My next project will be a “Japanese” toolbox. I know, I know Chris Schwarz is building one too. I feel like a Johnny-come-lately or a bandwagon jumper with this, but I assure you that I am not. I have been kicking this one around a while and I’m now getting to the point where I’m just about ready to start it.
If you are hoping for intricate joinery, expensive wood and custom hardware, you might as well stop reading now. There won’t be any of that. I’ll be closely adhering to the design that Toshio Odate outlined in his book and a subsequent magazine article. These style toolboxes were never intended to be works of art that advertised the ability of the workman that built them. They were made with readily available material and nailed together. Essentially a crate with a sliding lid meant to store, protect and transport tools.
In his book “Japanese Woodworking Tools:Their Tradition, Spirit and Use”, Odate describes the toolbox that was typical of the craftsman that he knew. It’s a simple thing, nailed together. It does however have an elegance to it. Odate goes on to explain that
“…I believe that the sight of a shokunin carrying on his shoulder a beautifully painted and carefully joined toolbox would provoke me to an overwhelming sense of awkwardness.”
I find that statement to be quite poignant. The Japanese craftsman is more than capable of extremely complex joinery, but they see no reason to employ any of it when building their toolboxes. It would be out of place if they did so.
In the current woodworking world it seems the three most popular topics are tools, workbenches and tool storage. Vast quantities of ink and electrons have been and continue to be devoted to this “holy” trinity. I believe that the latter two are a direct result of the rise in popularity of hand tools. If you are going to work with hand tools a workbench suddenly becomes important. As you acquire hand tools you need a place to store and protect them.
Personally I think we have become a little too romantic in the way that we look at hand tools and how we store them. I fully appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into a traditional joiners chest with inlay and fitted compartments, I just don’t feel the need or desire to build one. I don’t read any power tool blogs, but I doubt that you will find many, if any, posts on mahogany, raised panel boxes for storing circular saws. Why then do we go to such extremes for storing our hand tools? I’m not saying one way is right and the other is wrong. I’m just trying to take a practical approach. All I need is a sturdy, functional box for storing, protecting and transporting a few tools. The last thing I want is to build a box that is so precious that I am afraid to use it for its intended purpose.
In the coming weeks I’ll post a general design drawing that covers the basic construction of the tool box. I say general because this box is designed to be sized as required. I’ll then cover how I go about arriving at the size for this particular toolbox. Once the size is established, I’ll make a trip to the local big box store and buy the cheapest wood that will fit the bill and a couple of boxes of screws. Yep, I said screws. I’ll not be picky about what type of drive they are either, phillips, square or slotted. I’m sure these boxes were originally put together with cut nails. Cut nails used to be the standard. They can still be had, but are expensive. The standard today is wire nails and they are worthless for holding wood together. Their smooth shanks have no gripping power. They may be fine for the construction trades but not for this type of application. So I’ll be using screws. They are readily available, hold well and are reasonably inexpensive.
So the wood is cheap and it will be screwed together. However, each piece, as well as the whole, will be built with all the skill that I can muster. There is never an excuse for shoddy work. Surfaces will be planed, ends squared on a shooting board and hard edges chamfered. Pieces will be fit together to the best of my ability. I fully intend for this toolbox to last a very long time and I will take pride in its construction…..
even if it is just a box.