HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 1

I’m interested in several crafts/hobbies some of which can be practiced inside the house.  Drawing, knot tying, leather and canvas work being the primary examples.  My wife enjoys crafting quilts and there is always some general sewing task that needs to performed as well.  Each of those crafts involve tools and supplies of their own that need to be stored away and, hopefully, corralled together.  To that end I have been searching for a suitable box design that can be pressed into service for holding these craft items.  My intent is for each craft to have it’s own storage box.

Generally I wanted a medium-sized box that could be easily transported from room to room and that could be stored away on a shelf or atop a dresser/tansu.  A drawer or two is always handy and of course it needed to have a Japanese flare to it.

In my search I came across several examples that came close to what I wanted.  The problem was that the examples tended to be a little to specific to the task.  They also tended to be purpose-built for a specific tool/material combination.  Two examples being the Japanese sewing tansu and the Japanese calligraphy tansu.

I like both of these examples but they each fell short of what I was looking for.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, but I was confident that I would know it once I saw it.

So I spent a good deal of time trolling websites that sell Japanese antiques looking for inspiration.  Too big, too small, the search droned on.  Still nothing jumped out as “the one”.  Then I came across this merchant tansu.  Bingo!

One large base drawer with a bank of smaller drawers tucked away behind a removable panel.  The smaller drawer bank can also easily be configured as needed depending on the intended use of the box.  Very reminiscent of a carpenter’s drop-front toolbox.  In fact, I think this would make a great “fix it” toolbox for in the house.

The joinery is fairly simple (dados, rebates, laps) and I see no reason to change how this box is put together.  I will, however, change the drawer construction to match my standard assembly method.  Most of the details I can decipher from the photographs.  Those that I cannot, can be readily guessed and have little structural importance.

I’m currently working on my usual proportional layout drawing as well as a couple of detail sheets that cover the joinery details.  The seller of the above antique lists the dimensions as 19-1/2″(W) x 13-1/2″(D) x 12″(H). I’m scaling this first box to take advantage of a nominal 1×12 available at the big box store.  Once the design work is complete I’ll begin the build process.  The lumber for this project will be the same inexpensive Home Depot #2 pine that I built the Japanese Toolbox from.  The specific species of pine is still a mystery, but it was pleasant to work with and half the cost of the clear pine.  Win, win.

Greg Merritt

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15 Responses to HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 1

  1. bloksav says:

    HI Greg.

    I really like the sewing tansu, but I do admittedly have a thing for cabinets with a lot of small drawers. Maybe I should actually try to make a spice chest once.
    One of my old projects is a fairly small hexagonal chest of drawers. It is like a small tower that is 12″ in width and probably around 24″ in height. I managed to put in 26 small (triangular) drawers in that thing.
    It was designed to be able to revolve on its stand, but that system didn’t work for long.
    The thing now holds needles, buttons, zippers, etc. etc.

    Do you plan to make a lifting handle like the one shown on the calligraphy tansu,or will it be lifted by means of holes in the side like the merchant tansu?


  2. I’d like to learn some calligraphy, can you point me to some websites for starters?
    Just kidding.
    Awesome chests. I hope you will show us your finished chest in all details!

  3. billlattpa says:

    I’m with Jonas. The sewing Tansu caught my eye immediately. In my area, the Lowes sells what they call “knotty” pine in quite a few sizes. Most of the time the stuff is fairly clear and more importantly, flat, and most importantly, inexpensive. But I never really used it on a project, though now I would consider it.
    I am considering getting into some leather work, and I have you to thank. I had made a few things here or there years ago, but you have peaked my interest. Either way, I can’t wait to see how your project turns out. If anything, I already know it will be great.
    Thanks again.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      I really like the sewing tansu too and it was almost my first choice. The merchant tansu however, affords a little more utility for my needs. I may still build the sewing tansu at a later date. Just because I like it.
      One of my goals with this blog and my humble examples, is to encourage people to build things and to show that they can do so with commonly available materials. Sounds like it may be working. 😉
      Not sure how well this project will turn out. At the very least it will be functional.

  4. Great project! You can’t have too much organization if you are truly a maker and craftsman. I look forward to see where you go with this one!

  5. Doug Fish says:

    I followed your Japanese toolbox build and built one after yours…thank you for the plans and blog. This build looks too good not to build….going to follow in your shadow and built this one too. Thanks again for all the great plans and projects!

    • Greg Merritt says:

      Your most welcome Doug. Very glad to here that you found the information useful. I should have the design drawings for this project posted in the next day or two.

  6. Alex A. says:

    Can’t wait to see what you come up with. I like the hardware on the calligraphy box.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      There is almost as much iron on that box as there is wood. It makes for a nice solid looking box. I have a hardware surprise on the way for the box I’m building, so keep an eye out.

  7. Pingback: HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 2 | GREG MERRITT – BY MY OWN HANDS

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