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19th Century Cabinetmakers Tool Chest

juglans's picture

Picked up this 19th century cabinetmakers tool chest recently.  The patent date on the lock is 1867. The exterior of the chest is pine. sliding drawers fronts are birds eye maple and walnut.  Secondary wood is poplar. The chest originally came from the mid-atlantic area. Condition is amazing, to say nothing of the inlay work.

ned7's picture

(post #103212, reply #1 of 22)

Wow! That is nice. Are you going to use it in the shop or keep it as an antique? I am not trying to be obnoxious, but I would think you spent some money on it, and I would be nervous about it being damaged in my shop. The flip side is that it was made to be used, not sit in a living room!

juglans's picture

(post #103212, reply #6 of 22)

I intend to keep it in my shop and use it in the spirit in which it was made.  I am sure Mr. Clark would prefer that. It certainly will be an inspiration to do good work as I retrieve my tools.



notDusty's picture

(post #103212, reply #2 of 22)

Hi juglans ,

                    That's a beautiful tool chest . I'll bet in those days maybe alls you would have had to do is show up to the potential jobsite with that work of art , and the job was your's .

           regards               dusty

DougU's picture

(post #103212, reply #3 of 22)

Nice find!

philip's picture

(post #103212, reply #4 of 22)

Dan, it is superb. Have you any evidence of what tools were kept in it-or were there any tools with in it when you got it?
Might be a project to work out what tools were there and try and replace them with suitable substitutes.
It would make a nice piece to have in the house-on a suitable base?

Philip Marcou

Philip Marcou
juglans's picture

(post #103212, reply #7 of 22)


No evidence of what tools were in it, but given its era (1875), I could probably guess at a pretty good inventory. Maybe something like this:

Jointer plane, smooth plane, shoulder plane, toothing plane, veneer hammer, some hollows and rounds, a bit stock and bits, mortise chisels, paring chisels, gouges, marking/mortise gauge, marking knife, panel saws (both rip and cross cut), tenon saw, bow saw, mallet, hammer, turnscrews, honing stone, slip stone, awl, glue pot and brush, couple of hand screw clamps, draw knife.  Frankly, not much considering the modern well-equiped shop.  Any other  ideas?



miami's picture

(post #103212, reply #5 of 22)

Wow, that's amazing.  I used to have an old table that I'd almost swear was made by the same guy - similar elements, scale of design, woods, etc.  The table top was entirely OES (Order Of the Eastern Star) marquetry ... maybe Mr. Clark's wife was a member, and he made it for her club!

Now I wish I still had it, just so I could show you the similarity.

Corgrats - quite a find indeed.


ErnieConover's picture

(post #103212, reply #8 of 22)

You have a really nice tool chest, probably made well before the Civil War. Dare I ask about the tools? Unfortunately, most of these chests are auctioned piece meal with the result being that we loose a very imprtant record of craftsmanship.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the end of a woodworking apprenticeship initialed the building of a tool chest. Most contracts of apprenticeship specified that the master supply a graduating apprentice with a “set of tools suitable for plying the trade.” In those days craftsmen usually built tools such as bench plane bodies (the irons were purchased), squares, marking gauges and scratch awls themselves. Much like a contemporary college student completes a “master’s thesis”, the apprentice of yesteryear built a tool chest and many of the tools to be housed in it. Upon the successful completion of an apprenticeship a craftsman became a journeyman and his newly completed tool chest equipped him to start work. It is interesting to note that the difference between a journeyman and a master was economic. Many journeymen remained journeymen the rest of their lives while a few became masters and taught other craftsmen. It would be theoretically possible for a journeyman to become a master on the same day as he got his journeyman’s papers, all that was necessary was to have sufficient means to open a shop and the necessary managerial skills to run it—or marry the master’s daughter.

Since a woodworker’s kit of tools was considerable (a jointer would typically have around 60 planes) the tool chest to house them was necessarily commodious. Therefore a toolbox was a large chest, much larger than a sea chest, built in the manner of what was called a six board chest in those days. The chest was usually dovetailed together from pine or popular. The bottom (and possibly the top) was a trapped panel of sufficient thickness to withstand a lot of weight and abuse. Heavy boards were dovetailed around the bottom to form a protective plinth and a similar band was sometimes put around the lid. This banding helped the chest withstand the kicking and scuffing encountered in day to day use. Hardware was iron (often forged by the local blacksmith) and geared toward ruggedness and security.

A cleat was affixed to each end of the chest for rope handles--properly called beckets. Seamen were often pressed into service to make the beckets which were sometimes works of art in themselves. (The inside covers of Ashley’s Book of Knots has a collage of 18th and 19th Century beckets.) The outside of the chest was usually milk painted, a tough paint which was made by mixing equal quantities of pigment, quicklime and milk. The result was a large six board chest of robust construction that could protect the tools and take the day to day abuse of shop life and wagon transport from one job site to the next.

Opening one of these chests is serendipity for the soon to graduate apprentice concentrated all of his skill on the inside and it was not atypical to veneer the entire interior. (Your chest is a tour-de-force of veneer.) The bottom ten inches of the chest was divided into three or more compartments (called wells) that housed the planes, bit brace, mallets and larger tools. The reason that these wells were 10” deep is the length of a molding plane was more or less standardized at 9-1/2” around 1770. This allowed the planes to be stored vertically so the profile could be seen easily and it would take up less space. The upper portion of the chest housed one or more tills which in turn stored the smaller tools. A till is nothing more than a smaller multi-drawered tool chest that rested on cleats above the plane wells.

You are now the steward of an important piece of woodworking history. Husband it well!

juglans's picture

(post #103212, reply #10 of 22)


Thanks for the very informative comments. The tools for this chest were removed when the man I purchased it from purchased it about forty years ago. He could not afford them.  However he did appreciate the box and took good care of it.

I have attached photos of another nice chest I have.  It has its original paint and working lock with two keys. The inside is not as ornate as the other, but very nicely detailed with rich mahogany. The sliding tills/drawers are beautifully dovetailed.

Interestingly, neither box has a 10-inch deep well in the bottom.  One is 7-1/2" while the other is about 8-1/2".  Both boxes do have a panel between the front and rear tills which protects the contents of the bottom section.


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DougU's picture

(post #103212, reply #11 of 22)


I have one very similar to that one, outside looks very simple and plain. Inside fitted with some very nice mahogany. It  has a flip down lid that some cretin decided to carve his initials in.

The little drawers have some of the finest dovetails that I have ever seen, I cant figure out how they were able to cut them!



ErnieConover's picture

(post #103212, reply #14 of 22)

All of your chests are 19th century. The need for molding planes died in approximately 1840 with the advent of the shaper. Therefore the wells on the Victorian chests were different from the 18th Century examples I described in my earlier positing. Attached is a photo of a planer but similar chest to your most resent photos. I purchased it from the grandson of the builder who finished his apprenticeship in Philadelphia in 1897. Mine has all the original tools which date from 1897 until about 1920. The owner could not keep it but did not want to see it broken up. We were able to come to a price that was between what a piece meal auction would have realized and what a dealer would have offered wholesale.

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highfigh's picture

(post #103212, reply #15 of 22)

Do you have the saws that were stored in the lid?

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."
ErnieConover's picture

(post #103212, reply #16 of 22)

A pair of nice Distons. In beautiful shape and the rip has a two hand handle.

shopteacher's picture

(post #103212, reply #17 of 22)

It is time to weigh in on this discussion.  About ten years ago I purchased this tool chest.  While the box itself is not extravagant, the contents are.  Everything shown was in the box, I've added nothing and taken nothing away.  Rarely does a toolbox and the craftsman's tools come together.  This evidently belonged to someone that used large chisels (many are Beatty), misc. molding planes, probably a shipwright, housewright or related trade.  I was told that it was found in Delaware.  The other picture is of the finest panel gauge that I've ever seen.

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geoff7325's picture

(post #103212, reply #18 of 22)

That is an absolutely beautiful panel gauge - I've just sat and looked at for the last 5 minutes! I don't suppose you could post a few more pictures of it? What is your estimate of the chest's age/period? Well done for maintaining this reminder of yesteryear.

shopteacher's picture

(post #103212, reply #19 of 22)

Here's a batch of pictures of the panel gauge.  Every time I get it out it amazes me.  The head and beam are of mahogany.  The shoe for the scribe is boxwood, I believe.  I do not know what the inlays are from.  I believe it to be a one of a kind, user made tool and how I would like to meet its maker when I meet mine.  What skill this man had.  While most of the tools in the box have owner's marks of either T. F. Y., or J. H. Fuller (DAT lists a James H. Fuller as a plane maker c1850 but I believe this to be a coincidence), this gauge has nothing.

There are tools in the box from the early 1800's through to the 20th century (a couple of Stanleys).  Most are from before the Civil War (there is a set of trammels by P. Terriault which the "Directory of American Tool Makers" lists as 1857).  My guess is the working period of the owner(s) is about the time of the Civil War.


geoff7325's picture

(post #103212, reply #20 of 22)

Hello and thank you very much for the extra images - which I have saved. What an amazing demonstration of someones skill. I was wondering if this had been an apprentices piece? Its amazing to think that your toolchest has survived intact for all this time! Thanks again and have a happy New Year.

Troy's picture

(post #103212, reply #9 of 22)

Your just bragging and making us all jelous. Just kidding its beutiful.


JeffHeath's picture

(post #103212, reply #12 of 22)


Thank you for posting the pics of the beautiful jointers chest.  It brought a tear to my eye, for personal reasons.  My grandfather was a jointer.  He died when I was 2, so I never got to really know him.  My mom tells me that his woodworking skills were reborn in me, since her brother, my uncle, had no interest in woodworking.  I always take that as an immense compliment after having heard the stories about him and his work.

Getting to the sad part.....  When he died, my uncle gave his jointers chest, completely full of tools, mostly one's my grandfather made himself, to my cousin.  My cousin stuck the entire chest in his basement, and it was destroyed in a flood, and he THREW THEM OUT!!!  What I wouldn't give today to get that toolchest back!!!

Merry Christmas,


BTW  I emailed the pic of your chest to my mom.  She just called me to say that her dad's was very similar, as far as she could remember.  Pretty cool!!

A distinguished graduate of the School of Hard Knocks
AndyE's picture

(post #103212, reply #13 of 22)

Your chest reminds me of one I missed at an auction about 6 years ago. It was the size of a footlocker and full of tools. Unfortunately I let it go because it was the first auction we went to and were going by the rule of "seeing how it all worked" before bidding on anything. I recall that it took two guys to carry it up and went for about $450. If only I knew then what I know now. The guy who got it was probably in his mid 20's and was the only one bidding besides the house's shill. He still got a really good deal.


"It seemed like a good idea at the time"

clarkrc's picture

W.J.Clark Chest (post #103212, reply #21 of 22)

Greetings; I hope this email finds you, I noticed the last post was in 05.  I came across your chest while looking for tool chest plans.  I believe the chest was made by my great grand uncle Walter J. Clark, born 1871 Iowa.  He lived in many parts of the east; was a jack of many trades from carpenter to Dentist.  The chest may have held his dental tools, he was very miticulous in all his work.  I have an inlay end table he made that resembles the chest's inlay work and same woods. Walter had no children, died a poor man; and probably sold or gave up the chest along the way.  Should you ever want to part with it,  I would gladly purchase, just name your price.  

Thanks Russ Clark

juglans's picture

Russ please contact me at (post #103212, reply #22 of 22)


please contact me at