Toolbox build #2: Paths taken, paths not taken


In the last part, I felt I had worked myself into a corner with the toolbox build. The design I was working under used the underside of the toolbox lid as a storage spot for my handsaws. While this is a perfectly acceptable idea, my ryoba saw is over half a meter long. This made the lid even longer than half a meter, the box longer still -- almost 77cm! I certainly could make the toolbox that big, but it'd be a monster to move around.

After thinking about it for a very, very long time, I came to a few decisions.

There's a lot to be said of "form over function", but ultimately I find it a balancing act. If something is completely functional, but has no form, it's not a pleasure to use. If something has excellent form, but it's function is terrible or nearly unusable, it might as well be an objet d'art. You need some form, but it has to give fair consideration to function as well.

Keeping the toolbox at the full 77cm length would be all function, no form. Shrinking it down to a comfortably petite 60cm or less would make it a chore to store the saw, requiring me to either disassemble it, or buy a new, smaller saw. While that remains an option, I didn't want to unnecessarily constrain my future choices for this particular toolbox.

I went back to the drawing board completely, looking at different wooden toolboxes. Many included a saw till in the lid, but used a Western style hinged lid. Japanese toolboxes have a unique lid that rests inside the toolbox, hanging over two stretchers that rest on the front and back edges of the box. A wedged "key" is used to secure the box so it doesn't pop open. I really liked the integrated saw till idea, but I had set out to make a Japanese-inspired toolbox, and felt I needed to stick to it.

As such, the recommended length of the box would be the length of the longest saw, plus some additional length to account for the inset of the sides. This inset is later used to create a cavity where handles can be added. Even accepting this, the box just felt too long... In the end, I settled for 66cm. This would allow the saw to be stored inside the box without disassembly, only diagonally. It was a compromise, but I felt a good one.

The length wasn't the only decision I made. Since the start of this project, I was hoping to make a drawer for the toolbox. Originally, I wanted to use that for saw storage, but then decided to make a half-length drawer to store chisels. The half-length drawer could create a deeper "tool well" inside the box for storage fo bulkier items.

It's still a good idea, but I decided not to pursue it this time. As I started to assemble the box, I began running into where my skills in this field ended and where concrete reality began. Creating a drawer of any length would increase the amount of time it would take to complete this project, and I wasn't entirely sure my skills were up to the task. In fact, I was sure there weren't.

I had to take another step back and look at what I was doing. Was I building my one and only toolbox for all time? Most likely not. Indeed, if I keep up with this hobby, I'm sure that years from now I'll see the result as emphatic but amateurish. There's just so much I'm not good at here. The boards are only so square, the joints only so fitting. The fact I was building this out of recycled, warped, and twisted wall decoration didn't help in the slightest.

Sometimes you have to admit to yourself, you're gonna build another one.

Instead of focusing on features of the end result, I decided to look at this project through avenues of future growth. Making a drawer is out of my reach right now, but someday soon I may be able to make a tool tray or two. That would allow me to have a finished toolbox sooner, while growing future functionality (not to mention skills).

I keep meaning to write about my table-top workbench I built last year. I've been using it throughout this project, but there are several parts of it that need further refinement. One of which is the vise. Originally, I put a cheap, $20 vise on the front as a workholding device.Today, vises are a fixture of modern workshops, but they annoy me for some reason. Even though $20 is cheap, it's still something I have to buy, rather than make myself. They also become a kind of Golden Hammer in their own right, something else I'd rather avoid.

My vise has a wooden jaw attached to it with additional workholding options. It's easily one of the best features of the bench, but I used too small of screws to hold it in place. After months of use, the jaw just fell off. I could replace the screws with bigger ones easily enough, but it prompted me to experiment.

One evening I came across a clever alternative on YouTube. I would post a link, but the platform is full of all kinds of nastiness and I'd rather not feed their algorithms further. The work surface has an array of holes drilled into along a grid pattern. wooden pegs -- also called "bench dogs" or just "dogs" -- are used as stops to prevent items from moving around the work surface as force is applied. Unlike normal bench dogs, these were asymmetrical.

It never occurred to me to make an asymmetrical bench dog, but the advantages were obvious. By placing the pin that holds the dog to the work surface off-center, four different lengths of clamping could be achieved with one device. Since the forces are only transferred to the surface holding the pin, it being off-center makes no difference.

Since I was already tired from working on the toolbox, I didn't want to expend what strength I had left using hand tools. I walked out to the garage and quickly cut up and drilled some walnut with which to make the dogs. My few power tools are....not in the best of shape. My chop saw is out of square, and missing a few key safety features. My ancient Shop Smith from 1951 is set up as a drill press, but it too is crooked and cannot quite drill a straight hole.

Insert joke about the tools reflecting their owner here.

Nevertheless, it was true enough for this project, so I made a set of four. The dogs alone are only half the solution. You need to apply force against them in order for them to act as a workholding device. Yet, the dogs have no moving parts. There are two ways to solve this sans vise:

  • Use a wedge to apply transverse force between two dogs and the item being held.
  • Create a specialty bench dog with a moving part that can apply a transverse force on demand.

I haven't made that part yet, but I probably will as this project continues.

So finally, we have a box. I can even put tools in it, but it's not quite finished yet. Sometimes it's good to take a step back from your project and reconsider what you're doing. Often, I found that I get tripped up by the speed of thought compared to real implementation. This is exacerbated by the fact I work with computers, where the pacing of implementation can be considerably faster.

Next up is to make the handles and finalize the lid. Then this project can be finally put to use.

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