Today we will be learning to build a 6-board chest. It is a very simple design widely used during the 'middle ages'. It is perfectly period for many times and places and will look great in your SCA camp or just sitting next to your hearth at home. If build correctly and with care this simple chest should last long enough to become a family heirloom that your great-grandchildren will cherish.
The best parts of this type of chest is the very small amount of wasted wood, the relatively few cuts and simple joinery make this a great first wood working project if your just starting out. So grab your tools and head out to the garage and we'll begin.
Step 1: What You'll Need
- Hand Saw: Used to make a majority of the cuts. If you have a circular saw or table saw they will work just as well.
- Coping saw: Used to cut the circle shape out of the feet, If you have them a scroll saw, jig saw or band saw with a narrow blade should be able to make the cuts as well. If you really don't want to buy a coping saw you could make wedge shaped cuts instead of circular cuts to define the legs.
- Hammer: No really, use a hammer. If I catch anyone building a chest with a nail gun, well lets just say it won't be pretty.
- Sand paper: If you use an electric sander be very careful not to remove too much material. It's easier to take some more off than it is too put it back on. Coarse grit for fitting, medium and fine for finishing.
That's it. Those are all of the tools you need. Simple right? Now on to materials.
- One 1"x12"x4' board. Please Note: The actual dimensions of a 1"x12" board are 3/4"x11 1/4". Throughout this instructable I will be using the actual dimension not the 'theoretical' dimension. $6-$7
- Forty Nails approx 1 1/2" inches long. I use hand forged nails for several reasons that I will list below. Other options for joining at wood are given in the optional materials section. If you choose to use one of those instead you will still need eight nails for attaching the hinges. $4-$6 for hand forged, less if you use cheap hardware store nails or are able to forge you own nails.
- Enough medium weight leather to cut two 2"x1 1/2" hinges $1 or less if you dig through scrap bins.
Total cost of Materials: $11-$14
- Small chain, rope or leather strap to use as stays to keep the lid from opening too far backwards and pull the hinges off. If you use real hand forged nails and ping them over this isn't really necessary because almost nothing will pull them out.
- Paint: If you feel you need to paint the whole box I might recommend milk paint since it is period and will actually last a really long time since it soaks into the wood instead of laying on top like most other paint. For painting your arms or some other intricate pattern use enamel for longevity or acrylic for ease.
- Oil or Wax: Keeps the wood conditioned and helps keep water from soaking in.
- Dowels: This is a great method of joining and will last a long time. I will cover how to do the joining using dowels instead of nail at the end of the instructable
- Screws: You can use screws instead of nails for all of the joinery, just countersink them and please glue a plug in to hide them. The finished product will look similar to the dowel method but will not hold up as well over the years as the wood expands and contracts. This is the least likely to last and thus my least preferred option.
I like to use hand forges nail for all of the following reasons
- Look: If your going to all of the trouble to build a medieval style chest you should use medieval hardware. A round headed nail will just look wrong on this beautifully period chest.
- Authenticity: This goes along with look really. Modern nails are well modern. Wire cut nails are a relatively new invention, just over 100 years old. Just don't use round nails it's bad juju.
- Hold: Hand forged nails have almost 4 times the holding power of modern round nails. This pretty much guarantees that your chest will stand up to whatever abuse you put it through, even if you have children that like to beat on thing with sticks.
Step 2: Making Your First Cuts, 1 Board Becomes 6
At this point you may want to sort the boards that are the full 8" for looks. You'll want the best looking boards to be the top and front and the worst looking to be the back.
Step 3: Cut the End Boards
Draw a 4" diameter (2" radius) circle centered in the middle of the bottom edge. This should leave a 2" wide area on either side of the circle to the edge of the board. These 2" wide areas will be the feet of our chest. Cut out the circle you have drawn. [Image 2]
Draw a rectangle at each side of the top of the board measuring 3/4"x4". Cut it out. [Image 3] This is the first part of our half-lap joint.
Repeat these steps with your second end board.
Step 4: Cut the Front and Back Boards
Draw a 3/4"x4" rectangle on each side of the board along the bottom edge. Cut out the marked area. [Image 2]. Do the same with the other board.
If you want to do any carving on the front of the chest now is the time to do it, don't wait until the chest is put together to start carving, it will just make it harder.
Step 5: Start Putting It All Together
Don't use any glue, the grains running in different directions will rip apart any glue joints after only a few years of the wood expanding and contracting.
Space your nails about 2" apart going trough the face of one board and into the edge of the board behind it keeping everything as close to 90 degrees as possible. [Image 3] (If you want to use the dowel construction method I tell you how to do that in the last section of the instructable, just be patient or skip ahead)
This step should use 16 of our 40 nails.
Step 6: Cut the Bottom.
That was the last cut you can put your saws away now.
Step 7: Adding the Bottom.
Set the bottom of the chest flush with the bottom edge of the front and as close to flush with the bottom edge of the back as possible. Nail everything in place. Again don't use glue! The glue joint will pull itself apart when the wood expands and contracts. [Image 2] This step uses another 16 nails leaving us with only 8 more of our original 40. These final eight are used in the next step.
Step 8: Attach the Lid
Cut two 2"x1 1/2" pieces of medium weight leather, these are going to be the hinges of the box. Place one so that the 2" side is flush with the top of the lid and the edge is about 1" in from the outside edge of the chest. [Image 3]
Pound a nail through the leather and into the back edge of the lid of the chest about 1/2" in from the side edge of the leather and 3/8" from the top. Put another nail in about 1" away so that it is also about 1/2" from the other edge. Once both hinges are attached to the lid of the chest pound nails through the leather and into the outside face of the back of the chest spaced the same as the ones going into the lid. [Image 4]
Lifting the lid of the chest the nails should be sticking through the back into the interior of the chest. Trust me this is what you want. With your hammer bend the nails so that they curve back around and into the back board of the chest. Now there is almost no way that the hinge nails will be pulled out of the chest. [Image 5]
At this point your chest is serviceable and will not only look good and keep your things stored inside safe but it will last a life time. There are still optional things that can be done to the chest (see the next step) but as it sits now your chest is actually a workable, period accurate chest.
Step 9: Optional Equipment
None of these steps are required if you followed the directional as they were given. If you choose to use modern round nail instead of forged nails to attach the leather hinge then you might want to use some form of stay to lessen the chance of the nails being pulled out by the weight of the lid.
If you don't like your lid to fall open or you opted to use modern round nails that you are afraid may be pulled out then you could add a small chain, thin rope or leather strap to act as a stay. Attach one end to the lid about 1" down and 1" in from the edge and the other to the inside face of the end board again about 1" down and 1" in from the front. Measure twice before you cut your stay material because too short is no good. Do the same to the other side. [Image 1]
For an all over color I would recommend milk paint since it is period, soaks into the wood so will not chip off and, if you are more adventurous than I, can be made at home. If you want to paint your arms or some other design on the chest I recommend using an enamel type paint for durability or an acrylic for ease of use. With either of these use may want to put some sort of clear coat over it to help protect the paint and lessen the chances of chipping and scratching. [Image 2]
If you fell the good contained within your chest need protection from things other than the elements you may consider a hasp to secure the chest closed. They are relatively easy to install compared to other forms of locking mechanisms.
Step 10: The Dowel Method of Construction
Of course you will need dowels for this construction method as well as a drill with a bit the same size as your dowel. A general rule of thumb is to have your dowel no larger than 1/3 the width of your edge so for us that means we need a 1/4" dowel. Since we want our chest to be as strong as possible I recommend an oak or other hardwood dowel.
Start by marking the spots where nails would be placed if you were using them. Then using your drill make a hole perpendicular to the face of your board and about 1 1/2" deep through the face of one board and into the edge of the other (mark the depth with tape on your bit). You want these holes to be as close to the exact center of the edge board as possible for maximum strength.
Slightly round the end of your dowel and using your hammer GENTLY tap it into the hole. When it is in as far as it will go cut flush with a flush cut saw and then sand. If done correctly this join will stay and be strong without any glue at all and if you need to take your chest apart for some reason it can be removed with a little finesse.