After I finished my wall-mounted tool chest (8" x 21" x 36") a few years ago, a wise friend warned me "It's one that holds disappointment in its heart. The day will certainly come when there is no more room in it for the most recent tool....".
My friend was, of course, right, and I have since been adding more storage units for my hand tools. This chisel cabinet (5" x 12" x 27") is my latest addition and is unlikely to be my last.
I wanted the new cabinet to be small enough to fit in the wall space available, but with enough room for both chisels and basic honing supplies. I use magnets to store the rasps and files in my tool chest, and decided to do the same with my chisels. To add some elegance to the cabinet, I chose the double-offset knife hinges to hang the door. Finally, the cabinet is deep enough that a stand-alone chisel stand can be placed on the bottom or top shelf when, not if, more chisels are acquired.
Some woodworkers avoid knife hinges, as there is little margin for error in their installation. Using hand tools, I’ll show how you can install knife hinges in a few steps. For in-depth coverage of knife hinges, read The Impractical Cabinetmaker by James Krenov.
The carcass is quite simple. I joined a fixed shelf to the sides and attached the cabinet's sides to the top and bottom, all using Dominos (dowels can be used instead). I first edge-jointed two boards to make the door, and then cut all the mortises for the Dominos. The back rabbets on the sides were cut using the skew rabbet plane.
After drilling holes for the top shelf pins on the sides, I dry-assembled the carcass and temporarily held it together using clamps, no glue. I cut the rear panel to size and put it aside until the final assembly.
Top left: Try to match both the grain direction and pattern when edge jointing the boards. Also used is a spring joint.
Top right: Group and cut all of the mortises for one batch of workpieces before changing the Domino joiner's settings for the next cut.
Bottom: The author’s favorite tool for cutting rabbets to accept both the rear panel and French cleat is the skew rabbet plane.
Installing the Door Hinges
I always mount the door-hinge leaves (the ones with pivot holes) on the door first, as the layout is straightforward. First, place the leaf centered and flush with the door's top edge, then scribe around the hinge with a marking knife. Clamp the door in the vise with two support pieces to prevent splitting of the thin mortise walls when chiselling. This also provides a wider base for the use of the router plane.
Remove the bulk of the waste in the hinge recess using chisels and a router plane. Always pre-drill before installing the leaf. I used the same procedure for installing the hinge on the door's bottom edge.
Top: Place the door hinge centered and flush with the door's edge and scribe the hinge’s layout lines.
Bottom: You can use a power router to cut the recess, but chisels and a router plane provide unmatched precision.
Installing the Carcass Hinges
The layout procedure for mounting the pin-hinge leaves (the ones with the pins and washers) on the carcass are different because you need to leave a gap between the carcass and the door. The door gap is the same as the thickness of the washer on the pin leaf. (The hinge washers I used are the same thickness as a plastic gift card.)
With the carcass still clamped in place and starting from the fixed shelf, place the pin leaf and the plastic gift card against the side where the door is to be hung. Scribe across the end of the hinge and the elbow, and remove the shelf from the carcass.
Use a gift card as a shim to set the gap for scribing the opposite end of the hinge leaf.
You can carefully trace the pin-hinge leaves using the marks just made as a guide, but I used a more accurate method. It requires two wheel-marking gauges or a double-ended gauge to make two marking-gauge settings. Set the first gauge equal to the distance of the front edge of the door to the installed door hinge's edge; set the second one equal to that distance plus the width of the pin-hinge leaf. Using the two settings, scribe the mortise lines on the shelf using the marking gauge. After cutting the hinge recess with chisels and a router plane, install the pin-hinge leaf. Repeat the same steps to install the hinge leaf on the inner top surface.
Top left: Use two wheel gauges or a double-ended gauge to duplicate the door hinge's setting to the carcass.
Top right: Lay out the pin-hinge mortise by scribing the lines with the marking gauge.
Bottom: The author supported part of the router plane with a scrap while cleaning out the hinge mortise.
Installing the Chisel Holders and Rear Panel
Two wood strips with magnets glued into the pre-drilled stop holes act as the chisel holders. The strips are screwed and glued to the rear panel at the appropriate spots. Dry fit the cabinet, including the door and rear panel, to ensure everything fits before putting all the parts together with glue and screws.
Building the Drawer
The last component of the cabinet is a simple drawer for holding honing supplies. I put together the slightly oversized drawer using Dominos again, and hand planed it to a perfect fit. I couldn't find any knobs that I liked so I made my own using scrap padauk.
Top: Shop-made door and drawer knobs add a personal touch and give a sense of fine workmanship.
Bottom: Chisel cabinet drawer finished with hand-turned knob.
For shop builds, my preferred finish is oil, boiled linseed oil in this case. Following the advice of Tage Frid, I avoided finishing the inside of the carcass or the outside of the drawer sides, as they might stick together. Once the cabinet was dry, I mounted it to the wall and moved the chisels to their new home.
I have been resisting the temptation to buy more chisels, but, more than ever, this new cabinet makes it a losing battle. We woodworkers live with the woodworking version of Parkinson's Law: tools expand so as to fill the space available!
Text and photos by Charles Mak
Charles Mak, now in retirement, is an enthusiastic hobby woodworker, teacher, writer and tipster. He formerly worked part-time at his local Lee Valley Tools store.