Japanese Toolbox

Completed Japanese Toolbox

Oftentimes, I find myself going to my parents’ house or a friend’s place to build or repair something, and I have nothing to put my larger tools in.  As a result, my drill, saw, clamps and other large items end up either laying on the floor of my truck or stuffed into whatever cardboard box I found laying around.  If I had a large, sturdy box to throw this stuff in, it would make these trips much more convenient and I would spend less time loading and unloading my tools and more time working.  So when I saw Len Cullum’s Japanese Toolbox project in MAKE 34, I knew I had found my solution.

If you look around the Internet, you’ll find several versions of the Japanese Toolbox, many of which require advanced skills to build.  I’ve seen one that uses wood nails instead of modern screws or nails, and some that utilize finger joints to strengthen the box.  Fortunately, Len’s version is much simpler, and uses just wood glue and drywall screws to hold it together.  I hadn’t done any real woodworking since high school shop class, so the project looked a little overwhelming at first.  But it’s actually not too difficult to build, and I think it’s a good first project for anyone interested in woodworking.

Side of toolbox

I followed Len’s instructions pretty closely, using the same dimensions he does, and using the same sizes of pine boards that he specifies in his project.  I don’t have a chop saw, so I used a table saw for all my cuts.  Mine is old (my great-grandfather bought it originally) and the guide is not big enough for long cuts, so I made some of my cuts “freehand”.  My box is not as straight as Len’s (it wobbles a bit, in fact) but it’s “good enough” for a toolbox.  Actually, it came out better than I expected given my lack of experience.

Carving name in the toolbox

With my toolbox not looking too shabby, I sought to find a way to make it a little more “mine” and I though I should put my name on it in Japanese.  I learned as a child to write my first name using the Katakana Japanese Syllabary from a foreign exchange teacher, so I knew what it should look like.  I didn’t want to do it freehand though, so I used an online translator to get my name, printed it out, and then traced it onto the lid of my box using carbon paper.  I then chiseled it out using a mallet and 1/4″ chisel.  I watched this video to get an idea of how to do it, but let me be clear that my work and technique is a far cry from the skill shown in that video.  But again, it’s “good enough” for a toolbox.  I then painted the letters in and sanded the surface after it dried.  My chiseled letters have a rough edge, which I think better suits this project than a perfectly straight edge anyways.

Toolbox filled with tools

The completed toolbox serves my my purposes well, holding quite a few tools, screws and other odds & ends.  I would like it to be a little bit wider so my drill would fit better, but that’s not a big deal.  The beauty of the Japanese toolbox is that it can be any size you want; you build it to suit your needs.  Someday I may revisit this project an build a larger toolbox; but this one works for now.  I’m really happy with it, and I expect to get plenty of use out of it for many years to come.

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Originally posted July 14, 2013 on my old site; posted here May 8, 2018 with minor revisions.