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Building the Oak Blanket Chest - Part 2 - January 2022

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

The second installment of the oak blanket chest build, with my final conclusion.

The chest prepared for its first coat of oil, and ready for the final fitting of the drawers.

1/12 ...Continuing from where I finished in 'part 1'. I've cut the profile for the base moulding, and now using a curved scraper to clean up any machine marks left from the router table. This cuts out a lots of sanding and leaves a nice flowing surface. Notice how I've used a wide piece of oak and profiled both sides. This is much easier to work with on the router table, and just needs to be cut to final width on the table saw.

2/12 The top has been cut to size, and I'm cleaning up the edges with a block plane - for end grain; and a no.7 jointer - for the front and back edge. When cutting the top to size, the marking out (as with everything) is important. I drop the top in place with a weight on top, and mark a 2mm overhang with a spacer on all three sides (flush on the back). When cleaning up the saw marks, the planing wants to be straight and square for the moulding that will be applied very soon. Breaking out is a high risk planing the end grain. Patience and consideration is the solution.

3/12 This image shows how the moulding is attached to the top. A series of short dovetail keys are fixed to the top (with screws), and the moulding has a dovetailed groove running on its back edge to slide over the keys. The joint is glued only on the mitre joint and the end of the first key (next to the mitre). This allows the the top to expand and contract free from the moulding which glides over the keys. For more information on this joinery technique, see Christian Becksvoorts book 'Shaker Inspiration' (lost art press)

4/12 The finish I used on the external parts of the chest was a mixture made up of:

1 part boiled linseed oil

1 part poly varnish

1 part thinner

The interior was finished with shellac (flakes dissolved in meth spirits). This was to prevent the interior from smelling of oil, and to make the most of the fragrant ceder of Lebanon used for the drawer bottoms and base. The drawer sides and runners also had a coat of beeswax applied to ensure a perfect slide.

5/12 Now I'm ready to start making the drawers. I had already selected my drawer front stock earlier on to make sure the colour, grain and medullary rays worked nicely with the chests front piece. I set the drawer components out on the bench, mark what goes where, sharpen my no.4 plane and smooth the inside faces of the drawers.

6/12 So far I've cut (mostly) through dovetails where the joinery is seen from both faces of the components, but for the drawer fronts I'm cutting half blind dovetails which are hidden on the front face of the drawer. It not much more complicated than a through dovetail, but takes a little more time as you are limited to a 45 degree saw cut, leaving the rest to be carefully chiseled out. When marking this out, a knife will serve you well for a crisp tidy joint.

7/12 Planing the drawers to fit the hole. The following method contradicts my earlier process of marking out the dovetails in part 1. When I cut my drawer components to size, I make the front and back an exact fit in the spaces they're going. When marking the shoulder line on these pieces, I set a cutting guage to the thickness of the side piece, and then (here's the contradiction) reduce the setting by about 0.5mm. This means when you assemble the drawer, the sides should be sticking out very slightly and the risk of over cutting the shoulder line is no longer a worry. It's then just a case of hand planing the sides flush to the front and back pins. You can check as you go, and dial it in to a lovely fit. After they've been waxed they will be a joy to use.

8/12 The touch of quality. Finding a balance between too sharp and too sloppy is a fine line when considering the edges of various parts of furniture. Too sharp and the piece can feel unwelcoming and perhaps unfinished. Too sloppy and hours of work can quickly feel lazy and cheap. I like to remove the arris with a very small chamfer, maybe 2-6 passes of a light cut, then if I want it to feel more comfortable to the finger tip I'll slightly round this over with a few more passes. If the edge is going to lean more to aesthetics, I'll keep the chamfer at 45 degrees - I love seeing a small consistent chamfer running around on multiple edges, it's something I feel can only be done well by the human hand with a sharp plane.

9/12 Here I'm edge jointing the Lebanon ceder boards for the drawer bottoms held in the leg vice. The trick is lay them out in the decided orientation, and pick up the boards together so the backs are touching each other, and the top faces both facing out. Adjust the edges flush and place in the vice (as pictured above). Now you just need to plane a straight joint. There's no need to worry about how square the edge is, as any variation from 90 degrees will be cancelled out by the mating board having the opposing angle when folded back out.

10/12 The drawer bottoms fitted, and fixed in place properly. One screw is plenty to hold the drawer bottom in place, however the pilot hole does need to be slotted, allowing for expansion and contraction. Without the slot, the board will simply contract from the front edge towards the screw, not leaving much (if any) in the grove in the drawer front.

11/12 The maple drawer knob has been turned and fitted in place, although still waiting for a coat of oil. I spent a long time deciding on the materials and shape of this knob. At first I made a very unadorned knob and it just didn't look right. I considered the chest as a whole and with all the small rebated details in the mouldings and base, I tried to subtly reflect this into the knob.

12/12 Hardware installed, the finishing touch. I fitted the brass hinges and lid stays, getting the top functional and the chest completed. As the top is a rather big piece of oak, I wanted it to be well supported so fitted two stays. Although I'm sure two hinges would have worked fine, I added an additional hinge in the middle just to encourage any movement or twist to happen at the front edge where it has space to do so.

Conclusion - I like to think I've given this oak the best chance for a long and useful life. Although the chest is large and heavy, it's form has an elegance. The medullary rays that naturally appear on the quarter sawn oak are striking when caught in the light, although the dovetails proudly dominate this piece. It has a feeling of permanence which will only increase as it gains a patina over time. The things we use today need to be built well to last longer so we waste less, and I believe this chest is a step in that direction.

For more finished photos of this piece, see the gallery blog here...

— Christopher J. Darby

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