Wooden Tool Box – Maple and Walnut – 2013

With Brian Rae, For Brian Rae

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This project sets out to accomplish a couple of things; first give Brian a convenient way to get his tools out of the damp air in his Pacific NW garage and into the safety of his relatively drier home. Woodworkers in Arizona may have trouble sourcing local wood, but they aren’t constantly scouting out the early signs of rust. Secondly, the project will be Brian’s first foray into the ultimate woodworking joint; the dovetail. The inspiration comes from the incredible well thought out box by Tom Fidgen. Over Brian’s week-long trip to DC, we built the carcass of the box and then he head home box in hand to do the fine-tuning and build the individuals tool holders.  Brian fought his way through the airport lines at DCA, pulling his passport out of the box and sending it through the x-ray.

Part one – Building the carcass in Washington, DC.

In lieu of carry-on luggage Brian flew from Portland with a grocery-store bag full of maple. The final mile of the journey involved strapping the lumber on to my back, as the three of us loaded up on a tridem bike on our way back from the airport. Our first stop was getting the maple laminated above. Than we played hockey.

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Cutting a dado in the center of the board – I slowly walked along the board with a chisel and then Brian cleaned it out with a router plane.. The tray will sit snugly on the inset.  God, the router plane has revolutionized my life.

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Maple is really, really hard.  Usually I clean out dovetails with a chisel but to speed up the process and minimize the pounding sounds emanating out of my shop I tried a bunch of different ways to clean out the wood.  Eventually we settled on using a coping saw to clear out most of the wood and then pared than square with a chisel.  We choose maple to minimize the nicks any tool box collects overtime, but God what a pain to work with.

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Paring the dovetails to most efficacious angle. I spent a lot of time sharpening chisels on this project.


Yup that is a really messy bench. Brian is marking dovetails in the wreckage.  appropriately he is drinking a bitter American


Part Two – Tool Holders, Handle, Inset Box and Finishing in Portland, Oregon.

At the risk that this post is going to be really confusing – I am going to  pass the torch to Brian – so he can recount stage two of the project –

I successfully transported the maple tool box back to Portland with lots of stares from other passengers… who knows what Roy Underhill uses for a carry on luggage. I was excited to fit the dovetails together and start with the handle/ tool holder portion of the project.  Well I was probably a little too excited and split one of the dovetails while fitting and gluing.


Fortunately I was able to glue the board back so that the mechanical strength of the  joint clamped it together.  In its  final assessment almost no one will notice  the break.

The next step was building the handle which I really enjoyed. Working with black walnut was much easier, and the wood on hand forced me to do some delicate mortise and tenon work. I kept the piece I used for the handle raw on the top as it still has some bark and natural character of the wood, I think it does a good job of creating a personality to the box (thanks Clara Funk).  I was also able to use my new block plane on several occasions… which I jimmied with a harness (like a 1st grader and his mittens) so I would stop dropping it out of my cold hands onto the pavement floor.

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I am still an impatient woodworker, I probably should have put more thought into tool holders but that is the problem with building something for yourself! I placed two cross beams – to protect and store my carcass and rip saws. I also have a slab of walnut that I placed with dowels to hold mini squares, rulers, files and other skinny tools.

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Next up was creating the tray that will fit in the box creating a second level of tool storage. This was my first true solo dove tail and I learnt four valuable lessons: 1. Use a sharp pencil 2. Sharpen your chisels more 3. Square those boards! 4. Wear safety glasses when chiseling maple!! In the end it was not as square as I hoped but it has a few good sides and fits into the box well. Next step was to use some walnut to create a simple handle and frame the top of the tray to keep with the style of the box.

Step Three: Finishing

Finally after some sanding a coat of light walnut dutch oil I have a very solid (and heavy) way to store and transport my tools and keep them rust free!

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2 thoughts on “Wooden Tool Box – Maple and Walnut – 2013

  1. Pingback: Jewelry Cabinet – Cherry & Ambrosia Maple- 2013:2014 | raecreation

  2. Pingback: Sawyers Bench – Poplar & Cherry – 2015/2016 | raecreation

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