Treasure Chest

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Project by Pete Tevonian posted 04-25-2012 08:18 PM 7604 views 15 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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 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, 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

17 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile (online now)


117803 posts in 4145 days

#1 posted 04-25-2012 08:37 PM

Very nice looking chest great job.

View DHS's profile


137 posts in 3792 days

#2 posted 04-25-2012 10:05 PM

Blimey! Ye made yer son a fine pirates chest! I fancy yer oak planks and dovetail joints even more than those on Davey Jones’ locker. Fer a wog, you craft like an old salt!

-- Dave S., Bellingham, WA

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

23619 posts in 3673 days

#3 posted 04-25-2012 10:11 PM

Beautiful chest. It is an heirloom for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I love that hardware, too.

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View woodrookieII's profile


286 posts in 3231 days

#4 posted 04-25-2012 10:28 PM

That is one fine chest!!

Very nicely done.


View wooded's profile


367 posts in 2840 days

#5 posted 04-26-2012 04:59 AM

This is intended as a compliment. Get some mortised hinges on that puppy. ;-J

-- Joe in Pueblo West, Colo.

View Pete Tevonian's profile

Pete Tevonian

78 posts in 3485 days

#6 posted 04-26-2012 05:15 AM

Joe, the hinges ARE mortised, you just can’t tell very well in the pics. The lid is mortised so it can sit down flush on the base, and the inside surface of the back is mortised slightly so that the tray can clear the hinges. The hinges are hefty—a good 1/8” thick material. Admittedly, the whole hinge solution was sort of cobbled together because I got too excited and built the tray before thinking through the attachment and lid support details. Eh, live and learn.

I will say that the torsion hinges are a great solution if you design for them. A one-piece hinge and support that holds the lid at any angle and protects fingers better than any locking mechanical lid-stay and really doesn’t impinge on the interior volume of the chest. Pretty nifty.

-- Pete in Wilmette, IL

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 3181 days

#7 posted 04-26-2012 12:11 PM

great looking chest ,know of one happy boy, good job on the dove tails and finish get job all way around

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View DaytonHM's profile


129 posts in 2910 days

#8 posted 04-26-2012 12:26 PM

WOW!! I really like that chest, very nice work!


-- DaytonHM Dayton Va.

View TexasJim's profile


86 posts in 3804 days

#9 posted 04-26-2012 03:40 PM

Great looking chest. I added to my favorites so I can copy it later. I used the Rockler torsion hinges on a blanket chest – they are great , aren’t they?

-- If the world was a logical place, men would be the ones who ride horses sidesaddle.

View GenerationWW's profile


521 posts in 2817 days

#10 posted 04-26-2012 06:26 PM

Very nice chest. I think you did an excellent job!

-- list your handcrafted treasures @ for free!

View Boxguy's profile


2859 posts in 2835 days

#11 posted 04-27-2012 11:15 AM

“Aarg, Matey, but you have done a mighty deed here! This chest be fitting and proper for treasure, it be.”

Thanks for sharing the idea and techniques.

-- Big Al in IN

View larryw's profile


335 posts in 3230 days

#12 posted 04-28-2012 01:17 AM

Great job on the chest.

-- "everything is beautiful, but not everyone sees it" ~confucius-551-449 b.c.~

View Richard 's profile


394 posts in 3689 days

#13 posted 04-28-2012 04:01 PM

I love the chest, its going in my favorites. I like the oldtime padlock. Is it original or can you buy it as a reproduction somewhere?

-- Richard Boise, Idaho

View itsmic's profile


1419 posts in 3686 days

#14 posted 04-28-2012 08:48 PM

WOW, That’s a Great Treasure Chest, for a first, it is very, very impressive, You must be a quick study to have pulled this project off with such finesse, Your Son will “Treasure” this always, great job on the write up, informative and interesting, Great job, thanks for sharing

-- It's Mic Keep working and sharing

View Pete Tevonian's profile

Pete Tevonian

78 posts in 3485 days

#15 posted 04-28-2012 08:54 PM

Richard, I looked for authentic locks but finding one that works, with keys, means big bucks. I got this one on There are a few variations of the one I got, and all are pretty inexpensive—$15 to $25. They won’t keep a skilled burgler out, but ours is very sturdy, heavy and certainly looks the part. I have no doubt it will stand up to many years of little boy, or even grown up, abuse. Even the keys look handmade and antique.

Check out this link:

-- Pete in Wilmette, IL

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