I was flipping through a copy of the magazine Antiques one afternoon when I noticed an attractive blanket chest in an advertisement for an antiques dealer in New York. The ad said the Shaker chest was from the John Roberts house in Canaan, N.Y., and had been built in 1850. All I knew was I wanted to build one. With a bit of research on traditional Shaker joinery, it was off to the shop.
The chest is built exactly as Shakers did in the 19th century-with the notable exceptions of biscuits to attach the feet, aliphatic resin glue and a few power tools that would have shocked and excited the brethren. You’ll probably need to glue up a few boards to create panels wide enough for the sides, front and top, unless you have access to some lumber in legendary 19th-century widths. Prepare the panels for the sides, front, upper back and top. You might also have to glue up panels for the larger drawer pieces.
Start with the two sides. Determine the best face and mark it for the outside, then mark the location of the three dadoes for the bottom and the two drawer divider webs as shown in the diagram. The dadoes are 3/4″ wide and 1/4″ deep and run the entire width of the sides. With the dadoes cut, next turn to the 3/4″ x 5/16″ deep rabbet on the back edge of each side. This rabbet should stop 5″ up from the bottom of each side to leave a solid gluing surface for the rear feet.
Notch the sides on the front edge 3/8″ deep to allow the front to overlap the sides. This notch will match the front width. Finally, cut a half-circle on each side to form the feet of the base. Use a 4-1/2″ radius to mark the half-circle then cut it out with a jigsaw.
Attach the front and rear feet to the bottom divider frame and case sides with biscuits. The Shakers might have used only glue at this joint, but because we have the technology, cut biscuit slots for all the feet.
The case is now ready to assemble, but I’d recommend first taking a couple of minutes to finish sand the interior of the blanket chest area. It’s tough to get into those corners once the chest is together. Little glue should be used to assemble the chest. A dot of glue at the center of the bottom dado and a dot at the ends of the web frame dadoes is sufficient. Nail the web frames in place with a single nail through the sides and into the end of the dividers. Nail the front and back pieces in place without glue because the joints are long-grain to short-grain joints.
Complete the case assembly by gluing the front and rear feet in place. When the glue is dry, cut the radius on the front feet to match the curve on the sides and sand your handiwork. Finally, nail the shiplapped back pieces in place using nickels as spacers.
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