Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Six Board Chest On the Go - Part III - Nick of Time

I love to visit my family in the States. This trip to my sister's would have been a lot less stressful had I not decided to build this project while I was there. In the end, the last day or two of this project turned out to be really fun, and the chest was completed!
Completed chest.
I think it would be very simple to build this chest at home with my regular tools and workholding. Even in my shop in Spain, where my olny bench option is a pair of sawhorses. In fact, I might try to build one there just to see.

For this project, the hardest part was the planning. I had to plan on what the minimum amount of tools required would be for this chest. That required deciding on every part of the build ahead of time so I would have the tools I needed.

One design choice I made was to forget about any kind of molding that would require anything I couldn't do with my one plane. I chose to use simple chamfers everywhere.
Here I am planing a chamfer.
This half-wall served well as a joinery bench. Light planing, such as for a chamfer was easy up here. It also made a fine saw bench for my Dick saw. I was able to fairly easily clean up these rips with my plane, but without a shooting board I decided to just be very careful and saw exactly to my line with the crosscuts. I think I only planed the endgrain on one crosscut. The rest was used right off the saw.

My sawing set-up.
I assumed that there would be some kind of electric drill for me to use. My sister had this one.
The drill was needed for pilot holes for the nails.
It did, however, take me two days to find the charger for it. It wasn't long before it ran out of juice. Luckily, my tapered drill bit had a hex shank on it which allowed me to make tapered pilot holes with a screwdriver handle.
Screwdriver handle from IKEA.

I had planned to make rabbets as per Christopher Schwarz's instructions in the Anarchist's Design Book, but decided making them with a saw and a chisel might extend this project into the too-long-to-complete-it-before-I-leave category. Roman nails hold plenty well for this project, so I just had to be careful in lining everything up before driving them home. No rabbets were harmed in the construction of this chest.

The first few days involved working in fits and starts. Basically all that was completed in this time was the boards (except the lid) were cut to length and smoothed with the plane (not flattened).

Two days before I left I felt like I was finally able to start building this chest, and it really started coming together in a hurry.
Progress after the first real day of work.
I'm sure if Dad hadn't been well, I would have abandoned this project and not spent the time on it. But, I've decided out of all the woodworkers in the world, I have the most fun woodworking with my dad.
I had Dad sign it too, since I wouldn't have finished it without him.
I took a big risk signing it before it was completely finished.
Besides using only chamfers for decoration, I used a star pattern for the cut outs on the end to create the feet. This requires no turning saw. With a bit of care a Dick saw can leave a surface good enough for this without much clean up. The plastic $.75 carpenter's square was the perfect tool to lay this pattern out.

Dad was really proud of this chest. He was surprised that it could be knocked together so fast with no glue. He had never before seen Roman nails.
Dad with my nearly finished chest.
Dad was especially excited about the clenched nails. He had never heard of this before. He loved that this technique would attach the cross-battens to the lid, flatten the lid, make it strong, look good, and be so easy to do.
A good view of the clenched nails in the lid. Here I am laying out the butt hinges for installation.
All in all, the chest turned out pretty well. I think had I done it at home, I would have done things much differently and it would have taken a lot longer.
Almost done.
Dad really liked the look of the cedar chest without paint. I did, too, but since I had bought some milk paint already, I figured I should use it.

All in all, I have to say the chest looks good both ways. There are lots of big panels on this chest to show off the wood grain, and when there is paint on it the actual design of the box becomes much more prevalent.

I only had time to put  two coats of milk paint on before I had to go. I buffed it out with brown packing paper, and installed the hinges. I left my sister instructions that she could leave it the way it is, paint it over with a second color of milk paint, and/or coat it with some boiled linseed oil. (Deb, if you do this, slather it on with a brush, then after 15 minutes or so, wipe off all the excess and rub it down with a clean rag. Make sure NOT to use a finish on the interior.)

Back side.

I like the surprise of opening the box and seeing (and smelling) all of the nice cedar panels.
Right after I finished the box, I took the pictures, packed my suitcase and got about four hours of sleep before I had to get up to get on the plane for Spain. I cut things awfully close.

In all honesty, I would have liked to spend a little more time on this project to make it a bit fancier, but overall I am happy with it. It was able to be finished in time, and the overall impression of the piece really isn't too far off of what the fancy version would look like. The most important part is my sister liked it.

At least she said she did. Deb, you are allowed to do whatever you like with this box, whether it be keeping linens at the end of your bed, or garden tools in the shed. I just hope it makes you smile and remember my visit when you open it.


  1. Great job. Working with a few tools on a patio makes things quite challenging.

    1. Thanks, Andy! Planing on the concrete definitely isn't as nice as on a French bench.

  2. A testament to a small kit with few resources (bench, clamps etc). I hope it inspires others

  3. Nicely done. I have a bench I’ve been meaning to make and it has been going to be a staked bench, but now you’ve reminded me how much I like this style of bench.
    Well done. On this project and getting something completed in such a short period with such a small kit.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. If I’ve learned anything building like this with nails, and also staked furniture, is that there are traditional techniques that also allow a piece to be built simply and quickly.

  4. So you skipped cutting rabbets, is it also true that you skipped cutting dadoes to receive the bottom board? You've put a lot of faith in nails, sir. Did you also add battens to the inside of the sides?

    1. Hello Potomacker. Yes, indeed I left out all the grooves, rabbets and dadoes relying solely on the nails. The nails I used, however, are Roman nails which are square, and tapered. They are extremely strong, and hold like crazy. I would have preferred using dadoes and rabbets, but it saved a lot of time to leave them out.

      The battens you can see are kind of a funny solution to another problem: I realized too late that I attached the cross battens to the lid with just a hair too little clearance. This was because I nailed the boards together with a little cup in them and relied on the nails to flatten them out. It pretty much worked, except the sides were still a little cupped at the top where they interfered with the lid’s battens by just a tiny bit. Rather than try to remove a little wood from areas difficult to get to, I attached battens to the inside of the chest with a single clenched nail. This flattened out the cup in the sideieces enough to allow the lid to close with ease.


  5. Impressive build given the constraints. Adapt and overcome ! :-)


    1. Thanks, Bob! I’m most proud of the fact that I actually finished it!