Carved Tool Tote finished!

Tool Tote all loaded up

When I took the class out at Port Townsend on Planes, we all came away with a nice plank of air dried Alder wood that we had taken from rough stock to finished width over the course of the class.  Tim, Jim and I were talking about how it might carve, and I set out to find out.  Not content with simply carving a panel, I decided to make something useful out of the plank. And for the record, it carves beautifully!

I’ve been wanting to make a tool tote to carry tools to my sons preschool where I do work from time to time.  Plus, I wanted to have something to take stuff to Port Townsend classes other than a cardboard box or something.  Something with a little class that showed off some of my skills as a woodworker (or in the case of my dovetails, the lack of skills, but shhhh… on that.)

Looking around I found a nice “strap work” pattern in my inspiration folder, and started out with some pencil and paper to work out the layout.  That took a bit of doing, but I finally got the basic lay out.  I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to work on paper first for carving layouts, unless you’re a master carver like Peter Follansbee that is.  If you’re working out a new layout that you’ve never done, it’s vital.  If nothing else, you have to figure out what your layout lines are going to be.  Once you get that, the rest is fairly easy, but it’s not always easy to tell what you need by looking at a finished piece.  Sometimes you can see the faint leftovers of scratched lines for layout that will give you clues like the S scrolls I worked out before.

I did notice that after my first panel, the second panel layout flowed out quickly and without any fuss, so I can tel that practice and experience will quickly eliminate the need for the paper eventually.  Until then, I plan on sketching a lot before I start.

Once I had the pattern worked out, and the guidelines established I was able to scale it down to my boards.  This one came down to a simple rectangular grid, and layout was a snap because it was simple division of space not complicated measuring.  For this one it was, set in a border with the marking gauge then divide the remaining space into half length and width, and then subdivide the spaces again.  You can see in step 1 below what I ended up with.

Carving Progression from Layout to Finished

To set the pattern into the wood I took a variety of chisels, and matched the shapes to my sketches and set them straight down into the wood with a sharp rap of the carving mallet.  Matching curves to chisels is the key here, and once you get it established it goes quickly.  I got into a groove where I would hit one mark, and then repeat it down the line of the pattern.

Once I get the whole pattern set in (#2) I start in on the background with a couple of small slightly curved chisels to scoop out roughly the background.  I’m  not looking for super flat, just a good clean line around the pattern.  I quickly realized I had to be ambidextrous quite a bit to make all the cuts safely, but after a bit of practice it soon became second nature.  The biggest trick was making sure that I was cutting the right direction, and trying to accommodate the grain.  I got pretty good at the first, and a little better about the second.  You can see in #3 what it looked like about half way through.

Once I’m happy with the background I took my homemade texture punches, and worked the background.  It really makes the flat strap work pop out then, once you texture the background.  Also, this is why you don’t really need to have a perfect background for this, because the punch takes care of any minor bumps.

The Finished Panels

As for the rest of it, the ends are Oak, and the handle is a bit of Walnut scrap I found in the shop. I decided to give it some interest by shaping the handle sort of inspired by the Greene and Green or Craftsman styles.  It was also partially an excuse to use my new Lee Valley spokeshaves to be honest, but I am pretty happy with the result.  The shape of the ends didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, but it’s not too bad.  I would do it differently if I did it again.

The whole thing was dovetailed together, and a the bottom is a bit of 1/2″ Oak left over from another project set into a rabbet on the bottom boards.  The less said about the dovetailing the better, since I managed to botch it a couple of small times, and one major blunder I had to fix that almost ruined the whole piece.  Simply put, I really need to pay attention to my marks to match the sides to the right end piece.  Sigh.

I applied a simple spray coat of clear Shellac to finish it since I wanted something that was simple, easy and fast (it needs to be in service asap) and I could renew it if I needed to. It’s meant to be a functional piece, so I didn’t put a lot of effort into a glassy mirror smooth finish, which would be silly for a tool box anyway.

Finished Tool Tote - 3/4 view

Finished Tool Tote - side view

All in all I’m pleased with it, especially the way the carving came out.



  1. Bill from B'ham February 17, 2012

    Very nice and the walnut was a good addition. I like the shape of the handle.

  2. Boo February 18, 2012

    Now that is a tool tote to die for … I love it! – Simple design, functional and very traditional looking and obviously made by very skilled hands. Stunning work!

  3. Badger February 18, 2012

    @ Bill, I think the handle really pulls the whole thing together, and it’s quite comfortable to boot. The spokeshave was perfect here. I’d never used one, but man it made a huge difference.

    @Boo – Thanks! I’m pretty happy with it. Of course, I am my own worst critic and could point out flaws all day, but yeah it turned out all right. 🙂

  4. Rob February 18, 2012

    Of all the tool totes I’ve seen, this is my favourite – the carving adds real character. I have some alder but had not considered carving it – maybe a different species to yours, here in UK, Alnus glutinosa which I think may have been the choice for wooden clogs at one time.

  5. McGlynn on Making February 18, 2012

    Wow, really nice Badger. The carving looks great. I just started watching some of Chris Pye’s online videos and I’m eager to try some carving. Great application on the tool tote!

  6. Kopanicarstvo Vinko April 6, 2012

    Nice carved tool tote. Good job!

  7. Kari Hultman April 23, 2012

    Awesome carving!! Very well done.

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