Project Preview: Southern Sugar Chest

Not so long ago, obtaining sugar wasn’t easy. It’s difficult to believe that the commodity we have in almost everything today was scarce and highly valued in the early part of the 19th century.

During those days well-to-do patrons required somewhere to store this sweet under lock and key. Why did sugar have to be locked away? It was so valuable that hired help could be tempted to pinch a bit here and there.

So local cabinetmakers rose to the occasion and the result was a specialized piece of furniture , the sugar chest. This type of chest was built throughout the South , most notably in central Kentucky and middle Tennessee.

An increased availability of sugar, along with a decline in price, reduced the need to safeguard the commodity. The demise of the distinctive design was imminent. By the late 1840s these chests were no longer regularly built.

Although the sugar chest’s prominence was short-lived, the lessons encountered in constructing this form will go a long way toward increasing your skills , and besides, it’s a great little chest for storing blankets and whatnot.

Complete plans and construction information will be featured in the June 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking, which will ship to subscribers in early April. That should give you enough time to practice a few dovetails to get ready for it.

- Glen D. Huey

6 thoughts on “Project Preview: Southern Sugar Chest

  1. Jack Berry

    Stephanie, there are catalogs of turned legs available. I’m sure you can find something very suitable. This is my plan. Try Tablelegs.com and there are probably 10 others. Or better yet, find a fellow wood worker with a lathe and give it a whirl.

  2. Glen D. Huey

    Stephanie, there is no exact match because these legs are custom turned, but you have a few choices. One option is to use a tapered leg for the chest. Many examples exist with that leg design. However, if you’re set on a turned leg, look for a coffee table design that can be adapted. I found some at Rockler.com. They were taller than that used on my chest by 3"+, but could be modified to get back to the needed length.
    Thanks for your comment and let me know what you decide.

  3. Stephanie Pace

    This is a beautiful, classy, well proportioned piece of furniture, and I think I will take a stab at it. My only concern is, I do not have access to a lathe, so are there stock turned legs one can purchase for this project somewhere? I am trying to get my husband to let me have a lathe, but we are still paying off the other woodworking equipment!

  4. Glen D. Huey

    Lee, the chest opens like that of a blanket chest. Two hinges located on the back edge of the box with the lock in the front. I’ve wanted to build this piece a long time. Actually presented it to the magazine before I joined the staff. It turned out as I expected. As I say in the article, "It’s a sweet piece."

  5. Dave Blake

    I’m looking forward to the Sugar Chest. I’ve built several of Glen’s projects including the Press Cupboard and the Pennsylvania Stepback Cupboard: Both turned out great! I’m currently working on a pair of bookcases to flank our fireplace based on Glen’s Stepback Cupboard. The Sugar chest will be next!

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