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Making and Using Tools - Shop Benches and Other Appliances

  Replicating the Seaton Tool Chest by David Nelson 1 of 25  

Why build the Seaton chest?

This project began around 1997 when I purchased the “Tool Box Book”. This lead to an email dialog with Rees Tools, in Bath, England, about tool chests. They recommended I read a book sponsored by TATHS entitled “The Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton”. Upon reading the book I discovered that Benjamin Seaton, the builder of the chest and I have the same birthday, February 7.

One of Benjamin’s descendents married into a Dahl family from Norway. My mother’s ancestors are Dahls from Norway. This was enough of a coincidence to convince me that I was destined to build a replica of the chest.


David Nelson

I notified Rees Tools of my intention to eventually build a copy of the chest and shortly thereafter I received a package of drawings of the chest from them. These were ¼ inch to the inch copies of the drawings used in the book. Work demands and other projects delayed making tool chest until November, 2006.

What is the Seaton Chest and What is so Important About It?

Cover reproduced by kind permission of the Tools and Trades History Society


“No comparable kit of tools exists elsewhere in Britain or America”.  This chest contains an essentially untouched original inventory of tools that would have been used by an 18th century cabinetmaker. When looking at the pictures of the contents of the chest it is obvious that for the most part they are unused.

Around 1796 Benjamin’s father bought him a relatively complete set of tools for a cabinetmaker. Upon receipt of the tools Benjamin made an inventory list of the tools and built a chest to house them. The list went into the chest with the tools. Benjamin added additional tools to the chest, some of them probably made by him.

Shortly after the chest was completed Benjamin joined his father’s business and set the chest aside.   The chest sat almost unused in the control of Benjamin’s descendents until 1910 when it was donated to a museum by Benjamin’s great grandson, Robert Cooper Seaton. The chest then sat in the museum until about 1977 when it was catalogued. In 1991 the book about the chest and its contents was conceived and executed.

Finding Material

After reading the book I decided to attempt to build something close enough to the original that Benjamin Seaton would do a double take if he saw my chest. I also want to fill the chest with as many tools as possible to duplicate the original contents. When doing research on replicas of the chest I found only one. First glance showed a box with finger-jointed corners and the interior of walnut and maple. This was not what I wanted when I was finished.

I then began research on obtaining material for the chest proper. I found sources for everything in about a month and begin purchasing the material to make the replica. For the interior of the carcase I got 1/16 inch mahogany. This veneer is lighter in color than the other two veneers I used but wood dye and garnet shellac will be used to get a darker color. For the fixed and moving tills I got a medium figure veneer and for the face of the saw till I got a flame figure. The most difficult task was finding the tulipwood cross banding with only a boxwood border. I found this at Dover Inlays.

The interior will be finished with garnet shellac. I will use wood dye on the light-colored mahogany. The exterior will be finished with a base coat of black milk paint. On top of this will be a coat of black and forest green mixed half and half. Once the paint is dry it will be rubbed with steel wool and linseed oil. A final coat of graining liquid will give a look of age to the exterior.

Notes & References

Woodworker's Guide to Wood Collection only $79.99 at Shop Woodworking
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Norris Planes

W. & S. Butcher



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