Simple Six-board Chest

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This article is from Issue 81 of Woodcraft Magazine.

It only takes a weekend to build this classic storage piece, and it will last for years to come.

Antique versions of six-board blanket chests have endured for centuries, sometimes handed down from one generation to the next. It’s not difficult to appreciate the popularity of a chest that can provide good basic storage, do double duty as a bench, and be built from a few wide boards.

Traditionally, a 6-board chest was exactly that: a top, a bottom, two sides, and a front and back. Admittedly, my version has a few more pieces, but I think it still follows the spirit behind the classic design. The home center 1×12s I used for construction needed to be edge-glued to be wide enough for some parts.

Other extra parts simplify joinery. Rather than cut a long notch in the sides, for example, I added filler strips. I also added the skirt board and lid trim for visual interest and to help conceal minor gaps. Feel free to experiment with the side cutout and molding profiles to suit your style and bit collection.

Simple joinery, classic looks, and rustic hardware

Contrary to its name, the six-board chest started out as three 8-foot 1×12s and some scrap 2×4 stock. Choose clear, flat boards to ensure accurate joinery and easy assembly. The chest’s front and back are 11-1/4"–the width of a processed 1×12. To make the ends, bottom, and lid, you’ll need to glue two boards together and then rip these parts to finished width. Rabbet and dado joints add strength to the overall construction, while also minimizing exposed end grain and aiding the assembly process. Cut nails, rustic hinges, and a painted finish will give your chest a Colonial-style appearance. A more modern lid stay prevents the lid from slamming shut.

Order of Work

  • Prep the parts and cut out the side profile.
  • Rout the dadoes and rabbets, and then assemble the case with glue and brads.
  • Cut the hinge mortises and make the lid.
  • Rout and rip the trim, cut to fit the filler strips, and then install.
  • Sand and apply finish.
  • Drill pilot holes, and then drive the nails.

Cut two at once. Keeping the sides together with double-stick tape saves time and ensures identical cutouts.

Curved cuts create the legs

To give the chest a graceful but solid stance, I made a semi-circular cutout in the sides. Set a compass to 4-5/8" wide, and mark the cutout on one side. You could also center a bucket or a coffee can and trace around its edge. Affix the sides together with double-stick tape—show faces out. After the profile is cut and sanded, pry apart the two side pieces, taking care not to dent the soft pine. A little mineral spirits to break the adhesive bond and a plastic putty knife should do the trick. 

Round the curve. Keep the sides taped together, so you can smooth both curves at once. I used a file to do the heavy lifting and followed up with some sanding. A curved sanding block made from the offcut and some 120-grit sandpaper will do a good job. When smoothed to your liking, improve the look and feel of your legs by chamfering the curved edges with sandpaper.

Dadoes in the sides, rabbets in the front & back 

The dadoes and rabbets are designed to register the parts, simplifying assembly. Rout the dadoes in the sides first. I used a 1/2" straight bit in a plunge router and a simple T-square jig.

Insert the bottom piece into the dadoes. Clamp if necessary to keep straight and square. Next, hold the front piece to the bottom and side assembly to check your measurement for the front and back. Now rabbet your front and back on the router table.

One dado, two sides. By clamping both sides edge-to-edge, you can quickly rout dadoes to hold the bottom. Measure 101⁄2" down from the top end to lay out the dado, then clamp a straightedge parallel to the bottom line at the correct offset to guide the base of your router. Use a 1⁄2"-dia. straight bit to cut to a 3⁄8" depth in two progessively deeper passes. Then reposition the fence to widen the dado in the same manner.
Router table rabbets. Install a 3⁄4"-dia. straight bit in your table-mounted router, adjust the bit height to 3⁄16", set the fence, and rabbet the front and back panels. Then raise the bit to 3⁄8" to complete the rabbets.

Put it together. Brush glue on the rabbeted ends of the front and back, then tack in place with a few 1" brads. Squaring guides hold the panel in place and ensure a square assembly.

Assemble the chest, and prep for hardware

It’s almost time for things to come together. Rabbets and dadoes help register the parts, but a successful glue-up also depends on a flat work surface and some squaring guides that will keep one joint clamped together while you fasten another. First, prep the parts by sanding them to 180-grit. Brush glue in the dadoes and install the bottom first. Then stand up the assembly, holding the front and back in place with glue and clamps until you can fasten them with brads. Remove the clamps and plane the top edges of the top and back to match the sides as necessary.

Scribe, chop, and pare. After locating your hinges on the top edges of the back, hold each hinge in place while scribing against its ends. Make a series of chops between your lines, to make it easier to pare out the waste. When paring, keep the bevel up and the blade horizontal. Test-fit the hinge and improve the fit as necessary with additional paring.

Install the trim. Hold the trim piece to the edge of the lid and mark where to miter, but leave them long off the back. If the miter doesn’t fit, try finessing it with a block plane, or simply cut a fresh miter. Glue the front-most ends of the end moldings, and attach the back half with 11⁄4" brads. This should keep the mitered ends tight, but allow the lid to expand and contract. Trim the ends flush.

Make a top with mitered trim

The top piece can now be cut to the fit the chest. But leave it an 1/8" oversized so the trim will easily slip over the chest unimpeded. The decorative trim adds an attractive overhang to the chest’s design. Rout the profile on oversized stock, and rip it to width on the table saw.

When you’re done making the top, cut cleats and a skirt board to go along the bottom edge of the front (see drawing, p. 25), and attach it with glue and brads. As when fitting the lid trim, cut the filler strips long and trim them flush with the sides after installation.

Milk paint & antique 

Your blanket chest is missing only two things: a finish and hardware. Add a slight chamfer to the outside edges with a sanding block. Apply your finish of choice. I used two coats of General Finishes Milk Paint—Brick Red for the exterior and Somerset Gold for inside the chest. I scuff-sanded with 220 grit between coats. You have a great looking piece at this point so take careful aim when you drive the nails. To avoid scuffing hardwood floors, I affixed self-stick felt pads to the feet.

Hammer home. The cut nails can split the grain if you’re not careful. Start by ensuring that you’re in far enough from the ends and edge. I measured 3⁄8" from the end and 1" from each edge, and then 3" apart. Drilling pilot holes for cut nails is imperative, but go only about two-thirds the length of the nail. I used a 5⁄32" bit to drill 15⁄16" deep pilot holes for 2" long nails. Orient the nails so that the taper is perpendicular to the grain direction of the wood, and drive them carefully with a hammer. Use a cardboard shield to pad errant hammer blows. 

Attach the lid. Set the chest up on spacers so that the hinge leaves lay flush on the lid. Drill pilot holes and hand-drive the screws for the hinges and lid stay.


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