Tool Chest: How to Install a Half-Mortise Lock

Now that I have finished building the lid of my tool chest, I can install the hardware, which will include hinges, a lock, and rolling casters.

I got my hinges and my lock from Horton Brasses, and I’m extremely pleased with the quality of their hardware.

Installing the hinges was straightforward.

I placed the hinges across the mortise-and-tenon joint of the lid and directly adjacent to the tenon on the stile.

Installing the Lock

Installing a lock is a challenge because the carcase is already assembled, so you have limited clearance for swinging a mallet or turning a drill. There are special drawer lock chisels for people who do this kind of thing frequently, but I found another way.

Layout is simple, but precision is crucial. I drilled the keyhole first. Everything centers around that. I stuck the key through the hole to hold the lock mechanism steady. A combination of knife lines and marking gauge lines put everything in place. Now it’s time to cut the mortise.

Taking a cue from Roy Underhill who demonstrates mortise chisel use by clamping a piece of plexiglass to one side of a board, I decided to do something similar. I clamped a board to the inside of the carcase, turning a half-mortise into a full mortise.

Now I’m on familiar turf. Just drill out the bulk of the waste with a brace and bit. Note the fancy depth stop made from masking tape.

With the backing board removed, it looks like this:

Clean it up with a chisel…

And it looks like a proper mortise. A router plane trues up the wall. Quick, simple, and no special tools required.

I scored the outside lines deeply and used a small router plane to carefully remove the rest of the waste. That was delicate work, but not difficult.

My daughters get to inspect my work at each step.  That hastens the development of the patina on the brasses, which is so essential to a good-looking tool chest.

Installing the catch on the underside of the lid was a bit trickier because of the dust seal. The router plane won’t fit in there, for one.

I was able to use a cutting gauge with the blade extended to score two of the lines. The other two were done carefully with a knife and square. Then I slowly excavated the waste with a chisel.

It all came together in the end, though.

Meanwhile, on the outside I used a #13 auger bit to make a space for my escutcheon in the dust seal, which wasn’t quite wide enough to seat it alone.

I squared the sides of the hole with a chisel first.  Then I used masking tape to hold the escutcheon in place while I and tacked it on.  I resorted to a large, hollow-point nail set to get the tacks in.

A couple screws and an old shoelace make for a fine strap. I also put some casters on the bottom for ease of movement.

The Finish

I have to admit that, after taking over two months to build this thing, I’m impatient about the finish.  No multi-week finishing schedule for me!  I put on several coats of home-brewed Danish oil (1 part each safflower oil, mineral spirits, and polyurethane) at 15-minute intervals and rubbed down the final coat with a clean cloth. The finish dries overnight, and when I touch the piece, it feels like wood and not plastic.

One of my daughters helped me apply the final coat.

The finish hasn’t dried in these photos, so the end result will be a duller sheen, but you get the idea.

Now all I need to do is build the two sliding trays, and my hand tools can move into their new home.

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6 Responses to Tool Chest: How to Install a Half-Mortise Lock

  1. Pingback: Tool Chest: Lid, Skirt, and Dust Seal | The Literary Workshop Blog

  2. meeteyorites says:

    How are you going to insure this priceless object?!

  3. meeteyorites says:

    Oh. On a shoestring. I see.

  4. Pingback: Tool Chest: Sliding Trays | The Literary Workshop Blog

  5. bobjones2000 says:

    that looks great. I have wondered about using pecan with hand tools. I’m in the south too and there are pecan trees everywhere. I built a cabinet for my tools, but I’m thinking I will build a chest for any time that I travel (and just to do it). Nice execution.

    • It’s tough wood. It dulls tools relatively quickly, and you have to really push to plane it by hand. Its stiffness and hardness makes joinery a challenge because everything has to be cut perfectly to fit, but once it’s together it stays together. It’s hard to split, so it’s very durable even with lots of joints.

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