUGE! I mean it’s big and so big in fact, I have no clue where I’m going to put it in my tiny shop. So my next challenge was working with these larger pieces without a shop assistant. I was hopeful that my two largest F-clamps would reach along the chest’s length but alas it was an inch or two shy so I just had to wing it by propping the face piece on two sides and getting a screw in to hold it. Of course, you can’t forget the glue.

It's a Box

I had another handy little table that was strong enough to keep the carcass off the ground but low enough to work comfortably on this rather large piece. When I cut down the full sheets, I left everything a bit oversized which meant that I had to cut them to size before assembly. I could use the table saw to rip them in the narrow dimension but at 38″ I still had to use the circular saw to cut them to length. So out came the saw again but truthfully, with my shop-made guide these cuts have been quite good. Pressing on.

Bottom Installed

By early afternoon I had the sides and bottom in place. It was time to cut me some skirt. I chose to use the home center “select” pine which really looked very nice and was least expensive of the lumber. I might have gone with poplar but not only was it more expensive, they didn’t have the 1×12 pieces I required. I didn’t feel like getting creative, especially as it would have cost more to do so. I have no regrets, the pine is lovely.

Cutting Down the Skirts

I was going to rip these on my table saw but I first cut them to rough length to make the boards easier to handle. I took my time and this processing all went smoothly so it was back to the DVD to review the section on how to cut the bevel. Chris explains it adequately but he doesn’t give a suggested bevel angle which would have been helpful to me. I started at about 20, then moved the fence in a little closer, adjusted the bevel to 25 then finally to 30. I think Chris used an even higher angle but I didn’t want to continue experimenting on my build pieces and went with what I had. It looks fine but I could have saved a little of time if he had given a suggested angle. No harm done, its good to learn on one’s own also.

After the skirt material was ripped to proper width and one side beveled, I ran my block plane over the edges to clean up the teeth marks and clean up the imperfections from my less-than-stellar table saw work.

Planing the Edges

Now that the upper and lower skirts were prepared I began gluing and screwing them to the carcass.

First of the Lower Skirts

Working off this lower table was helpful but maneuvering the carcass all by myself was dicey. I can left it but my shop is small and I had to be careful not to ding it all up during construction. As was suggested in the DVD, I used shot lines to plan out where to place my screws. I “mostly” got it right but more on that later.

End of Build Day 1

This is as far as I got on build day 1. I felt like things had gone pretty well and I was looking forward to seeing how far I would get on Sunday. I knew from the start it wouldn’t be finished but I was still curious to see have far I’d get.

Sunday – Build Day 2

Sunday morning Susan and I slept in as long as we wanted. This was our only opportunity of the week and the first day of public school starts Monday so it was now or never. Spending time with Susan is important to me so I didn’t mind getting a late start on chest. I was completely refreshed when I began but this did not stop me from making a bunch of mistakes. Something happened between my thoughtful work on Saturday and my “easy-I-know-what-I’m-doing” doing work first thing on Sunday. My biggest mistake, and one that I’ll pay for was not reviewing the video section again on skirting. The front lower skirt was properly installed but I neglected to present the side skirt to the work and mark to cut it to final length. So I glued and screwed it proud, to be dealt with after the fact. Didn’t seem wrong at the time but the bottom line is that I still suck at hand tools. With an overhang that is too big to plane and too small to saw, I was in trouble. I’m not embarrassed to admit my mistake but I also didn’t see fit to take pictures of it either, so I guess I’m only half honest about it. The good news was that I learned and did cut the upper skirts to proper length before installing. I also decided to go ahead and mark the beveled overhang and whacked it off with my band saw before installing. That was genius, I really wish I had learned this lesson without messing up the bottom skirt. Chris suggests using a flush cut saw and demonstrates that method. I previously mentioned shot lines and mostly getting it right but It might help others to point out my experience. To hit a 3/4″ plywood edge I measured in 8 mil. On the beveled side, I measure in 22 mil for my shot lines. These worked out and I was happy with them. You have to be care to place your screws where they don’t interfere with each other. I drilled a couple of extra holes before I realized I was going to have to change my pattern. I also put two rows off screws on one upper skirt and one row of screws on the other upper skirts. I was in robot mode and didn’t bother to check before doing the second side. These mistakes are all correctable with plugs and filler but just a word of caution. And one other point which was not mentioned in the video (I don’t think) but when you’re drilling and counter boring the skirts, you really need to make sure that you don’t drill all the way through into your chest. When drilling the edges you’re fine but in the middle you going through the skirt and directly into the carcass. If I hadn’t checked my bit depth it would have been too deep.

The Circular Saw Guide

Skirts finished it was on to the lid. Out comes the circular saw and saw guide to cross-cut to length before ripping to width on the table saw. So far so good. Next I cut the faux raised panel insert and prepped it for glue up. Chris secures the panel using a few finish nails but he also points out that they are almost too long, so he hammers them in at an angle. I have a 23 gauge brad nailer and didn’t see why I should use it to circumvent problems. Glue is slippery and I didn’t want that thing sliding around while I tried to hammer nails. I also didn’t want to miss (I know myself by now) and put smiley faces on the lid. But problems I did have. My nailer was shooting blanks so the glue was drying while I was diagnosing the problem. I finally figured it out and was grateful that I didn’t shoot myself with any brads in the process. Apparently I hadn’t seated the clip of nails deeply enough in the track. Even with the top nailed, I noticed the panels weren’t completely flat so I added a bit of insurance to the top while the glue finished setting.

Gluing the "Raised" Panel to the Lid

Well you know it’s funny but I seem to have a bit of sixth sense when it comes to time and something was telling at this point that my shop day was about over. Sure enough it was just after 5:00 PM and I was ready to call it a day, get cleaned up and spend the last evening of summer with my wife. But before I cleaned up, I pulled out a lid hinge to see how hard it was going to be to cut the 3 mortises. I don’t have a groovy mini router plane although I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy one as they would be very useful for instrument builds. I toughed it out using a series of shallow saw cuts and hand chisels. I only cut one and it didn’t take long as the hinges are only about 1/16″ deep (probably less than that).

End of Build Day 2

So here is the weekend’s work. I figure I have another day or maybe two before the chest is completed. I still have a fair amount to do. I’ll finish the hinge mortises and mounting the hinges then work on dovetailing the lid dust skirt. After that it will be on to building the 3 trays and paint… well I’ll report on those activities when they occur.

You have been reading an excerpt from the shop journal of the Turtlecovebrewer.

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