Friday, 31 October 2008

Move over Mr. Studley...


This is where I currently stand with my tool cabinet after about three months into my third attempt at reconfiguring it.

The entire cabinet is made from marine grade mahogany plywood. There are no nails or screws whatsoever in it as it was constructed using splines, biscuits and epoxy. It is all butt jointed but where the end grain of the plywood was going to be exposed the abutting panel was routed, leaving a 3/4" lip of the mahogany veneer. That veneer covered the end grains when the panels were assembled giving an almost mitered appearance to the joints. Hand tools go in these three upper sections and the flat below is actually a fold-out bench with leather inlay on the work surfaces. Below that is a drawer and below the drawer is a cabinet. This part was originally intended for power hand tools but I will reconfigure it for my wooden molding planes as my collection warrants the taking over of the space.

All the outer surfaces were stained with an alcohol based stain then the entire cabinet, inside and out, was given multiple coats of epoxy sealer. I brushed on three coats of spar varnish on top of the epoxy sealer and try to add another coat every year. In a couple of years I will have built up enough coats to allow me to give the entire cabinet a serious sanding without worrying about breaking through the finish. It will be more about finishing the finish then finishing the wood. Having rebuilt a wood boat previously, I know how quickly wood can rot in a damp environment. Given that this was going to be sitting on my balcony for who knew how long, I took every precaution I could to ensure it was going to last.

My first attempt at outfitting the interior still remains in the right door. I used poplar and teak for these chisel racks, making the double rack configuration that opens to access the chisels both on the racks, and those mounted to the interior of the cabinet door. While it works quite well, there are a few things I find that could be improved. First, I used 3/4" poplar for the rack frames which I think is overkill, too heavy in appearance and a waste of space. All the rack frames I am building now use 1/2" walnut. I also think, if the rack is properly built with weight and stress taken into account, one large rack would be more appropriate, especially when it comes to saving space. A major draw-back to this design is that I cannot access any chisels at all without opening the double racks first. I like and need to be able to have two layers in the door but I think if the outer rack held the more commonly used chisels and was accessible without having to open it, things would be a little more convenient. Finally, and the biggest problem with the first design is that there is no room for additions. I am currently assembling a set of vintage Stanley 40 chisels to replace my Home Depot bought Irwin blue handles. With the existing set-up, I can mount the Stanleys or the Irwins, but not both as there is no room for a additional rack. I'd like to keep both sets, the Stanleys for fine work and the Irwins to beat on when needed but for now, as I pick up a Stanley the same sized Irwin has to go in the drawer.

The center section was a catastrophe from the beginning. First, I mounted the planes parallel to the back of the cabinet instead of at right-angle to it. What a waste of space. I used end brackets for each plane instead of a flat and every time I went to put a plane back I kept missing the mounts causing the one I was returning to smack the one mounted below it. I didn't damage any of them but time could only change that. Again, another problem with this section was that I didn't allow for new additions.

This section now has two racks that hinge open and, because this area of the cabinet is 4 1/2" deep, it will allow tools to be mounted on both sides of the racks and on the cabinet wall behind. This will give three layers of tools for more than enough room to expand the collection. While I need wood to mount to, I have tried to keep it to a minimum for two reasons. First, when a tool is deeper than the depth of the remaining area, I can mount it in such a way as to project through the rack. An example of this is the knob that displays above the old Yankee screwdriver in the center-left panel. This is the knob of a Veritas Pullshave which stands quite proud of the rear wall of the cabinet but projects through the rack without a problem. The other reason for keeping the wood to a minimum is just to be able to see the tools behind adding visual interest to the display.

Speaking of the Yankee screwdriver, this was another tool I inherited from my father. I haven't used it in years and I doubt I ever will because hand tools or no hand tools, I love my cordless screwgun. When I was a kid, though, that Yankee was a cordless screwgun and I used it all the time, much to my father's chagrin. I caught the devil over that tool more times than all the other tools he owned combined simply because I didn't care for it properly. I have it mounted front and center of this cabinet to remind me that I should respect the tools and care for them properly.

The left door is a combination of leftovers from my second attempt at reconfiguring the cabinet and a reject from my third attempt. The screwdriver rack was my first forté into making dovetails without the use of a router and jig. It turned out all right, but not great. The problem I had with the results wasn't so much the quality of the work but what it holds. As someone who appreciates the look of a tool as much as using it, screwdrivers are a real problem for me. The square drive screw is actually a Canadian invention but didn't become popular in the States until the inventor's patent ran out. I haven't ran into a vintage set of Canadian screwdrivers and I think that is probably because there weren't any way back when. There are not any square drives (we call them Robertson) in the American vintage sets I have found simply because they were not used in the States. I searched high and low for a good quality contemporary set but none struck me as worth the money so I settled on a set of Fuller's simply because they are Canadian. My problem was, when I finished the rack for them and mounted it, the screwdrivers were front and center and they were ugly, cheap looking things compared to the other tools around them. I moved the rack over to the left door temporarily and have started to make the new racks for this door now.

Because the planes in the main panel project beyond the cavity I need to leave room for them to project into this left door. To accommodate that I will only have a double layer of tools in the top half. The screwdriver rack will be against the rear wall of the door and a hinged rack with pliers, side-cutters, etc. will be in front of them so I won't have to look at them as much. Below that will be an area for mid-depth tools, things like my Stanley 12 scraper and one of my mallets. Below that will be drill indexes for all the drill bits I have, forstner, brad, twist, speed and plug cutters.

Now my pride and joy.

Originally, I built the saw till as a plywood box with 3/8" dividers between the saws. It was accessible from both ends and held six saws. My thoughts for designing it this way was so I could remove it with all the saws stored in it and move it to the odd jobsite that I work at now and again. First, it was way too heavy to be really portable and on top of that, it only held six saws. Once I got into this hand saw stuff I realized I needed seven; a full-sized rip, a full-sized cross, a smaller panel cross with a finer cut, a large back saw, a small backsaw and a cross and rip dovetail saw. I came up with this idea and checked with woodnut4 for his advice and ended up with what you see above. It works great and looks fantastic as it displays all the saws in all their glory.

So that's what I'm about right now - a tool cabinet. I want to learn how to use hand tools properly and realize there is a lot more to learn than meets the eye. To do this, I couldn't think of a better project to work on while I learn than the tool cabinet itself. What I am looking for is a more contemporary looking Studley styled cabinet with emphasis on the tools, not on what holds them.

Peace,

Mitchell