Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Tool Cabinet v4.0

I have finally quit mucking about and jumped into "Tool Cabinet v4.0" with both feet. This is where I was at last week, with more planes already added and other mounts on the bench that are close to completion.

As you can see, I've stripped everything out of two of the three display areas and have started putting it all back together yet again. Having spent two years analyzing my last three attempts at this, not to mention having analyzed photos of God knows how many other woodworkers' tool cabinets, I have a fair idea of what I want now and an almost equally fair idea regarding how to get it.

My thing with tools is that I get a kick out of their design. Some I think are brilliant, and some not so much, but either way, I like to look at them just as much as I like using them. This, as it turns out, is the main criteria for what I am looking for when it comes to a tool storage cabinet that I can be happy with. I also had to figure out if getting what I wanted meant starting again from scratch, or simply modifying what I have to make it work.

To give you a better idea of where I am coming from, let me give you some of my thoughts regarding a  cabinet and a chest that are currently all the rage.

Christopher Schwarz, thankfully, has brought the old tool chest back to its rightful place. Each of the many that he has made over the past few years are ready, willing and able to haul his tools wherever his livelihood takes him, or just keeping them all together in one spot in his shop. I'm not knocking him for pursuing a chest over a cabinet as I am sure he chose what works best for him. The thing is, while this style of tool storage works well for him and many others, it would be a disaster for me. This is because I neither travel with my tools, nor have a workshop, but more importantly, I collected my tools not only to use, but also for the pure joy of having them around. Hiding them away in a chest, in or out of a shop, would wipe out half of the enjoyment I bought them for in the first place. I think a chest is a fine answer to a specific purpose, but neither the chest, nor its purpose are a good fit for me.

The next most popular style I think has to be emulating Henry O. Studley's wall-hung tool cabinet. Lets face it, that is one beautiful piece of workmanship, but after looking at all the photos and videos of it, plus reading everything there is out there describing it, I came to the conclusion that it too wasn't for me. I also realized that my biggest mistake with my previous three attempts at making my cabinet work was that I too tried to emulate ol' Henry's work. The hardest part of getting to this conclusion was getting past the bling. Once I accomplished that, I was able to take a good look at his cabinet for what it is, a storage container for his tools. The bottom line is, ol' Henry built this cabinet so he could store his tools under lock and key when he went home at night. He did it in a blaze of glory, but once I got my head around this fact, it was easy to understand why his style of cabinet didn't work for me. The reason I came to this conclusion is simple; I can see there are three layers of tools in his cabinet, but damned if I know what any of them are below the top layer, and therein lies the rub.

There are a number of others that I looked at, but these two stand out as the best examples of what I don't want. The best example of tool storage that I do want is the wall-mounted set-up done by Steve Branam, over on the Close Grain blog. His tools are laid out in the best organized plan I have ever seen. He has full sight of each tool and accessing them is simply a matter of snatching and grabbing whichever one he wants. While the style of his set-up is something I would like to emulate, the problem I have with it is that I don't want to use an entire wall to do it. 

After analyzing everything in sight I was finally able to put together a short set of simple guidelines that outlined what I wanted.
  • I need a cabinet to hold all my tools
  • I want to be able to see each tool in its entirety.
  • I want each tool displayed at its best
  • I want to be able to access each tool quickly and easily

This, at first, caused me some problems as I realize that while my existing cabinet is large enough to hold all the tools I own, they all can't be displayed. That, to me, was a real shame, but then I realized what I said in the third paragraph of this post; I think the design of some of my tools are brilliant and some, not so much. Deciding which tools to house in the open display and which to display in the drawers was the key to creating a cabinet that I can be happy with. I also realized that displaying the tools hidden away was as easy as leaving the drawers open, so even the problems I came up with weren't as serious as I once thought they were.

Once I got a grip on what I wanted, I had to decide whether or not to start from scratch, or give what I had another go. The cabinet I have is made from ¾" marine-grade mahogany plywood. Marine-grade plywood doesn't have any voids between its layers so there is no place for moisture to collect. Add mahogany's ability to resist rot and you end up with material that should, under normal conditions, last a lifetime and more. The design is based on Henry Studley's and Norm Abram's wall hanging cabinets, but with my own twist. The main cabinet is 36" wide with a 36" by 36" by 5½" deep open display area on top and a 30" high by 24" deep drawer cabinet underneath. The open display area has two hinged display areas as well, each being 36" high by 18" wide by 4" deep. The thing is mounted on four heavy-duty casters and is made to roll through a standard door. Because the dimensions of this cabinet are as large as I can go, I realized that I was in for another remake.

When I built the cabinet I had yet to make the switch from power tools to muscle tools, so the number of hand tools I owned was limited. The image below shows the cabinet in its original configuration.

Once I was infected by the vintage tool bug, I started vigorously adding to my collection, forcing the original layout to become obsolete as it just didn't allow enough room for the newer additions. I then rebuilt the inside of the display areas to hold what I had, but sadly, I didn't take any photos of it.

That second rebuild lasted about two years before I ran out of room. I then rebuilt it for the third time, the image below showing the results of that third build.

It wasn't long before I had gone beyond the third rebuild's capabilities and since then I have had tools stored hither and yon throughout my office, most of which I can't see at a glance. I also realized that another serious problem had arisen because of my tool storage problem. Because it became such a hassle, loaded with frustration, finding and rounding up the tools I required for a project, I simply stopped taking on projects. Because I couldn't look at the tools easily, nor was I using them, I started to consider selling them, and that is when I realized I had better get my act together.

So the key to all of this is figuring out which tools to store in the open display areas and which to put into the drawers. My first choice was simple; my planes. I then had to figure out the best way to display each, so again, I started with the easiest choice, the bench planes.

The beauty of bench planes is their simplicity in design, but where they really shine is when they are displayed together. Each is a smaller version of the larger, and when they are lined up to accentuate their differences, I think they are a joy to behold. The result of this is seen in the photo below. I have added the rest of the set since taking this photo, but I think what I have here gives you the basic idea.

The mounts shown in the photos are not completed yet, but they are close. Each is made up of  two ³⁄₈" pieces of walnut glued together with opposing grains for strength. As you all have probably seen this type of mount a thousand times before, I'll just add a line drawing of their dimensions so you know how they work. I will mention here that the bottom layer is planed to the thickness required, depending on the plane it is made to hold while the top layer remains its full ³⁄₈". The bottom mounts are sized to allow 2" of space between the bottom of the plane and the top of the drawer cabinet, allowing room to swing the planes into place. There are ³⁄₈" wide by 1" deep walnut strips running down both sides of each plane that are to act as registers, minimizing the effort needed to thread the planes back into their mounts while reducing the chance of damage to their neighbours during the process.

These are the simple mounts, but they will become more complex as I work through the group. I am currently working on the mounts for my Stanley No. 71. These mounts are a tad more complicated on their own, but made even more-so because the bottom mount for the 71 is also the top mount for the Stanley No. 8, which is mounted below it. That will be an important part of the design; having one plane mount flow into another, giving an organic feel to the layout.

All the mounts will be made from solid stock black walnut, a tip of the hat to my old man who loved this species of wood. Because the backs of the display areas are so full of holes from the previous configurations, I'll create the layout for each display area, then remove everything and re-skin the inside of each area completely with black walnut veneer. Before I started adding mounts I taped kraft paper to the back panel so I can draw an outline of each mount. I will use this as a guide to make it easier to put the mounts back in their proper positions once the veneer is in place.

So that is about it for now. I am trying to work a little bit each day on this so I should have more to show within the week.