Why build an Anarchist's Tool Chest?

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Forum topic by jonasramus posted 01-04-2012 08:05 PM 11121 views 0 times favorited 40 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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24 posts in 4026 days

01-04-2012 08:05 PM

Ok. I admit it. I’ve been bit by the Roubo bug that is running rampant these days, thanks wholly to Mr. Christopher Schwarz. So, it probably won’t surprise you to know that I picked up ATC expecting to experience a similar epiphany about tool chests. I was disappointed… not of the wisdom in the book about the tools he has inside the chest, but rather of his intentional omission for why anyone should use a chest in the first place.

And so I’m looking to the LJ community for some wisdom. Why even build a wooden tool chest to store your tools? Why has Chris (and presumedly others) forsaken other options, like metal tool boxes, wall-mounted (5S-ish) storage solutions, and customized cabinets? Until now, I’ve preferred wall-mounted storage solutions, which provide very fast access to the tool I want, are easily reconfigurable, adept at preventing tool damage, and make missing tools very easy to see.

Call me a groupie if you want, but I’m wiling to be a convert. I want to learn from the wisdom of others and am willing to take a few things on faith. However at the same time, I’m not willing to be a mindless fanatic following anyone without just cause and rationalization. So what do YOU think?

-- Jeff, Deltona Florida

40 replies so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17269 posts in 3669 days

#1 posted 01-04-2012 08:13 PM

Jeff- i’m a schwarz fan from his first Workbenches book through Handplane Essentials, joiner and cabinetmaker, and essential woodworker. That said, not so much TATC. Not the social commentary (he’s entitled, and rational, but I don’t agree with his world view). And while I understand and respect his love of toolchests, I’m not going there, either. I’ve been fascinated by them always, but especially since his book came out, but I’m not building. Wall and under – bench (blasphemy!!) storage is what I prefer. So, you’re not alone…

For what it’s worth.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4515 days

#2 posted 01-04-2012 08:17 PM

havent read this book of his, but I wouldnt put my stuff in a chest. I much prefer them hanging vertically in a cabinet or on a wall.

what’s the social commentary like?

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17269 posts in 3669 days

#3 posted 01-04-2012 08:33 PM

Aaron, please don’t read this as a cop out but I have respect his view enough to say I dont want to recap (mis-represent) what he invested many pages presenting. It’s interesting for sure, and not at all offensive in any way. But for me, it distracts from working wood so I dont focus on that aspect of the author’s work.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Loren's profile


11135 posts in 4698 days

#4 posted 01-04-2012 08:43 PM

I don’t follow Schwartz at all, haven’t read his books and in fact
no longer read any woodworking magazines. That said, before
automobiles and electricity, journeymen used to haul their
tools in a single chest from job to job so the work was portable.

Furthermore, carpentry was more a matter of timber framing
stuff back in the day, so the tools were taken to the work, not
vice versa. If you were a bodger you would go out in the woods
with your tools and make chairs where the trees are.

I got a look at a friend’s patternmaker’s bench at least 100 years
old. The thing was stocked with an incredible collection of
carving tools that just wouldn’t be accessible or sensibly stored
in anything but drawers close at hand.

If you want to trip-out on hand tool woodworking as some sort
of spiritual journey you are welcome to it. I’d recommend you
read James Krenov if you haven’t though – even though his
books are old now his approach to hand vs. machine tools
was balanced and practical. He neither obsessed about collecting
hand tools nor high-end machinery, but he did produce
beautiful, masterful work.

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3930 days

#5 posted 01-04-2012 08:46 PM

I love to look at tool chest that others have made especially the antique ones that were made long ago but I have no need for one. I would like to make one someday just for the fun of crafting one but I am pretty sure it will just get filled with tools I don’t use and it would act more as a show piece.

Tool chest (in my opinion) make sense if you are doing a lot of on the site work but if your only working out of your shop then its not my ideal choice for tool storage. Everyone will have their own opinions though.

I also store stuff under my bench. Why the heck not?

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4021 days

#6 posted 01-04-2012 08:47 PM

I havent read the whole book, just parts, but in response to the question, “why store your tools in a chest?” I did read a few relevant pages. His explaination is that the tools inside the chest are protected from moisture and salt (sweat) that would have been present in a woodshop of the day. Also, it’s a place to sit and rest.

About 40 years ago, one of my early woodworking projects was a tool chest. I didn’t even know why I built it; just seemed like a good thing to have. Who knew?

View walkerwg's profile


6 posts in 3386 days

#7 posted 01-04-2012 09:49 PM

My general perspective is to make storage that creates a more efficient shop for what YOU do. If you travel with your tools and want to display your skills to the customer, then make a tool chest that accomplishes those goals. If your shop is in your basement, create an environment that makes YOUR process a more enjoyable one. 19th century and earlier Jointers and Carpenters utilized the tool chest as a means to display their skill and craftsmanship. They ALSO serving as a means to get their tools to and from the job by horse and buggy. Form vs Function, sometimes they are both necessary, sometimes not. If making an elaborate tool chest gets you into your shop improving your skills and gaining more experience and understanding in the craft then do that. Most of the things we encounter are not A or B type questions. While working in Fine Art over the years I have learned to allow the work I DO determine what I NEED and then sprinkle in a few WANTS.

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David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4048 days

#8 posted 01-04-2012 09:58 PM

I personally don’t care for chests. I much prefer drawers under bench and taller cabinets. It is a real estate issue for me. If I were working in someone else’s shop, the toolchest is better security. In my own garage, not so much.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

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Don W

19967 posts in 3618 days

#9 posted 01-04-2012 09:59 PM

The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is in the box delivered to my front door today from Lee Valley (along with a nice shoulder plane). I decided to read it based on many many reviews, both good and not so good. My theory is even a bad opinion may be useful if it makes me think about what I do and how I do it.

So far I’m on the fence about Schwarz. Some of his stuff goes beyond opinion, but again, if it makes me think.

I like the thought of a chest, but I’m like most of the others so far. It would be a cool project, but then what would I do with it. I’ve got 4 or 5 old woodworking chest I’ve picked up along the way antiquing. None are being used except the ones my wife is using as coffee tables

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

View David_bignell's profile


1 post in 4352 days

#10 posted 02-21-2012 12:03 AM

I recently built a toolchest from Chris’s book and I can’t understand how I worked without it. The wheels are the best part since I can easily roll it around the shop and everything I need is right at hand. I made it a little bit smaller so I could handle it into my car for demonstrations. The project was a little more advanced than I typically do, but it is functional despite some less than perfect dovetail joints.

-- David Bignell

View ksSlim's profile


1304 posts in 3940 days

#11 posted 02-21-2012 01:26 AM

We have a beautiful antique tool chest that arrived in this country in the mid 1700s. Its in use as a coffee table/Magazine storage. I prefer to have my hand tools stored near or under the bench. I presume that in yesteryear, some of craftsman’s work was done “on site” as opposed to in the shop, ergo the need for somewhat portable tool storage.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View David's profile


172 posts in 3893 days

#12 posted 02-21-2012 02:45 AM

I have not read his book yet but plan to in the future. From the short video he posted seen here: and from reading his blogs, this is my take on it.

This is more of an enlightenment as to really what a wood worker needs. A shop full of pricey, expensive, one use tools, not, a simple box full of carefully selected tools, yes. For centuries woodworkers used these same tools and produced great work. To me that is all the book is about. Fill the need for tools not the want.

Also in the video you see that for each days work the tools have a place on the bench at close range. If you have your own shop, then really tool storage and this chest is unnecessary, just leave the tools on the bench, lol. Why put them away if no one is in your shop to steal them. Back in the day the chests were a means of securing your tools also, not just storage. They were the JoBox’s of there time.

-- “Don’t tell me what can’t be done, tell me what you want done then shut up and get out of my way and let me do it!”

View HorizontalMike's profile


7915 posts in 3964 days

#13 posted 02-21-2012 02:55 AM

Thank you Loren, I believe that your interpretation is balanced spot on. OR, we could all just obsess about our own little niche hobby as if nothing exists outside of it. ;-)

BTW, there is reason behind Yin and Yang, IMO.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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Jorge G.

1537 posts in 3525 days

#14 posted 02-21-2012 03:08 AM

I use pelican cases. Water proof, air tight, sturdy as hell and I won’t sit on the sidewalk and cry if one of my workers or someone else on site puts a scratch on them.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 4033 days

#15 posted 02-21-2012 06:39 AM

i like the schwarze, but i prefer my tools in drawers or on the wall.but if you’ve got to go to job sites, then this box would be handy. or it’s just a good excersie in making something;and then sell it.

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