Tue 2 Dec, 2008
I have a lot of hand tools, but if you were to tour my shop you would not see them. They were stored in a closed cabinet under a bench. Every time I needed a plane I had to fetch it from one of these cabinets which is time consuming, not to mention tough on the legs and back. Similarly, my measuring and marking tools were stored in various drawers. I had promised myself for five years that I would build a wall hanging tool cabinet which could remain open for the day, located next to my hand tool bench, to provide me quick access to my hand tools. That promise has now come true with the completion of this project.
I started by drawing a shell of the cabinet in SketchUp. You can see the open and closed configurations in the pictures at right and left respectively. When closed the cabinet is 52" W x 41" H x 13 3/8" D. Open it has a width of nearly 8′ 8". I have saved a wall in my shop for this cabinet; my new Lie-Nielsen bench will sit immediately in front of it. (If you are wondering why I didn’t build my own bench, you only need to look at my honey-do furniture list.)
I plan for planes, saws, hammers, sanding blocks and other large heavy items to be stored in the cabinet. Files, chisels, screwdrivers, measuring and marking tools will be stored in the doors and drawers. The actual placement of each tool will be trial-and-error. Hence, my drawing doesn’t show internal shelves and hold-downs, but I may update it as I finalize them. When done I will put the SketchUp file on my Free Plans page so anyone can have access to it.
The joinery will be dovetail and mortise-and-tenon. The doors will be attached with heavy duty piano hinges. The back is ship-lapped random width pieces. Wood species are a mix of cherry knobs, tiger maple body and mahogany back.
As always my projects begin by selecting the rough lumber I will use. Then I join, plane, edge, glue, thickness and finally cut them to rough shape. At left is a stack of rough cut panels that represent the top, bottom, sides, shelf and divider. Each panel is marked with carpenters crayon with its name, face and front edge designated. This helps keep track of the intended use of each panel, which is important for a number of reasons, not to mention that I choose the best grained and figured boards for the surfaces that will show. Oh! Did I mention that I am using tiger maple for this cabinet?
The final thicknessing of the panels was done after they sat in my shop for a few days to let any final warp-age, bow, twist etc. settle out. (Thicknessing is a verb found only in the Woodworker’s Dictionary. Don’t look for it in Webster’s.) After thicknessing I cut each panel to exact final dimensions including any cutouts. At that point I am ready to begin cutting the joints, starting with the dovetails.
I am a “tails first” guy; I begin by marking up the tails on (in this case) the sides. The picture at right shows the tails marked up and the tools I use to accomplish this: a pencil, divider, Veritas marking gauge, measuring device (accurate to 1/64?), Lie-Nielsen dovetail marker and yes, a shop drawing with dimensions. If you are Frank Klausz and have already cut a lifetime of dovetails, you don’t bother to markup your board. You just cut by eye. I hope one day to master that. But in the mean time I markup, and since I draw all my plans in SketchUp, why not print out dimensioned drawings to keep myself on the straight and narrow?
Using a dovetail saw I make the vertical tail cuts followed by cleaning out the waste with a fret saw as shown in the picture at left. Note that when removing the waste in the area that will eventually be occupied by the pins I am careful to leave enough material to protect the scribe lines I will use to guide my chisel, which will clean up the remaining waste.
A friend of mine recently bought a set of high end Japanese chisels. I wanted to try them out on this project and see how they did on tiger maple, a relatively hard, dense wood. I normally use my Lie-Nielsen or Marples chisels, and so I decided to do a comparison of all three. The picture at right shows them side by side with bevel up. While I did sharpen all three before using them I made no attempt to evaluate hardness, brittleness or longevity of the edge. That is an involved and long procedure well beyond the time I allotted for this short evaluation. What I was primarily concerned with was comfort, speed of cut, and crispness of cut.
I divided the work evenly among the three and alternated there use frequently. This carcass had plenty of dovetails and pins and I gave them all a good workout. In the end I was most satisfied with the Lie-Nielsen. The Lie-Nielsen was better balanced than either of the other two. The Marples was more top heavy and slightly harder to control. The Japanese chisel, with its triangular shape actually began to feel like it was cutting my fingers as I held it. The apex of the triangle on the bevel side approaches a point and after a while is very uncomfortable. This shape, I believe, is intended to do less harm to the internal corners of the pin socket. But I have never had any trouble with either the Marples or the Lie-Nielsen in that regard.
All three chisels cut quickly and cleanly, though I believe I noticed a slightly crisper cut with the Japanese chisel. I have read a number of articles that recommend flattening the top of the Marples handle to avoid the mallet blow sliding off, creating, in effect, a glancing blow. I never experienced this problem either. In fact it never occurred once with any of the chisels during this comparison. In the end I placed the Marples second and the Japanese chisel third, primarily on the basis of control and comfort. Comfort, I believe, is important, especially if you are chiseling all day long on a set of drawers.
There are a couple of other observations worth note. The Japanese chisel used here is in the $80 range (higher for a wider chisel and less for a narrower one). The Lie-Nielsen was about $50 and the Marples much less; I seem to recall they were about $15 for the narrower chisel. Marples now is Irwin and you can buy a set of four for $40, though I believe they are not the same quality as the original Marples. I think I can still justify buying the Lie-Nielsen based on overall comfort and control, even though it is $35 dollars more than the Marples. I can not justify the $80 price tag of the Japanese chisel, even though it is advertised as hand made. Its comfort alone is a killer in my mind.
I do have one small gripe about the Lie-Nielsen chisels. The picture at left shows how the Horn Beam handle fits in the socket. I have had several of the handles separate while working, even though I had previously seated them and worked with them for some time. I asked Lie-Nielsen for replacement handles, which they graciously gave me, and eventually I got a set that remained seated without the use of a cement or other kludge fix. I recommend occasionally oiling the handles with Camilla oil to protect against water during the sharpening process.
Once the tails are completed I next transfer them to the pin boards, top and bottom in this case, by using the tails as a mask. However, the top and bottom of this carcass are 52? long, so I can not transfer the pins in the usual fashion. Instead I use a board tacked to my wall at 52? high that the tail board can rest on, the other end rests on the pin board. Metal squares and clamps are used to hold everything in place as show in the picture at right. A close up view can be seen at left. Now I can trace the tails onto the pin board with a pencil very accurately.
Cutting the pins still presents a problem because the pin board is still 52? long. Fortunately I have a table that can be raised, and with the aid of some wooden clamps and a stool I am in business. The picture at left shows me cutting the pins with a dovetail saw standing on the stool. You may recognize this stool from a previous post on this site. The stool is very stable but you do have to reposition it once or twice as you move across your cuts.
The same setup is used to cut the waste away with the fret saw, shown right. Long carcass panels always present a challenge, especially if it is a dovetailed carcass. But this adjustable bench combined with a stool or ladder and wooden clamps makes quick work of it.
Next I will complete the dadoes, sliding dovetail and notches that complete the joinery. Then I will dry fit everything and develop a glue-up strategy. I will need help with this one, so I will locate a friend to assist. Glue-ups are stressful and need to be completed quickly. Large carcasses like this one add to that stress. So I cultivate a few friends in the glue-up process. It’s an investment that pays off at times like this. You don’t want a novice helping you. That almost always ends up with someone’s feelings being hurt, or worse, the lose of a friend.
Iill focus on the carcass – cutting all remaining joints, sanding, gluing up, adding the back and beginning the placement of tools. The divider attaches to the top and bottom with a sliding dovetail. I use the router to cut this joint. To be sure that the dovetails line up perfectly, and to minimize tear out, I clamp both the top and bottom together and make one cut as can be seen in the picture at left.
In the picture at right you can see there are many types of joinery employed in this design. The top, bottom and sides are joined with hand cut dovetails. The divider connects to the top and bottom with a sliding dovetail. The shelf attaches to the sides and divider with 1/8? dadoes. In addition there are a number of stopped notches. In some places I used counter sunk screws.
With this many joints and joinery types, dry fitting and developing a glue up strategy is very important. I never bypass these two important steps for expediency sake. This design, in particular, will trip you up for sure if you do because it fits together much like a jig saw puzzle. In the picture at left you can see a test fit of the stopped notch in the shelf and the 1/8? dadoes in the divider. In this way each piece is incrementally added and a glue up strategy developed.
Before beginning glue up I sand all inside faces to 220 grit shown right. Doing this after clue up would be very difficult and time consuming. I will have to lightly sand each inside surface after glue up to remove any raised grain caused by cleaning up glue squeeze out, but that can be done very quickly.
For this design I chose to begin the glue up by attaching the divider to the bottom via sliding dovetail first. Using metal right angle brackets and clamps I allow the assembly to set up before moving on. Next I add the top and shelf in that order as shown in the picture at left. This allows the ends tails to slide into the top and bottom pins, and the shelf’s notches to slide into the sides dadoes when adding the ends.
The day I glued up the ends I was unable to enlist any help. Glue ups can be stressful. To minimize the stress, especially since I was alone and dovetails take longer than most joints to assemble, I chose to attach one end at a time, and leave it to set up. Dovetail joints, once seated, are self holding and require no clamping. The dado joints, on the other hand, require clamps to be sure they are completely joined and remain that way throughout set up. This is shown right.
Shown at left is the assembled structure after set up. This is the best time to lightly sand the inside surfaces, before the back is added and makes it more difficult. The carcass structure is shown left. The outside surfaces can also be sanded to 220 grit at this time as can the slats and cross members for the back.
The back is added next. It just so happens that I have had, laying around in my storage, mahogany bevel edged tongue & grove, 5/16? thick, 4? wide slats. Several years ago my brother-in-law was able to acquire them as leftovers from a job he was working on and gave them to me. I have a lot of such things. When I get gifts like this I never know how I will use them, but I know that in time I will. These worked out perfectly on this project, adding just the right amount of contrast to the tiger maple. See the picture at right.
This is a particularly fun part of this project; placing the individual tools. Placing the tools is a very personal thing. Each person who would start with the same carcass design would end up with a vastly different arrangement of tools. I am finding this phase to take more time than I initially thought, including a lot of place-and-replace. Getting the tool placement right, that is, placed in a way that is natural for the cabinetmaker to access and use, is critical to work efficiency, so it deserves the attention to detail required.
I found it easier to apply the finish with the cabinet hung on the wall. Using blue painter’s tape as a mask I wiped on two coats of finish. Since this is essentially a tool box which will receive a lot of heavy and harsh use compared to a piece of furniture, I decided two coats was enough. Normally, for a furniture piece, I would have applied five to seven coats.
In the right half of the cabinet I placed the bench (smooth, jack, fore and jointer) and shoulder planes. Block and rabbet planes are smaller and are placed in the left side. Since most of my files, chisels, squares, measurement and construction tools will be placed in the doors I fitted the left side cabinet with shelf pins. This will allow me to place frequently used materials, such as pocket screws, in the left side where they will be close by and easily accessed. I also decided on two wide drawers versus four narrow ones for miscellaneous tools. This will allow me to place items in the draws that are longer than 12?.
My new Lie-Nielsen workbench is shown in the picture at right, in front of my tool cabinet. Together these two pieces will provide a hand tool work area that will make for efficient working of wood, especially dovetailing, edging and smooth planing. Though shown so that the vices can be seen in the picture, in reality I will turn the bench around so that I will be positioned between the tool cabinet and the bench vises, making all tools within arms reach.
Finally finished except for hanging chisels, screwdrivers, measuring devices, coping saws etc. in the doors. The tiger maple really shows itself, especially the door panels. The panels were originally from one very wide board, but owing to the tangential curvature of the plain cut, the center of the board didn’t have much figure. It all appeared on the outside of the board. So I ripped the boards down the middle, turned the two pieces so that all the figure was in the middle and glued them back together. Then I used my band saw to re-saw the boards to achieve 1/4 inch thick panels. Finally, I cut the panels to width keeping the glue line in the center. The result is a highly figured panel that shimmers in the light.
The is one significant change from the original SketchUp model. I made the drawers twice as wide reducing the number from four to two. This allows me to place things that are over one foot long in the drawers. In the picture at right you can see that I have yet to hang any tools in the doors. Placing tools is a very personal task and is best done over time as you understand how you will use the cabinet and the tools inside. It may take me six months or more to fully utilize the cabinet space. You can see that I have made room for planes I intend to buy in the future. Also there are shelves for some consumable materials that are frequently used and need to be close by, such as pocket joinery wood screws.
The drawers currently contain my measuring devices, marking gauges, marking knives etc. Much of these things will also end up in the doors. It is unclear what the final use of the drawers will be. Originally the design had no drawers, but I was convinced by many woodworkers who had built their own chests to include a few. I generally find them a catch all, and hence difficult to organize. We will see.
Believe it or not, I paid about $1 a bd ft for the material. I almost never pay more than $2 bd ft for any of my wood. I have cultivated local sources and even cut my own on occasion. See http://www.srww.com/blog/?p=28 for a better explanation.
I never keep track of my hours since this is a hobby and this project dragged on due to other family events and trips. Also, there is a lot of hand dovetailing, hand planing and hand sanding in this project, which takes quite a while. If I were to estimate the time it spent it would be a pure guess. That said, maybe 60 hours. But that is 60 hours of pure joy!