Anarchist’s Tool Chest Update 1: Dovetails


Editor’s note: As promised, Megan Fitzpatrick and I are writing a series of blog entries that explain how we have improved the construction process for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” during the last nine years (and several hundred chests).

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First, let’s get this out of the way: When I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” I didn’t think many people would build the damn thing. The chest was intended more as an idea. I love using floor chests, but I thought they would be a hard sell with readers. I was wrong.

When I started teaching classes on building the chest – the first class was in Germany before the book even came out – I struggled to get the students with a finished chest and lid after five days (never mind the interior tills and trays).

That forced me (and later Megan Fitzpatrick, who now teaches the tool chest classes) to rethink the process and see if we could make a chest in five days without using the “punishment whip” on the students. The first change I made (which saved a whole day of work) was to change the dovetails.

In the book, I used 13 dovetails at each corner – that’s 52 dovetails for the basic shell. And it is overkill. Nowadays we use seven dovetails at each corner. The chest is – in my opinion – just as strong. And most students assemble the shell by the end of the second day.

The second change was to eliminate the shallow rabbet I cut on the ends of the tail boards. The shallow rabbet assists in transferring the tail shape to the pinboards. In the book I show how to cut the rabbet on a table saw and with a rabbet plane.


When I started teaching this method, I found that most students had never used a rabbet plane. And so all their rabbets sloped down. Horribly. Chaos and gappy joints ensued.

Now I have the students temporarily tack a yardstick to the baseline of the tailboard (I call this the “Other Ruler Trick”). This helps everyone make the transfer with ease. No sloping rabbets. And no one locks themselves in the bathroom sobbing (not even me!).

— Christopher Schwarz


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