Some projects finish themselves – and some linger a little longer than invited. This chest over stayed its welcome in my tiny shop. Sixteen months after sketching the design on a cocktail napkin I finally have a place to hide unfolded blankets in my room. Like many new woodworkers I started with arts and crafts movement before moving on to a more contemporary aesthetic- this was my first return to the style in quite some time. A definitive plus of the project was exhausting the white oak left over from the tool cabinet.
The completed chest! The outward facing side of the panels are a quarter-sawn white oak veneer. The frame is all mortised and tenoned white oak. I elected a subtle relief on the panels. I also choose to use a “general finishes” honey stain to try and blend the tones of the frame and panels.
I experimented with different joints on the piece – on the front facing side I cut lapped dovetails and on the back I used mortised and tenon joints.
On both sides of the chest I constructed maple drawers. When closed the drawer faces look like a structural component of the chest – as far as I am concerned that makes them secret drawers! Unfortunately the chest weights a ton – so I am always catching my instinct to lift it by drawers when moving it. Also I have realized how few secrets I have to hid. The drawers slides are self-closing – so the drawers pull themselves snug. I bought antique iron chest pulls from which help complete the piece.
The lid is fastened together with a mitered tenon. I cleaned up the joints with a shoulder plane to get a snug fit.
The lid is hinged with a piano hinge and held in place with a lid stays.
Inspirations and Design Musings
It’s amazing how I build things I want to build rather than things I want to use. After the realization that I had a pile of blankets awkwardly clumped on my floor I set forth to build a case to shield them from judging eyes. I am fortunate to have a home-made quilt, so it just seemed more suiting for the quilt to carry the gentle aroma of cedar on chilly nights. Like so many projects there is a delay between design and execution – a year or so after scribbling down the design the chest finally has filled in a spot in my bedroom, albeit not the bedroom it was designed for.
This chest was deigned and redesigned as I traveled across Europe. I stole some ideas from a 17th century chest in Irish castle – I sketched out the initial design first at the misnamed Godshot coffee shop in Berlin.
I used almost exclusively hand-tools only on this project which means, I had a lot of stock to square and rip. Here John Rancourt, is squaring the face of a cross beam after I ripped it a stray. I am bringing the brillant tones of the cedar come to life as I surface plane the cedar floor.
Building the Frame
Here I am cutting the mortises in the legs with a chisel. I am re-purposing the legs from a project I abandoned; I am going to either have to make some curious design decisions or live with some quirks to get these legs to work.
David is rushing me out the door, as I work to get a set of tenons cut and fit. I think I cut one of the mortises crooked which caused me a bunch of problems later. On the back face the frame is joined with mortise and tenons. I assembled the frame first and than worked on veneering the panels.
On the front face I cut lapped dovetails. What a satisfying joint. I sawed as deeply as I could, defined the shoulders with a chisel and than cleaned bottom flush with a router plane. After learning the joint on this project, I made a frame using the same technique.
Fitting the Panels and Veneering!
Cutting the groove for the panels. During one of the many hiatuses from this project I waited for spring, so my shop was warm enough to veneer the panels. In order to muster suffice pressure I used a bunch of clamps to apply the veneer to the panels.
Inconveniently the whole thing was a little bit bigger than my workbench.
Building the Secret Drawers (shhhh)
Between the two drawers is a small box. In order to access it you simply lift up the floor boards. The floor sits along a track around the chest. The sides of the box are attached with a sliding dovetail – a joint which turned out not as well as I had hoped.
With the chest glued up – I cut the drawer face to size. The drawers run on slides and are invisible in plain sight.
I used the bowsaw to give shape to the drawer face.
And so it was that the chest was finally finished. No longer a receptacle for dust and wood scraps in my shop – it made its way to the foot of my bed.
Addendum: Cutting Tenons without saws
I tried a lot of different things in this project -new techniques to challenge the way I have been doing things. Mastering hand planes is like discovering wisdom – you always feel farther away from achieving it the more you learn. In lieu of this quest I am trying to use hand planes rather than saws to tackle tenons. I think I got cleaner, squarer tenons than cutting both dimensions of the tenon with a saw (assuming I had a square board to start with)