Pioneer Chest

for Darcy

An original pine Utah pioneer period chest inspired this chest.  The original had a coffin top but this piece was going to be used also as a seat so I opted for a flat top.  Also the grain on the top of the original ran the long length of the chest on the original but for added strength (and a democratic vote on a WoodCentral chat) I ran the grain the short direction.  The chest measures 24 inches wide, 18 inches deep and 18 inches tall.

Utah Pioneer Pine Chest - Drawing

The four sideboards are made up of two 9 Ό inch wide boards glued together with a toothed butt joint and hide glue, they are 5/8 inches thick.  These are wide enough to allow you to cut 1 Ό inches from the top edge to form the lid.  The corners are joined with a dado and rabbet joint, there is a groove on the bottom edge into which a feathered edge, Ύ inch thick bottom board floats free.

Utah Pioneer Chest

There are three sets of half blind dovetailed rails that wrap around the box; the bottom is 4 inches wide, the top and lid rails are 2 inches wide and all are Ύ inches thick.  Corner boards or styles of ½  inch thick material trim out and help reinforce the corners.  All outside edges are chamfered to remove the sharp edges.  The three boards that make up the top are joined with rabbets and set inside a rabbet made by the 5/8 inch thick sides and the Ύ inch rail.  While all joints are glued with hide glue and nailed with cut nails, the top is just nailed in place to allow for some movement with changes in temperature and humidity.  Fine cut headless brads (7/8” & 1 ½”) and 3d finish reproduction cut iron nails were used matching the original.  The carpet or upholstery tacks were used on the leather lid stay.

View with lid open

There are no added handles for moving the case as the rails on the top can be used to pickup and move the chest.  Two simple butt hinges are gained equally into the top rail and lid rail and the lid is secured with a chest lock.  A lid stay made of a strip of tanned leather, is tacked using carpet or upholstery tacks on the left side of the box and lid to prevent the lid from opening too far.  Morticed into the top rail is a chest lock with a steel post and shackles to engage the strike plate morticed into the lid rail.  (I installed the lock in a double mortice in the top rail and the strike plate to the lid rail.  Testing to see how the strike plate engaged the lock, the chest closed and locked.  I had not yet cut the key hole.  The design of this lock discourages picking and after some work I operated the bolt and opened the chest.)  The keyhole is cut into the center of the top rail of the chest.

Finished with Moses T's St. John's Oil    Chest lock and striker plate installed

On the inside of the lid is a center cross piece that is morticed into the front and back of the lid.  This is to help reinforce the top.  On the left side is a similar sized piece that is glued and nailed into place.  Small slats are nailed to these two pieces to form a place to hold papers.  On the inside of the base on the right side is a traditional till used for keeping small valuables.  The side slant and the top pivots on dowels to form a lid.  The side slat and top are made of aromatic cedar to keep the bugs at bay.  The bottom of the till is made from Ό inch thick pine.  With the lid open the side slat of the till can slid up the dado in the front and back boards revealing a small 1 inch deep secret compartment to hide cash and other valuables.  Because of the slant it is difficult to tell that there is a secret bottom to help foil theft.  Well now it isn’t secret.

Detail showing Till

Front of till slides up revealing a secret compartment

The original was painted white with a rare green paint on the horizontal trim and on the styles that frame in the flat panels of the sides.  This piece was left natural and finished with a couple of coats of Moses T’s St. John’s Oil.

Fitted out and finished

Utah Pioneer Pine Chest Cutting List

Sizes are approximate and can vary slightly with sawing and hand planing.  Wider boards can be joined up from narrower stock.  This example is made of pine except for the aromatic cedar used on the till.


2 – 18 ½” by 22 ½” by 5/8”, front and back

2 – 18 ½” by 16” by 5/8”, sides

1 – 16” by 22” by Ύ”, bottom

3 – 8 Ό” by 22 ½” by Ύ”, top pieces

2 – 4” by 24” by Ύ”, front and back base rails

2 – 4” by 17 ½” by Ύ”, side base rails

4 – 2” by 24” by Ύ”, front and back top and lid rails

2 – 2” by 17 ½” by Ύ”, side top and lid rails

1 – 16” by Ύ” by Ύ”, center support

1 – 15 ½” by Ύ” by Ύ”, left slat support

4 – 2 Ό” by 11 ½” by 3/8”, slats

4 – 2” by 10 Ύ” by ½”, trim styles fronts

4 – 1 ½” by 10 Ύ” by ½”, trim styles sides

2 – 3 ½” by 16” by Ό”, till bottoms

1 – 4 ½” by 16” by ½”, till lid (aromatic cedar)

1 – 4 ½” by 16” by Ό”, till side slat (aromatic cedar)

2 – 1 ½” by 3/16” diameter hardwood dowel pins for till pivots

1  - 1" by 22" leather strap for lid stay

2 - Ύ" by 2" butt hinges

1 - Chest Lock and key

Cut headless brads, fine finish nails and upholstery tacks as needed.


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