Wanted: Mary Poppins’ Magic Carpet Bag


I work out of this chest at home (and a slightly smaller one at the Lost Art Press shop, which is but seven miles from my house, so I can easily zip home if necessary)…

Next week is my Traveling Tool Chest class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, and given that it’s a 37-hour drive and a boat ride or two away from Cincinnati, I’m getting on a plane instead and checking my tools. As a result, I’ve had to winnow my kit down to (below) the bare minimum – which always makes me terribly anxious. Typically, I just throw everything I could possibly need (and lots I couldn’t possibly need) into the back of my car and take off. (My running joke when there’s something we need in the Lost Art Press shop: “Wait – I might have that in my car!” And I often do.) I can’t do that here – and my borrowed Pelican Case is a small one.

While the school does, of course, have a goodly set of tools and machines, I like working with my own familiar hand tools whenever possible.

To help organize my mind and my classes, I always make a list – then revise it at least five times – by writing bullet-point lessons plans for every day, and noting the necessary tools for each operation. Said plans not only help me pack in the instances when I can’t haul the kitchen sink, but keep me on track/help me not make a complete ass of myself while teaching.  Note that the list doesn’t include all the tools one might wish to build a chest; it includes only the tools for which I’ve a perhaps unhealthy attachment.

Still I’m sure that despite my best efforts I will have left out something over which I will wail…but whatever it turns out to be, it wouldn’t have fit anyway. And as I write this, I’m only on revision number three; there will no doubt be additions/deletions/substitutions as I try to squeeze everything in. But the ones in bold? They’re my absolute musts. I’ll borrow a hammer, sharpening stones and the like…but I do so love my planes and dovetail saw. (Clothes and toiletries I’ll worry about late Friday night – those are easier!)

No. 3
No. 5
Dividers (2)
Dovetail Marker
Mechanical Pencil
Cutting Gauge
Marking Knife
Dovetail saw
Coping saw & blades
1/2″ & 3/8″ chisels
Machinist’s square
Pinch sticks (maybe)
Straight rabbet OR shoulder plane
Mortise chisel
Tenon saw
Beading plane
Small bevel square
Apron plane
Flush-cut saw
Honing guide (maybe)
Plow plane
No. 48 (maybe)
6″ square
12′ tape measure
Cut nails
(Because I’m pretty sure I forgot to ask PTSW to order some…)

And yes, I realize all the “maybes” are lightweight items that take up little space, thankyouverymuch.


This “chest” is slightly smaller than the one at top. (Medium-sized cat for scale – he doesn’t get to go.) Can one have a mallet in carry-on luggage? Asking for a friend.


About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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11 Responses to Wanted: Mary Poppins’ Magic Carpet Bag

  1. On the subject of traveling and making it through the TSA Shuffle, I was recently bringing two fossils back from Arizona to New York as gifts for my godsons. I had to take two flights on two different days, and both times I went through security, my stuff was flagged, and I had to wait for the chemical sniffing test. The first time, I could see plainly that my fossils were what the TSA staff were looking for in my luggage, because they took them out and swabbed them. So, the second time, I had them out in the bin. They still flagged my stuff, but this time, I got to hear a little of the conversation about them. Apparently, they had shown up in the reading as a liquid (because one of the fossils being sandstone, I guess?), so the agent and the agent’s manager examined it and determined that it was absolutely a solid, and they let me go through.

    Anyway, put a fossil in your mallet if you want to give the TSA a thrill (and spend some quality time with them).

  2. When I was teaching, I used to ship my tool ahead via FedEx. I got tired of the TSA going through my tools, taking them out of their carefully wrapped rolls. I even lost a knife once. My Pelican case is suitcase size, and I can fit all tool for two weeks into it. Then I bought 25 double thickness cardboard boxes (Uline), to fit the case, (and make FedEx happy). Aways charged it to the school. Never had a problem, except you loose a few extra days without your tools.

  3. Jillian Ramsay Stern says:

    I should think that someone who is interested in old woodworking techniques and tools would be able to imagine what an itinerate journeyman (journeywoman in this case) would have to pack, while tramping about while looking for work. And remember they lugged their tools with them, without the benefit of horse, carriage, or horseless carriage.
    I should also think that ones primary focus in teaching and demonstrating woodworking should be teaching woodworking with whatever’s at hand, not the lure of tool gathering. 😉
    When I used teach stage craft in college, I learned to focus on the joy of the skill and ingenuity in “doing” with whatever was at hand as opposed to bemoaning what was not at hand.

  4. bonsai26 says:

    Pinch sticks are listed twice on your list.

  5. I built it Wis 7 less tools. You could get by.

  6. Shawn Graham says:

    No snacks? There always has to be snacks. And a flask for the end of day.

  7. Eric R says:

    It looks like it’ll be a tight fit to get those items in that Pelican case, but you should be able to do it.
    We used to use nothing else on our SWAT team as they will really take rough treatment without damaging the expensive contents.
    Good luck on your trip.
    Looking forward to some pictures.

  8. Gene ORourke says:

    I just can’t get over the irony of having to use a Pelican case to enable a class on the “traveling” tool chest. Yes – I understand all the reasons the plastic case makes more sense for air travel, but still…. 🙂

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