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Design of a machinist's tool chest

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  • Design of a machinist's tool chest

    So I'm in the throws of making up a few wooden Christmas presents and while going through my collection of wood I came across some really fine slow growth quarter grain hemlock stock. You'd have to see this stuff. It may be hemlock, which is pretty pedestrian, but the slow grown 20 to 24 growth rings per inch and all really nice quarter grain raises the bar to something very unique and classy.

    Anyway, I was thinking of yet another box with some sort of lid inlay as a gift when it suddenly hit me that it's about time I made something for my own enjoyment. And I've easily got more than enough to make a really nice machinist's chest.... for ME ! ! !

    So... I figured right away to just do a chest with the usual opening lid on the top and big cavity up there. But part of me is thinking that I might do it just as just all drawers with no top lid. And when I do an image search for "wooden machinist's chest" I'd say about 20% of the images I get back show this style with no top lid and compartment. Part of what is attracting me to the "no lid" option is that then I can do the sides, top and bottom from one long plank and dovetail the sides to the top and bottom for a nice sturdy and artsy crafty look.

    This won't be used for the usual mechanic's tools at all. It's intended as a home for all my measurement gear used on the machine tools and surface plate and the nice combination square I've got which I think is mostly Brown and Sharpe from the colors I've seen floating around on old B&S squares.

    I'd be interested in your collective thoughts on pro vs con for the lift up lid and big top compartment. And what do you put in that big upper portion that could not go in a similarly deep drawer? I'm just wondering if there's something obvious that I'm missing.

    Right now the top compartment on my Kennedy chest holds the tool holders for the BXA size piston style tool post I've got... and hate.... So it won't be a big loss to shift that to a drawer in the lower unit.. or even right out of the shop altogether.....
    Last edited by BCRider; 12-07-2018, 08:10 PM.

  • #2
    Most of the tool boxes I own are the top lid type... and as sure as there are little green apples, every time I go to get something out of the top compartment I discover that one of the inconsiderate bozos in the shop has piled a bunch of junk on top of the tool chest. Since I work alone I know exactly who must have done it, so I have a serious word with myself about it, and I promise me that I won't do it again. But I always do... stupid git.

    I'd go with all drawers, but that's just me.


    • #3
      The top lid lets you hide your makeup mirror, ala Gerstner.


      • #4
        I have made a couple out of 2x12 oak plank that is 22x28x30. One sits on wheels and supports a very heavy cast iron surface plate. The other supports my 600+ pound mill drill and holds as much or more weight in tooling. Both have shallow drawers for the top 2 layers and then progressively deeper. Dovetails top to sides and sides to bottom are very strong, especially with morticed dividers in. With such a large case, the solid wood construction complicates the flush fit drawers as seasonal wood movement lets them close some of the time and stick out a bit sometimes even in my heated shop. Use deep tongue and groove joints for the large back if you don't use plywood.


        • #5
          If you have a lid, you can't use that space for anything. I'd say don't use a lid, go all drawers. Full extension ball bearing slides are nice.
          I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-


          • #6
            Whatever you do, do better than Gerstner, who do not (or at least did not) put any form of "stop" in place, so the drawers pull all the way out of the box very easily. That's a pain when you want something out of the back of the drawer, but you can't pull it out enough to get to the back unless you just take it all the way out and then look in it.

            Drawers need "stops" so they can be pulled out nearly all the way and not be in danger of falling on the floor.

            Keep eye on ball.
            Hashim Khan


            • #7
              If you like me, for some reason my box's keep getting filled. So with that in mind make a flat top. Then when it's fill simply make another to sit on top. If you take that route then make it beefy enough to hold another on top. Run some usb connectors in it.


              • #8
                I used to leave a few chests with top open. Usually put drawings against open lid. A few things standing up in the top part, that don't fitvthe drawers well. A block of Styrofoam with my fine dividers standing up right, a mini Chuck on a m1 taper and key beside it , use that a bit . A few drill and tap charts at the ready, my Dormer Tap handbook with conversion rables inside. A few pens.. things like that . small height guage.
                Re the pull out drawers I have at least a hundred different HSS square tools, that are easy to spot what might work if they are laid out not bad to be able to pull that drawer out .
                Build what you feel you need...


                • #9
                  Not to fear. I'm a huge fan of drawers with full extension slides. In fact full plus a bit are even better.

                  The idea of no top handle and a way to "stack" another smaller chest on top is something I may just build into the design. I hadn't considered that but it might just happen.

                  Gary P, this isn't an equipment stand or lower style cabinet. It's to replace the small Kennedy shown in the picture below that sits up on the raised shelf of the roller cabinet. It'll be purely for things like dial and test gauges, my small magnetic base, my micrometers, calipers, rulers, old style leg compasses and calipers and a couple of bits and bobs for the surface plate.

                  The lower roller cabinet is for the bulkier tooling for the lathe and shaper. Sorry about the clutter in the background. The picture makes the space between the upper chest and lower cabinet look like it's full of junk. But that's the oil, paint and solvent storage a good 3 feet behind the cabinet.


                  • #10
                    That shop is too clean... "full of junk" forsooth..... it's WAY clean. And the floor is findable, in fact it's an obvious feature....

                    Keep eye on ball.
                    Hashim Khan


                    • #11
                      BC Rider, spotted the Alba 1A. I'm excited to be going to collect the identical machine this morning! My first shaper.


                      • #12
                        I think the most logical approach to designing it would be to do an inventory of your tools (instruments) and make the design accordingly. Always build in extra space in case it is needed later. Instruments which come in boxes may be difficult to fit into those thin drawers which is why Gerstner builds in the extra deep top deck and bottom drawer. I have several instrument cases stacked in the top deck and a 12" Mitutoyo vernier height gage in the bottom drawer.


                        • #13
                          @BC Rider, I like your lathe stand. Nicely done. Inexpensive and solid.


                          • #14
                            The pro is it always seems you can fit more into that top section than the rest of the box combined....the con is you can't keep building a sky scraper


                            • #15
                              Please post some pics of that slow grown hemlock. Maybe that will alter my opinion of that wood.

                              My first experience with that ^&*(%$ stuff was a summer job pulling chain at a Vancouver sawmill. As new guy I always got the job of pulling and piling the water logged 2X12X24' hemlock planks.

                              My only other acquaintance with western hemlock is that crappy stuff they hide between two even crappier veneers of fir to make the stuff they now have the nerve to call Douglas Fir plywood.

                              If that hemlock is as nice as you say, it deserves something better than a couple of coats of sprayed on clear lacquer. We expect at least 8 brushed coats of good quality spar varnish, Interlux Schooner by choice, sanded between coats. We'll leave it up to you whether you leave the last coat as brushed, or sanded to 1200 grit, polished and waxed.