The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Dutch Resistance


Like nearly every other woodworker on the planet, I built a “Dutch” tool chest a few years back; in fact, I built two. I enjoyed both projects, and it was a good chance to work on several different skills: dovetail joinery, dado joinery, mortise and tenon joinery, joinery, joinery, joinery.

One of those chests I gave to my dad, the other I kept. For quite a while my chest was in my garage with most of my woodworking tools placed inside it. It sometimes sat on my bench, or under it, or under my feet. I bumped into it quite often, every now and again I would trip over it; I bent over countless times to get stuff out of it. Eventually, I smartened up, hung a cabinet and some tool racks on the walls near my work area, and put my Dutch tool chest in the attic.

Here is the plain truth that nobody wants to hear: working out of that chests sucked. It wasn’t a size issue; the chest was easily large enough to hold the bulk of my woodworking tools. It is a simple matter of logistics, too much bending over, reaching, stretching, dropping, knuckle banging nonsense.

I found the best way to work out of the chest was to put it on my workbench so that everything was at eye level. The problem there was it got in the way too much. Of course, I could put it back on the floor after I got everything out, but then all of that stuff was on the bench too. And who feels like picking up and putting down a 100 pound + tool chest four or five times? Not me.

I’ve seen videos where the woodworker removed all of the tools he/or she needed at the beginning of the project and put them on the bench. I suppose that works, but then all of the stuff is on the bench and in the way (unless you have a recessed tool tray, but they are bad news, right?)

Okay, I’m complaining, so what solution am I offering? The same one that has been around forever: mount your tools on a wall rack and store them in a wall hung cabinet.
Everything is at eye level, out of the way, easy to see and easy to reach. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: since I’ve mounted my tools on the wall I’ve become a more efficient woodworker. AND, my back feels a whole lot better.

So here is my expert advice: If, for some reason, you travel a lot with your woodworking tools, make a tool chest for transportation. And if you are like the overwhelming majority of amateur woodworkers with tools that very rarely leave your work area, mount your stuff on the wall over your bench. Nothing bad is going to happen to your stuff if it’s out in the open. I live in a high humidity area and I’ve had very few rust issues. Keep your tools oiled (as you should be doing anyway) and they’ll be just fine.

So why rehash a topic I know I’ve already covered? Well, a few weeks ago I was getting some things out of the attic and I saw my tool chest sitting on the floor. It still looked pretty good, and it will certainly still hold tools, so I brought it down the stairs, dusted it off, and sold it for a few bucks.

I mentioned a few posts back that I had sold off some tools (mostly duplicates) and how I surprisingly had no sentimental attachment to any of them. But when I sold my Dutch tool chest I very nearly backed out of the deal. My second thoughts didn’t stem from the sell cost, I was just very reluctant to let go of something I had built myself.

I’m hardly a great woodworker, but I put a lot of time and effort into my projects. For whatever it’s worth, and for all of it’s shortcomings, I thought that my tool chest looked great when I finished it. When I brought it down the attic stairs and briefly back into my garage, it seemed to “fit the scene”. But then I remembered why I put it into the attic in the first place, so I put sentimentality aside and did what I know was the right thing to do. And though I pride myself on being a person who makes the right decisions, the right decision in this instance wasn’t an easy one to make.

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Dutch Tool Box

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17 Comments

  1. Jack Palmer says:

    I’ve followed this whole movement regarding Roubo workbenches and these toolchests. Although attractive I’ve never built one. I think the main reason is I just didn’t want all of my tools stored in a box. I do like them where I can see them and that is 90% of them mounted on tool boards. Not that there is anything wrong with the benches or boxes but there are a few woodworkers out there who are pied pipers looking for a following ,and a pay check. Books, hardware, etc.etc.etc. it’s af if they are woodworking archeologists and have found the holy grail. Now because of this amazing discovery everybody has to get on board buy the books and build a Roubo workbench and tool chest or be left behind or worse ostracized by your fellow woodworkers. I’m calling BS on this whole movement, but what do I know.

    • billlattpa says:

      I love the appearance of the Dutch tool chest, but its appearance is really its only asset for a home woodworker. Like you, I like my tools at eye-level, out of the way, yet easy to access, and there is nothing better than a wall rack for achieving those goals.

      As far as the whole “Roubo” movement….I like the Roubo bench, but I would very likely never build one because I think it is a complete waste of wood. The whole slab mentality is ridiculous. Supposed experts telling people that slabs make the best bench tops are outright liars when it comes down to it. Slabs are expensive, difficult to work with, and far less stable than laminated tops. Woodworkers in the past used slabs only because quality glues were not available at the time. Every book I’ve ever read on wood concludes that laminated boards are far more strong and stable than single slabs, though a small handful of people will tell you differently

      Like you said (and I agree) this whole toolchest, slab bench concept is little more than a marketing ploy, a good one actually because it was done very subtly over the course of several years. But it played on woodworkers brilliantly, as most woodworkers tend to enjoy working with their hands, and do it to get away from the computer, TV etc. So if technology is “part of the problem” wouldn’t building an ancient workbench and toolchest (and of course purchasing books and videos on their construction) help us all get back something we are missing in our lives?

      Thanks
      Bill

  2. Jeff Whitaker says:

    Jack Palmer You are dead on right.

    THE SLIGHTLY CONFUSED WOODWORKER Could not have said it better myself!

  3. I never understood the appeal of a tool chest. I built a tool cabinet almost twenty years ago and it is by far better than hunting for a tool I want in a box. My understanding of building a tool chest is so that you can put all the tools you own onto a ship to cross the ocean to start a new life. Something that hardly anyone does anymore.

    Now a Roubo bench is another thing. I built one eight years ago and love it. But mainly because I work with a lot of hand tools. Thing is as solid as a rock.

    • billlattpa says:

      I loved how my tool chest turned out, I thought it looked really great, and I liked making it. But once I actually started working out of it I got tired of it pretty quickly. Working from a wall rack is far superior in my opinion.

      I have nothing against the Roubo bench in and of itself other than the fact that it takes a ton of wood to make. It’s a great looking bench, probably because of its simplicity, and my current bench is sort of modeled after one, but without the 6 inch thick slab top. I would say that my only “beef” with the Roubo was for a while it was considered the end all, be all of hand tool benches, and even when other benches were being presented, it was done with an asterisk (this bench is okay, but the roubo is better)

      I’ve found that there are times when a workbench isn’t even needed, but they are nice to have around.

      Thanks
      BIll

    • billlattpa says:

      When I first built the chest it had wheels. They helped with pushing the chest around, but became a detriment when I put the chest on my bench. I then built a small stand with casters and put the chest on it, which basically eliminated the chest’s biggest attribute: its small footprint.
      As another commenter mentioned, if you are in a situation where your tools are constantly being transported, I think it is a good solution, but as far as working out of it….I think woodworkers are far better off using the walls of your work area for tool access/storage.
      Thanks
      Bill

  4. AusWorkshop says:

    Yep! Never built one and probably never will. I’m currently working in between two workshops while I move house and it really sucks having to keep track of my tools between workshops so I’m using a storage bag and a few boxes, probably more suited to an electrician or tradie but it works well and I have my tools all organised in there but I just can’t wait to get them all back on the walls in ONE workshop.

    If you’re working in a workshop/workbench situation it’s so much better to use wall space and well built cabinets especially designed for your own setup, preferably either behind you or to your right when standing at the vice (if you’re right handed). I also use a tool well and trays like Paul Sellers’ bench which I added to the back of my bench a couple of years ago and comes in handy for the common tools I need all the time yet keeps them out of the way at arms reach. You’d be surprised how much you can store there below the bench surface..

    I’d never be any good working on the road, keeping track of my tools takes up way to much of my time, I’m forever losing them or leaving them at the wrong place when I need them in the other. Or up and down a ladder..Very inefficient!

    Can’t wait till the move is over, totally out of my comfort zone working with tools in two locations!

    • billlattpa says:

      Hey Andrew, sorry about the late response, this was not in my queue. I agree completely, wall racks are far better for the home woodworker. Not only that, I’ve found that having my tools right in front of me leads to a lot less searching, and keeps the flow of the work going much more quickly.
      Good luck with the move! I hope everything turns out great!
      Thanks
      Bill

  5. bloksav says:

    I built a Dutch tool chest, and I actually liked building it. I have never gotten around to mounting some handles on it which I probably should.
    I have used it for transporting carpentry tools to and from our summer house, but the chest has been stored inside the trunk of the car ll the time, so in theory any box could have done the job. But I like the look of it and it works for this application. I have not tried to actually work out of it, and I doubt that I ever will, My tools in my workshop are in a wall mounted cabinet or just on the wall.
    I also built an ATC once, and while the class was incredible, the ATC has so far only been used for storing comforters in the winter and summer respectively, so it just works as a large blanket chest in our house.

    I could potentially see me making another DTC together with my boys, just because making them is quite fun. Like you said, there is a lot of different types of joinery in them, and you can change some of them if you feel like it, rabbets instead of dovetails, sliding dovetails instead of nailed battens etc.
    But The question is if it wouldn’t be more interesting to try out a completely different project?

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      I loved building the Dutch tool chest and I love how it looks, it was just really difficult to work from. Though I never built the ATC I could probably say the same thing. The problem for me with the ATC is it’s huge size.

      I think the DTC would be a great project for you and your kids, but I don’t see myself building another one. As you said, there are probably a lot more interesting projects out there to try.

      Thanks Jonas!
      Bill

  6. Whatever works for your body type, work style and space situation is the right tool holding setup. Same for workbench. But you don’t know until you try, fad or not.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’m 5’11” right around 200lbs, so I figure I’m probably about the height and weight of the average person/woodworker. I haven’t come across a situation where working from a tool chest is the best solution. It could be my work area, which is just a 6 x 10 section at the back of my garage. If I had a larger, more traditional work shop then maybe a tool chest would be a good idea. But my experiences with them have been pretty dismal.
      I saw one solution for the DTC where a person mounted it on a wall with a French cleat, but to me, that is just a mediocre version of a wall mounted tool rack, though it is probably one of the better ideas presented for working out of the chest.
      Believe me, I really enjoyed making the chest, and I thought it looked great, but I had a lot of trouble actually working with it.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Bill

  7. Brian Eve says:

    Hey, Bill! Good blog post. However I feel a bit differently. I’ve built both a full size ATC, and the large DTC. I love them and can not imagine not working out of a tool chest anymore. I think CS is probably right when he says there are two kinds of woodworkers, those who like chests, and those who don’t. I hate having my tools out on a shelf or a rack where they get dusty and take up so much space. The large ATC is like magic in my little 100 square foot shop, it gives me much more room in which to work.

    Here in Spain where my shop is also a home office, the large DTC with casters lets me put all my tools away and roll them out of the way to a part of the room in which they belong when I’m not using them. I like the large DTC in the fact that the top tool well is at waist height so I don’t have to bend over to get in and out, and I save the bottom section for tools that are used a little less frequently.

    The ATC is magic in the fact that in order to reach into it, your body automatically without thinking puts one hand on the rim of the chest to give three points of contact, eliminating most of the back strain in reaching to the deepest corners of the chest.

    I accept that not everyone is like me, and you all should use whichever system to store tools work best for you. For me, it is definitely a tool chest.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the comment Brian!

      Firstly, I would say that I loved how the DTC looked, and it held a great deal of tools considering its relatively small size. I’ve never worked out of a larger, traditional tool chest like the ATC, but I always liked the appearance.

      My biggest problem with the DTC was that it always seemed to be in the way. I work in a pretty small area, roughly 6ft x 10ft, and once I got my stuff out of it I struggled to find a place for it. Originally, I put a set of wheels on it, but that made it slightly too high to go under my bench, and even before then I didn’t like putting it under the bench because I couldn’t lift up the lid. Then I put it on a cart with casters, but with the added height it would get in the way of any boards that would over hang the bench.

      Eventually, I sort of did the same thing you did, and that was roll it into the corner, behind the mini frig in my situation, and roll it back out when needed. I worked for a while like that, and then my wife happened to come across two, virtually unused kitchen wall cabinets, so I mounted those in the garage along with a basic wood panel with some Shaker pegs and a chisel holder and I’ve loved it ever since.

      The irony is that if I had a larger work area I think I would be more open to a big tool chest. For instance, the back wall of my garage is roughly 11ft of usuable space( it’s actually 16ft wide but there are pipes and ducting in the area to the right of my bench. My bench is 78 inches wide, which leaves me around 2ft on each side. If I had an extra 6ft or so I would probably welcome a traditional chest, even if not necessarily to just store tools, but also things like hardware, sharpening stuff, etc. And if I happen to move to a new house with a workspace more to my liking I will probably make a storage chest of some kind. Believe me, my garage has been a 15 year battle, and even before I took up the hobby of woodworking I was trying to create an optimal lay out. Right now, it’s probably the best I will come up with unless I either move to a new house or fork a lot of money and start expanding both out and to the side.

      But with the DTC, I tripped over it dozens of times, and picked it up and put it down probably several hundred. I just couldn’t come up with a solution for it, so I put it into the attic. I had a chance to sell, and initially I said no, but now I’m glad I did, because it was just sitting in my attic and probably would have stayed there for quite a while.

      Thanks again!
      Bill

      • Brian Eve says:

        It sounds like you did the right thing. One of these days I’ll make a bench for this office space. It will be an English bench. I love my Roubo, but an English bench is just fine, and I can get the materials anywhere.

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