Blanket Chest – White Oak – 2013:2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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)


First, measure a square line 5/8ths from the end


Second score a clean line with a knife – this prevents the grain from ripping when it is planned. It is imperative to have the plan cut exactly along this line.


Third use a plow plane to cut a clean shoulder line. I sorta of love this too.


Fourth, chip out waste with a chisel – this is really satisfying. Also, some woods chips in a more satisfying way than others. Oak is great because it typically chips straight.


Lastly clean the tenon with a shoulder plane
















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