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Feb 23 2010

Usable Hand Tool Storage? Thank Mr. C.A. Jewett.

Published by at 10:46 pm under Hand Tools,Shop Organization,Thoughts & Musings

Walt Quattro is a really cool guy who has a really cool used record store in Waterbury, CT that <looks right, looks left> secretly doubles as a vintage tool store. <but please, keep that to yourself, eh?> 😀

Walt’s place is Brass City Records and Tools. Those who know Walt know that he is known to drop into a tool forum with a song lyric that doubles as a riddle that somehow describes his latest tool prowl. Please click here for one of Walt’s riddle answers. Walt’s posts are always a great time and he is great to trade with! So as usual, I like to make a habit of going over to his site to look around, because it is always changing. Me? I am usually late to the party but eh… you know how it goes. His site changes a lot as some of you know. Early birds get the worm, fair is fair. Walt knows this and it works that way to shop with Walt too.

Well anyway, Walt’s haunts are the flea markets of New England, where many a tool he finds are straight out of the heart of where the industrial revolution took place. He is also centrally located near where many of these tools were originally made. These are the tools that helped bring that revolution, and are now sought after by many of us who don’t want those tools to become just another historical footnote. (Thanks Walt)

It happens that Walt has a cool link on his site that points to Pat Leach’s (of Superior Works fame) supertool.com site, that I have looked at many times over the years. While we all seem to discuss tool cabinets around at various forums on the net pretty frequently, I don’t recall seeing anyone really discussing this one for a pretty long time. It is worth a visit, or for some of us, a re-visit.

jewett_chest.jpgPhoto Courtesy Pat Leach

It is C.A Jewett’s Patternmaking Chest. It is worthy of discussion and so let’s, shall we? The article at Pat’s site is well worth the read. Please follow that link to see all the great photos Pat took of the various attributes of the chest. We are really lucky Pat found this chest, and I feel it is really important to us, particularly since patternmaking is becoming a lost art and trade, and what’s more, artisan craftspeople are in search of tool storage that really works.

Pat is a very anecdotal writer who brings you around to his side of the table when telling a story. I can’t help but agree with his enthusiasm for this chest. If you really look deeply at this chest, you see the beauty, maybe not in the look, but the functionality. Jewett’s design is no display case, and it is quite full. When it comes to working well, I feel this design brings it.

I’m not taking away from H.O. Studley, who’s tool chest set’s the benchmark for craftsmanship, is likely the prettiest piece of work of it’s kind and important to us because of the period it helps us date craftsman’s tools to. For my taste, and this is just my personal position, which is not to say I dislike the Studley chest, but as a working tool in itself, it seems too ornate and too crammed to have a workflow I can get my mind around. I can’t speak for others, but I personally would not want to try and work from a chest of the Studley design.

The Studley is a gorgeous chest, which utilizes every nook and cranny almost too well. So well that too many tools would need to be moved to access many other tools with ease. It is ok to disagree with me on this, but remember it is just my point of view, coming from the want for easy workflow. Alternatively, The Jewett chest is a variant that houses a lot of tools, but without being as ornate, and does so with real functionality. From the looks of the wear on this chest, it was a working tool itself.

For C.A Jewett, this chest probably wasn’t the first iteration, and it was probably something that sort of came together in a happenstance that seemed to make the most sense to him. I am pretty sure he didn’t over think it or even ponder it half as much as I have. He likely didn’t have time, and if he did think it over much, it was while he was doing something else. If we could look closely, we would likely see arrangement alterations for tool upgrades and design changes because the change made more sense than leaving it the way it was.

My sense is that Mr. Jewett valued being able to get to the tool he needed with ease because that is what paid the bills. He also needed to store the tools that were crucial to his trade. He likely went with what had worked well in the last cabinet when he built the next, and he probably had coworkers with chests to draw good ideas from. Not something we as individuals working in our own shops really have in terms of idea fodder. In my mind, what Mr. Jewett evolved is truly a functional dream, or well, pretty close to one.

I don’t personally use a cabinet exactly like this right now, though I do have a couple ways I store different types of tools that work well for me and they flow similarly. My own storage solutions are evolved adaptations that share with this chest the ability to fit plenty in the space I have, while allowing access to the tool I need without upsetting a set of dominoes, or without requiring I move many tools to access the one I need. I am also not completely happy with everything about it either. I am unresolved about some things so I revisit this chest from time to time and ruminate some more.

I am not saying we should build a Jewett chest for ourselves either, even though we could if we like, but I am saying we should take a really hard look at the Jewett chest for several reasons.

Depending upon where you hail from, moisture can be the enemy of your tooling. This is going to mean that pegboard isn’t going to be the tool organization road home, and some of us wouldn’t use it if it were. Building a Cabinet like this can be part of the corrosion solution. A Goldenrod dehumidifier or dry desiccant dehumidifier can be fitted and employed inside a closed cabinet like this to control the humidity and prevent corrosion very effectively. They are practical, not overly expensive and the operating costs are negligible; particularly in light of the tools they help protect.

I’m not pure Galoot, and I don’t advocate that anyone should approach woodworking in any particular way that doesn’t suit them. The way you work works for you and I support that. I am a blended woodworker myself, and I am seeing where the Jewett cabinet offers some silent philosophy as to how I can, and should group certain tools for certain tasks, and while not over cramming, making the most used tools easy to access and the ones not so commonly needed pushed into the nooks and crannies a bit.

If you are a Galoot, and while not necessarily a patternmaker, you could consider this design one on one, and see if you can find clues to how it could improve your workflow if you were to adopt some of it’s design features for your own cabinet. If you are a blended woodworker, consider the tools you have that are a direct fit, and then consider the tooling you use that is not unique to this period, how you may be imaginative and find a way to store those tools that are unique to your workflow. This is not just about the tools you have. Be sure to include some of the tools you intend to become part of your kit over time as well.

Consider how you could utilize the drawers if perhaps you made some of them in dimensions that would work more efficiently for you. One thing this cabinet seems to scream, is that the tools should be easily accessible, yet not waste space. I think that is a scalable and adoptable want in nearly any working storage tool cabinet design.

If you are a woodworker who isn’t suffering from a handsaw problem, you may see that the Jewett cabinet has a small saw till in it as well, and from what I see, there is about six saws in it, maybe seven. I may not be seeing a coping saw that I bet is there, but I do see what looks like a folding keyhole saw stored with the hammers as well.

This cabinet is not going to give one a complete and total end all plane till either, but it will provide adequate storage for the main user planes that one would likely consider needing handy, and a separate plane or saw till could certainly be made separate form this cabinet to store any ahhhhhh, shall we say “overflow” that may or may not be a nice problem you have.

In all, no single tool cabinet can be all things to all people. This one is no exception, but it sure has a lot of well working and adoptable design elements. We all should consider this matter for ourselves. Chris Becksvoort made a tool cabinet that comes to mind when considering the need to personalize for workflow, and his is a wonderful design that I really admire as well. In any case, we all consider ways of making our personal tool storage more approachable, and I wanted to toss a few thoughts out that may get the thinking juices flowing. Pat Leach coined the phrase “marvel of 19th century toolchest efficiency” and I agree, I see it too. I thank Pat for sharing his example with us.

Once you get done tooling up over at Walt’s, I believe if that tooling is available to you and getting to it works well, then the rest of woodworking becomes more transparent and creative. It is then up to skill, imagination, and wood.

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