The Mahogany Madness Machinist Chest!

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Project by Lemongrasspicker posted 12-18-2017 08:12 PM 1614 views 2 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

LOTS of pics/reading to follow just FYI

Video is here if you prefer not to read.

View on YouTube

This project is one that took a while to complete. Arguably the hardest part of it was just finding the time to build while working full time and being married!

I had wanted a sort of “bench top” tool chest for a while. I really love the Gerstner toolchests of old that were carried by machinists/craftsman for many years. I also love Tansu furniture (japanese chests/chest of drawers), so in this project I wanted to combine elements of both using some nice wood. But I had a list of requirements that needed to be met…

First requirement was that the chest not be deep. The limiting factor of alot of toolboxes in this application is that they are so deep that they end up gobbling up so much of the benchtop that there’s no room to work. This one had to be on the shallow side to allow for room for me to work adequately when I’m inside. With my limited space every inch counts. This chest I had planned out to be around 7” deep. It’s shallow but to make up for it the drawers will be wide and tall.

Second, the chest needed to use only basic joinery. This meant no dovetails or showy bits. In keeping with the Japanese minimalist mindset I wanted to use the wood as the beauty and not any fancy/pretty inlays or joinery.

Third, the chest needed to be wide enough that I can fit multiple tools in a single drawer, saving myself more space as well as saving myself time in building.

Fourth, the chest needed to be a functional piece of furniture rather than just another mobile toolbox.

I had been saving some money to purchase the materials to build this item when a friend told me that he had some mahogany that he couldn’t use. He is a luthier like myself (he builds guitars, I just repair them) and the mahogany that he had was so heavy that it was unusable for guitars. So he gifted me the lumber with the caveat that I show him whatever I chose to make out of it. He also gifted me some wonderfully figured spanish cedar that I used for the drawer sides and runners.

Ok, onto the pics!

Here is the entirety of my mahogany stock that I started with. The 4 stock pieces on the right hand side of the stack were the ones that he gifted to me.

The pieces were going to work wonderfully, I had alot of work ahead of me. Since I can’t use power tools I just used all my traditional Japanese tools for this build. I sold all my stanley planes some time back so now it was time to adapt to a fully Japanese way of doing things. I had wanted to make this transition some time back but this project was the excuse I needed to plunge into the deep end of the pool. The only real westernized tools I’m going to keep using are things like squares, measuring tapes, rulers etc… Everything else though will be Japanese.

Resawing the 6/4 stock down into 3/4 (and a little under). The vise on my planing beam came in VERY handy for this task. Sitting while sawing with a big burly ryoba saw really helped in this case. Some of the stock was closer to 7/4. The 4 main pieces of stock were used to create 8 panels total.

By my measurements and calculations for what I wanted I was going to have exactly enough wood to complete this project, I couldn’t remake anything if I made a mistake since I only had so much material with matching grain/color. So any mistakes I make in the build process at this point I simply have to live with.

One thing this project taught me was how to use a wedge to keep your stock from binding the saw. There was alot of tension in this stock so I cut a few small wedges and followed the saw through the cut to keep the sawdust flowing. My big ryoba saw got quite a workout!

Next was to plane the panels down to thickness and to remove saw kerf. The wife was not pleased with this portion of the project but I kept her happy and swept it up once I was done.

Next I squared off the pieces as best as I could. In the video you can see me using the planing beam as a shooting board. I simply clamped a piece of cedar to the side, squared it off with the top, and then I just hold whatever I am squaring with my hand against the stop. It works effectively and quickly for me in my workspace and working style.

Next step was to cut the joinery. I made a few errors in this step (who doesn’t). But since I was limited to exactly the amount needed to make this chest I couldn’t’ go back and start over. Just had to live with the imperfections. To keep the deisgn on a working man level I decided to go with fingerjoints all around. I like the industrial feel they give to a piece.

For the back I had to bookmatch two panels to get a piece wide enough to work. The shooting board came in handy for this section. Once I had the bookmatching complete I cut a ledge using one of my kikai planes (plow plane) with a small piece of scrap held against the blade to cut the rebate. Worked pretty well considering it’s not designed to do this originally.

The completed bookmatched back panel

While the carcass was drying after assembly (I used fish glue on all the joints) I set about to cutting the spanish cedar for the drawer sides. Before you ask, Yes I wore a mask, and no I didn’t take any of the sawdust or shavings inside. Again I had just enough of this material to make all the needed parts. And again, ripped, planed, and cut to size all on my planing beam.

Some awesome thick shavings from my roughing plane.

And done

Now that the carcass was dry I set about making the drawers and the drawer fronts.

Deciding on the layout, I wanted the grain to look like the ocean tide going back and forth, so I went with the alternating pattern layout. The top and bottom drawer are from the same piece of stock so the opposing grain is fairly consistent.

Now with the drawers complete and the runners installed comes my favorite part. Finishing!

I had tested a few different oil finishes on some of the small cutoffs and just decided to go with danish oil natural. It turns this wood an extremely pleasant “earthen red” color. I love it!



And with a little touch of some vintage brass it’s ready to go to work!

There are alot of errors in this. I’m still learning this craft but the most important part of learning is being able/willing to make mistakes and to learn from and live with them. I made alot of mistakes with this piece but I am very pleased that the wood survived my tools and gave me a new piece of furniture. I learned more from making this chest than I have in any other project so far. The interlocked grain of this mahogany (sapele probably) taught me alot about patience and feeling the way the wood wants to be cut.

And as I had planned for, I had exactly the right amount of material to make this happen. I only have a few TINY bits of scrap left over from the drawer front cutoffs and such. The dimensions came out fairly close to what I had planned.

16 1/8 W
10 3/4 T
6 7/8 D

Thanks for reading/watching! Arigato!


3 comments so far

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4098 posts in 3882 days

#1 posted 12-18-2017 08:21 PM

Nice job, and that is some beautiful wood!

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3639 days

#2 posted 12-18-2017 09:47 PM

Nice box!

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5393 posts in 1355 days

#3 posted 12-19-2017 12:48 AM

Nice box and some beautiful wood went into it.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

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