Barbecue briefcase, tools and shakers

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Project by Dave Polaschek posted 07-24-2020 05:23 PM 1139 views 1 time favorited 33 comments Add to Favorites Watch

For the 2020 Barbecue Swap that I ran, I decided to make a kit of bbq tools, along with a small briefcase to hold them. Given that I’m still settling into my shop, I figured this would give me the ability to switch between the different components as I needed to find tools, rearrange my bench, or other distractions. I’ll try to break this into three sections, the briefcase, the tools, and the shakers.

First, the briefcase. I wanted to make sure it fit into a USPS medium flat rate box so I looked that up and figured my briefcase had to be about 13-¾ inches long at longest, about 8 inches wide, and a little more than 3 inches thick. I cut a piece of walnut I had down into two book-matched pieces that were 22 long and 3¼ wide by about ⅜ thick. I roughly smoothed the outside of the pieces, but left the rough, inner, book-matched surfaces alone for now. Those would become the outside of the box, and I’ve found that it’s easiest to smooth them after I’ve assembled the box, especially when working with thin stock.

I cut grooves near the edges of the wood, which would be the grooves that held the top and bottom of the case. Did ¼” grooves, about an eighth from the edge of the board.

Then I dovetailed the ends, paying some attention to where I would want to cut the box open, and trying to lay the tails out so I would be sawing a tail in half when I cut the box open. And rather than assemble the top and bottom of the box immediately, I planed off the spare eighth turning the groove in the boards into rabbets.

I also sanded and finished the front panel of the case at this point so when I put the handle on it, I wouldn’t have to try and sand around that.

The handle was a piece of 4/4 walnut, hand-carved to a handle shape. I then made octagons on the end of it, guesstimated they were going to end up about an inch in size, and drilled a one inch hole in a piece of birch. I then cut it in two, and hand-shaped it to make brackets to hold the handle, and then turned down the ends of the handle to match the holes using my hollow auger. I also drilled a couple holes to align the handle brackets while I could still get inside the box to clean up the holes.

I glued up the dovetails, and just set the top and bottom of the box in place for now to help keep things square. And then I took the case to the belt-sander to finish sanding the sides.

That done, I finished the exterior of the case. This included cutting the BBQ-X letters from some thick (1/8” or 3/32”) bubinga veneer, hand sanding them, and gluing them to the lid. I oiled the box, handle, brackets, lid and bottom, and then glued on the letters, and glued the top and bottom into their rabbets, and glued on the handle. Clamping everything took a little improvisation.

The name comes from a song by the band Farm Accident, who were friends of mine who played in Minneapolis back in the 1980s. If you look at the third picture, you can see the lyrics to the song, which I wrote on the inside of the box.

The box assembled, I hit it with four or five coats of super-blonde shellac, padding it on. Then I cut the box open, put on the hinges and latches, and called it done.


The tools were made with stabilized birch for the handles. The birch came from Timber Bay Resort in Babbitt, MN. There had been a big wind-storm just before we went up there in 2018, and I scavenged a bunch of birch, brought it home, sliced it up, and stabilized it.

The knife and steel are from Hock Tools. Ron Hock is a great guy, and when I asked him about a barbecue fork, he said he didn’t make them, but suggested the steel (which I had forgotten they made) and pointed out that he sold aprons which were certainly bbq related. Nice job up-selling me, Ron! The fork ended up being from eBay. I bought one that had a rough-looking handle, but was made in US steel, peeled the old wooden handle off, and put on a new handle. Nothing too fancy with the tools, but I left them slightly oversized so Grant could reshape them if he liked.

And then the shakers. After thinking about turning them, and cutting my own threads for lids, I decided that was too much to bite off this year, and I bought some shaker inserts from Lee Valley. They’re about 15/16 in diameter, and slightly tapered, so I drilled holes in some pieces of birch. I had initially planned to have the grain in the birch running up and down on the finished shaker, but my 15/16ths auger bit has a bad lead screw, and drilling into end-grain in the stabilized birch proved to be too tough, so I oriented the grain cross-wise, which made drilling much easier.

With the holes drilled, I started figuring how to shape the outsides. I had planned to use a spokeshave to turn the birch from squares to octagons, and then to round, but that was when the grain was running the other way. I tried using the shave cross-grain and broke one of the shaker bodies. After some thought, I took one of my walnut offcuts, put a deck screw into it, shaped it roughly round by spinning it against my (running) belt-sander, and decided that would work well enough on the birch.

I also experimented with dyeing the stabilized birch, and decided that for the red and green, I was best using non-stabilized birch, especially after I cracked one of the pieces while rounding it. Learning as I go!

With the four shaker bodies dyed and finished (I used shellac, tinting it with TransTint dyes), I took a tapered reamer to get the holes to the final size, then put a tiny bit of CA glue on the insert, and pressed them into the bodies. I ran a little extra CA in from the bottom to make sure everything held. Note that the inserts say “DO NOT USE EPOXY” and they mean it. The acrylic that’s used in the inserts kinda dissolves if you try to epoxy it in place. CA glue is the right glue for this job!

I packed the knife, fork, steel, and four shakers into the case with foam inserts, then packed the case into the flat rate box with a Hock apron, another cow-spotted apron my sweetie found, and tossed in a couple tins of extra chile from New Mexico and the box was full, and ready to be on its way.

And then, of course, I realized I’d forgotten to include the note in the box, so I had to open it up again. At least I remembered to take pictures of the complete stuff for this writeup while I had the box open. ;-)

-- Dave - Santa Fe

33 comments so far

View oldrivers's profile


2634 posts in 2726 days

#1 posted 07-24-2020 05:56 PM

Mighty Fine, you do a good job.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View hairy's profile


3276 posts in 4692 days

#2 posted 07-24-2020 06:05 PM

That’s good stuff!!

-- You can lead a horse to water, but you can't tie his shoes. Blaze Foley

View recycle1943's profile


5610 posts in 2782 days

#3 posted 07-24-2020 06:17 PM

all of the tols are thoughtfull and NICE but the brief case is over the top – great job Dave !!

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View HokieKen's profile


18424 posts in 2298 days

#4 posted 07-24-2020 06:27 PM

Well done Dave :-) I dig the shakers!

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View jeffswildwood's profile


4927 posts in 3137 days

#5 posted 07-24-2020 06:36 PM

Excellent Dave! Just a beautiful, useful set. I agree the shakers set it off nicely!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View Don W's profile

Don W

20121 posts in 3727 days

#6 posted 07-24-2020 06:41 PM

nice job

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

7956 posts in 1742 days

#7 posted 07-24-2020 07:14 PM

Thanks, guys! The shakers were kind of an afterthought, but I thought about how often people would come ask to borrow salt or pepper or other spices when I was out tailgating, and I thought “I bet that’d be a good addition!”

Once I’d figured that out, color coding them seemed pretty obvious. If I hadn’t broken the fifth one, it was going to be yellow or brown with ground mustard seed.

As for the briefcase, it just seems like the kind of thing a BBQ professional ought to have. Along with maybe one of those swell hats like John Cusack wore in Better Off Dead. Maybe next year!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile


2835 posts in 707 days

#8 posted 07-24-2020 08:31 PM

Great work Dave. That you did this mostly with handtools is highly commendable.

-- WWBBJ: It is better to be interesting and wrong, than boring and right.

View mikeacg's profile


1959 posts in 2217 days

#9 posted 07-24-2020 08:35 PM

I’m hoping you get my name in the swap next year Dave! Great bunch of BBQ Swap items! Makes me feel like I should have done more…

-- Mike, A Yooper with a drawl,

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

7956 posts in 1742 days

#10 posted 07-24-2020 08:40 PM

Thanks, Brian. Hand tools don’t really make it go slower, you just have to tackle things in a smart order. I’ve found that in thin stock, I’m better cutting the rabbet or grooves before I cut the sides to length and start cutting dovetails, so if I have a split or other problem, I can work from the other end of the board. And rather than chop the dovetails out with a chisel, I use a coping saw and then tidy up the last little bit with a rasp….

Thanks, Mike! I tried not to go too over the top, but I kept thinking of cool additions… initially it was going to just be a knife and a fork in a box. Then I figured out a cool handle. Then I added shakers. Then I added red and green for chile. Then I added the steel and an apron… I had to ship early so it didn’t get even more over the top. :-/

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View mikeacg's profile


1959 posts in 2217 days

#11 posted 07-24-2020 08:48 PM


You know how many times my project changed from the intitial picture! But now I have a bunch of projects to post when I finally finish them! Life is good!!!


-- Mike, A Yooper with a drawl,

View LittleBlackDuck's profile


7541 posts in 1980 days

#12 posted 07-24-2020 09:07 PM

Nice job DP... love those handles.

I made a BBQ box years ago, but it kept catching on fire every time I lit a BBQ in it… but I keep extinguishing it so it’s still around though slightly darker… unfortunately, haven’t managed to cook a snag on it yet.

-- If your first cut is too short... Take the second cut from the longer end... LBD

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

7956 posts in 1742 days

#13 posted 07-24-2020 09:21 PM

Yeah, Mike. I think we had about the same number of changes. I just put all mine in the box!

Thanks, Ducky! Pretty early in the morning for you, or are you still finishing up last night’s (or is is tomorrow’s – I can never keep that date line straight) vino?

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View LittleBlackDuck's profile


7541 posts in 1980 days

#14 posted 07-24-2020 09:57 PM

... I can never keep that date line straight) vino?
- Dave Polaschek
vino is a 24 hour clock… and date line, no… but, straight line to the vino cask, YES!

-- If your first cut is too short... Take the second cut from the longer end... LBD

View robscastle's profile


8104 posts in 3364 days

#15 posted 07-24-2020 10:00 PM

Looks great Dave !

Pity LBD and I are not in the swap !

Looking forward to see who has the best hot sausage as a result.

Life here is just about the pits at the moment, especially with all the Mexicans playing up in Vict.
The borders are still closed and life is severely restricted.

Even my turtle is getting restless, and tried to leave!

-- Regards Rob

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