by Christopher Schwarz
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Six-board chests have been an enduring form of furniture in Western cultures for hundreds of years. And while they differ in their details during different ages, the basic form and the way it is built has been unchanged since the form appeared.
The chest in this article has details I’ve seen on chests in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can choose different mouldings (or omit them), or add carving or a stenciled design to make the chest suit the time period you prefer.
Design with the Boards
I built my chest using an 8′-long board and a 12′-long board. Both pine boards were 18-1⁄2″ wide. If you don’t have access to wide lumber, feel free to glue up panels to the final width. If your chest is painted, no one will notice.
Because my boards were 18-1⁄2″ wide, I used that fact to help design the chest – there’s no need to rip 1″ off a wide board or glue on 1″. The design of these chests is pretty flexible.
I crosscut the 45″-long lid piece from the 8′-long board and set it aside. Why 45″? These chests are typically 32″ to 48″ long, and 45″ was the clearest length of wood I could get from the board. This piece sets the die for the length and depth of the chest.
With the lid cut, I cut the two ends, which determine the height of the chest. These chests typically range from 18″ to 27″ tall – a good height for a chest when it comes to lifting the lid and bending over to get something out of storage. It’s not too high and not too low.
I cut the ends to 21″ long from the remainder of my 8′-long board. This length allowed me to cut around some knots and eliminate some checks on the end of the board. I then set the two ends aside and grabbed my second board.
From this board I cut my front, back, bottom, moulding and battens.
When you cut moulding by hand, the best way to do it is to “stick” one long piece of moulding and then cut your three pieces from that piece. Sticking three pieces of moulding is tricky; it’s unlikely that you will be able to create exactly the same moulding profile on all three pieces.
Find a piece for the moulding that is long enough to wrap around the front and two ends. (Moulding on the rear of a chest is unnecessary.) Cut that piece free from your board, then cut the front and back pieces to size. The hard part is done. The remaining stock will be your bottom and lid battens.
Video: Learn a a trick to make clenching your nails easy.
Blog: Read more from the author on this historic form & download a chapter from his forthcoming book “The Furniture of Necessity.”
Blog: How to Lay Out an Ogee.
Plan: Download a free SketchUp model of this project.
To buy: “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” (Lost Art Press) by Christopher Schwarz and Joel Moskowitz.
From the November 2013 issue #207