Introduction: How to Build a Viking Inspired Sea Chest

About: Life 2.95 achieved! Former teacher and college instructor currently enjoying my workshop, outdoor cooking, traveling and camping, woodworking, rebuilding small vintage campers, steampunk crafts and mods, and f…

Introduction to Building a Sea Chest

This instructable will show you in 9 steps how to build a Norse or Viking Sea Chest. Perhaps it would be better described as a chest ‘inspired’ by the classic six-board Viking design. This build is quite flexible, can double as a bench, and makes use of lumber that you might already have on hand.

Step 1: Background to Building a Sea Chest


Some historians have suggested that sea chests were used both as rowing seats and for storage. The chests could be easily moved around on the ship’s deck when necessary and the oarsmen could store bedding and tools in the chests. Smaller designs were thought to have been the Viking version of the wooden tool box.

For a great article on replicating Viking chests you could begin here.

Although a google search provided me with lots of pictures, there were very few sites with definitive dimensions or chest instructions. And so, I studied several pictures and came up with a plan to build a chest, that could double as a bench, made from pine planks and boards that I had on hand. I had read that oak was probably one of the more common woods that was originally used but I chose pine because I had enough material in my shop and I decided to avoid shopping during the virus outbreak. I chose to use full, one inch thick, rough sawn lumber for the bottom and sides and 3/4 pine boards for the fronts and top. (I don’t have a thickness planer.) An advantage to using pine is that it is considerably easier to work with and lighter than hardwoods. From what I could find, Nordic sea chests were often constructed from just six boards and that the chests varied mainly in the length dimension. I chose to go with a shorter, two foot chest with an approximately 2:1:1.5 length to width to height ratio. I just liked the appeal of these particular dimensions when I drew up a rough plan. You could easily make yours six to twelve inches longer. Although I came across several drawings and projects for a simple, basic six (or more) board rectangular ‘box’, I chose to design a chest with double angled end boards. The ends would be slightly narrower at the top and the end boards would also pitch in at the top. This complicated the construction just a bit, but the overall aesthetics were greatly enhanced. The rough sawn sides and bottom would make use of period construction techniques, through mortise and tenons with no fasteners, while the finished 3/4 pine surfaces would receive contemporary joinery using metal fasteners. An unusual blend perhaps, but it suited the wood I had chosen to work with.

I have included a diagram, suggested materials and a tool list, pictures and essential steps and some hints for simplifying the construction of a small custom sea box. Feel free to comment and add any suggestions.

Step 2: ​Tools and Materials

Tools and Materials


The wood list described is what I used because of having it on hand and choosing to avoid shopping during the viral outbreak. If you chose to use just 12 inch planks you would need at least 14 feet.

  • 8 feet, 12 “ wide full 1 inch rough sawn pine
  • 6 feet, 1 X 10, 3/4 inch pine
  • 6 feet, 1 X 6, 3/4 inch pine
  • 6 feet, 1 X 4, 3/4 inch pine
  • 10 feet 3/4 inch pine trim

Hardware and Other Supplies

  • 1 1/2” # 6 wood screws
  • 3/4”pan head wood screws for the hinges
  • Good quality carpenters glue (I used Lepage Exterior)
  • Exterior Transparent Stain (colour of your choice)
  • Clear Exterior top coat (polycrylic)
  • 2 - 6” strap hinges
  • handful of small black cut nails
  • black spray paint (opt)
  • 2 feet of light chain or leather lace


  • Table saw
  • Mitre saw
  • Scroll Saw
  • Drill, drill bits and countersink bit
  • Sandpaper, sanding drum for the drill or drill press, palm sander (opt)
  • Misc. clamps
  • Bandsaw or Fine Hand saw
  • #1 Robertson screwdriver
  • Carpenters square
  • Measuring Tape
  • Wood chisels
  • Rasp
  • Hammer
  • Hand plane

Step 3: ​The Design and Cut List

The Design and Rough Cut List

See the sketches and the rough cut list for the pieces required. The only scale drawing I made was for the end boards. I used one inch square graph paper to visualize the finished size and angles. The other boards were measured, scribed and cut as the chest was constructed.

Step 4: ​Cut and Prepare the Pieces

Cut and Prepare the Pieces

*** Note: This chest project is not cabinet grade. Rather it can be viewed more like outdoor furniture. However simplified the construction process, one can still utilize interesting design, aesthetics and solid joinery ... all the time suiting the intended use of the project. In fact, this box is just as likely to find a home in my den storing miscellaneous electronic equipment, on the front porch or as a bench at the back door for a place to sit and tie my shoes. And then it would be good for hats and gloves.


Begin by cutting the two end pieces from the 1 x 12 rough pine plank. The angle works out to about 3 degrees but I drew out the lines on the wood based on my pattern and then cut out the end boards using a band saw, being careful to leave the lines on. The cut edges were finished up to the lines using a hand plane and a sanding wheel on the drill press. The mortise was cut out using a scroll saw and cleaned up using a chisel and a rasp. The bottom board was first cut to length and then the tenon was cut out on the bandsaw. Be sure to cut the tenon a bit oversized in width. Test fit and shave as necessary. With the 2 ends and bottom in place, scribe lines to mark the width of the bottom board and trim off the excess on the table saw.

Step 5: ​Assemble the Ends and Bottom

Assemble the Ends and Bottom

Dry fit the end boards and bottom board one more time. You will probably need to shave a bit off of the width of the bottom board to get it to match up with the end boards. It is best if the mortise-tenon fit is just a bit sloppy. This is perfectly okay as the slanted pegs, once they are inserted into the square holes in the tenons, they will snug up the three pieces. Leave the pegs out for the time being so that the end boards can be forced to lean in just a bit until the sides are attached. By the way, the pegs were cut to length (~2.5") and then roughly squared before being whittled to a tapered shape using a pocket knife.

Step 6: ​Fit and Attach the Sides

Fit and Attach the Sides

Each side is approximately 16 inches in height and consist of 3 boards. Begin by attaching the middle board (1 x 6) which will sit on the 3/4 inch ledge of the end board. I chose to mitre cut the boards at 3 degrees on the mitre saw. Proceed back and front, cutting and attaching one board at a time. Each board was secured with 2 screws and glue, screw holes countersunk. These holes will be covered later with a piece of trim. The bottom boards on each side were cut on the bandsaw, sanded using a sanding drum and rounded over using a router before being attached. Save the cut offs from these two boards for later. They will be needed for the lid. The top boards on each side were bevelled slightly on their top outer edge so that they would be level with the end boards. I used a hand plane to do this. Four pieces of pine trim ( 1” wide x 3/16") were glued and nailed to the ends of the side boards to cover the screws and cleanup the lines. I used 1” steel cut nails as a decorative touch. The tenon pegs can be banged in anytime after a few side boards have been attached.

Step 7: ​Construct the Top Lid

Construct the Top Lid

The top lid was cut from a 1 x 10 board, which ended up being a 1/2 too narrow and so it required an additional strip to bring it to the correct width. The face of the lid received a thin piece of trim to give the lip an edge and a shadow line. The two cut out pieces that had been saved were were used to construct two cleats for the inside of the lid. They were trimmed to 8", glued and screwed to the lid. The holes were plugged with wood cut from a piece of dowel.

Step 8: ​Apply the Finish

Apply the Finish

After sanding, a coat coat of golden oak stain was applied. The rough sawn pine will naturally appear much darker than the smooth finish boards. Just a heads up in case you have never applied stain to wood with a ‘fuzz’ on it. Two coats of water based polycrylic clear top coat were also applied.

Step 9: ​Add the Hardware and Elements

Add the Hardware & Elements

The lid was attached using 2 strap hinges. The hinges were primed and then painted black. The hinge half for the lid was attached to the inside of the lid. Alternatively it could have been bent and attached to the outside or a T-hinge could have been used. Black wood screws were used on the hinge half that was visible from the outside. I decided not to add a hasp or spring clasp for the time being, but might do so at some point. A length of black chain (or you could use a leather lace from a boot) was used to keep the lid from falling back when open. As a nordic touch, a rune was selected from a Viking symbols site. The three interlocked triangles, or Valknut, is symbolic of Norse mythology. It was cut from 3/16 birch on the scroll saw, painted a red mahogany colour, lacquered and glued to the inside face of the chest, to ward off evil spirits, just in case. A narrow, wooden applique, stained the same colour of the chest was glued and pinned to the face of the sea chest as a final touch.

Feel free to contact or comment if you have any questions or ideas you wish to share about this project. If you liked it, consider hitting the 'Favorite' button at the top of the page or give it a vote in the woodworking contest.

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