|Project by Pete Tevonian||posted 04-25-2012 08:18 PM||4489 views||16 times favorited||17 comments|
This is my first un-painted project, my first attempt at dovetails and my first box. I promised my son a treasure chest for Christmas 2010, so I figured after he waited patiently for 16 months, I owed it to him to put other slow-moving projects aside and get this one done.
The chest is 20” x 12” x 16” tall, and is made from 3/4” red oak (which may have been overkill for a 6yr old’s chest), with a red oak plywood bottom. The dovetails aren’t of the fancy hand-cut variety—instead this project was reason enough to finally buy a dovetail jig. I picked up the new Leigh R9 Plus template and I’m really happy with it. I personally don’t like the tiny-pin look that seems to be the calling-card of the handcut dovetails, and I have very little workshop time, so the routed dovetails suit me just fine. The R9 jig produced flawless dovetails from the first test board on. I also used the R9 to cut the box joints used in the tray.
The curved top of the chest is 3/4” slats cut on each side at 3.5 degrees. I used the super-handy calculator at http://www.jsommer.com/MathTutor/GraphSimulations/ArcLength.html to determine the angles and number of slats necessary. I’m stunned, but happy, that someone had the time and desire to build that tool and make it publically available. I learned a lot building the top: how tricky it is to glue-up a curved assembly, how tricky it is to get the entire bottom edge flat and how tricky it can be to square off the sides and bottom edges of that curved surface. I built the base and top separately, rather than building the whole box and then cutting off the top. That was due party to not wanting to have to glue up several boards to get the full width, and party because I was kind of building and designing as I went.
More lessons were learned when it came time to attach the top to the box. My original idea was to use reproduction iron butterfly hinges, but then the issue of safety came up. The top alone weighs 12.5 pounds and would crush all kinds of tiny fingers if left unsupported. Adding a lid support to the interior of the box would cause my newly-finished tray to no longer fit, and would still afford opportunities for the lid to fall down when unlocked. The answer came in the form of Lid Stay Torsion Hinges from Rockler. They come in varying “strengths” matched to the size and weight of your lid, and they hold the lid at any angle. They felt ridiculously stiff right out of the package, but when you attach the lid and the leverage and weight are applied, they worked exactly as they should. The only trouble was thet they are designed for a flat lid, so I had to add a board to the back edge of my lid to provide ample attachment points. Not a big deal.
I planed the dovetails flush and did a little planing to tune the fit between the top and bottom. I also learned about planning the woodgrain of a multi-piece assembly so that you can plane in one direction without tear-out! I didn’t worry too much about a few surface flaws, though, because the overall look was supposed to be more “pirate” thatn “fine woodworking”. I sanded the exterior to 180 grit and applied two coats of Old English Tung Oil Varnish, rubbing it down with 0000 steel wool in between. The interior and the tray were sanded and then given two coats of Bulls Eye Seal Coat shellac, again with steel wool to smooth out the coats. Then the entire thing, inside and out, was finished with a coat of beeswax, both for the soft handfeel and for the pleasant aroma.
The hardware came from Amazon.com, Van Dykes Restorers and Rockler. The massive handles, iron hasp and padlock (and key) added another 8-10 lbs in wight, but they all look the part of the pirate treasure chest. My son wanted a dragon carved into the lid, but I didn’t do that for two reasons: 1) I don’t know how to carve. 2) I didn’t go overboard on “piratey” decorations because my hope is that my son will use this chest well into his adult life, and this way it can still work sitting in a den or living room. He accepted that reasoning.
It was a fun project to complete and taught me a lot, but the best reward, as always, was the look on my son’s face when he received it.
-- Pete in Wilmette, IL