Japanese tools #11: Japanese toolbox - thoughts

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Blog entry by mafe posted 05-31-2012 10:48 AM 82496 reads 27 times favorited 35 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: Japanese saw horses - floor horses (blog) Part 11 of Japanese tools series Part 12: Japanese toolbox - making the basic box »

Japanese toolbox

I have been looking forward for a while to make this blog, this because the result is one of my favorite woodworking projects, it was like a sum of skills leaned and also a design and history challenge that I enjoyed.
The result is something I am proud of and that I think will stay with me for as long as I live.

Click for details
At first I made this small one out of trash wood in Paris, meant for chisels.

Later another as a gift for a friend .

But after I read Toshio Odate’s book ‘Japanese woodworking tools their tradition spirit and use’ I knew I needed to make myself a real traditional Japanese toolbox one day.

The first part here will be my thoughts about and pictures of Japanese toolboxes.
Or in other words why I ended up with the design that I did.

So sit back and enjoy.

One of the first pictures I ran into was this one, and it did confuse me…
This does not seem to be a traditional toolbox and the tools don’t seem to be Japanese…
The frame saw is used in China and Europe, the handsaw seems English!
So why do I show this picture?
To say that the research that I have been able to do is at the web and few books, this do not make a really well documented truth. Writers was perhaps not even woodworkers and even we have an old black and white photo showing someone with a saw, we can’t know if this is traditional or not.
The only interesting thing I can conclude from this picture is that the toolbox even the design is different seems to be quite simple and made from cheap wood to transport tools inside.

This picture shows a standard transport box, I think Japanese, but notice the design.
My guess will be that the traditional Japanese toolbox was made this way, that the inspiration came from this.
A simple low priced, fast to make transport box.

Here a later military one, now added hardware for strength.

The inside, elegant.

So finally!
A classic example of the Japanese toolbox.
Pine for low price.
Nails for fast making.
Handles for carry.
Thin wood for light weight (low price).
The simple lid that locks without hardware (low price).
So these are my first conclusions, this because I believe you made your toolbox as young apprentice and so did not have money for something fancy, but also since the Japanese do not value things like we do, they have an approach that are more simple and yet much more sophisticated – you have to earn your status by proving you worth a tool. So a young starter will not go and buy the whole Lie Nielsen set if he had the money, he would buy his tools as needed, when needed and then upgrade as his skills improve. I believe some of us could learn quite a lot from this…

This one with a drawer.

This one I think is really classy, I like the long slim design.
Notice feet, handles with shape and that the bottom boards are sideways (not normal).

Slim and simple.

Larger, double drawers with lock.

New use…

Absolutely charming!

How can you not love this.
If you hire this guy you will know you get a fair price – not like the one in a Van full of Festool power tools…

At work.
The box is used as a holder for the planes.

Or to store them.

Much like a traditional Scandinavian as here.
Quite amazing in a way.

The closest I get to a historical proof…
But quite an interesting museum, hope one day to make savings and go to Japan.
Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum:

Here from another museum, notice the ends are jointed with a big ‘finger joint’.

Not so elegant, but a good guess on how it should look today.
Screwed and nailed together, a mix of woods and plywood, fast low price and solid.
Perhaps the finger joints are a little overkill, but since it is from a school it is probably to learn.
Japanese woodworking school.

This might be a commercial for the green boxes, but it shows the simple and different types of toolboxes.

Back to the future…
This is where we are today – nice legs.

This might for me be a good proposal for a modern woodworker toolbox.
Lightweight, cheap, waterproof and easy to transport.
(Don’t remember where I saw this, sorry).

And this is a Festool insert – in this way you get both…

But back to our friend.
Back to the traditional toolbox.

Found this beginner set on a Japanese site.
And yes it is probably all we need to get started.

Here first day at a Japanese woodworker school.

And the basic tool set.
I can almost imagine how proud the young guy must be.

And here we start, making traditional toolboxes.
Pictures from school with students and then the set and box

The result – elegant!

And later one for plane storage.

Here my conclusion:
Low price light weight wood: pine.
Thin planed boards for low weight.
No hardware.
Size that I can easy carry.
Proportions slim for elegancy.
A drawer for small things, and for giving myself a challenge of traditional Japanese drawer making.
Finally I choose to buy a bag of bamboo nails, this to try the traditional way, for beauty and again for giving myself a challenge – this I know is not traditional at all.

This video is what made me want to take the extra challenge, to put some traditional cabinetmaking details into my box, and to make the drawer after these principals.

Hope this blog can bring some inspiration to others that play with Japanese tools and work methods.

I want to send a special warm thought to Toshio Odate, thank you for inspire ring me with your book, but most of all my sister who offered me my Japanese chisels and a Kanna that was the reason why this interest started.

Here an interesting one with different types and plenty of inspiration:

Best thoughts,


-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

35 comments so far

View Schwieb's profile


1912 posts in 4345 days

#1 posted 05-31-2012 11:29 AM

You always manage to find interesting things to bring to light. I enjoyed the history lesson and insight into a traditional woodworking method. Good job as always, Mads!

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View Sodabowski's profile


2390 posts in 3717 days

#2 posted 05-31-2012 11:39 AM

You lost me at the legs – nice everything in this “tool box” on heels :D

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Henrik Oscarsson's profile

Henrik Oscarsson

48 posts in 3205 days

#3 posted 05-31-2012 11:42 AM

Japanese toolboxes and work methods is new to me, this was very inspiring. made me interested . I think I´m going to make a japanese toolbox this summer .

-- Henrik - Stockholm, Sweden

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3527 posts in 4321 days

#4 posted 05-31-2012 12:07 PM

a cool read.. thanks.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

25333 posts in 3989 days

#5 posted 05-31-2012 12:30 PM

Very interesting and a neat way to do it. Thanks for sharing,Mads!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Brandon's profile


4380 posts in 3835 days

#6 posted 05-31-2012 12:42 PM

Nice Mads! I loved looking at all the photos. That black plastic tool box with the padding is from this site, I just don’t remember who posted it.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 3740 days

#7 posted 05-31-2012 01:22 PM


what a great blog.

I’m trying to get off the floor

Now I wonder if I’m wrong


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View PurpLev's profile


8598 posts in 4532 days

#8 posted 05-31-2012 01:36 PM

very cool, and definitely very different approach than western perspectives.

looking forward to seeing these challenges taken and overtaken Mads. gonna be great!

What I like most about the japanese approach is the unique joinery they use that does not require glue or nails. those were always very inspiring

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Doug's profile


1162 posts in 3645 days

#9 posted 05-31-2012 02:24 PM

Mads, I wish you all the best as you continue on your Japanese woodworking journey. It inspires me to consider employing some of the techniques used by the crafstman of Japan.

-- Doug

View Mauricio's profile


7165 posts in 4035 days

#10 posted 05-31-2012 02:47 PM

Great pictorial tour through the world of Japanese tool boxes, I really enjoyed it, thanks for sharing.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 3924 days

#11 posted 05-31-2012 03:03 PM

Nice Elegant Simple Boxes, Bravo !!! Back when I was A teenager I Had a penpal from Japan, We traded all sorts of things. I still have a fishing Lure He sent to Me.

-- Pat - Worker of Wood, Collector of Tools, Father of one

View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 3104 days

#12 posted 05-31-2012 04:05 PM

I’ve got a plan for one of those. I like the construction of it. I found it interesting in Odate’s book that if it’s not nailed (i.e. dovetailed, tenoned, etc) that traditional Japanese craftsmen would look funny at you (red neck paraphrase). I wonder what they think of the plastic ones—- maybe that’s why they have the girl ;)

-- Wood is not velveeta

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4187 days

#13 posted 05-31-2012 04:28 PM

i have to say mads , there is a lot here i have not had exposure to, and i saw some video that showed oriental wood workers , using there methods and such, it was amazing. and opens so many doors of thought here…thanks so much…so much to learn , and so little time, but….i will enjoy the journey….and oh what a journey it is…...grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3462 days

#14 posted 05-31-2012 05:28 PM

Hi Mafe,
Great blog post, as usual.
I love this video series.

Just one detail, the military box is actually not a toolbox per say : it is a storage/carrying box for army telephones… But you can see the relation in shapes all the same.


-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3902 days

#15 posted 05-31-2012 06:43 PM

Very interesting but dang, with my bad knees and back, I don’t believe I would be able to work and sit on the floor like they do! I’m just not flexible anymore.

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

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