(I like) Drawer Bottoms (and I cannot lie)

In my last post I wrote about dovetailing the three sliding trays for the tool chest. Once the glue had cured on the dovetailed assemblies the next task was to fit the floors to each of the trays. As instructed in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, I used 6mm thick oak for the drawer bottoms as this is strong (allowing thin stock to be used) and hardwearing. Fitting the bottoms became quite interesting however, as the nice chap at the saw mill was having a bit of a nightmare when he cut my stock to size and left it 100mm under length (no refunds provided for saw mill mistakes either, as it turns out) so I had to improvise a little.


My solution was to fix the (too short) floor boards from one end of each tray with 2d headless cut brads, the positions of which were stepped off with dividers and pilot holes drilled in the usual way. A small bead of Gorilla glue along the bottom edge of the tray side also held the bottoms in place. The 100mm shortfall at the end of the tray was filled with a further piece of oak with the grain running front to back (rather than end to end as with the long floor boards), also fixed in place with 2d headless cut brads and Gorilla Glue.


To prevent the unsecured ends of the long floor boards from flapping about or snapping under the weight of the tray’s contents, and also to divide the space up usefully, I then fitted some pine offcuts roughly 9″ from each end of the two shallow trays. These were nailed to the front and back of the trays as well as the floor boards, and with the dividers fitted the floor boards were rock solid,


The deeper tray will hold heavier items, and so I took a different approach with to ensure that the floor was suitably robust. At each end I used the same 6mm thick oak, with grain running front to back, while the rest of the floor was fitted out using 12mm pine, each piece roughly 100mm wide, also running front to back. The middle piece of flooring was 12mm thick oak to add an element of visual interest. A whisker of day light was left between each floor board to allow for seasonal movement.


With the floors in place I was able to give the trays a final fitting to the interior of the chest. Two of the three fitted perfectly without any adjustment, and the third required just a minor trim with a block plane before it would fit properly. The next step was to fit the drawer pulls, and these were placed by eye on the top tray until I found a position I was happy with. With the pulls fitted to the top tray, I laid out the pulls on the other two trays so that they would be directly in line with those on the top tray (taking into account the reduction in width for each subsequent tray). I also fitted to the top tray a Saddle Sling from Sterling Tool Works to hold my dovetail marker.


The final step was to lubricate the tray sides to ensure that they continue to move smoothly without too much wear or friction. I mixed up some soft paste wax from bees wax, white spirit, and turps (to a recipe very kindly provided by Derek Jones of New English Workshop). This was my first experience mixing up a wax from scratch, but following Derek’s instructions it proved to be a very straight forward process, and the trays move smoothly and virtually silently.

Sliding Trays… and dovetails

Followers of my Instagram feed will know that the tool chest is now finished, although I am a couple of blog posts behind at the moment. The next stage of the build was to construct the three sliding trays which will hold the smaller tools not appropriate to sit on the floor of the chest (with my planes) or in the moulding plane corral or saw till. All three trays are made out of 1/2″ thick pine and dovetailed at the corners, with hardwearing oak bottoms. All three are 9″ deep, and the top two trays are 2 3/4″ tall, while the bottom tray is 5 1/2″ tall.

The most important dimension when preparing the stock for the trays is the width of the front and back pieces. The trays must be tight fitting inside the chest so as to avoid binding. I appreciate that this sounds counterintuitive, but if there is any slack in the trays they will twist and bind on their runners. So as with the other pieces which needed to be friction fit on the internal fit out of the chest, I prepared the stock for all three trays over length, and then trimmed with my 9 1/9 low angle block plane until all the pieces fitted snuggly on their respective runners.

Now, there comes a time on every woodworking blog where the author feels the need to write a detailed post on how to hand cut dovetail joints. So far I have resisted following the trend (how many more posts on this topic does the internet really need, right?), but this appears to be a prime opportunity to succumb to the inevitable. So here goes…


The dovetails are orientated with the tails on the sides of the trays, and pins on the front and back pieces. This helps the trays resist racking forces when pulled and pushed along their runners. I cut my tails first, and my initial step whenever dovetailing is to mark the base line on all sides of my tail boards using a marking gauge set to the full width of the work piece. I then cut a shallow rebate (or rabbet, depending on which side of the pond you are from) of no more than 1/8″ on the inside face of tail boards using a Veritas skew rabbet plane (although a large shoulder plane would do at a pinch). This rebate has a number of purposes, which will be come clear further down.


Numbers frighten me (I am but a simple construction lawyer, after all) so instead of calculating the correct width or my dovetails and pins I prefer to step them off using dividers. As a starting point, the width of the half tail at each end of the work piece is always equivalent to half the thickness of the workpiece. With that dimension marked on, I then adjust the dividers until I can fit the correct numbers of tails and pins between the two half pins (each span of the divider should equate to a tail and a pin). Easy.


With the number and position of the tails pricked out using my dividers, I then mark on the detail using the excellent Saddle Square by Sterling Tool Works, being sure to clearly cross hatch the waste to be removed (no one wants to chop off their tails, but everyone has done it once). For all my marking out operations when cutting dovetails I use a mechanical pencil loaded with 0.3mm lead – this lead is fine enough to drop right into the kerf of a marking knife or gauge, and makes for a very accurate line.


I also prefer to gang-cut my tail boards wherever possible. Here the two tail boards for a tray are placed back to back and the tails cut with my 10″ Bad Axe Doc Holliday dovetail saw. After gang cutting 1″ thick southern yellow pine tail boards for the tool chest carcase, cutting 1/2″ thick white pine was no challenge at all, and the saw slipped through the stock like butter.


The waste is then sawn out from between the tails using a coping saw, cutting as close to the base line as possible (the saw of the coping blade drops down into the kerf left by the dovetail saw very easily).


Instead of using a coping saw to remove the waste from the half pins at each side of the tail board, I use my Bad Axe 12″ carcase saw to cut down the baseline and remove the waste. This saw is finely toothed and leaves a glassy surface which requires no additional cleanup on these cuts.


The sockets between the tails are then cleaned up, paring what little waste remains back to the baseline using a sharp chisel and mallet (I use a 16oz mallet by Blue Spruce Toolworks), with special attention given to removing any junk from the corners under the tails. When paring, I start from the front of the piece, and pare to halfway through the thickness of the piece before flipping over and finishing off from the back. This prevents any blowout on the back edge, and also keeps the floor of the tail board perfectly flat. The edge of the rebate cut into the back edge of the tail board also gives the chisel a vertical surface to register against when paring.


With the tail board complete, it is next a matter of transferring the layout to the pin board, and this is where the rebate on the tail board comes into its own. First off I mark out the  base line on the pin boards, although unlike with the tail boards, the base line is the thickness of the tails and not the thickness of the full work piece. For this reason, I prefer to keep two marking gauges handy when dovetailing – a Titemark gauge and the lovely cocobolo 4″ marking gauge made for me by Jeff Hamilton.


Fixing the pin board in the vise, I lay the tail board on top, and secure it in place with a weight (usually my bench plane). The rebate registers against the pin board and stops the tail board from shifting during the layout process. I then use a Blue Spruce small marking knife to mark the position of the tails onto the top edge of the pin board. Removing the tail board, the position of the pins can be marked down to the baseline using the Sterling Tool Works Saddle Square, and marking knife, and then all knife lines marked in with a fine pencil. It is then a case of sawing and chopping the waste as before. One of the best tips I have received on dovetailing was from Chris Schwarz, who firmly advocates cutting the pins a thousandth of an inch to the waste side of the line to ensure a nice tight joint (apparently the Aussies refer to this unit of measurement as a “bees’ dick“, who knew?!). Sawing to one side of the line rather than on the line takes some practice, but this has definitely improved my dovetails.


The final step is to gently chamfer the inside corners of the tails (leaving the first 1/8″ of each corner un-chamfered) to ease assembly, and then gluing up. I hammer my dovetails together with a rubber deadblow mallet. Ordinarily I would check dovetail assemblies for square, and clamp up while the glue dries. Here I was less concerned that the trays were square than I was that they were the same shape as the interior of the tool chest. Accordingly, once the trays were assembled and the excess glue cleaned away, I wedged each of them onto their runners in the chest so that they would conform to the shape of the chest (which is not perfectly square). Because I had deliberately made the trays quite snug, the chest acted as a large clamp while the glue cured.

At all good news agents now!


Issue 227 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking landed on my doorstep this morning, which means it should also be hitting the high street shortly.  My latest article, on parallel skills, is featured at pages 47 and 48, along with excellent articles by my good friend Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage Woodworks, and the legendary Jeff Miller. It is always a buzz seeing my writing in print, and to be included in the same issue as makers of such high renown and talent as Jason and Jeff is a real honour.

If that wasn’t enough incentive to pick up a copy, my article also includes a lovely photo of Clive Elliott choking me out. Now who could resist that?

Anarchist’s Tool Chest on the Run(ners)

The major lesson Chris Schwarz teaches in Anarchist’s Tool Chest is “disobey me”, and I accepted the invitation to do just this when I was planning the internal layout for my tool chest. Not that I have departed radically from what Schwarz built in the book. But because I wanted all three trays to be able to slide the full depth of the chest, I lowered the height of the saw till by a couple of inches so that the runner for the lowest tray runs across the side of the chest from front to back. Having lowered the saw till, I then decided that the posts on which the runners rest would be best placed in each corner of the chest, rather than using one of the cleats which secure the saw till.

But I am getting ahead of myself, so let me explain how I went about fitting the saw till, moulding plane corral, and runners.


In my last post I have finished building the saw till and moulding plane corral, and now needed to fit them to the chest. Before I did so, I cut from 1″ square pine four 11″ posts exactly to length, and nailed these into each corner of the chest using 4d fine finish standard cut nails. These posts establish the datum for the runners to rest on.


From the same 1″ pine I also cut four 9″ long cleats to secure the saw till in place. Clamping two cleats to the saw till wall, I drilled pilot holes and nailed the cleats to the side of the chest, again using 4d cut nails. The cleats at the other end of the saw till were installed using the same method, and although the saw till was rock solid at this point I also screwed the top of each till to the front of the chest with a 1″ No.8 brass screw, which I countersunk into the till to avoid scratching my saws.


The moulding plane corral was secured in exactly the same way, although the cleats were significantly shorter than those used to hold the saw till in place.


4d fine finish standard nails (left) and 2d headless brads (right)

The tool chest will have three sliding trays, the top two of which will be 2 3/4″ deep, and the bottom being 5.5″ deep. The runners for the trays are made of hardwearing oak, with the bottom runner being 1″ square, the middle runner being 1/2″ thick and the top 1/4″ thick. I had previously cut these over length so that I could fine tune the fit when installing them. The ends were trimmed with my No. 9 1/2 low angle block plane (which really excels at trimming difficult end grain) until the runners just dropped into the chest and held with a friction fit.


Each runner rests on the one below it, with the bottom runner sitting on the posts at each corner of the chest. So starting at the bottom I then installed each runner, drilling pilot holes for the nails before gluing the joining surfaces, pressing into place, and driving home the cut nails. The glue should be sufficient to hold the runners in place for many years to come, so the nails are used firstly as a means of providing clamping force while the glue dries, and also in case the glue fails a long time in the future. If you don’t have suitable nails then go bars could also be used to clamp the runners, and this is something I may write about in the future. On the bottom runners I used 4d cut nails; one at each end and one in the middle, while the other runners were fixed with 2d cut nails; three along each of the top and bottom edges.

At this point the chest is looking like a real tool chest, and only the three sliding trays are left to build before I can call this project done and start transferring my tools into it (which I am greatly looking forward to doing).

(Saw) Till Death Do Us Part

As I alluded to in my last post I’m currently working away from home, which means that I am getting significantly less workshop time that I usually would. That not withstanding, I am continuing to make progress on my Anarchist’s Tool Chest build, albeit at a slower rate than I ordinarily would like.

With the exterior of the chest now milk painted and lacquered, I have turned my attention to the internal fit out of the chest, starting with the saw till and moulding plane corral. Having stocked up with plenty of pine and oak from my favourite local timber yard, I set to it.


The saw till is comprised of three pieces; a dividing wall which separates the saw till from the main body of the chest, and the two tills, and I used 1″ thick pine for all three of these. The wall was glued up from two pieces which I jointed with my trusty No.5 jack plane and intentionally left over length. While the glue was drying on the wall I made the till pieces. These were cut to exact size (3 5/8″ wide, and 9″ tall), and have four slots, which hold the saws, running from the top edge to 4″ above the base. The position of the slots were laid out using dividers, which saved me having to do any maths. I then cut guide kerfs for each slot on the band saw.


Before I brought the slots to final width, I shaped the top of the till pieces. As with the saw slots, this was done by eye; setting a compass at the mid point of the top edge and tracing a semi circle starting 1/2′ from each edge. After trying a couple of different radiuses I found something which was pleasing to the eye and would allow me to pull any one saw out of the till without getting tangled up with the others. The bulk of the waste was hogged out with a coping saw, and the shape taken down to the line with my Auriou 9 grain cabinet maker’s rasp and 13 grain modellers rasp.


I don’t have a plough plane at present (a shocking omission, I know) which would have been my first choice for cutting the slots in the till pieces, nor do I have a router. What I do have however is a Dremel with a router base, which I normally use for cutting inlay recesses on guitars, and a 1/8″ router bit. Double sided sticky tape secured a piece of oak to the till for use as a guide, and I cut the slots with the Dremel. This was predictably slow going as the Dremel is only powerful enough to take very shallow passes at a time, and left a more ragged edge than a router would have. But the end result is good enough for holding saws, and I can always replace the tills with cleaner cut pieces if I want in the future.

With the tills shaped and slotted, I broke the wall piece out of the clamps and cleaned up the glue line using my jack plane. To fit the wall I trimmed each end with a No.9 1/2 low angle block plane until the wall was just short enough to drop inside the chest and wedge securely. The saw till will be held in place with cleats, but I want everything to be friction fit as far as possible to avoid any movement. Once the wall fitted across the width of the chest nice and snugly, I screwed the tills to the wall using four No.8 1.5″ brass screws per till, each countersunk to avoid the heads scratching my tools.


Testing the saw till with my 16″ Bad Axe tenon saw

The wall of the moulding plane corral was made from a 1/2″ thick piece of pine which, as with the saw till wall, was cut over length and trimmed with a block plane until it wedged securely across the width of the chest. With the moulding plane corral, the key dimensions are the height of the wall, so that it supports the plane wedges, and also the distance between the wall and the back of the chest, so that the moulding planes can stand on end in the corral. I don’t have any moulding planes yet, but was planning to order some from Philly Planes next year. To make sure that my moulding plane corral fits his planes, I took the liberty of emailing Phil to ask if he could confirm the dimensions to which I needed to build. I was surprised (not to mention very grateful) to receive only a couple of days later not just the dimensions but a full moulding plane sketch with all key dimensions marked out. This level of service towards someone who is not yet a customer is above and beyond the call of duty, and I am very much looking forward to ordering a set of moulding planes from Phil at my earliest opportunity.

In my next post I will talk about fitting the saw till, moulding plane corral, and tray runners to the chest.