"More Valuable Than a Shipload of Gold"

Robinson Crusoe's Tool Chest Robinson Crusoe Tool Chest

by Christopher Schwarz

Without a proper tool chest, the novel "The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe would have been a whole lot shorter.

After Crusoe was shipwrecked off the coast of the Americas in the 1719 novel, he returned to the wrecked vessel to pillage it for supplies. Food, of course, was important to Crusoe. Second on the list: tools.

"And it was after long searching that I found out the carpenter's chest, which was, indeed, a very useful prize to me, and much more valuable than a shipload of gold would have been at that time. I got it down to my raft, whole as it was, without losing time to look into it, for I knew in general what it contained."

With the tools in the chest, Crusoe is able to build a whole life for himself, including a house and many niceties. Of course, first he has to learn to become a woodworker. And first he has to learn to sharpen.

On his second trip back to ship: "... I found two or three bags full of nails and spikes, a great screw-jack, a dozen or two of hatchets, and, above all, that most useful thing called a grindstone."

Crusoe's first project? Learning to process rough stock into boards so he could build a table and chair. His own words should be encouraging to beginning woodworkers who are teaching themselves the craft.

"And here I must needs observe, that as reason is the substance and origin of the mathematics, so by stating and squaring everything by reason, and by making the most rational judgment of things, every man may be, in time, master of every mechanic art. I had never handled a tool in my life; and yet, in time, by labour, application, and contrivance, I found at last that I wanted nothing but I could have made it, especially if I had had tools."

• • •

This article first appeared as a sidebar to the article by Christopher Schwarz, "12 Rules for Tool Chests" in the December 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking magazine .

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