The travelling Dutchman (feat. Tom O’Brien)

My wife and I have a weekend home where we love to spend a few weekends a month relaxing.  Because I hated putting my woodworking projects on hold, earlier this year I decided to build the knock-down Nicholson style workbench at our weekend home from the plans Chris Schwarz had in Popular Woodworking magazine.  Going from a Roubo style bench with a face vice and tail vice to the vice-less Nicholson style bench was surprisingly easy.  With a few hold fasts and some jury rigging, you can overcome just about any work holding task imaginable.

In order to work out of two shops, I needed to build a tool chest that was easily portable.  Although I plan to build an Anarchist’s tool chest some day, the smaller Dutch tool chest with the auxiliary base chest was the clear choice.  In terms of portability, I also had to take into account that my home workshop is above my garage – up a narrow staircase.


Age and degenerative disk disease necessitated a few other design features. Fully loaded with tools, the small chest is too heavy for me to carry up and down the stairs.  As such, I built a box for the lower section of the Dutch tool chest that I could remove and carry separately (pictured with my winding sticks in front of the box).  I also built a tray that sits down inside the box.  The box and tray are very functional.  In fact, I cannot imagine being able to fit out the lower section in a way that would be as efficient as the double layer of a partitioned box with a removable tray above.

Although the lower auxiliary chest follows Chris Schwarz’ design fairly closely, I wanted to have a way of locking the bottom chest.  I considered many possibilities and decided to raise the front and back one-inch above the top of the lower cabinet.  I then added battens that were one-inch thick on the top of the lower section (making them co-planer with the front and back). I also added one-inch battens on the bottom of the Dutch chest.  The battens are beveled with only 1/8th of inch spacing between the battens on the top and bottom sections.  When you set the top chest onto the lower auxiliary cabinet, the bevels on the battens let the top section slide down onto the lower cabinet with very little lateral play.

For the locking mechanism, I bought an inexpensive gate lock and drilled a 3/8ths-inch deep hole into the front panel above the cut-out for the batten which locks the fall-front onto the lower cabinet.  The picture shows the lock through the locking batten. The gate lock actually sticks out about 1 and 1/4 inches. An angle grinder lowered the protrusion to just under an inch.

By the way, for those interested in the finish, I used about 5 coats of “black iron” milk paint over 2 coats “barn red” (from The Real Milk Paint Co.).  Because the color was more of a slate blue than a black, I then put on a coat of black chalk paint and topped that with a few coats of Myland’s Antique Brown wax (also from The Real Milk Paint Co.).  I thought I had ruined the chest with the first coat of wax.  After a second coat, I thought the chest looked as though it were 100 years old.

-Tom O’Brien

(Editor’s note: You can follow Tom on Instagram @oldschoolhandtools )


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