The Carpentry Way’s Japanese Toolbox – Build

Hello and welcome to my blog, this post begins a series on building a Japanese Toolbox.  This box will be a gift to my soon to be one year old son, for now a place to store his toys and odds and ends, and hopefully something that he keeps with him as he grows up.

In researching this project and deciding to build a Japanese toolbox, I recalled that Chris Hall of The Carpentry Way blog had offered this project to his students in order to demonstrate advanced level joinery.  I’ve followed the Carpentry Way for some time now and have looked in on a few past projects very closely.  I requested Chris’ permission to detail my build of his project here on my blog and he gracefully obliged.

I will deviate slightly from the original plans but will make certain to specifically point out where I deviate as I proceed.

The original build and those who have completed beautiful Japanese toolboxes by following along the during the build can be found on Chris’ web forum;

Craftsmanship In Wood – Tool Box Project

I have decided to build this toolbox in white cypress.  White cypress is a well behaved wood, which resaws well and does not move much seasonally.  Similarly to the medicine cabinets, I will be using the straight grained sections of this flat sawn lumber.  Cutting the lumber in this way also makes it significantly easier to resaw, which will be critical for this project as there will be quite a bit of resawing work.  This project will rely on high quality thin material which all has to be sawn down from heavier stock.



After a good few hours of handsawing I had a nice stack of material resting and ready to be prepped for gluing.


I’m prepping the sides of the boards to prepare them for gluing, using David Weaver’s try plane here to shoot the sides.


Now that the panels are complete, they’re ready for flattening.  One important note is that I’ve been stickering these panels in between working on them in the hopes that it will help them retaining their flatness.

I have my jack plane and winding sticks here ready to proceed.  I will start by taking diagonal cuts to quickly remove material but minimize tearout.


Showing the diagonal cuts here on one of the larger boards.


I follow up with the try plane and remove the scallops left by the jack.  The Try plane actually leaves a nice surface, but I continue to fine tune it with the Kanna.


Now that the boards are jointed and thicknessed, I move onto the next stage of work by cutting them to width, jointing a reference side, planing them square and finally planing them to depth.



The end boards are 1/8″ taller to account for a dado joint, but otherwise the boards are identical and so I began laying out the main tenons of the case.


And their corresponding dados.


Now that the major joinery is laid out I can begin cutting the dadoed housings.


And receiving grooves for the bottom panel.


Moving right along to the tenons, I begin cutting these out with the dozuki saw.



Then wasting out the sections between the tenons with a coping saw.


At this point might as well kerf the tenons, these kerfs will be for wedges to secure the tenons.


Now that these are complete, I move along to sawing the baseline at the ends of the panels.


At this point I set aside the end panels to begin cutting joinery into the side panels, starting with the stopped dados which will house the center supports.  I begin by sawing the sides of the joint as deep as possible, then paring them to the proper depth with a witch’s tooth (router plane).


I’m deviating from Chris’ plan a bit here by making these center supports taller and having them overlap the base panel’s groove.  The reason why I have decided to do this is to split the base panel into three smaller panels.  Rather support the center of the panel with tenons I can have the panel sit in rabbeted grooves.

A major point in Chris’ project are the hell tenons (Jigoku Hozo), I will be doing a number of hell tenons on this build, but I have eliminated a few of them with other joinery.


Next the stopped groove which will receive the base panel is cut.  I did not take photos of the process but it was done with a combination of a Kibiki and a router plane (witch’s tooth).

Following that I have returned to the end panels to remove the waste between the tenons.  I have processed this work with set of paring chisels.  I keep a variety of sizes of paring chisels on hand and the reason being is that I can quickly chop away material with a small chisel then return with a larger chisel to chop to the line.

There are grooves on both sides of this panel, so the area where the groove is leaving an unsupported section is left intact until the panel is flipped over where it can be chopped away without splitting away material.



The end panel is then laid onto the side panel so that I can transfer marks to the panel from the cut tenons.  I do this both on the inside and outside of the panel.


A quick way to remove waste with square or nearly square mortises is to drill their centers, and I do so here, then pare away the remaining waste.


The center section is then sawn away with a coping saw and then pared like the others.


At this point I test fit the tenons to ensure that they’re protruding accurately through the panel, then return to the bench to cut away the sides at an angle to allow room for the tenons to receive their respective wedges.

The area between the panel and the start of the dado groove is fairly thin and so I am using a guide to make certain that my work is done accurately.  I pare along the paring block to trim the sides.


Finally one side is complete and test fitted.



There will be quite a number of additional mortises in this panel before the project is complete, but I think it is off to a good start.

Thank you for joining me and I hope that you have enjoyed.

The Carpentry Way – Japanese Tool Box Part II



  1. A very thorough explanation! Thank you for taking the time to document and upload this.

    And I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a continental workbench. You are indeed a salmon swimming upstream. It even has….gasp!…a traditional tailvise!


    1. Thanks Jeff! Hah, indeed, it almost seems like a Roubo bench is required when researching online. I have enjoyed working with this type of bench, making joinery such as dovetails very easy. I think it more likely that I would have two benches than ever changing from this one.

  2. Amazingly fast progress on your tool box. I admire your drive and focus, not to mention your woodworking skills. Looking forward to seeing more.

    I can understand why you spend so much time in your shop. Strikes me as a very calm and serene place. From what I can see, that is…


    David Wong
    1. Good to hear from you David! Thanks for the kind words. I do enjoy spending a good deal of time in the shop, if anything it stands as proof that shop furniture has a function….a function of encouraging more shop time.

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