Katie asked me to make her a cedar chest for a wedding present. I guess I started something when I made one for her older sister when she got married. I went through my woodworking magazines and gave her of choice of 8 different ones that I found. She picked the one featured in issue #203 of FineWoodWorking – a blanket chest designed by Peter Turner (http://www.petersturner.com/). I changed a few details (wood species, use of a flap stay to protect future grandchildren children, and the finish), but the basic design was left intact.
The legs and rails of the basic chest are joined together with loose tenons. The most time consuming task was to cut the 64 mortises that held the frame together. I had never used these before and was pleasantly surprised at the flexibility it adds to the construction process. I made several small layout errors due to the 3 degree angle between the legs and the rails. These were relatively easy to fix by just trimming the loose tenon used in the affected joint.
To accurately cut the mortises, I made a fence for my router base. I just consisted of hot rolled steel rods that would fit in the holes provided in my router base, an oak fence that I pinned the steel rods to, a fixed spacer screwed to the fence and a removable spacer that could be attached to the fixed space with three wood screws.
The mortises were all cut in pairs to provide adequate strength for the 1 inch stock used. I built an adjustable fence for my router with a removable spacer that allowed both mortises to be cut with a single fence setup. I just had to remove the spacer for the second mortise. This ensured that the spacing of the pair of mortises was consistent across all parts, and ensured that the parts joined with the loose tenons would all fit together.
Since the end grain area where the mortises were to be cut was so small, the matching pair of legs or rails were clamped together, and then a platform to rest the router base on was made by clamping additional blocks of wood to the side of the stock .
Here is the fence and router in action.
The panels in the chest are the same thickness as the frame pieces. To allow for wood expansion/contraction with humidity changes they must float within the enclosing stiles and rails. The surface of the panel was cut to provide about a 1/8 inch reveal after the panel was inserted between rail and stile or leg. Here the cuts are made on the table saw.
The end panels fit into a mortise cut on the side of the legs. A block of wood clamped at the end of the groove provides a square surface to rest the mortising chisel against to get a square cut.
The tenon cheeks on the stiles were cut using my tenon jig that fits over the table saw fence.
After dry fitting all the parts for a side to ensure a good fit, glue was applied to the loose tenons and 3 degree clamping cauls were used on the end of the legs to provide a square clamping surface.
To keep the the floating hardwood panels from moving within the rail/stile area (and to keep a consistent reveal), brads were inserted into a hole drilled at each side in the center of the panels, cut off and filed flat. Keep in mind that the maximum wood movement in solid panels occurs across the grain – hence the pins in the center allow movement both up and down from the pinned location.
After allowing the glue on each side to dry overnight, I used my oscillating sander to create a smooth contour between the joined leg and rail parts.
After finish sanding each side to 220 grit, It was time to do the fine tuning of the loose tenons that would join the end panels to the sides.
Now came the big glue-up, joining the end panels and rails to the side panels. I used titebond III for its longer open time. I was still nip and tuck with the number of joints to be glued and clamped – lucky I had a helper. I also used a diagonal clamp to pull the frame into square. Angled cauls kept the clamps from slipping.
Since I had sanded the interior surfaces before glue-up, I could now apply oil to the inside of the chest. I wanted to do this before I inserted the bottom, because the bottom panels were made of aromatic cedar, which would remain unfinished.
This shows the bottom being glued up. The panels were rabbeted and later pinned as described previously for the side panels to allow for wood movement. Bottom was made from 3/4 Inch stock. I used tongue and groove joints on the aromatic cedar to get the panels wide enough.
A final hand sanding with 320 grit sandpaper prepped the outside for the oil finish.
Here is a picture with the oil applied to the outside of the chest. I used Watco Fruitwood on both the oak and the cherry.
Since the sides are angled at 3 degrees, the frame of the bottom had to be angled as well. Numerous fitting trials were required to get a snug fit with enough space left below the bottom to allow cleats to be attached on the inside beneath the bottom to keep the bottom in place.
I now made the sliding tray which rides on the rails inset into the inside face of the sides which can be seen on the previous photo. I dovetailed aromatic cedar for the tray and left it unfinished as well. I used 3/4 inch stock for the sides and 1/2 for the bottom. I figured that the area provided by the aromatic cedar in the bottom panel and the sliding tray would be enough to keep a strong cedar odor in the chest.
The top was made from Brazilian Cherry (Jatoba), which is very hard and is often used in flooring. I like it because of its color and hardness, which make it dent resistant. A good feature in a top. The top was made from three boards, edge glued together. This is what it looked like after Watco Natural Oil was applied.
Here is the top attached to the chest with non-mortise hinges and the flap stay (Lee Valley item # 00U06.01) installed.