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My eldest niece, Carolina, was where the whole idea began. It was great to start with her for several reasons. My wife Rhonda and I are her godparents, and we babysat with her numerous times when she was just a little tyke. I still have the kitchen timer in the shape of a bottle of wine in an ice bucket she gave me as a Christmas gift when she was five.

My niece Carolina

Carolina at home from college this Christmas. She says her hope chest “became so priceless to me when I moved away to college. Having it in my dorm room, along with all of my treasured reminders of home tucked away inside, meant the world to me!”

As she grew older, Carolina’s curiosity became even more pronounced, and she was very interested in my woodworking. I can remember when she was about nine or ten years old. Her mom Karen and my wife were out shopping, so I was watching Carolina and her older brother for an extended afternoon. That’s when Carolina surprised me and asked if we could go out into the shop and see how the tools worked. I set her up with a jigsaw, the drill press and a few other tools, and she made lots of sawdust that afternoon. She was such an avid learner that she was able to impress her mom by telling her the function of all of the tools we had used, and how to measure diagonals to prove an assembly is square. That’s my niece!

A few months before her sweet 16th, I  knew I had to start moving on her hope chest if I was going to have it done by her birthday. One of my – and her – favorite woods is maple. The clean look and the figure in some of the more choice boards has always caught my attention, and I knew that I had to build her hope chest out of it.

Since she lived within an hour’s drive of my house, transporting the chest was not going to be an issue. I could load it into our minivan and drive the hope chest to her fully assembled, making joint selection a piece of cake – it was going to have to be dovetailed. Not only are dovetails an excellent choice for strength, but they just look so beautiful.

Building a hope chest with dovetailed joints is easier with this jig.

Building a hope chest with dovetailed joints is easier with this jig.

I have to admit that my hand-cutting skills are abysmal. That, actually, is a bit of a generous statement given my total lack of coordination. My hand-cut dovetails look as if they are the work of some deranged beaver. Fortunately, rather than demonstrate my inadequacies, I leaned on the services of my Keller Journeyman jig, which made knocking out some beautiful, tight-fitting joints a piece of cake. There’s nothing like a tight dovetail joint that just screams, “Hey, I’m going to last through the years.”

While the maple looked impressive, it just was a little too light for my tastes… and just a wee bit monochromatic for such a nice piece. That’s why, for the lid, I added an accent strip of walnut just to jazz things up. While it’s a pretty stark contrast, both of those woods are just so beautiful together that I had to go with it. After I got it all finished and ready to roll, I packed it up, just in time for Carolina’s 16th birthday.

TomandCarolinaThe big moment happened. We were wrapping up a family Easter brunch, and I told her I had something out in the minivan for her. During that walk out to the parking lot, it was difficult to tell who was more excited: she or I. When the family finally gathered around, I opened the rear gate, hoisted the chest out of the minivan and set it on the ground next to her.

Cameras snapped, and while we were posing, Carolina turned to me and whispered, “It’s beautiful, Uncle Tom. But, what is it?”

I told her to go do an internet search for hope chest, and to get back to me.

Tom Iovino

Another excellent post, Tom. We are looking forward to more next week!

To the community:
Learn all about advanced dovetail joints with a router jig by downloading our free PDF on the topic!

Dan Farnbach

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Showing 2 comments

    Great Blog Post, Im going to try and put one of these together for the misses one day. Always nice reading up on new projects and DIY woodworking.

  • gbetit

    I made my first two daughters hope chests when they were 16. My youngest is now 25. No hope chest yet for her. I am a negligent father. But I do have the materials for a cherry frame and panel chest out in the (below zero) shop. It is my next project, I promise!

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