Introduction: A Toolbox-bench for Workshoplessness

About: If you read blogs, come vist mine: www.tristramshandy21st. where right now I am posting chapters of my humorous and philosophical nonfiction, "In Search of Tim Severin" among other things.

Want to build a boat or some furniture in your apartment or in some other nonworkshoppish space? I suggest having a toolbox-workbench. It will hold your main tools inside and even outside (intrigued?), hold your workpiece on top or on the side, and you can sit on it and at the same time -- yes! -- reach for your tools beause of its clever side-door. Four feet of your body can also lay on it (I used it sometimes as a weightlifting bench, but not so often, because lonely exercise inside a room never quite worked for me).

It is a perfect stool-height for sitting on, as well. Many a morning passed when I sat on it sipping coffee, looking out my giant sliding glass doors toward the comely retaining wall that was three feet away. Similarly, evenings passed when the toolbox-bench held up my plate of spaghetti as I sat on the floor pretending to be again a cool dude (well, I was never very cool) college kid who eats on the floor with the world to conquer ahead of me.

Though my conquered world was owned until recently by a landlord, and so much of my world of free time orbited that toolbox-bench (which I will tell you about any time now), I set my mind toward what could be yet accomplished if only I rejected the common measures of success that Cursed Ideology and Cussed Convention curses us with so often. And thus I pondered the comforts of a liberal education as I recalled what Hamlet said: "...I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space..." but I digress.

Though some will say, "Oh it's just a box, while waste the space of the kindly Instructables people?" I hope to gently prove otherwise.

PS: If someday you get a workshop, you can still keep the box. There is no physical law against the idea. I now have a basement shop and continue to find uses for my box, as I shall prove right now: the photo below shows the toolbox-bench in use even as I write this; it holds wood being edge-planed for my new ama for my second-generation outrigger sailing canoe; the toolbox bench is highly adaptable and functions well in either dire straits or spacious luxury.

PS 2: NOTE the stool to the right (or your bottom right if you are not holding your head sideways). It started as an anchor box with a padded seat-top for my cramped sailing canoe. I never used it much, and, inspired by the creative energy of Instructables, just this week I turned it into a fashionable padded stool. If I lose water pressure, I could put a pan inside it and use it as a chamber pot. More likely I would pee and poop outside, but I could offer it to squeamish guests who happen to be visiting when the world ends. Just a thought. I had two cups of coffee tonight, brewed with a dash of cinnamon, which, no doubt, people in California invented.

PS 3: Very very VERY observant readers saw another box in the back of the room and felt an echo as they did. Yes indeed, it has the same dimensions as the toolbox being considered now, but was built more plainly. It functioned as an extension in case I worked on very long wood (such as a mast). But most often it simply held my larger tools (grinder, small drill press, and small bandsaw, on top, and belt sander, electric drill, and jigsaw in the compartments).

Step 1: Build the Toolbox-Bench

Of course I have skipped many steps. In literature we call this starting "in media res" and because you are smart, you know what that means, and if you don't, you are still smart but also curious and always follow up on your curiosity.

So, starting in the middle of the action, here is your box. It is simple to build, so simple that I need not tell you how, really. You will probably make it out of standard 1x4 foot pine shelving wood from Home Despot (oo, did I misspell that? No.). I figured out after a while that I could have gotten the same good stuff inside if it had been only 3 feet long. I will post another Instructable about breaking the rules of physics, but for now, no need. There was air-space left over, and some of the space I used was for sandpaper, wooden wedges (always have several wooden wedges around), and etc., stuff that need not be in a toolbox if you really need a three-foot box (as when you live aboard a sailboat).

Here is how I ordered it: (1) Plastic kitchen boxes were used as drawers in the left and middle compartments. (2) On the left top and bottom I stored sandpaper, sharpening stones, wooden blocks for spacing and clamping, wooden wedges (always have several; you will find uses for them), and small to medium C-clamps. (3) In the middle bottom I stored boxlessly a bit-and-brace, crank-drill, drill-bit box, and a tool roll with chisels, with a little room left over. In the top middle I had lots of small things in a box that fit in that space perfectly including measuring tools, with some room left over. (4) In bottom right I had a joiner plane, jack plane, smoothing plane, and block plane, each laid on its side separated by wood strips glued in form-fittingly, some of which you can see. In top right I had long thin things such as 18 inch ruler, Japanese cross-cut saw, dovetail saw, some other saw, and enough room for other thin things such as a two bar clamps, so that I was thinking about a 1/4 inch thick subdividing shelf for them.

You see the very useful hold-down vise on top (slides into a T-nut or just a plain nut). This vise regularly migrates between the toolbox-bench and my big stand-up bench (now that I own a house, or rather, now that a bank owns my house). I keep the manufacturer's T-nut on the big bench and the plain nut on the toolbox for quick interchange. I recess the nuts in a hole to get them out of the way when unused.

Note that the toolbox-bench has a false top screwed down for easy replacement someday (still years away, so far). I sometimes wonder if I wrote secret messages to myself (like a time capsule) on the structural top underneath, to be discovered by me or my son or daughter someday, who knows? (I imagine them to be like Telemachus. If you know what I mean, then I respect you even more than I did before). Would I have been that foresightful?

Note also the cute toggle that holds the fold-up side door in place. I love simple fasteners like that, as well as toggles that fit through rope loops, and the way the ancient Vikings had ingenious quick-disconnects on their mast stays in case they had to bring their rigs down fast if caught aback and such.

Fastening things and unfastening things without wrecking things must be considered to be a primary human technology often lost in the archaeological record because the most important materials rotted.

You really must read Gene Wolfes' SF story "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" where the robot-grandfather makes the two kids lecture about the stone spearpoints they saw in the library, then you'll fully understand the paragraph above. Think "whole-world method," a word I just made up but a method first invented by literary scholars inspired by anthropology some time in the last century, but seeds were planted by the Russian formalists. Richard Feynman had a hint of it as well in a case of parallel evolution, just like a squid's eye.

Only the blind and earless gods know where this Instructable is going.

Step 2: Now Design the Other Side of Your Toolbox-bench

The dead batteries taken from my camera when they died during this photo session, the screwdriver, and paint stain from the prior owner, are all in the photo for scale. The ladder-like design on the floor is made of epoxy that dripped from between the two halves of a mast I was laminating from Douglas Fir 2 x 4s that were not entirely flat (the Duct Tape did not prevent leakage). I painted the epoxy flat on the floor in a series of lateral movements. I have been in this house for only three years and even now most of my moves are documented on that basement floor.

My main mistake was the woodworking vise on the side: a cheap one; get a good one that looks pretty much like this one, but let it be a bit bigger and stronger. The width of the box will probably take the next biggest size, though check first.

However, the vise is situated well. See the dowels poking out the side? They support planks edge-up for edge planing and beveling. I had two rows to take 4-6 inch and up to 11 inch planks. Add a spacer so that the planks lay flush with the back of the vise, or rabbet the vise in flush.

"But, Wade, what are the funny hemispherical holes and other complexities?" They allow bar clamps to fit inside to hold long workpieces on the top. In a fit of over-designing, I glued oak pads on the upper hole area to combat clamp damage. Sometimes I do stupid things like that.

"And I noticed little brackets; I'm curious, especially since the leftish one lies sideways. Explanations?" Yes, I used my Japanese cross-cut saw so much that I used to keep it on the non-door outside of the box. The left bracket would be folded up in that case to hold the blade. When edge-planing wood on the lower dowell row, I would remove saw and fold down the bracket to make room. But wait, there's more!

Step 3: You'll Like My Ass-end [of My Toolbox-bench]

First study the wheels, so placed as to be off the floor when the toolbox is working, but to contact the floor when traveling, lifted and towed by the handle at the other end.

NOTE: when using the vises at the other end to saw off the ends of long things, make sure the saw blade clears the front end by a half inch or so; if not, you will saw into the fold-down metal handle despite that it is doing its best to lay flat against the side. If you leave sawteeth marks in the handle, they will forever remain a testament to your hasty moment, immediately obvious, say, to your stolid great-aunt, coming to inspect your new place and to ensure that you are honing after sharpening.

I take a brief moment to suggest that you can get a date by telling your proto-date about this box. It is that good (the box, I mean). Build a narrative about its uniqueness, its multifunctionality, its tool marks -- each nick and stain is a story. Tell her or him or them (it is the 21st century; why not?) a riddle: "What is 1 x 1 x 4 feet in dimension, made of wood, and can build a world?" DO NOT have a ready answer ready, even when they gaze in dismay on your toolbox-bench (the smells of a good meal simmering in the kitchen will help out). The key is in extemporaneous performance; any date smart enough for you can tell a slick pre-memorized story from a sensitive and caring made-on-the-spot story; nobody admires a canned performance. Now use this scenario as a test; (a) if they are disappointed, they can be let go politely after the dinner, for they have no imagination, or (b)if they slowly examine the box and try to see in it what you see; they should be kept around for a second date.

Please note the hastily added tool holders. I was using some tools so much that I kept them in the convenient holders (just below the top so I could still work on long workpieces); pliers, screwdrivers, bench stops for planing (ie, short bolts, as shown), pencil, compass, awl, and scabbard for a 4-in-1 wood file in the nifty samurai quickdraw position.

And we are done! Final comment: you could make this bench in Bristol fashion out of great wood, great joinery, and great finish (I just slapped on linseed oil now and then, tung oil would be better). The top takes the beating (the sides can be preserved pretty well), and that could be sanded frequently and re-oiled if you live with that special someone who cannot tolerate a workshop-looking toolbox-bench in the crowded apartment.