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A Cabinetmaker’s Toolchest part six

Cherry till with leather lined bottom and maple dowels.

Cherry till with leather lined bottom and maple dowels.

In this sixth installment of the toolchest build I finish off the till. The till nestles in the top of the toolchest and is the place to store lay out tools, chisels and a small mallet. The till is a dovetailed box with two dowels sandwiched between the side walls to serve as handles. This makes picking up the till easier when it’s in the chest. For this version, I thought I’d elevate the design a little and cover the bottom panel with a high quality leather. This will add an aesthetic embellishment to the till but also help protect the tools inside.

The video begins with sawing the ‘horns’ on the ends of the two outside walls of the till. These horns will rest on cleats fit inside the chest later on. The horns need to be laid out and the area sawn away before the pin side of the dovetails can be transferred over. Following the horns, the pins are scribed and the dovetails are complete.

You’ll notice I use my winding stick to prop up the end of the tail board when transferring the tails onto the pin board. Another small detail and ‘trick’ that makes lining-up the parts easier, I use a small shim and place it in the bottom grooves on both pieces- this makes lining the pieces fool proof !

The holes for the dowels are drilled using a Forstner bit in my brace. My standard auger bits have long, lead screws and would no doubt puncture through the side walls before I reached the required depth. The Forstner bits are slower but safer for a stopped hole in thin sidewalls!

Once the holes are complete, the maple dowel is cut to length and the edges on the components are cleaned up with a block plane. The corners are rounded as this will be ‘in hand’ often and sharp edges aren’t friendly to the touch.

The till is glued using liquid hide glue and Old Brown Glue is my first choice. If the till didn’t have dovetail joinery I would use hot hide glue but the dovetails require a longer open time and the OBG fits the bill.

I let the glue dry over night and then plane the dovetails flush in the morning. The ends of the till, due to the horns at the top, make planing a little trickier. I use my skew block plane without its fence. This allows me to work right up to the bottom of the horn much like a rabbet plane would. I make sure the nicker, used for cross grain work, is out of the way and not engaging the work.

Once the dovetails are flush, I do a final clean up and apply the hand rubbed, oil finish. The finish is an oil/varnish blend I use for 75% of my work. Tried and True- a reliable product and again my go-to finish especially for ‘work shop furniture.’



Here are some links to a few of the products used in this video:

4″ Precision Double Square

Striking Knife

Veritas Block Plane

Veritas Skew Block Plane

Old Brown Glue

Tried and True







  1. Posted by Sam on Feb 23rd, 2013

    Great video, again Tom!

    The one thing watching your video reminds me of, especially with thin stock, is how fast Marks saws cut, I’ve really had to alter my sawing technique or I’m below my baseline in a matter of 2 saw strokes.



  2. Posted by tom on Feb 24th, 2013

    Thanks for the comment Sam-
    you’re right, they can really get away from you if you’re not watching…the same thing happened with me when I started using the 12-in. Bad Axe dovetail saw!
    Sharp as hell….


  3. Posted by Jim B on Feb 24th, 2013

    Do you sand any of your wood or is it finished right from the hand plane/scraper? I tend to have the slightest tracks left on my boards even though I camber my blades a little bit…how about you?


  4. Posted by tom on Feb 25th, 2013

    Hey Jim,
    thanks for the comments and questions. I don’t usually do a whole lot of sanding but it is a necessary step for at least a small portion of every project. In this tool till example, sandpaper is used around and under the ‘horns’ on the ends. Small areas like this are usual suspects for sanding. Also when finishing with shellac sanding is required. But to your question, I can usually get away with only the hand plane. Try a heavier camber in one of your irons and finish off with the thinnest shaving possible. See if that doesn’t get rid of any small plane tracks. If you do still have them, then a quick once over with 320 grit will get rid of them.


  5. Posted by Jim B on Feb 25th, 2013

    Thanks for the suggestion…I went ahead and took one of the spare blades that I have for my LN LA Jack (LN 62) and followed your suggestion putting a slightly heavier camber on it. Followed your suggestions on sharpening angles as well and put it to the nice figured cherry board I am working. Worked great! No more tracks…feels a smooth as a “baby’s’ butt”…


  6. Posted by stephen melhuish on Feb 25th, 2013


    lovely work, as per usual, the leather is a very nice touch too adding a little bit of friction to the tools that will lay there and stop them from rattling about quite so much.

    Very small tracks in wood i tend to tackle with a scraper as you can bend the blade just very slightly and really control those little ares…haye using sand paper too but sometimes as you say no option but to reach for the dreaded abrader rather than a cutter option. Dust particles always trap more moisture than anything else in the shop and no matter how careful you are to avoid it the little dust blighters still turn up where you least expect them!!


  7. Posted by tom on Feb 26th, 2013

    Thanks for the comment Steve,
    I agree, the leather will help keep things in place and gives a nice touch on the inside of the tool chest. As for sanding, a sharp plane and/or a card scraper are always my 1-2 punch but the ‘dreaded abrader’ is still a necessary evil.

  8. Posted by Will Ferullo on Feb 27th, 2013

    Hey Tom I am really enjoying this video series, I look forward to each new installment. It amazes me how easy you make everything look, and I know nothing about what you do is easy. That is the sign in my opinion of a real master of his craft. Thank you very much for your blog/videos.

  9. Posted by tom on Feb 27th, 2013

    Thanks Will- that’s always great to hear.

  10. Posted by Blaine Greenberg on Feb 28th, 2013


    I’m interested in how you handle the leather till bottom.
    Did you cover both top and bottom with leather or just one surface?
    What did you use to adhere the leather and what is the substrate made of?
    Did you apply your wood finish to the leather till bottom?
    If not, how did you get your wood finish to all the wood surfaces of your till without getting it all over your leather bottom? (Sorry, I don’t know you and shouldn’t comment on the texture of your bottom!)
    Okay, that’s the end of my cross-examination. (My day job is as a lawyer.)

    Thanks for the hypnotically beautiful blog and videos.

  11. Posted by tom on Feb 28th, 2013

    thanks for the comments and questions. The till bottom in this case was made from 1/4-in. cabinet grade, cherry plywood. I had an offcut in my shop for some time and felt it would be a good time to use it in this application. The leather is glued only to one side of the bottom (the inside) using hot hide glue. I use animal glues for all of my work either in the form of hot hide glue or liquid hide glue. The till components are pre-finished with a hand rubbed oil/varnish blend before the glue up. Then additional coats are applied after the glue is cured. The leather is finished with 100% bees wax before hand. I only use natural finishes in my work and both of these are food safe finishes. As for the extra coats of finish after the till was assembled, the oil is easy to wipe off of the leather if I get any on it, especially after the leather is sealed with wax.
    Hope that helps-; )


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