Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Tool Cabinet's Legacy

The cabinet in its new home, some tools have already taken up residence.
     About a month ago I was in an antique store perusing all manner of old things, and as I was leaving I found an old tool cabinet. The type that a cabinet maker (or joiner as they used to be known) would make to hold various tools that he would use on any given day. It would have hung on the wall near his bench and afforded him easy access and a place to keep his tools safe from harm, where they couldn't fall off the bench, where he would know exactly where to find them. It's something I've been meaning to make for quite a while but never got around to it. Well, I put down a deposit on it that day, and yesterday I picked it up and brought it home.

A few things left behind...
      When I bought this cabinet I saw it simply as a way to organize my tools and put them in a safe place so I'd know where to find them. I asked my neighbor and my son to help me hang it on the wall in the garage - it's extremely heavy! As we took the drawers out to lighten the load as much as possible we found a few things in them. There was a Kreg jig for making pocket holes, used in cabinet making as well as other small furniture. I also found a measured drawing of a New Yankee Workshop hutch project, a flier for a woodworking supply store called The Woodworker's Emporium and a pen - a very nice pen, the kind I would use in my shop (I'm a bit of a pen snob, what can I say). Suddenly, this utilitarian tool cabinet had taken on a personality. It's craftsmanship isn't that great, the quality isn't the best I've seen or done myself, but it serves its purpose. It's strong and gets the job done. But now it seemed to have a soul, a life of it's own or perhaps a story to tell, the story of where it came from and who it served. This plain, utilitarian not extremely well built piece of shop furniture had suddenly taken on a new life for me and I began to wonder who might have used it. It's an older type of tool cabinet and not many present day woodworkers would take the time to craft something like this. It's the kind of cabinet that generally stores older hand tools, not the whirring, dust-spitting, wood-eating monster machines most commonly used today. Was the previous owner an older man who worked with hand tools? Then there was the plan for a hutch, not something very commonly asked for in today's households. Did that too elude to an older craftsman? The flyer for the Emporium, to my mind, speaks to someone who chose quality tools over cheap imports, tools that would last him a lifetime and that he would want to take care of, to keep in a cabinet specially built to house them. And the pen, a quality pen that seemed to me like one a younger person such a myself might choose. The cabinet was covered inside and out with a heavy layer of dust, so I assume it has been sitting for some time unused. Perhaps another trip back to the antique store might shed some more light on its story, maybe not. Maybe I can just envision this craftsman from time to time as I reach for that hand saw that will hang inside the right-hand door, or the Jack Plane that will rest in the main body of the cabinet. If nothing else I've taken the time as I lovingly cleaned, hung and started to fill the cabinet with my tools to wonder who this person might have been, what they might have built and where they are now... I can only hope that someday when my time has long since passed, and the cabinet has passed into the stewardship of another craftsman, that they too might wonder who I was and what I built.


  1. Hi. thank you for posting this information. By the way, where can I buy a better Tool Cabinet ?

  2. Hi Jeremy, thanks for your comment! There are a lot of tool cabinets available on the commercial market but if your into woodworking and have some decent tools I'd strongly recommend making your own customized to fit your specific tools and needs. There are several videos on YouTube, this one is one of my favorites. It's #1 in a 3 part series: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ow08hjVGutU