Pirate Toy Chest




Introduction: Pirate Toy Chest

Toys are a big part of my life, but it's kind of getting ridiculous having them scattered all over the house. I've been needing a toy chest for quite a while, and I have been mulling over how to make a metal-bound pirate chest to hold all our loot.

This pirate toy chest is made from baltic birch plywood, 3/4-inch thick for the ends, and 1/2-inch thick for the sides and top staves. I also cut five 2-inch wide strips of 1/4-inch plywood that I had left over from another project, to make a partial shelf inside the curved lid of the chest.

The toy chest is 36-inches long, 24-inches wide at the top, and tapers down to 16-inches wide at the bottom, and 24-inches tall (16-inches for the bottom part, not counting the wheels and wheel blocks), and the lid is 8-inches tall. The lid is made up of staves, cut at 11 1/2-degree angles to give the chest a rounded top. The chest will be kind of heavy, so I put 1 1/2-inch heavy duty casters underneath. The addition of "rusty" metal straps and large-head nails make it look like something from a pirate movie. Antique-looking hardware complete the pirate look. Soft-close air shocks for the lid, make it easier (and safer) to open and close. The final chest weighs around 85-pounds, empty. Thinner or lighter weight plywood, and painted-on straps would have reduced the weight substantially.

I didn't want to dig to the bottom of this chest to find small toys, so inside there are some half-width trays that slide back and forth on tracks. The upper tray is four inches deep, and the lower tray is three-inches deep. It's a tossup whether these trays actually add more storage space, but they do make it easier to find things.

This rolling toy chest is actually part of a larger (but far less complicated) set of built-in shelves that I recently completed. The finished chest fits underneath the shelves, but with its wheels it's a bit of a juggernaut, so I'm adding some bumpers at the ends, to try and save the paint on its "garage."


One sheet of 3/4-inch baltic birch plywood

One sheet of 1/2-inch baltic birch plywood

Partial sheet of 1/4-inch baltic birch plywood (20- by 36-inch) for slats (or use part of 1/2-inch sheet, above)

Table saw


Drill and bits

Pocket hole jig

Brad nailer (or stapler) and air compressor

18 strips of 20-gage sheet steel (cut by the steel yard into 2-inch wide, by three foot long strips)

"V" knife sharpener for removing sharp edges (you could also use sandpaper).

Hinges, Handles, Hasp, Soft-close mechanism, Clavos.


Orbital sander, sand paper

Spray primer

Dark paint, light paint, and brushes (I just used leftover paint we had on hand).

Various colors of acrylic paint for faux rust painting (mostly burnt umber, burnt sienna, and cadmium yellow).

Natural sponge for applying the acrylic paint.

Paint pens for drawing the cracks between planks.

Wood grain texturing tool

Clear Varathane sealer (for the inside), and clear spray paint for sealing the outside after painting.

Polyethylene tape for the tracks

Double sided tape, thin for mounting the horizontal straps, and thick for the parts of the vertical straps between the horizontal ones.

Corner bumpers

Step 1: Make a Plan and Cut Out Parts

With the sliding trays, this project is essentially four boxes. Each box is its own project, with the main body of the toy chest being the most complicated and difficult piece. The body of the chest will have two sets of "rails" for the trays to slide on. There is a tradeoff between creating more storage with the sliding trays, and the amount of storage space taken up by the trays. I have a lot of small toys that would get lost at the bottom of the chest, so I feel like the trays are worthwhile.

I cut out the 3/4-inch end pieces, and cut the rails from the same material. The rails, and all the side pieces, are cut at angles so they fit the slope of the chest.

After cutting out all the 3/4-inch parts, cut out all the side pieces from 1/2-inch plywood, being sure the cut angles conform to the shape of the end pieces they'll be attached to. The angles for the side pieces were supposed to be 14-degrees, but they turned out to be about 15 1/2-degrees. The top staves are each cut at 11 1/2-degree angles, except for the cuts where the sides meet, which are 22 1/2-degrees.

Step 2: Assemble the Boxes

I'm using glue and a staple gun to attach the parts. You could get by just fine with screws if you don't mind lots of drilling and driving. I'm covering the staples with metal straps that will be attached with clavos (really just giant upholstery tacks), so the staples won't show.

The"tracks" for the trays to slide on are made up of two-pieces, cut to match the angle of the side piece, and mounted to the inside of the box. These are mostly held in with glue, but I added a few staples in places that will be hidden by the straps. The pieces that make up the tracks are glued and stapled. Wipe off any excess glue, and let the glue set well before mounting them to the side pieces.

I used a pocket hole jig to drill holes in the bottom piece so the ends of the main part of the chest will be mounted securely. Blocks, for mounting the wheels (cut at angles to match the sides) are mounted to the four corners of the bottom. I let the blocks overhanging the side by a half inch, so the side pieces will rest on the blocks. The blocks are added at this stage so the open sides can be used to clamp the blocks while the glue sets. I also added a few staples to hold the blocks securely while the side parts are attached.

The rails are glued and mounted to the side pieces before attaching the sides to the base. Note, the bottom and the ends are 3/4-inch plywood, and the sides are 1/2-inch plywood.

The front and back edges of the lid have an added strip of half-inch plywood to make the sides sturdier and to give the lid some meat for attaching the hinges and hasp. Inside the lid, I mounted a couple of cleats to the ends. After the interior was painted, I added five 2-inch wide slats of 1/4-inch thick plywood to make a storage shelf inside the lid for fragile things like kites and foam gliders.

The two (half-width) trays that slide on the tracks are glued and stapled together. I initially built these about twenty-inches wide, and had to cut them down so it would be easier to get at the stuff underneath.

Once the four boxes that make up the toy chest are assembled, everything gets a final sanding, and the boxes are ready for paint and hardware.

Step 3: Faux Weathered Wood Painting

I bought these inexpensive tools for applying a wood grain texture. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YW4BVLJ/ref=p... They aren't difficult to use, and they can create a variety of wood grain effects.

I started with a base coat of dark gray stain on the plywood (I had this gray stain on hand, but any dark colored stain or paint would work for the base coat), then rolled on a light coat of white latex paint. While the paint is still wet, the texturing tool is dragged over the surface with a light "rocking" motion. The tool scrapes off some of the paint, exposing the darker base coat. It's an old-fashioned technique, but it works well.

Much of the exterior will be covered with metal straps, so you don't have to be too careful at the ends of the paint texturing strokes (which are the places where it's easy to mess it up). It's probably best to only paint a few "boards" at a time, as you need to clean the tool between passes.

To complete the look of weathered timbers at the ends, I'm putting some 2-inch wide masking tape along the edge of each end of the box. The wood-grain texturing tool has a "comb" on one edge, which you can sweep in an arc to from a variety of end grain effects. I had to fill in some corners by just scraping a few grooves to match the arc of the wood-grain tool.

Last step in the painting is to draw black lines to indicate the gaps between planks. I got a set of black and white paint pens to make the lines. I didn't think that I needed the white pens, but it turns out that they were useful for touching up some of the places where the wood grain tool didn't achieve the desired look.

Step 4: Paint Rust Effect on the Metal Straps

A pirate chest wouldn't be complete without the strong metal straps that hold the chest together. I bought a piece of 20 gage steel sheet material at our local steel yard, and for a small additional cost the guy cut it to length with their big shear machine, and then snipped as many 2-inch wide strips as he could get from the piece that I'd bought. I wound up with 20 2-inch by 36-inch long strips (I only used 18 of these). After buying the metal, I shelved this project for quite a while, and the steel got a little rusty. I also needed to remove the sharp edges left by the shear machine, so I borrowed a cheap "V" knife sharpener from the kitchen drawer and used it to scrape off the sharp edges of the cut steel. Just a few strokes on each edge works fine (I don't dare put this back in the kitchen drawer). A light sanding on each side and a quick wipe with some mineral spirits cleans the straps and they're ready for painting.

[I originally intended to work these straps to give them a hammered metal look. I'm including this safety note as a precaution and a warning: DO NOT EVER attach a piece of chain to a power drill and clamp the drill in a vise to create a mechanical peening tool. This was an experiment that resulted in equal amounts of thrill and terror. It was a fearful thing to be near. The steel whirlwind nearly tore the metal strap out of my hands, and made the 20-gage steel look like a piece of crumpled tinsel. I count myself lucky to still have all my fingers. Upon reflection, I decided that I could achieve a nice rusty-metal look with painting techniques instead of using the chain of whirling death.]

For the straps that bend over the lid, I clamped the straps in a vise, between two blocks of wood, and used another block of wood to make nice sharp bends at the marked spots. I found that the best way to get a good bend was to bend the strap a little farther than necessary, then bend it back slightly to achieve the correct angle.

The rust effect starts with a base coat of rusty metal primer (I first used black spray paint because I had some on hand and I didn't want them to rust again before I could buy the rust colored primer). The rust primer is followed by layers of acrylic paint in different tones, applied with a natural sponge. This is sort of the fun part; you can't do it wrong. If you don't like the look, just keep adding more layers of acrylic color till you get an effect that looks authentic. My approach is to apply darker shades first, followed by highlights, followed by a diluted layer of the darker color to soften the highlights.

There are some excellent resources for the faux-rust painting techniques, both here, and on other websites. I mostly followed the instruction from Colleen Jorgenson's blog: http://justpaintitblog.com/2013/11/how-to-paint-fa... and I also got some tips from the great instructable by Raymond Potter. https://www.instructables.com/Rust-in-Peace-How-to...

To mount the straps on the chest, I put (thin) double sided tape under the long, horizontal straps to hold them in place, and for the vertical straps, I used some (thick) double-sided tape to fill the gaps between the horizontal straps. This tape also holds the straps in place while drilling holes at the crossings for the clavos.

Step 5: Attach the Hardware

I bought nice antique-looking hinges handles and hasp (and applied rusty metal paint) before mounting them. The hinges and hasp go on the outside of the straps.

With the straps all taped in place, all the crossings get drilled for the clavos (short nails with 1-inch wide heads). Some of the clavos stick out on the inside, and needed to be ground off afterwards. I may add a dab of epoxy to keep the ends from getting rusty.

The hasp part that the hinged tongue fits over (staple) would extend below the two-inch wide top strap, along the front edge, so I cut a small trapezoidal piece of the strap material to place under this piece to keep it flat.

The gas shocks are rated for a 45-pound lid. The lid for the toy chest weighs about 25 pounds, but there will be some storage inside the lid, so I think the 45-pound shocks will work out alright.

The trays are pretty heavy, so to make it easier to slide them back and forth I bought some polyethylene tape to put on the tracks and on the bottoms of the trays. This stuff is pretty slippery, and it makes it much easier to slide the drawers back and forth. The tape is one-inch wide, and the tracks are only 3/4-inch wide, so the tape is wide enough to cover the tracks and extend a quarter inch up the sides of the tracks, making sort of a "V" of slippery tape. The tape came in a five-yard roll, and the tracks used four yards. Since the trays are half-width, I split the last yard of tape in half (lengthwise), and put half-inch wide strips on each side of the trays

Step 6: Fill It With Fun and Park It

It will probably take weeks to find all the toys I have scattered around the house, but now there's a place for them.

This toy chest fits nicely in the space I left under our new shelves. I didn't do an instructable for the shelves, but they are pretty simple. All the shelves are ripped to the same width, and they're attached to the uprights (and studs in the back wall) with pocket holes. The front frame is just pieced together from 3/4-inch by 1 1/2-inch moulding, mounted with a brad nailer. The vertical trim parts at the left corner were the only complicated cuts. I just ripped the moulding material at the same angle as the diagonal corner piece, and glued the moulding parts together before mounting them.

The lighting in the upper shelves is just a strip of LED lighting that is adhered behind the front trim, and snaked back along the underside of the top shelf (behind the trim).

Note, the dark-field illumination technique is achieved by attaching navy-blue velvet panels to strips of cardboard with double-sided tape. The cardboard fabric mounts are attached to the wall with dual-lock fastener tape.

[Confession: The upper wall shelf was actually built a couple of years ago, and was mounted to the back wall because there are no ceiling joists in that area. There are rocks up there so the shelf is mounted with plywood mounting strips. These were very unatractive, so I hid them behind the fabric pannels.]

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    5 weeks ago

    Your work amazes me! This is truly a new family treasure!


    5 weeks ago on Step 6



    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Thanks, I heard about that wood-texture painting tool many years ago, and always wanted to try it. I think it would have worked better if I had sanded the base coat and added another layer of the base coat to make it smoother when dragging the tool. I think it would be fun to try with different colors.
    For that dark-field illumination, I found the navy blue velvet at a yard sale, and I was surprised that it looks black. I wonder whether black velvet would have worked better.


    Question 5 weeks ago

    This is a great classic design. I really like it. You should enter it in one of the contests. I would vote for you. Have you considered a miniature version for a jewelry box?


    Answer 5 weeks ago

    Thanks for the vote of confidence. I thought about entering a contest, but really, my pictures aren't good enough for a competition. I need to work on that.
    I hadn't thought of making a smaller version. I'll have to think about what kind of materials and fasteners would work for that. A jewelry box is an interesting idea, though.


    6 weeks ago

    That is gorgeous - great job :D


    Reply 6 weeks ago

    Thanks. I was worried that it came out looking kinda cartoonish. Reminds me of something you'd see on Spongebob.


    Reply 5 weeks ago