By Megan Fitzpatrick
A typical for Shaker blanket chests, this piece (a near replica of an extant example built at Union Village and now at the White Water Shaker Village) has half-blind dovetails on all corners. The layout – side boards with tails at the front, pins at the back – has more in common with a typical sugar chest than with most Shaker blanket chests, which are usually either through-dovetailed or rabbetted and nailed.
So it seems the influence of Southern furniture made it across the Ohio River – at least on this piece.
This chest is a fairly simple build; the bulk of the work is in cutting the 44 half-blind joints on the carcase, after which the 24 through-dovetails for the plinth are a stroll in the park (with the possible exception of cutting the miter on the integral moulding). The most difficult step is keeping the three till parts properly aligned while gluing up the carcase (but get a friend to help and it’s easy).
I was lucky; I got my hands on several beautiful pieces of wide, 4/4 walnut for the one-board front and back of my chest (I also scored a gorgeous 5/4 piece for the one-board top). But to get the width needed for the ends, I had to glue up panels.
You’ll note that I’m not mentioning many exact measurements for my build – and this is one reason I’ve stated this piece is a “near-replica.” The cutlist on page 27 gives the dimensions of the original blanket chest; mine is ever-so-slightly smaller, because after processing the lumber for the carcase, the front board was just shy of the 173⁄16″ width of the original. I wasn’t about to go searching for another wide piece; this one was simply too beautiful not to use. And I didn’t for even a second consider scabbing on the “missing” 1⁄4″, nor did I fret if the thickness of my workpieces was “off” by 1⁄16″.
I suggest you use the same approach for this and most period builds, in the spirit of the original makers. Let the nice wood you have available tell you what size – within reason – the finished project will be, then adjust the dimensions of all your workpieces accordingly instead of slavishly following a cutlist.
Start with the Carcase
The front is a pin board at both ends, the sides have tails at the front corner but pins at the back corner, and the back has tails at both ends. So while the two side pieces are the same length as one another, the front and back differ in length by twice the depth of the pin sockets in my case.
So first, process your carcase pieces using your preferred approach (I turn to machines for the heavy work then use bench planes to remove the machine marks). Then, lay out and cut the dovetails. Here, I replicated the design on the original, with 11 joints on each corner at a 1:6 slope.
Article: Read about our first visit to White Water Shaker Village in 2009.
Blog: See more photographs from our recent visit to the historic site.
In Our Store: “Pleasant Hill Shaker Furniture,” by Kerry Pierce.
From the October 2013 issue, #206
Buy the issue now.