Today’s basic project, a rabbeted and nailed box, is a sub-project of my new traveling tool chest. Although I alternate between through dovetails and rabbets/nails for carcases, when it comes to sliding trays for tool chests, I always go for rabbets/nails. It’s faster, holds almost as well, and is a great way to practice hand-cut rabbets. The project can be scaled to any length, width or depth you desire . The tray pictured below is 8″ wide and 22 1/2″ long by 4 1/4″ high (4″ not including the tray bottom).
A moving fillister plane (with scoring spur) is great for cutting cross-grain rabbets, but I still enjoy the hell out of hand-splitting rabbets. Hand-splitting is definitely not faster than using a dedicated plane, although in my experience it can be more accurate both in terms of depth and shoulder squareness.
Materials and tools for this project were as follows:
Carcase ends: 4″ x 8″ x 5/8″ eastern white pine
Carcase sides: 4″ x 22 1/8″ x 5/8 eastern white pine
Tray Bottom: 8″ x 22 1/4″ x 14″ red oak
Carcase Nails: Dictum 40mm door nails
Bottom Nails: Tremont “Fine Finish” cut nails
Wide chisel (I used 1″)
Router Plane (if you don’t have one, you can just use a chisel)
Dividers (a ruler and awl will work just as well)
After you’ve prepared the pine stock for the carcase, first set your marking gauge to the thickness of the carcase sides. Mark the inside face and the sides of each end board. Then reset your marking gauge to exactly half the thickness of the end boards and finish laying out the rabbets on the end boards. Chop the rabbets with the wide chisel, same as when making a dado.
Next, split the rabbets, just like you would with a tenon. Keep an eye out for grain direction and don’t be afraid to leave a little bit of waste to paring away later.
When you are reasonably close to your gauge lines, break out the router plane. I recently upgraded my small router plane, which I unboxed just for this operation. Set the depth to your gauge line and pare the rabbets to depth. A chisel works just as well if you don’t have a router plane: just go slowly and pay attention to your depth lines.
At this point, you should have all four rabbets cut and parallel, resulting in two identical end boards. If for any reason the shoulder lines on the two boards aren’t identical, pare down the shoulders until they are. Cut the carcass sides to length, square up the ends and get ready to glue and nail the boards together. Pre-drill your nail holes and assemble the carcass with glue and the 40mm door nails. Three at each corner should do the trick.
Once the glue is set, it’s time to attach the tray bottom. A bit of glue on one carcase side will control the direction of expansion and contraction. Assuming the tray carcase is leveled, clamp the tray bottom and tray together (against the bench) and pre-drill your nail holes every 3-4 inches or so. I like headless cut nails for tray bottoms, so be sure the nail is oriented with the grain to prevent splitting.
The ends of a tray bottom in a tool chest extend slightly beyond the ends of the carcase (for clearance when sliding), but you should at least level the bottom to the sides of the carcase. If you are making a stand-alone tray, skip the overhang and flush the bottom perfectly to the carcase on all four sides.
And there you go. As Christopher Schwarz would say, when done right nails are not “second class joinery”. They can be beautiful and functional. And very quick to throw together (the above box took less than 3 hours, including stock preparation by hand).