2017 March 9    Wood   Various DIY Projects


This little project is an old-style toolbox, modeled after a design from at least 100 to 150 years ago.

It's basically an open-topped tool caddy or tote that you can stand next to your workbench.  It would be great for farriers or blacksmiths, who might have been its original users. But I'm sure it would work for any general purpose shop where you want that old-time look.

I've seen at least a couple originals of these toolboxes.  They seem to be thrown together from whatever planks the farmer / farrier / blacksmith had handy.  Time period seems to be late 1800's to early 1900's, but it could be a much older design.

This is a reclaimed-wood project, but there's no reason you'd have to limit yourself. The basic design will work with different types of lumber, probably even pallet wood. 

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In This Article

1. The Lumber

2. The Nails

3. Tools Needed

4. The Cut List

5. Assembly

6. Side Note

7. Wood Finish


The Lumber

Rough-sawn planks that are 1 1/8" thick and 6" to 8" wide are great for this project.  If you can't get those, you could piece together pallet wood, five-quarter, two-by lumber, etc.  Or you could even build this project out of 1" plywood.  (Use real ply, not OSB.)

As for the rough-sawn planks... let's say you just scored a big pile of old wood that someone threw away.  Realize that most old wood has pests.  So you're going to want to bring it to a core temperature of 150 Fahrenheit for a while, or spray it with borax solution or Boracare.  (Industrial heat-treating of pallets goes to 133 Fahrenheit, which they probably found was a good balance between killing bugs and not ruining the wood.)

Another option, maybe, but I haven't tried it:  treat the wood with some of this stuff. It's oil soluble, so it will be compatible with linseed oil.  I think the copper might discolor the wood some, though.

I actually heated the wood until pine resin started to bake and bubble out of it.  (Maybe it's not pine, but some type of fir or hemlock?)  Anyway, the resin caused the wood to darken in some places;  later on we'll see a way to deal with that.

The Nails

First I tried using old-style square nails (actually, "cut nails").  It didn't work very well.  The wedge-shaped nails split the wood effortlessly, even when there were pilot holes.  If you see splits in the wood in any of the photos, they were caused by those square nails.

I had really wanted to use the old-style nails.  I even tried hot-forging the wedge-shaped nails into more of a round cross section, just so they wouldn't split the wood.  It didn't really work, though.

So, I instead settled on "bright common" 8-penny nails that were rusted.   (They had to be rusty to go with the old look.)  And they worked plenty OK here.

Tools Needed

If you don't already have these tools, you'll need them for pretty much every carpentry project under the sun:

1. Circular saw or miter saw.  For this project it doesn't matter which, but if you go with a circular saw, you'll also need saw horses.

2. Hammer.  Also get a box of 8-penny nails.

3. Power drill... or if you want to be authentic to the time period, use a bit brace.

4. Drill Bits, including a 1/8" regular bit for the pilot holes and a 1-inch spade bit for the dowel handle.

5. Speed square. Use it to mark the wood before cutting it.

6. Jigsaw or Saber Saw.  This is for the angle cuts where the side panels will attach.  A band saw would be a better choice for this type of work.   Or, you could use a Japanese saw (non-electric) or even a Stanley Fat Max saw for this. 

The Cut List

OK, this is more a rough outline of the components.  There are only five pieces required, if you don't count the 1" oak dowel that will be the handle.

First, start with the bottom inside of the toolbox.  This is a flat plank 24 inches long by 8 to 8 1/2 inches wide.

When you add the length of this plank to the thickness of the end boards, that will give you the required length of the side panels.  These form the long sides of the trough that will hold stuff.  So, in this case 24 inches plus the thickness of the end boards was about 26 1/2 inches.

Use that method to figure out the length of the side planks;  it will depend on the actual thickness of the boards that you're using for the uprights.  The side planks should be about 6" wide.

Now, the end boards.  These are the uprights that allow the toolbox to stand off the floor.  Start with boards that are exactly 8 inches wide by 27 inches long.  About 12 to 12 3/4 inches from one end, mark a line for the bottom edges of the notches that will accept the side planks.  See the photos.

I used an ultra-cheap jigsaw to make the angled cuts;  they're slightly crooked.  A Band Saw is probably the best power tool for this job.


There could be a better way to put the toolbox all together by yourself, but here's what I did.  I started by nailing one edge of the bottom plank to one of the uprights.  Mark it out before you actually fasten anything;  I also drilled pilot holes and blunted the nail ends before nailing.

Nail from the outside of the upright so the nail goes into the end-grain of the bottom plank.  (You know, the plank that forms the bottom of the tool trough.)  You'll have something resembling a letter "T".  At this point you could install the 1" oak-dowel handle as you fasten the other upright onto the far end of the plank. 

From there, nail on the side planks.  Again, drill a pilot hole for each nail:

These planks have the attachment points very close to the board ends, so they would split easily if you don't use the pilot holes.

Side Note

There are a couple of special challenges with a project like this.  Old lumber is often warped.  And you're nailing very close to the board ends. 

Treating the wood adds a substantial amount of work.  This is not something you'll knock together in ten minutes.  Reclaimed wood can have a low cost of raw materials, but the amount of work more than makes up for it.

When I see hand-crafted goods selling for too cheap, I tend to think "sweatshop" and "imported".  If you sell your work, price stuff so that it's actually worth your time to make another one.  'nuff said.

Wood Finish

When I baked the wood to eliminate any critters, pine resin also baked out of it.  This was one of the ways I knew the wood had gotten hot enough to kill bugs. 

The resin darkened the wood in several places.  The only thing that seemed as if it would help this:  a uniform coating of boiled linseed oil

By the way, I'm assuming you know about the safe handling & cleanup of linseed oil.  (Disclaimer, again.)  Any rags or waste that have linseed oil on them should be dried by laying them flat, preferably outdoors.  Don't just crumple them up and throw them away.

The linseed oil greatly improved the appearance.  (It would have looked OK with no finish, too, except the resin sort of made it look like... well, someone had baked it at high temperature.)


This standing tool caddy is such a useful form.  Nothing fancy, but it's great for all those big, clunky tools that you need for blacksmithing, carpentry, and similar tasks. 

And if you're like me and your tools are mostly scrounge-y, rusty stuff from yard sales and scrap yards, this toolbox has a look that complements that. 

These totes must have been prized possessions in the old days, because the ones I've seen looked like they were fixed a bunch of times over a span of many years.

Now make yourself one and fill it with rusty goodness.

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