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Shaker Blanket Chest


Shaker Blanket Chest

Having a top-notch dovetail jig really pays off.

By Bruce Kieffer

I've always wanted to build a dovetailed blanket chest, but never got around to it. I couldn't see making all those joints by hand, and I hadn't found a design that I really liked. All that changed when I recently bought a new multipurpose dovetail jig and discovered a Shaker chest with beautiful proportions. No more excuses!

I found this chest in June Sprigg's Shaker Design, a classic work published in 1986. The picture was taken head-on, and that really helped me to make an accurate scale drawing of the piece. The original was built in 1848, in New Hampshire, using white pine painted red. I chose cherry instead. I also designed the case with web frames and center drawer guides, which the original builders wouldn't have used. Web frames make construction simpler, and the guides make it easier to open the drawers, particularly the extra-wide bottom one.

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Begin building the chest by gluing boards for the front, sides and top. Clamp a pair of straight sticks across each end to hold the assembly flat. Put masking tape under the sticks so they won't adhere.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Rout tails on the sides. This jig has adjustable fingers so that you can vary the distance between the pins and tails. Clamp a stop block at the end to avoid routing tails where the drawers go.

Rout pins on the front and back pieces. These boards are nearly 4' long; you'll need to raise the dovetail jig by placing it on a sturdy shop-made box.

Web frames separate the drawers and storage area inside the chest. Rout tongues on the web frame rails using a coping sled to steady the workpiece.

Rout stopped grooves in the back and sides to receive the web frames. Guide your plunge router with a straight board clamped to the workpiece.

Cut notches on the rear corners of the web frames to fit the stopped grooves. Make the long cuts first using a bandsaw, then finish the cuts by hand.

The chest's drawers run on center guides. Fasten the guides to the middle and lower web frames using 1/4" fiberboard spacers for precise alignment.

Begin assembling the chest. There are a lot of dovetails to glue, so it's best to start with a single corner. Use shop-made assembly squares to keep the pieces oriented 90° to each other.

Install the web frames, then slide in a divider to go between the drawers. Glue one web frame at a time, again using an assembly square to maintain a right angle.

Add the front. It sits on the upper web frame, but needs support to stay square. Apply a small amount of pressure in the middle using a crossbeam. When this dries, add the remaining end.

Fasten a template to the workpiece’s back for pattern-routing the feet. Use a top-bearing pattern bit to cut with the grain on this end; flip the workpiece and use a bottom-bearing bit on the other end.

Fasten the base one piece at a time to the chest's bottom. This method guarantees a tight fit between the chest and the base's molding. Glue and tape the feet's mitered corners.

Rout pins on the drawer faces. These pieces are lipped to provide a tight seal against the case. Use a rabbeted setup block to compensate for the lip.

Rout tails on the ends of the drawer sides. The fingers on this jig's template are adjustable; place shop-made bridge blocks between them to help guide the router.

Screw a U-shaped track to the bottom of each drawer. In this type of drawer construction, the track guides the drawer, not the drawer’s sides. This makes fitting lipped drawers much easier.

Fasten the top. I used a new kind of hinge that prevents the top from slamming down without the use of a lid support. It works like the hinge on a laptop computer, and is easy to mount.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker February / March 2009, issue #140.

February / March 2009, issue #140

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