Anachronistic Creativity – A Workchest

I’m stuck. I have immediate access to a “work space” for sawdust therapy, but it’s a far cry from being anything useful. The landlord has a carriage house stuffed with various tools, from vintage to just plain garbage. There are two tables set aside for woodworking. One is too high and paint spattered to be sufficient, and the other doesn’t have a flat spot more than two inches wide and a foot long. Neither is more than three feet in length. The table saw is a disaster of danger, just waiting to mutilate. Come woodworking safety week, I might just walk through some of the problems with this thing as an example of what not to do… To be fair, he’s not a woodworker, he’s a tool collector. He may think himself otherwise, but there’s nothing to be gained from addressing it.

The greatest issue I face is a lack of any type of functional work-holding. I am also short of a convenient place to store what hand tools I do have with me. Considering my current semi-itinerant situation and that I might have cause to take my woodworking on a field trip, I’ve come up with a possible solution.

About a decade or more ago I built my first six board chest, loosely patterned on the famous “Mastermyr” tool chest. The original was found in 1936 when a Swedish farmer was plowing a field that had once been a swamp. His plough struck something in the dirt and what he dug out was an oak chest full of tools, dated to be from the 10th Century.

Given the rough silhouette of the chest, long and narrow, with ends that angled out and down, I took up tool and lumber to build my own. Following some well intentioned advice of other hobbyists, I simplified the joinery (of which there was already very little) and opted to use glue and screws to assemble the body. Having cut 1/2″ rabbets on the front and back boards, there wasn’t much for the countersunk screws to grab onto. Since I wanted to hide the use of screws, plugs were cut and glued over the screw heads. A couple years of being indoors and out and the case began coming apart. In a couple places I did use dowels, but those fared little better than the screws. For at least five years the chest had been relegated to long term storage. It is four feet long, a foot wide, and about 15 inches tall. Or, it was.

I took the poor thing apart on a Sunday afternoon. Looking at the tool marks inside the joinery I have managed to scare myself, to be honest. I have no idea how I cut rabbets like are in this chest without having my whole head sucked into whirling table-saw death. Still, for the most part the wood is in great shape. There’s been some cupping, which is to be expected for ten year old Big Box dimensional red oak. I can at least use almost all of the existing parts to build a new chest. This will store many of my hand tools, but what about that other part — work holding.

I mean to take the boards that were once the lid and floor of the chest and laminate them into a new lid. I’m planning to bore dog-holes in the lid that will accept dogs and dowelled attachments so that I can hold a working piece of stock and plane it without worrying about running into a clamp or other calamity. Or hey, even planing something longer than the depth of my bench hook, that’d be great.

I’m cribbing the dog-hole pattern for this new workchest off of this 15th Century manuscript page.



I expect to replace the end boards from the original six-board, as they are far too short for even a comfortable saw-bench. I’m hoping I can split the difference between a saw bench and a planing bench, but if that isn’t feasible, a couple blocks to raise the chest up to a comfortable height wouldn’t be too much of an add-on. The old bottom board will be part of the new lid, so a new bottom board will be needed. It seems like a good idea for the replacement to be pine rather than oak. I know I can get pine in a standard dimension rather easily (but don’t let me get started on the price) from the Big Box down the street. I’ll need new hinges, as the old ones weren’t up to the original task. And nails. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that part of why six board chests can survive 1000 years is that they are held together by wrought nails. Cut nails will certainly do, but it’s got to be the nails.


This entry was posted in Furniture Research, Medieval Tools, Projects, Wood. Bookmark the permalink.

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