Dear Douglas Fir,
This is difficult to say and I should have said it sooner, but this is just not working out. It's not you, it's me. Well, it's us. I have such fond memories of the 2x4s you provided for the chicken coop, for the wall downstairs, and I love the floorboards you put in the living room. As I grow, however, and my needs have changed, you are not changing with me. You are just not a fine furniture lumber. Despite my tenderest caresses with a chisel, you still insist on splintering. When I plane exactly properly, you are willing to provide a glass-like surface, and I appreciate that, but these are only on our good days. More often than not, you let fly with huge splinters and sometimes you even assault me with them. I think we can still be friends, and I will still call you for 2x4s. In fact, I want to build a workbench with you. However, I need to be level with you and tell you that for furniture, I am feeling like I am much more compatible with Alder and Cherry.
the Joiner's Apprentice
Such were my thoughts as I began preparing the boards for my tool chest to be. In this article on choosing wood for a tool chest, it is suggested that we look up and around to see what the local trees are. No Eastern Pine around here:
As you can see from that view out my living room window, there is a smattering of alder, cedar, and some various fruit trees, but the ridges are almost entirely populated with Douglas Fir. It's big business here... one of the only businesses in fact. As above, I like doug fir for construction. It's strong, affordable, and easy enough to work with conventional construction tools. I have a pile of it, milled with a chainsaw, that I obtained from a neighbor's fallen tree. It seemed like the ideal regional lumber for my tool chest.
I've also been using it for the bottoms and partitions of the School Boxes. I was originally thinking of making boxes with it, but I am not so sure, unless they will be painted. I know some vertical-grain DF is used in the furniture trade, but perhaps my skills are not up to it yet. It's a bit ornery. It splinters easily, rarely planes smoothly (but when it does, it does) and it is just not all that attractive. Nonetheless, it's what is around, and so the chest will be composed of it.
This is the largest-scale hand-tool project I have tried yet. It is already straining my stopgap workbench. In fact, I was planning to build a new workbench before the tool chest, because of this. However, the need to have a good container for my tools is nagging me constantly and so I am making do. The current bench is technically large enough, but just barely. You can see here how the panels take up much of it:
There is a little more room to the left, but a silly post is in the way, making planing with the long jointer difficult. Anyway, it is still possible so I did go ahead and flatten, joint, glue up, cut, and size the 4 panels for the chest's shell. One issue I had not thought about was marking the far edge after the reference edge has been established. With a smaller board, I would simply use a marking or panel gauge. However, my panel gauge is only 18" long and these boards are about 23" tall. I thought about measuring at each end and snapping a chalk line, but instead I used a drafting T-square and gingerly ran a pencil held tightly to the ruler. I spot-measured in several places and it seems I did a decent enough job. Squaring the boards was another trick, as they are far too big for a shooting board. I made do with the boards up on spacers and little work with a plane on its side but all in all I am relying on my saw cut and it seems square enough. I am doing the best work I can, but also remaining relaxed since this is somewhat ugly wood and I am planning to paint it.
That brings up another point: it is suggested to avoid knots, even tight ones, as they are likely to loosen and pop out over time. The lumber I have has lots of small tight knots. There was no section wholly clear of knots, and I did not want to go purchase lumber for this, so I am making do. Over the hopeful decades I have the chest, I will closely monitor it and epoxy the knots back in or replace them with Dutchmen if they ever pop out. Maybe someday I will have access to clear nice lumber and make a new chest. In the meantime, tight knots it is.
I started to prepare for dovetailing by milling a 1/16th" rabbet on the inside of the tailboard. This will make aligning the joint simpler, and also help pull the board into shape if it is slightly bowed. The glue-ups went well and the boards seem reasonably flat but this is nice insurance.
I usually use my bench-on-bench to hold boards for dovetailing, but this board is way too large for it, so I simply held it in place with holdfasts:
The dovetails (13 of them) are marked normally:
and then cut. I started clearing out the waste with a coping saw, and this is as far as I got before parental duty interrupted. It is starting to look like a tool chest! Well, at least to me. I mean, not really, but it is nice to see it forming rather than sitting as they were: live-edge planks taunting me every time I am in the shop.
Just as I felt like I was getting tolerably fast with dovetails, I now more than double my portions. My boxes usually have 5 or 6 per edge, now I am up to 13. Thats 52 tails for the chest, compared to 20 for a small box. It should be a very solid box when complete!