17th-century ‘Desk Box’

Simple joinery will keep this piece together for centuries.

by Peter Follansbee
pages 40-47

Books, papers, lamps, candlesticks, spoons, Legos, clothing, electronics and more all end up on top of any flat surfaces in our house. As a joiner, I have made lots of carved boxes over the years. My family has between four and eight at any given time in our house; I haven’t seen the insides of some of them in years. That’s because of the stuff that gets piled on top of them.

So I decided to make myself a box with no tempting flat surface on its lid.

In the early 1990s, I studied a large group of 17th-century joiners’ work that was made in Braintree, Mass., and among this grouping was a piece perhaps known in the period as a “desk box.” But don’t think lap desk – this thing is so heavy and bulky that it would cut off your circulation if you placed it in your lap.

This oak and pine box is outfitted on the interior with a narrow open tray behind two tills, with four small drawers above. Between the tills is an open box area.

The joinery is simple; it’s rabbets at the corners that are fastened with glue and square wooden pins (or “trenails”). The bottom is nailed up to the carcase, and this captures the dividers that define the spaces inside. These are fitted into dados in the sides, front and rear. The hinges on the till lids are pintles.

Website: Read more from the author at his website.
Article: Learn to split wood in “The Best Oak Money Can’t Buy.”
Blog: Read the author’s blog post on 17th-century paint, including how he makes it.
Videos: Learn 17th-century carving from two videos by Peter Follansbee, “17th-century New England Carving” and “Carving the S Scroll.”
I
n Our Store: Discover how to make your own dovetail hinges in “Forging a Custom Hinge,” by Peter Ross.

From the February 2018 issue