The Woodwright’s Tool Tote


The next project that caught me was a tool tote like the one Roy Underhill sports at the beginning of his show. Beyond that novelty, it interested me because of its hopper construction and the compound angles that were fundamental to it. I though this would help build my comfort beyond pieces joined at right angles that have defined most of my work to date. I was also driven by practical purpose as I am always carrying tools between the house and my shed workshop. To help learn about the construction method, I followed the details included in the “Tool Tote” chapter in Roy’s book, “The Woodwright’s Apprentice”.

Starting with five boards cut to rough dimension from straight grain pine, 3/4” stock. I sawed the angles for the ends and sides. As the chapter indicates, I used a bevel setting resulting from the 1 1/2 and 5 1/2 marks on my framing square.

The one side board was resawed in half so the totes sides would be approximately 3/8” thick. I resawed the board while it angled away from me in the vise flipping it periodically to saw from opposing sides. This helps one keep their saw on a better track along the length of the cut. A few licks with the plane followed to minimize the saw marks.

Next I sawed the shoulders of the rabbets on the end boards. Shoulders were sawn parallel to the angled ends of these boards. Rabbits were finished by splitting off the waste, paring across the joint with a chisel, and some ‘tune-up’ with my router plane.

To find the required angle for the bevel along the upper and lower edges and bottom, the sides and ends were temporary nailed together and the bevel was set with blade across the width of the tote and the handle resting tight to the side (Roy’s book provide a good description and some photos of this). I then planed the upper and lower edges to match this bevel setting.

The bottom was also fit while the pieces were temporary assembled. The bottom drops into the opening of the tote and it’s edge is beveled on all sides to match the splay angle of the sides and ends. I had to keep in mind during this step that the face of the board with the narrower width resulting from this bevel goes on the underside of the piece. As Roy suggests in the book, I planed one edge and side to the bevel setting. Then placing the nailed together carcass on the bottom piece while it was upside down (i.e., narrower width up) and these two bevel edges aligned to the inside of the carcass, I traced around the inside to transfer the dimensions of the other edge and side to the bottom face. I used my jack plane to then finish the bottom by planing to these lines.

I next prepared the piece for the handle laying out and sawing the taper on each end of the piece. The end of the handle forms a tenon that fits into a mortise in the tote’s ends. When laying out the slope of the taper, I had to be sure it was not too steep as that would result in tenon too weak (narrow) once the tote was assembled and loaded with tools. The handle hole was roughed in using three, 1 1/4” auger bit holes in the very center of the handle. The waste remaining in this opening was chopped with a chisel. A rasp and sandpaper was used to smooth this opening.

Before laying out and chopping the mortises in the end, the tenon ‘shoulder’ and dimensions were defined at both ends of the handle. Note that the ‘shoulder’ follows the same angle as the splay of the end (and the end angle of sides). Mortises were chopped using a chisel. Mortise walls were first chopped to be square with the boards face. However, because the ends splay relative to the tenons in the handle the top and bottom of the mortise walls had to be bevel with careful chisel paring cuts to match the needed angle. This step required some fettling during assembly.


Once all pieces were cut, bevel angles defined, and mortise and tenons that secure the handle were complete, assembly of this piece is fairly strait forward. Just remember that the handle cannot be inserted after nailing of sides and ends is complete and that the bottom can simply be dropped into the carcass opening among its completion. To avoid splitting of the sides, headless brad cut nails and appropriate pilot holes were used to assemble the piece. Each rabbet joint was nailed from opposing sides (through sides into the ends and through ends into the sides) with four to five of the 4d nails. This nailing approach seemed to yield a very secure tote.