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June 27, 2010

I spent my day today making two dovetailed boxes. In my last post I mentioned the saw bench I want to build but decided it would make more sense to build it when I get out East next week where I’ll need it the most. I have my old saw bench here but if you look back at last summers ‘unplugged’ posts you’ll see that its there, in my shop on the coast that I need a new bench. I don’t have the room to transport saw benches back and forth with me so it makes sense to have one at each location.

My hand tools are another story. They all travel with me and I never had a suitable method of transporting my hand saws or my water stones so today I finally did something about it. I had worked out a design for a briefcase style saw till that will carry a small nest of saws but for my needs this week I needed a full chest that carries 11 of my most used hand saws. The little fancy briefcase saw till will have to wait until the fall…

I carry one other panel saw in my large ‘widow makers tool chest’ and two other small back saws on the rear of my ‘Cabinet makers Tool chest’. That’s 14 saws to transport with all of my hand planes, chisels, lay out tools etc..etc…

The mobile wood shop if you will…

; )

So these two boxes are almost complete- they still need some hardware and the large saw till needs some smoothing and finish. Nothing fancy, just some quick through dovetails and simple lids and bottoms. I’ll show the process for the larger chest to give you a sense of the steps needed in making a throw together tool chest in an afternoon.

It’ll serve the purpose and get my tools safely to my work shop on Cape Breton Island in 5 days – I can’t wait…the salt air, the sun filled wood shop, the timber frame. I’ll be sure to get some shots of the little side server I made last summer while I was there. If you remember I never did post a final shot of it! I also have a couple of projects to build while I’m there, a few pieces for friends and a couple of commissions. Jeez, I thought this was a summer vacation !!?? ; )


Even though these are quick boxes I still lay out the sides and end panels across the length of the plank for continuity in the wood grain. Hey, I said they're quick to make but that doesn't mean they have to look bad!

Once cross cut the ends are squared on the shooting board and the widths are all planed even. I lay the carcass pieces on the bench and clearly mark the sequence on the inside of the panels. This will make the lay out go faster and keep things running smooth.

The dovetails are laid out with the two panels clamped together in the vise- another time saver. I also used the same skip a tail design I used in my Cabinet makers Tool Chest- lay out seven tails and then refrain from sawing out the center. This is purely visual and also saves a little time. The dovetails I'm making these days are a 1:6 angle...I used to always use a 1:7 or even 1:8 but lately have been enjoying the wider splay in the 1:6. Maybe I'm getting older (and wiser)...Some may argue the 1:6 or 7 or 8 should depend of soft wood vs. hard woods and the dovetails will be stronger if I use a higher pitch etc..I'm starting to think this is complete gibberish and the fact that I'm using a dovetail joint will make things strong enough regardless of the angle used. Even if I kept going and they became finger joints- completely vertical, I think it would still be quite strong. Use your eyes and trust your instincts.

Again I may be going against the grain here but hey what can I say? It works for me...I'm not going to talk about the many varieties of fret saws or coping saws or tooth counts or give countless examples of wood workers in history books using this type of method or that one- Lord knows there's enough blogs out there doing that already! The method that works for me is my bow saw- It'll cut fast and smooth and 'the twist' to begin the cut is never an issue. Because of the ability to turn the blade effortlessly in the frame, its a perfect tool for this job and you won't exhaust your arm with those tiny strokes, back and forth with a fret saw. Give it a try and you'' see what I mean. This one is made by Gramercy Tools and is available from Tools for Working Wood in NYC.

After the dovetails are cut and fit I plough a groove for the bottom panel. Yes, a groove from one side to the other! No stopped dado here my friends- The Horror! The Horror! You'll see the little 'hole' in the outside of the chest- not a big deal...(at least not to me .....today). These are quick, almost 'throw together' tool chests I'm making- if I had the time I'd cut stopped dados like I did when I made the Cabinetmakers Tool Chest but unfortunately, time is a luxury I don't have these days...

So that's basically it- The lid on the large chest is just sitting there and will get a few hinges and a clasp or a latch...the small box is a little different where I made the two short end panels slightly narrower and the lid is fit between the long sides. It's also stepped on the inside with a rabbet around the perimeter so it registers into the chest opening when assembled. I think I'll find some nice strapping or a leather belt to keep it closed. It has a quick rub of oil and wax to protect it. Once I fit the lid, I slightly rounded over the entire edge where it meets the top of the sides giving a more traditional 'chest' feel. And in the back ground you can see the utilitarian dovetails in the saw chest- they didn't turn out too bad considering the speed at which it was made.

An interior view- there are fitted pieces of wood between the water stones so they don't budge while en route. The box lid is an off cut of aromatic cedar and the sides and bottom are butternut. The stones are (from left to right) 220 grit, 1000 grit, flattening plate with grooves, 1000/4000 combination stone and finally an 8000 polishing stone. All are made by Norton.

The interior of the saw chest- 1 disassembled bow saw, 4 panel saws and a half dozen back saws. You just never know right? This box is curly maple with a poplar bottom. Tomorrow will be smoothing and finishing- oil and wax again; nothing too fancy. I'll also install some hinges and a clap or latch to keep it closed then either build a handle or use something 'off the shelf'...depends on what? you guessed it- TIME...

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