A Piece of Woodworking History

When I went home to Sudbury this year, a friend of my father-in-law's let him know that he had some old tools that he was looking to give to a woodworker to use. My initial thought was that there was going to be a bunch of post-WW2 Stanley planes but because I have a sickness for tools, my father-in-law and I took a road trip out to Gord’s.

When we went into his basement my eye was immediately drawn to a painted white chest parked up against the wall. Inside the chest was a collection of saws, hammers and wooden planes including a few complex moulders and bench planes. Sadly most of the wooden planes were in pretty bad shape and no longer usable. The saws and other metal tools were still usable and in decent shape.

Doesn't look like much but I knew what it was immediately.

The chest belonged to Gord’s grandfather who was a woodworker who worked for Grand Trunk Railway. His job was to fit up the cars with the wooden interiors that were all the rage in the mid-19th century. This chest is the real deal: used by a woodworker everyday to get his job done. Now it was sitting here in front of me.

I asked Gord what he wanted to do with the chest and tools. He said that he wanted them to go to a woodworker who would appreciate them. I was floored. This was a chest and tools used by a woodworker like me 150 years ago. I knew at the moment that this chest was going to play a part in my own woodworking.

I’ve seen these chests before. Chris Schwarz has a great book on this chest and he has helped many students make one of their very own. Now if I’m being honest, I’ve never seen the draw to working out of a chest. I’ve always stored my tools on the wall or in a cabinet because it seemed to be the easiest way to access them.  Many people work out of these chests and I’ve always wondered why that is but I never had plans to make one. Now I have my own chest so I cleaned it up and started loading it up with my tools to see what it's like to work out of one for myself.

The panel is birds-eye maple and the interior is cherry.

I was surprised by how many tools you can pack into one of these chests. Pretty much every hand tool I use fit in there without a problem. I still have to adjust the saw till area to fit my Copperhead Killer and my coping saw but other than that it is ready to go. I had to fettle the drawers a little bit to get them to slide past each other without interference but that's all the work that needing doing. I’ve been working out of it for a couple of weeks now and getting tools in and out of it isn’t as cumbersome as I thought it would be. In fact, it’s kind of nice having all my tools in one compact location.

I have to give a heart-felt thanks to Gord. It is an honor to work out of his grandfather's chest just like he did. This isn’t just a chest and tools...this a piece of history living in my shop. 

Do you work out of some type of tool chest or are you a cabinet type person? Let me know what kind of woodworking storage you use. 

In order to understand, you must do. V


Vic Tesolin7 Comments