From “Miserable Old Box” to Workshop Showpiece

From “Miserable Old Box” to Workshop Showpiece

A builder who goes by Txinkman on Flickr found this beat-to-the-splinters old machinist’s box on eBay and bought it for $10. You might have thought he’d been ripped off if you didn’t see what he ended up doing with it. Like a lot of such projects, this was clearly a labor of love, a quest to create something beautiful and unique, not just something sturdy and functional. And is usually the case with such labors, it probably ended up costing more on parts that was “required” and took ungodly numbers of hours to finish, but the results, the obvious pride, and the amount of attention this project is getting speaks for itself.

After the jump, more pics of the build process, comments from Txinkman, and pics of an even more spectacular, expensive, and time-consuming box-rescue he did last spring.


After Txinkman bought the “miserable old box” (as he calls it) on Bay, “this thing sat in my garage for almost two years and I shuddered every time I walked by it. Close up, showing the plywood front apron and the general, well, miserable condition. The nail laying there was used to secure the front apron closed when it was in a vertical position.”


Finally, he broke down and starting in on the rescue mission. Here he begins the sanding. “The wood was in such poor condition, I just decided to hell with it, I’ll veneer the entire thing. The fancy Plane tree veneer cost me like $30 from a guy in Michigan, but I actually stooped to using the rolled packaging it came in as the case veneer. (Oh Jesus, I’m so embarrassed.)”


“A rare peek into the Veneering Studio. Looks embarrassingly like a kitchen doesn’t it? This is the first time I’d veneered an entire box.”


“Everything that’s going to be veneered is. Slight contrast with the original interior.”


“Drawer fronts, inside lid, and portions of the main case were veneered in matching burl. Frog Tape masks off the case while the burl is shellacked, no stain or dye needed. Really good looking stuff. I elected to shellac these at this stage so that, even while masked, any dyes used on the case seeping onto the burl would just wipe off.”


“The case veneer being dyed. Actually, I wasn’t at all satisfied with how the dye job came out on the sides and I had sanded it off and was redoing the sides. I threw together the little tray in the foreground from some leftover trim. Surprisingly, it came out kinda neat.”


“The finished project. I put some dividers into the top drawer. I also added brass strips on the drawer tops which had to be built up for a flat veneer job. Actually, I had originally intended for this thing to be a catch-all in the garage for small tools and drill bits. Obviously, it got away from me. Okay, I’ll admit it, for a time filler between restoring machinist’s chests, this thing got way out of control.”

So how much did all this cost, in time and money? “In absolute start-to-finish time, maybe three months. Actual hands-on hours? Probably something like 75 hours.”

Cost? “Depends on who’s asking. My wife is (hopefully) convinced I pick all my materials out of dumpsters behind hardware stores, or shoplift them, whichever will get me more hard time when I’m caught. In real life, and you have to promise never to tell, I think I was into Lee Valley for something like 50 bucks on what sits on the box with probably twice that in assorted stuff I bought from them that I either didn’t use or justified as capital investments. The veneer cost me $30. Then there’s the wood fillers and dyes and stains and shellac and wax and felt and sundries. (Wow, I’ve never used the word “sundries” before.) Maybe another 40 bucks worth there.”

And what’s the primary use of the toolbox? “These things have to have a use? What are you, a Prius owner?”


Captain Nemo’s shore box? Here are some before and after shots of another toolchest Txinkman restored, this one, in a clockwork styley. While he didn’t keep actual track of the refurb time on the MOB (Miserable Old Box), Txinkman admits “I did keep track of the hours on the Gear Box, and counting conservatively, it was over 200 hours. I stopped keeping track after that, it was way too depressing.

See Txinkman’s Flickr photostream for more pics of these projects and other examples of his work.

24 thoughts on “From “Miserable Old Box” to Workshop Showpiece

  1. Anonymous says:

    These boxes were cool to begin with. The new one’s are beautiful, but I don’t see the need to destroy these cool old ones to make them. Why not just build new boxes from scratch?

  2. Anonymous says:

    These boxes were cool to begin with. The new one’s are beautiful, but I don’t see the need to destroy these cool old ones to make them. Why not just build new boxes from scratch?

  3. Mark says:

    Some very nice work, and I’m all for reusing, repairing and recycling. But I believe they are already beautiful objects in their origional state, it is a shame to cover them up.

  4. Lookas says:

    I don’t see the point, you take an old charming toolbox and convert it into an anonymous shiny new one.
    It’s like put plaster on the wall of an old caste

  5. Wild Rye says:

    Ditto, I far prefer the old one. It has more character.

    But then if you saw me, you’d know why I think that.

    For modding purposes you can get very decent cheap-o machinist boxes at Harbor Freight or similar outlets.

  6. CN says:

    I saw this photoset earlier this week, and at first, I had the same worries.

    I like old gear, too. But, if you look at the earliest photos in the set of the original “MOB”, it really was falling apart. It had been thrown together with shabby misaligned drawer pulls, the front panel was held closed by a loose nail, and the wood itself was in poor condition.

    This project respected the original box. txinkman fixed its mechanical failings, added a nice, real wood finish, and created something beautiful.

    An old, abandoned toolbox now has new life again.

  7. Gareth Branwyn says:

    And I just don’t get how people can pass some blanket judgment about what the right thing to do is here. Isn’t it a matter of personal choice? If you like it old and beat-up, then leave your box like that. If you want to see how far you can bring it back to “new,” and put your own stink on it, that sounds like a fine challenge to me.

    The point? It’s fun, it invests YOU into the piece, it shows off, celebrates ones skills, it creates something beautiful (at least to some), it beats sitting around watching American Idol auditions (at least to some).

    How many more “points” do you need?

  8. I have no mouth and I must scream says:

    I am big fan of Txinkman’s work and have been for a while now, but also I believe in keeping some things unrestored. I myself collect old wood fishing tackle boxes and homemade machinist’s boxes and love there rough worn looks. But even Txinkman say’s that the project got away from him a bit, even though it turned out beautifully. I think someone should make new old/worn boxes(time to clean up the old workshop).

  9. PeterP says:

    A lot of Tnxman’s previous work has been covered over at Toolmonger, and his Flickr account is really good as well. I also like his old watch collection. Appeals to my steampunk side.

  10. Jack of Most Trades. says:

    Which is why I would have repaired and renewed the finish on the old box and preserved its “Wabi-Sabi” and if inclined to make that veneered beauty, would have started with new wood or, as has been sugested, a box from harbour freight or the like.
    It’s a beautiful box, no denying that. Amazing workmanship! Simply amazing!

  11. netserv666 says:

    Very nice work …. I have an old and some what beat up machinist case which I keep that way because of sentimental reasons …. however taking something that is someone else’s junk and giving it new life is awesome. That original box looked like it was on last legs, Nice craftsmanship….

  12. Dazzypig says:

    Nice looking box, should have made it though instead of using the old one, it looked much nicer in its own way

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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