Introduction: Make a Six Board Chest With Home Center Lumber

Except for maybe the stool, the chest is the earliest piece of furniture in human history . It allowed one to collect what they valued into a single place. It gave a place to sit or a surface to work. It was widely used to store bedding back when peasants did not have the space reserved exclusively for a bed. This type of chest is called a six board chest because it could literally be assembled from six boards. (This was back when 18" to 24" wide boards were common.) They were simply nailed together with no glue. Nails are common in the construction of early furniture. Nails allow for the seasonal movement of wood for cross grain joints without the boards splitting or cracking.

As this chest was designed to be built with the tools commonly available to a maker. All the pieces are made from standard 1x6s, 1x8s, and 1x2s. No ripping the wood to size or thickness planing is required. All steps can be implemented with basic hand tools. If you have power tools so much the better.

All dimensions and templates are given in the assembly drawing pdf.

Step 1: Select Wood and Cut to Measure

All the wood for this project is dimensional pine. You will need; two 6ft 1x8s, three 8ft 1x6s, and two 8ft 1x2s. These are available at your home center. Now you have two choices. You can go with Select or Common lumber.

If you choose Select, then you go to the store, grab your seven boards, give the casher around $125, and leave. What you get is seven flawless, knot free boards.

Go the common path and you go the store late one evening (less crowded) and sort through a couple of hundred boards in the common pile. You take the seven best straight boards with no warp, bend, or twist. There will be some knots but tight knots (won't fall out) are acceptable. For this effort you will only give the cashier about $35. For this example common lumber is used. I like the knots and I think flawless pine looks like bowling trophy wood.

While at the store it is a perfect time to get all the "cut to measure" pieces cut to size. Have the store associate cut the four side pieces, six front/back pieces, and the three top pieces. With a clamp block they can make sure all the similar pieces are exactly the same length.

Arrange these cut pieces for the best appearance.

Step 2: Pre Bevel the Joint

No matter how well you selected your boards they are not straight enough to have glue ready edges. To help hide any gaps in these joints, the edges to be glued are beveled before glue up. Only bevel the edges that show from the outside. Mark a line 1/8" away from the edge on the face and glue edge. Use a hand plane or sanding block to make this 45 degree bevel. You can also use a table saw to cut these bevels.

Step 3: Assemble Sides

Apply glue to the edges of matched side pieces and lay them face down. Apply pressure to press the edges together and rub them back and forth. The rubbing caused the pieces to pull together. Now clamp the pieces.

While in the clamps. Nail the side supports in place. One is at the top of the side piece while the other is 14-3/4" down. (You can place the top support 4" down if you want to build a movable tray.) For each support take a piece of 1x2, lay it in place and mark where is should be cut. This is known as "cutting to fit" and it guarantees a near perfect fit. All the "cut to fit" cuts on this project can be done with your saw of choice. Just mark the cut, continue the line across the board with a square, and make the cut. Use 1-1/4" finish nails for each side piece on each support. I like to drill pilot holes to help keeping the wood from splitting.

After the glue has dried, transfer side ogee pattern on the inside bottom center of the side. Cut it out with a coping saw, scroll saw, or jig saw.

Note that no glue was used between the supports and the sides. This was intentional. The nails will allow for some seasonal wood movement. Glue across the grain and it may cause the sides to crack with seasonal movement.

Step 4: Assemble Front/Back and Nail to Sides

The six boards that make up the front and back will be nailed to the sides 3/8" away from the ends. Drill three pilot holes on each end of the six boards.

Take the three matched back pieces and apply glue the appropriate edges. Press and rub the pieces. Now clamp into the glue dries. Repeat this process for the front.

The front and back are nailed to the sides with 2" finish nails. Again because they are assembled cross grain, no glue is used.

Step 5: Attach Cleats

The cleats are attached at the inside bottom of the front and back panels. Use the lower side supports to position them. Cut to fit a cleat and glue and nail in place with 1-1/4" finish nails. Repeat this step for the cleat on the front panel.

Step 6: Install Bottom

Cut to fit the two bottom pieces. Glue and rub the two together and then drop into place. There is no need to nail the bottom to the cleats as gravity will hold it there just fine.

Step 7: Assemble Top

Take the three top board and drill, glue and clamp them pretty much the way you did the front and the back. While it is drying take a piece of 1 x 3 at least 34" long and attach the batten ogee pattern to the middle of the board. Cut with your coping saw, scroll saw, or jig saw. You have two over sized battens with ogees on the front.

Take the top from the clamps and rest it on the battens. Cut to fit the battens to size. Nail the top to the battens with 2" finish nails.

Step 8: Finish

First you will need to sand the whole project. Start with 80 grit to sand any planer chatter around the knots. Occasionally wipe some alcohol on the knot to see how it will look when a finish is applied. The alcohol will also soften the wood making it easier to sand. Move to 100 grit to remove any pencils marks or any other intentional or unintentionally marks. Finally finish up with 120 grit.

Turpentine is a solvent made from the sap and resin from pine trees. Even when cut into lumber the terpenes can later ooze out of the knots and sap pockets to interfere with most whatever finish you apply. This is sometimes called knot stain and is quite prevalent on tole painted projects seen at craft fairs. To prevent this, it is best to seal the wood with dewaxed shellac. Zinsser SealCoat is a dewaxed shellac that is available at you home center. It can be brushed, wiped, or sprayed on and dries extremely fast which is perfect for garage woodworking where keeping the area dust free for a long period of time may be difficult. Seal the whole project with two coats.

Spray Shellac

The traditional finish for this kind of chest is milk paint, however it is a bit expensive at $15 per pint. I make a finish that is equal parts, by volume, of flat latex interior wall paint, calcium carbonate, and water.

Calcium Carbonate

This project took 2/3s cup of each. Scuff the surface to be painted a bit with 120 grit sandpaper and give it two coats. After it has fully dried give the chest a good coating of paste wax.

Step 9: Attach Hardware

Your local home center will have 8" decorative tee hinges. Get two and screw them onto the inside of the top, 6-1/2" away from the sides. These hinges are normally used for gates so you will need to buy some 3/4" #14 screws.


Place the top on the chest and screw the hinges to the back. You have completed the chest.

Step 10: A Chest for a Lifetime(s)

This chest cost $35 in lumber, $18 for hinges, and $3 for paint. It is so inexpensive and easy to construct that it makes a perfect gift at the birth of a child. It starts out being used for blanket storage and a changing surface. When the child moves out of the crib into a real bed, convert it into a toy chest. At whatever point in the families tradition that the child becomes an adult, add the trays and it is their keepsake chest. When this now young adult prepares to leave home, add handles to the sides and it is their first piece of movable furniture. Eventually it passes on to another generation and starts again. Make sure to document the process on a piece of paper glued on the bottom. When this construction technique this chest should last a good 300 years. Yours may not be perfect (mine wasn't) but I have found that the flaws in projects made with love, come to define them. Someday some mother will show her child the bottom of the chest where great great great great grandpa cut himself and left a finger smudge.

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