Dutch Tool Chest Build

Shortly after I began my journey into working wood, I decided my first hand-tool project would be learning how to build a Dutch Tool Chest. I fell in love with the Dutch Tool Chest after seeing Christopher Schwarz present it on this episode of the Woodwright’s Shop, a show I loved as a kid and rediscovered after searching my cable provider for every woodworking show I could DVR.

How to build a Dutch Tool Chest

Roy Underhill checks out Chris Schwarz’s Dutch Tool Chest on an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop

This project seemed to have it all: Romance, utility, challenge, history. After watching the video a few times and Googling photos of Schwarz’s and others’ Dutch tool chests, I decided there were several reasons it would be the one of the best projects for a beginning woodworker.

  • It’s a perfect balance of simplicity and complexity. Dovetails connect the bottom to the sides, but the remaining joinery is done with fasteners. It would test and develop basic skills of design, measuring, marking, sawing, planing and joining without causing me to over reach my abilities and get frustrated.
  • Other than the 30 degree angle of the top, no dimensions were discussed and, at the time, no plans were available. (Plans were later made available in the Aug. 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking, but I was well into the build by the time I discovered this.) I would need to figure out the dimensions on my own. For me, problem solving is one the main draws of wood working so I avoid plans and either build from my own designs or mentally reverse engineer things that I like.
  • I could customize it to fit my needs.
  • It’s the type of project an apprentice woodworker (as I imagine myself) would tackle early on.
  • I particularly liked the simple yet clever lower compartment and locking cleat system that held on the lower front.
  • I liked the look.
  • It would provide a home for my slowly growing collection of vintage hand tools.

So  after months of trying (and failing) on an almost daily basis to cut dovetails by hand, the day finally came that I slid a pin board and tail board together… and it worked! It was time to start the Dutch.

woodworking hand cut dovetails

My first successful hand cut dovetail

Here’s the sketch I started with.

dimensions for a dutch tool chest

The first rough sketch

For dimensions, I started with the depth. Using 1 x 12 stock, the sides would be 11 1/4 inches, plus 3/4 inch added apiece by the front and back boards, for a total of 12 3/4 inches. I figured out the width by looking at a video of Schwartz hoisting the chest. We’re about the same size, so comparing his arm span to mine, I figured it to be about 30 inches. I then measured my cross cut and rip saws, which would be kept on the inside of the cover. I added a few inches for clearance and came to a final width of 33 inches. For the depth, I simply worked from the tools that would have to fit inside.

I planned to hang my chisels at the back, store my planes at the front and store my saws standing in the center. I came up with roughly 14 inches for the back and 7 inches for the front, then used the one piece of information I did know–the 30 degree angle of the slope from back to front–to determine the actual dimensions.

After several tweaks, here are the final dimensions for the Dutch tool chest that I wound up with:

  • Carcasse:
    • Width: 32 5/8
    • Depth: 12 3/4
    • Front height: 15 1/8
    • Rear height: 22 3/8
  • Top compartment:
    • Front height: 6 3/8
    • Rear height: 12 5/8
  • Lower compartment height: 8 9/16
  • Top: 33 3/8 x 15

Finally, I set a few rules for myself:

  • For historical accuracy and skill development, I would build the chest entirely using hand tools and traditional woodworking techniques… as far as my limited tool collection would allow.
  • For stock, I would use common pine and pull as much as possible from my ever growing scrap pile. I’m not confident enough yet to risk screwing up with expensive hardwoods, so I’d have to build this using home center pine. Not the most durable or romantic wood, but it’s utilitarian, cheap and easy to work. If you’re starting out, I suggest sticking with it for a while…. especially while all you’re making is sawdust and scrap.

Now, for the dovetails.


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