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The 1839 School Box (Small Tool Chest)

author-gravatar joelav Jun 09, 2016

This project is based on the School Box described in the fictional novel "The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker" (available from Lost Art Press).  Plans are available from Popular Woodworking Magazine. This was a hand tool build and a lot of fun. It's a small but very useful tool chest built in a traditional English tool chest style. 

This project can be made with only hand tools, and only a few of them at that. A couple saws, a jack plane, a hammer, and a couple chisels is really all that's needed. 

The completed box. clear pine with a milk paint finish.   I used the Old Fashioned Milk Paint brand paint in the Driftwood color

Inside is finished with shellac.

Chamfered moldings on the top and bottom.

Inside I have some extra squares, dovetail markers and veneering supplies.

I also keep my X-Acto kit (mostly used to cut  veneer) and my box where i keep hardware such as hinges.

Here is where it all begins. If you have a local lumber mill, go pay them a visit. If you are unsure, check around in your area

12 feet long and 10" wide of clear pine. These boards are rough, but at 1.00/board foot they are a good value

Once home I determine my cut layout. Another great thing about buying locally dried and stored lumber is it is already acclimated to my climate. I can start working it right away.

Cross cut for the sides. The chest is about 15 x 10, and 9 3/4" tall.  I have a 20" piece and a 30" piece. I did it this way based on the defects in the board so jointing would be easier 

Here i am checking the lumber with winding sticks. It's not terrible. 

I start at it with my heavy set Stanley No5, then joint it flat. Once flat I plane it to final thickness (3/4")      

I then joint an edge using my long jointer. Yes, the handle is offset to one side on purpose. I am left handed, so it is offset to the left. with my right hand on the front right corner, I have a natural tendency to keep the plane at 90 degrees. 

I use a panel gauge to mark the final width. Since there wasn't much material, I didn't bother ripping it. I just removed the material with a plane

The carcass parts are cross cut to final dimensions and squared up using a bench hook

Here I layout the dovetails. I am using 14 degree dovetails, and approximately even sized pins and tails. These dovetails are for strength not show. 

The plans (and details in the book) suggesting cutting the dovetails pins first. I prefer cutting tails first when the dovetails aren't tiny. This is my in-depth how to on cutting dovetails

I like to reinforce my gauge line with a knife before chiseling

Chisel the waste. Again for more detail, click here for the dovetail article 

I transfer the location of the tails onto the pin board with a marking knife, and repeat for the other 3 corners    

I then cut the pins carefully    

After I saw the waste out, I clean up the baselines with a sharp chisel. When dealing with softwoods, the sharper the better

The test fit shows these will be good.   

I then smooth the inside before assembly. Notice how quickly pine oxidizes. The right was just smoothed and the left is unplaned. This has only been sitting around for 2 days at this point - and no exposure to sunlight. 

I finish the inside with amber shellac. This step isn't necessary, but I like finishes on the insides of my boxes. Once finished I glue it up

This was hard. The plans call for the shelf divider to cut after assembly. The Japanese panel saw was a lifesaver here. I use the saw to establish the walls of the stopped dado, then remove the waste from the center with a chisel. The router plane was too large to fit. I then repeat on the other side

I then cut the shelf piece to size .Fits good. Enough. I could have done a better job cleaning the housing joints. The bottom is simply nailed on with cleats underneath.  

These pieces will be the bottom and the moldings around the lid and box bottom. Same process as milling the sides, but 1/2" final thickness.  

The bottom is attached with glue and nails. Once attached the piece is rigid enough to plane the outside.  This will be painted so I am not going to give it quite the same level of attention I would give a piece getting a clear finish

Once smoothed I nailed the molding on. I didn't get into how I made the molding because it is a personal thing. I'd recommend buying some inexpensive molding if you want something fancy, or you can simply plane a chamfer on some 1/2" stock like I did here. For reference, it's 1 1/2" tall

Milk paint goes from "holy crap, what have I done!!!??!" to "man, that's a nice finish". Instead of detailing how I applied it, check out Sean's video. This is pretty much the process I used. The final finish is boiled linseed oil

The lid is 3/4" thick with a molding. To allow for wood movement, only apply glue to the center of the molding. I drilled holes in the molding that were a tiny bit larger than the 6D finish nails I was using, then drove them in. This will let the lid move a little if it needs to. I would recommend not gluing the miters if you are worried about wood movement in your climate. Personally I'd rather have gaps develop at the miter than have the top warp or split. 

Molding done and the lid fits perfect

The lid is painted and the hinges are installed. Once it's oiled, this box is complete

Completed box! This is a great design and can be easily scaled up or down to suit your needs. It was one of the most enjoyable builds i have done. 

1 comment

Your local sawmill looks awesome. My local sawmill doesnt have anywhere near that much lumber.

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