Build a Traditional Japanese Wooden Toolbox

Build a Traditional Japanese Wooden Toolbox

Watch the instruction video in Fullscreen mode here.

At JTA we are keenly aware that there are many barriers to woodworking - fundamentally, the limitations of time, money and space will always play a role in shaping the kind of woodwork that is being done in the world, and even whether someone decides to do any woodwork at all.

With that in mind, we have been discussing for some time the need for us to develop opportunities for woodworkers and would-be woodworkers within these constraints. Our chopstick making kit is a great example of this sort of project - it can be done in a small space, it can be completed in a single day, and it doesn't require significant investments in machinery or an exhaustive set of tools.

We have been selling the chopstick making kit for 10 years now, and we never tire of taking them to trade shows simply because watching someone make something from timber is it's own reward. People are surprised they can make something so beautiful and so useful, and the process is a reward in itself.

Hence it came to be that for some time we have been asking ourselves what other woodworking projects can be relatively simple, affordable and easy to make in a small space while also delivering the woodworker a beautiful and useful object? Ideally, of course, we would want it to have a Japanese connection.

Enter the Japanese toolbox. This is an absolutely wonderful design. The drawings for it can be found in Toshio Odate's Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use, and examples of the same have been produced by carpenters and other Japanese woodworkers for many, many years.

We have read about and seen beautiful examples of Japanese toolboxes made by Western woodworkers from exotic timbers with complex joinery and additions such as sliding totes, magnetic tool retention blocks and other bells and whistles. If these concepts appeal to you, you should absolutely incorporate them into your toolbox design - and send us photos for our own inspiration.

However, in the same section of his book, Odate also expresses his strong preference that his own toolboxes be made as simply as possible, usually with leftover timber and whatever nails are to hand. Japanese woodworkers often avoid ostentation unless it is required in the work itself, leading Odate to say that he would feel awkward if a carpenter arrived on site with a magnificently prepared toolbox.

The JTA Version of the Toolbox

Given our objectives, the Toolbox Kit we have developed is very simple in design, and it's size was mostly determined by the material we had enough of to make a good number of them.

At the end of this article you will find links to full cad models that you can edit with your own dimensions. For the moment, we will run through the decisions we have made for this first iteration of the kit.

To make this kit, most of the material is machined out of Japanese cedar boards we have imported from Japan. If you are sourcing your own material, this is in no way a requirement and you should use whatever you have/like/want.

The ends of this box are the parts to which all other components are anchored, and they should be thick and sturdy. Ours measure between 15 and 20mm thick (we didn't have enough thick boards to go with just one for every kit). We cut the handles from the same stock.

We suggest you size your toolbox from your available material. Our stock measured 100mm wide, which became the width for both the bottom plank and the lid.

The height of the box is governed by the width of the stock that you cut the ends out of. As ours was 80mm, the width of the side material became 86mm (the width of the end stock plus the thickness of the bottom plank).

Length-wise, we sized our boxes to accommodate the longest tool we wanted to comfortably fit inside it, which was a 30cm ruler. The desired interior dimension was 320mm, which then sets the length of the bottom by adding the thickness of the end stock twice, and the length of the sides which also need the thickness of the handles added twice to cover them.

The thickness of our timber for all other components other than the ends and handles is 6mm. This is a lightly-built design, but yours doesn't have to be.

Finally, the top of the box and the lid mechanics are far simpler than they initially appear - however, they are difficult to explain in simple English text. Christian's video at the top of this article does a better job, and he starts attaching the top pieces at 11:40.

If you are familiar with SketchUp, Fusion360 or any other CAD software and would like a head-start on designing your own box, we have open-sourced our design on Thangs here.