Treasure Chest

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This article is from Issue 56 of Woodcraft Magazine.

This toy box “matures” into a blanket chest with a flip of its panels.

Overall dimensions: 34"w × 20"d × 213⁄4"h

Every kid loves a toy chest to stow treasures in, and this design provides delight. With its colorful exterior and curved lid, it makes a fun, bold statement in any child’s room. But the real magic here happens when it’s time to put the toys in the attic and move on to more grown-up gear. In less than five minutes, you can transform a brightly colored playroom piece into a stately blanket chest that will be at home in any bedroom, den, or living room. All it takes is a quick flip of the panels. (See sidebar, page 37.)

This is a deceptively easy chest to build. At its core, it’s just a plywood box. The classy looking faux frame-and-panel construction is created by gluing solid wood trim to the faces of the box. Although the lid mimics a fancy coopered panel, there’s no fussy edge-beveling here. Instead, the slats are glued to curved plywood ribs before attaching battens that accept the narrow reversible panels. And don’t worry about pinched li’l fingers: the lid lifts easily, stays open securely, and closes slowly and safely.

Click to Enlarge

Build the plywood box

1 Cut the sides (A, B) to the dimensions shown in the Cut List. Leave the bottom (C) about 1⁄16" oversized in both width and length for now; you’ll trim it to final dimensions once the sides are assembled.

2 Smooth all inside faces through 220 grit, and then mask off all the glue areas with removable tape. Apply three to four coats of 2-lb.-cut shellac, wiping on each coat with long, overlapping strokes. (I use shellac inside the chest because it leaves a neutral scent.)

After each coat dries, scuff-sand it with 320-grit sandpaper, except for the next-to-last coat, which gets rubbed out with 0000 steel wool. After applying the final coat, let it dry, and then rub with the grain using generous amounts of paste wax on a 0000 steel wool pad. After aggressively wiping away the excess with a clean, soft cloth, your finish should shine and feel silky to the touch.

Add glue to the joints, clamp the box, and drive the screws home. You can remove the clamps as soon as the screws are in.
With the box upside down on shop-made risers, add glue, and then clamp the bottom even with the box sides before adding the screws.

3 To ease final assembly, first dry-clamp the four sides (A,B) together, and drill 2"-deep pilot holes through the long sides and into the edges of the short sides. Then disassemble the box, enlarge the pilot holes in the long sides with a 7⁄64"-diameter bit, and countersink them for #8 screws. Add glue, reclamp the parts, and screw them together with #8 × 2" screws (Photo A). (Before you set the box aside, measure for square.)

4 Measure the outside dimensions of the assembled sides (A, B), and cut the bottom (C) to fit. Attach it as before with clamps, glue, and screws (Photo B). Because the bottom is squared, it will automatically square up the box.

Glue the four rails together at the same time, using scrapwood spacers to establish the panel slots. Wax the spacers to ensure easy release.

Tape along the leg bevels, add glue, and fold the leg over the corner of the chest. Pin nails will clamp the leg until the glue sets.

While the glue is still wet, remove the tape and rub a burnisher along the joint to close any gaps.

Make the box trim

1 Mill the leg pieces (D) to the thickness and length shown in the Cut List, leaving them slightly oversized in width. Bevel one edge to 45° on the tablesaw, setting the fence so the ripped stock will be 2" wide at the tip of the bevel. Check the joint fit by holding two mitered leg pieces together against a corner of the chest.

2 Next, you’ll make the short and long top rails (E, F), creating their panel slots by ripping each oversized rail blank into three strips, crosscutting the center strip into sections, and then regluing the pieces back together, as shown in Figure 2. Start by initially sawing 13⁄16"-thick stock into rail blanks that are at least 3⁄8" wider and a couple of inches longer than the finished sizes for the top rails (E, F) shown in the Cut List.

3 Draw a triangle across the face of each rail blank to allow reassembling the pieces in the same orientation for the best grain match after ripping. Then rip each blank into three pieces that are each slightly wider than the finished widths shown in Figure 2. Use a thickness planer to clean up the saw marks, and bring the strips to finished width.

4 Crosscut the center strips to the lengths shown in Figure 2, again marking the strips for reorientation later.

5 Glue each three-piece top rail (E, F) together using scrap wood spacers to establish the panel slots (Photo C). After the glue dries, remove the spacers, and plane the rails to final thickness. (For efficiency and accuracy, now is a good time to mill the short and long lid rails (K, L) to final thickness and width, leaving them oversized in length for now.)

6 Make the side and center stiles (G, H) to the thickness and width shown in the Cut List, but leave the pieces slightly oversized in length for now. Rout a 1⁄4" × 1⁄4" rabbet in one edge of each side stile (G) and in both edges of each center stile (H).

7 Mill the short and long bottom rails (I, J) to the thickness and width shown in the Cut List, but leave them slightly oversized in length for now.

You can either trim an errant miter to a perfect 45° angle with this jig or adjust the angle in small degrees.
Clamp the mitered ends of the rails to the chest, and mark the opposite ends by pressing a square against the inside of the chest.

The miter-assist jig will solidly hold each rail in place for accurate, safe biscuit slotting.

Apply the trim

1 Join each pair of legs (D) with clear tape along their show faces. With the box upside down on the bench, spread glue on the bevels and along the inside faces of the legs, fold each assembly square, and press it over the corner of the box. I used six 13⁄8" pin nails to hold each leg assembly in place while the glue dried (Photo D).

2 Close up any gaps by rubbing a burnisher or other smooth, round piece of metal over the miters to squash the adjacent fibers together (Photo E).

3 Mark the center of a long rail (F), measure outward to half of the finished length shown in the Cut List, lay out the miter, and cut it. Then clamp the rail to the box, aligning the inside walls of the panel slots with the outside walls of the box, as shown in Figure 3. (This ensures your panels will slide in and out without binding.)

4 Cut the mating miter on the adjacent short rail (E), and check the fit of the joint, again with the rail slots flush to the box walls. If necessary, adjust the fit of the miter. I typically fine-tune miters with a block plane, holding the work in a simple jig clamped in a bench vise (Figure 4 and Photo F).

5 When satisfied with the fit of the joint, clamp the short top rail (E) in place, and mark for the miters on the opposite ends of both rails (Photo G). Then cut to your marks.

6 As shown in Figure 3, miter and fit the other long top rail (F) in the same manner. Set the remaining unmitered top short rail (E) aside for the moment.

7 Cut #10 biscuit slots in all the miters you just cut. To make the job easy, clamp your miter-assist jig to your benchtop with the end of a rail flush with an end of the jig. Attach a 1⁄2"-thick plywood sub-base to your biscuit joiner, and you’re ready to go (Photo H).

Start and stop lines on the router table fence register the ends of the rail travel when mortising for the continuous hinge.
With all but the last two miters fitted, glue and clamp the three mitered rails to the box, and pin them in place.

Spacer panels of 1⁄8" hardboard allow accurate positioning of the center stiles, which will ensure a perfect fit of the finished panels you’ll make later.

8 Rout a 1⁄32"-deep × 1⁄2"-wide stopped mortise in the rear long top rail (F) to accept the continuous (piano) hinge. Set a 1⁄2" rabbeting bit to project 1⁄32" from your router tabletop, and mark the fence for the beginning and end of the cut. Mark the start line 21⁄16" to the left of the bit perimeter and the stop line 21⁄16" to the right of the perimeter. (This setup stops the cut 1⁄16" shy of each mortise end as a safety measure.) Begin the cut by pivoting the work into the bit so the tip of the miter contacts the start line (Photo I). 

When the trailing miter tip meets the stop line, pivot the work away from the bit.

9 While the router table is set up for the job, also rout the mating mortise in the lid’s rear rail (L) after mitering the rail’s ends.

10 Square the ends of the mortises with a chisel, and check the fit of the hinge on the box and lid rails.

11 Glue and clamp the three mitered top rails (E, F) to the chest (Photo J). Again, it’s not critical that the inside surfaces of the rail and box are flush with each other; what is important is that the inside walls of the panel slots are flush with the outside of the box.

12 As shown in Figure 3, fit the remaining short top rail (E), making trial miter cuts until the joints mate perfectly. Then cut the biscuit slots, and glue and clamp the piece in place.

13 Crosscut the bottom rails (I, J) for a perfect fit between the legs. Lay out the locations of the 9⁄64"-diameter access holes on the rails between each pair of stiles (G, H), where shown in Figure 1, and then drill the through-holes on the drill press.

14 With the box upside down, glue and clamp the bottom rails (I, J) in place without nails.

15 Crosscut the side and center stiles (G, H) to fit tightly between the top and bottom rails.

16 Attach the side stiles (G) with glue and 1" pins.

17 Glue and pin the center stiles (H) in place. To ensure accurate positioning, place them against the edges of carefully squared spacer panels made of 1⁄8" hardboard (Photo K).

Make the spacer panels wide enough to fit precisely between each opposing pair of stile rabbet shoulders, using the panel (U, V) widths shown in the Cut List as a starting reference. However, make the spacer panels 18" long for easier handling.

Use loosely set F-style clamps to position the lid rails on the box rails while pulling the miters tight with a band clamp.
After assembling the frame, use a chisel to extend the V-notch 3⁄4" into each adjacent rail.

A 1⁄8" straight bit in a laminate trimmer lets you rout closely into the corners of the cross rail notches before finishing up with a chisel.

5 Use a knife to lay out the cross rail (M) notches in the long rails (L). Rout the notches to depth, staying inside your knifed lines (Photo N). Then clean up to the lines with a chisel.

6 Make the cross rails (M) to the size shown in the Cut List, and cut a 1⁄4"-deep × 1⁄2"-long rabbet in each end. Glue and clamp the cross rails (M) to the lid frame. After the glue dries, pare the ends of each cross rail flush with the adjacent V-groove wall.

7 Make the small plywood ribs (N), pattern-sawing them on the bandsaw, as shown in the sidebar on page 43.

8 Attach the small ribs (N) to the frame with glue and clamps (Photo O).

9 Mill the slats (O) to the thickness and length shown in the Cut List, selecting straight-grained stock for stability. Rip them about 1⁄32" oversized in width for now.

10 Tuck the outermost slats in their respective notches, and then dry-fit all of the slats in place, butting their edges tight to each other. Trim the edges of each one a bit, if necessary, to seat them all firmly on the ribs. Then attach them to the ribs (Photo P).

Center the two small middle ribs on the cross rails, and glue the two small outer ribs flush with the inside of the frame.
Add a spot of glue to each rib, and then drive two pins through each slat into each rib.

Use hardboard spacers to position the battens parallel and equidistant to each other, and then glue and screw them to the underlying ribs.

11 Pattern-saw the large ribs (P) from solid stock. Test-fit them to ensure they align with the highest points on the slats without extending any further, which could cause the panels to bind going in. Fine-tune the curve if necessary, shaping and smoothing the ribs with a disc or belt sander. Then hand-sand through 220 grit.

12 Glue and pin the large ribs (P) to the outermost small ribs (N) and the frame.

13 Mill the T-battens and end battens (Q, R) to the dimensions in the Cut List.

14 Rout the edge rabbets in the battens (Q, R) on the router table using a rabbeting bit adjusted for a 5⁄16"-deep cut. (See Figure 8.) Make sure to rout only one edge of each end batten (R). Then rip the 26° bevel on each end batten on the tablesaw.

15 Cut the end rabbets on all the battens using the bandsaw. First, set the fence 5⁄16" from the blade, and make a 3⁄16"-long rip cut with the top of the batten pressed against the fence. Then mark one of the battens 3⁄16" from the end, use the piece to reset the fence to this cutline, and saw away the remaining waste on all the battens while supporting the workpiece on edge against a squared block.

16 Finish-sand the battens (Q, R) through 220 grit, and sand or plane a 1⁄16" chamfer on the top edges and ends. Drill 1⁄4"-diameter counterbores, 1⁄8"-deep, as well as clearance holes for #7 × 15⁄8" trim-head screws in the T-battens (Q), locating them at the small rib intersections. Don’t drill the end battens (R).

17 Use glue and pin nails to attach the two end battens (R) to the front and back rails (L), aligning each until the lower edge of its rabbet contacts the lowest slat.

18 It’s crucial to align the T-battens (Q) parallel to each other and at the same distance apart. To do this, rip six 30"-long spacers of equal width from 1⁄8" hardboard, test-fitting them between the battens until all fit tightly. (You’ll have to experiment with the correct rip setting for your saw, but a good starting point is 25⁄8".) When everything fits well, glue and screw the battens to the lid (Photo Q).

19 Cut 1⁄4"-diameter plugs on the drill press using a plug cutter, and then glue them into the counterbores. When the glue is dry, pare and sand the plugs flush with the battens.

20 Make the handle (T) to the shape shown in the Figure 1 Handle Detail, gently curving the ends on the bandsaw. Invert the lid, and glue and clamp the handle to the front rail (L), centering the handle across the rail’s length and thickness.

Pattern-Sawing On The Bandsaw

Making multiple identical parts on your bandsaw is easy with this jig and a plywood pattern of your desired shape. Make the jig, and outfit your saw with a 1⁄2" 4-tpi blade (which provides a better cutting sight line than a narrower blade.) Temporarily tack or tape the plywood pattern to your stock, and clamp the jig to your bandsaw fence. Locate the nose block about 1⁄8" above the work, and adjust the fence so the block’s contact point sits even with, or slightly past, the blade. Then position the jig fore or aft until the block sits about 1⁄16" in front of the blade’s teeth.

To make the cut, press the pattern against the nose block while steering the work so that the edge of the pattern remains parallel to the blade at all times. Don’t be surprised if you unwittingly saw into the nose block. That’s why it’s removable. Just make a new one and keep on sawing.

Attach the lid to the box

1 Place the continuous hinge in its mortise in the rear lid rail (L). Temporarily attach it with three equidistantly placed screws driven into 3⁄32"-diameter pilot holes.

2 Mark “box” on the back of the free hinge leaf, and remove the hinge from the lid. Then attach the hinge to the box in the same manner.

3 Elevate the inverted lid on a platform next to the box (or have a helper hold it) while you reattach the hinge leaf to the lid with the three screws. Close the lid and check the fit. Make any necessary adjustments by lengthening the hinge mortise and drilling for screws in new locations. Once everything checks out, drill and install the remaining screws in the lid and box.

4 Make the lid stay blocks (S), as shown in Figure 9, bandsawing and sanding the curve, as necessary, to match the curve of the lid.

5 Screw the lid stay plates to the box and the lid stay blocks, locating them, where shown in Figure 10.

Color To Dye For

Dyes are available in solvent (liquid) form or as a powder that you mix with a solvent. Several recently developed powder dyes can be mixed with either water or alcohol. I prefer water-based dye for wiping because its longer dry time helps prevent lap marks, which often occur when wiping or brushing on faster-drying alcohol-based dyes. (When spraying, it doesn’t matter much.) Plus, water-based dyes resist fading better. Keep in mind that many dyes–especially the powder type–are caustic, so wear gloves, eye protection, and a respirator rated for vapors.

Follow these guidelines when using water-based dye:

  • Prepare the surface by sanding through 220 grit to ensure clear color and grain and to prevent muddiness. Then “pre-raise” the grain by wetting the surface with clean water and sanding again with 220 grit after the water evaporates.
  • Flood the surface with dye using a foam brush. Work in the direction of the grain, overlapping your strokes and pulling the brush completely off the end of the work. Avoid puddles.
  • Once the dye has dried, apply the first coat of your favorite clear finish. When that’s dry, rub lightly with the grain using 0000 steel wool or a white synthetic abrasive pad. Don’t fret if the color looks dull and blotchy; successive coats will add depth, luster, and clarity.
  • Apply the second, third, and fourth coats of finish, rubbing with 0000 steel wool or a white pad between coats, but not after the final coat. Four to six coats should do it, depending on the thickness of each coat. More coats add depth, but too many can diminish that “close-to-the-wood” look.
Drill the 3⁄16"-deep magnet holes using a 3⁄8" Forstner bit marked 3⁄16" up from its cutting edge. Stop drilling when the mark disappears.
With each magnet marked for polarity, install it with a dab of epoxy, and then glue in the wood plug.

Make and install the panels

1 Mill the box and lid panel (U, V, W) stock to thickness, using scrap to check for a sliding fit through the top rail (E, F) slots and their respective stile (G, H) rabbets, as well as the rabbets in the lid battens (Q, R).

2 Cut the panels a bit narrower than the width of the space and about 1⁄2" longer than the size shown in the Cut List. Don’t ease over any of the edges yet, as a sharp edge helps restrain dye from migrating to an adjacent edge.

3 Mark the magnet locations, centering them across the thickness of the large ribs (P), and between the battens (Q, R). Also mark the corresponding locations at the ends of one face of each lid panel (W).

4 Drill the 3⁄16"-deep magnet holes in the ribs using a hand drill and a 3⁄8" Forstner or brad-point bit (Photo R).

5 Drill the 3⁄16"-deep magnet holes in the lid panels (W) using a 3⁄8" Forstner or brad-point bit in the drill press. (Warning: If your bit has a long center point that may poke through the opposite panel face, grind or file it down before drilling.)

6 Spin a 3⁄8" plug cutter on the drill press to make face-grain plugs in matching stock for the holes in the lid panels (W) and the large ribs (P). Saw them to a thickness of about 3⁄8".

7 Dab epoxy into each hole before inserting a 3⁄8" rare-earth magnet. To ensure correct polarity for panel reversal, orient the magnets, as shown in Figure 11. (To keep track of their polarities, first mark all 24 magnets on the same polarized face with a permanent marker.) Before the epoxy sets, spread some yellow or white glue into the holes and onto the plugs before tapping the plugs home (Photo S).

8 After the glue cures, trim the plugs flush and sand the surfaces through 220 grit.

9 Dye one side of all the panels. (See sidebar on page 45.)

10 Crosscut the panels (U, V, W) square and to finished length.

11 Rip the box panels (U, V) about 1⁄16" narrower than the width of the rail slots and the lid panels about 1⁄32" narrower than their openings.

12 Apply your preferred finish. Remember to use an odorless finish, such as shellac, for the inside of the lid.

13 Once the finish is dry, stick a couple of bumpers on the underside of the front lid rail (L), and turn the knurled knobs on the stays to adjust their resistance for a soft lid closure.  

About Our Designer/Builder

Andy Rae works and writes about woodworking from his home in the mountains of western North Carolina, where nothin’ but wood could be finer.


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