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Discussion Starter #1
After looking at tool chest plans for the past few months I finally started on building one of my own. This chest is mostly based on the one featured in a few episodes of The Woodwright's Shop and in one of Roy Underhill's books - they are mostly the same chest with slight differences in construction. The size will be basically the same as the one in the book - 31 1/2 inches long, 19 inches wide and should be about 15 inches deep with the skirt attached.

I'm taking a hybrid approach with this project - using hand tools for the joinery and power tools for surfacing. I started out by flattening the board for the main case by hand since it was too wide for my jointer - after taking the crown off with a jack plane I ran it through the planer to get it down to the final 3/4" thickness. After this I cut the pieces to final length on the table saw - I'm not quite confident in my hand sawing skills yet to get a square enough cut by hand.

After this it was time to lay out the dovetails. This is my first time trying to lay out and cut dovetails by hand - it was a lot of work but not quite as bad as I thought it would be. I went by the example in the book which ended on tails instead of half pins as usual - I was going to switch it to use half pins but I had already cut the joints for half of the box so I decided to just go with it. I went with the tails first approach so I could gang cut the tails which worked pretty well. To mark the pins I used the saw in the kerf method. This worked pretty good - but I had trouble getting the saw mark the entire way across the pin board. Because of this I had to complete the line with a ruler and a pencil - I ended up a bit off on a few of them so I had to do a bit more paring to get it to fit right - and the pins were too tight on my first test fit and started a split on the one tail board - luckily I caught it before I ruined the side. It was also a bit challenging to cut right next to the line instead of right on it - some of the pins ended up a little loose since I guess the saw ended up tracking in the groove. That being said I was very happy with the new Veritas dovetail saw I picked up for this project - it was very easy to get started and even though it is the fine cut version made short work of cutting the dovetails.

I cut the waste on the pin board with a coping saw and chopped out the waste in the pin board with a chisel. I definitely need more practice with both methods - it took a lot of paring by hand after the majority of the waste was chopped / sawed out. After much fiddling I got the main case together and I'm pretty happy with the first for my first hand-cut dovetails.

Later this week I'm hoping to add the skirt and bottom and maybe finish the lid if I have enough time. I ran out of poplar so I had to pick up a few more pieces and let them acclimate before I can move any further. At least this gives me a few more days to contemplate the joinery for the lid. In the book they use a half lap and on the show he uses a mitered bridle joint. At this point I'm leaning towards the half lap since it seems to be a bit easier to execute although the bridle joint looks nicer.

On a side note - I took a class at the Woodwright's school this weekend and got to meet Roy Underhill. I told him I was working on the chest and he took some time during the class to give me a few pointers - he said he would do a few things differently than he showed on the TV show and the book so it was nice to get to pick his brain for a bit. Also - the tool chest he patterned his after was sitting next to my bench and the box he built on the show was upstairs and he had test pieces scattered around the classroom - so it was nice to be able to see the construction details in person.

Here are some pics of the build so far.

-John
 

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Those are pretty nice looking dovetails, first time or not!

I've never used a saw to mark pins, I always use a knife - always thought it gave more accuracy than a pencil mark or saw kerf. Having said that though, the more dovetails you cut, the more you will adjust your own methods to increase the quality/accuracy of your joinery. If it is a method you like, keep with it and make adjustments to improve.

I know what you mean about taking a long time to clean up the dovetails after coping. I've not done a lot in poplar, but the ones I have took a lot longer to do than ones in oak or other "harder" hard woods. Lots of "fraying" of wood fibers and lots of fuzz.

Since you are teaching yourself new joinery methods, I'd urge you to try the more involved mitered bridle joint. As you said it looks better and since it's a "Joiners Chest" it deserves the best you can do.

Very cool that you got to take a class with Roy and learn from one of the best. I'm jealous!
 

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master sawdust maker
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Looks great!. your off to a good start! i am waiting to see the finished chest!
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the compliments and comments.

I'm hoping to get a good start on the skirt tomorrow. Woodcraft sent out a coupon for $5 off, so I'm planning on running out and picking up a marking knife to try that method for marking the pins this time around.

Unfortunately it looks like I'll need to wait a bit more to finish the rest of the chest. I was going through the boards I picked up and realized after I got home I wasn't going to be able to get all of the pieces I needed out of them due to how I had them cut up at the lumber yard. My math wasn't quite right when I figured out my cut list so I'll have a lot of waste.. but I guess I can use the extra time to try some practice cuts on the scraps to see if I can make a decent mitered bridle joint so I'll be practiced up when it comes time to make the lid.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
It took much longer than expected, but I was finally able to complete the skirt for the chest and assemble the bottom portion of the chest. I thought I could complete the skirt in an evening or two.. but I think I had the better part of two Saturday afternoons and a few evenings into it.

When I had the class with Roy and asked him about the chest he said that it wasn't necessary to use the interlocking grooves to attach the skirt to the bottom - that was just something he did and wasn't historically accurate - but I recently picked up a Stanley 45 and thought this would be a good chance to try it out. It ended up coming out ok in the end - but if I would build another one of the chests I would take his advice and just glue or nail the skirt on.

I practiced a few times on some scraps to get the plane set up right and then I plowed the grooves on the skirt. They came out pretty good - but noticed I really have to pay attention to how I hold the plane or the groove would get crooked. It was hard to correct once started since the skates want to follow the groove that is already plowed. I also noticed that you have to be really careful that the face to are fencing off of is dead flat. When I prepared the stock I ran one edge on the jointer and then cut to width on the table saw. I didn't notice it at first but I put a very slight bow on the long pieces - and I just happened to fence off of this side on both of them. This caused the grooves to be very tight. I found you have to be dead on with the planes - unlike with a router you can't easily slightly widen the groove to make it fit. Instead of being able to widen the groove I had to plane down part of the tongues on the case and the skirt to finally get it to fit. After the 1/2" grooves were completed to attach the skirt to the case I also plowed the 3/8" grooves to house the bottom.

I then had to plow the groove on the assembled case. I tried a couple things but in the end I couldn't figure out how to hold the case steady enough to use the plane to plow the grooves without racking it too much. I decided to break down and use my router and an edge guide for these grooves. The hand tool gods must have been frowning on me because the first thing I did was manage to cut a partial groove in the wrong place. Fortunately I noticed my mistake when I was only about 1/2" inch in so I was able to plug it and I don't think it will be noticeable once it is painted. Being more careful this time I finished the rest of the grooves in the right place.

After this was done I turned my attention to the bottom of the chest. I tried out the tongue and groove cutters for the 45 - these worked much better than I expected and were very easy to set up and I was really pleased with the results.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
After the grooves and bottom were completed I worked on dovetailing the skirt. These were dovetailed the opposite way from the main case to help hold it together. The joint was mitered at the top to cover the top groove and allow a moulding to be planed into it and the bottom had a half tail so the groove wouldn't show. I got decent results on the dovetails on the case - but I noticed I was a bit better this time around after all the practice. On the main case it took quite a bit of paring on the pins to get them to fit, this time I was able to get most of them to fit right just by sawing closer to the lines.

To get the miters right I used the method he used on the show to cut the miters a bit long and then kerf in with the saw. This worked pretty well, but for me the saw seems to always favor cutting one side of the joint instead of cutting evenly. You also have to be very careful to cut straight up and down or you'll get a big gap. There is also a fine line where you can kerf in too many times.. I had a small gap on one dovetail so I decided to try it one more time - and then the dovetail fit but there was a gap in the miter in the end. After this was complete I used my router to put an ogee moulding on the top of the skirt.

After all this was complete I was finally able to assemble to main part of the chest. There was a lot going on so I wasn't sure how this would go, but assembly went off without a hitch. My dovetails were a little looser after dry fitting a few times which helped - I've read you should only put them together once - but I'm not sure how that would be possible with all the pieces that need to go together without test fitting at least once. One thing I do like with using dovetails over other joinery methods is not having to deal with a lot of clamps during glue ups - after I tapped the dovetails home they held themselves in place while the glue dried.

Up next is the lid - I'm hoping this won't take nearly as long to complete as the skirt did...

-John
 

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Thanks for the update. Boy do I love seeing hand tools in action.

That is shaping up to be a really nice chest with some great joinery!
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I finished up the lid for the chest tonight - I ended up going with the mitered bridle joints instead of doing half-lap joints. I started out by making a tongue and groove panel for the center of the lid. Once that was done I made a centered 1/4" groove on all of the frame pieces and on the lid panel. I was surprised how well the 45 worked in the end grain - just had to be careful and saw the end first to avoid chip-out. Once that was done I started working on the joints for the lid.

I finally got a chance to try out the old Millers Falls miter box I inherited from my grandfather.. it works pretty well but the saw could definitely use a sharpening. I used this to cut the mitered ends on the sides and the shoulders on the tenons on the front and back. I then finished up the tenons using my rip panel saw and a shoulder plane. Once the tenons were done I finished up the mortises - I started out using the 45 to start the groove, but tried a few methods for clearing out the rest of the waste. Originally I tried using the panel saw to rip out most of the waste - this started out ok - but my rip saw has so much set I wasn't able to make two kerfs in the slot - once the sliver of wood in the center broke out I wasn't able to get the saw to track correctly so I had to cut out the rest of the waste with a mallet and a file which was a pain. For the rest of the pieces I used a flush cut saw to ride against the inside of the groove that I started - this allowed me to cut a nice precise mortise - and once the sides were cut I used a coping saw to clean out a most of the waste. This worked well but took a while to make the cuts and my flush cut saw was getting pretty dull by the end. If I try this again I either need to go out and get a real tenon saw or try to clear out all the waste with a mortise chisel.

I didn't have a miter jack to fine tune the fit like he used on the show - but I guess my sawing was close enough because it fit pretty well on the dry fit. Unfortunately during the glue up I must have had something slightly different than the dry fit and I got a small gap on two corners and I wasn't able to clamp it tight - but the chest will be painted so I guess I can hide that.

Up next are the turned handles and the saw till and sliding trays. I'm torn on the layout of the interior of the chest at this point. I want a saw till at the front - I want to try to squeeze 3 panel saws and 3 back saws in there. The problem I have with this is I need about 8 inches for the biggest saw to fit and the chest is only 12 inches tall - and I was hoping to have the tills be more than 2 inches deep. I could make the bottom tray deeper and limit the travel but that would block the contents of the bottom of the chest. I'll probably play around with a few other ideas before I finally commit to one - but I'd appreciate any suggestions on layout.

Thanks!
John
 

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The Old Fisherman
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Sorry if I missed it but what type of wood is this? Can't wait to see the finished product. :yes:
 
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