Dovetailed Blanket Chest

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Project by Lenny posted 06-15-2012 03:12 PM 6023 views 4 times favorited 30 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is a blanket chest I was commissioned to make. My good friends Paula and Howie, asked if I would make it for their son (Brandyn) and daughter-in-law (Kara) as a wedding gift. Paula and Howie opted to tell the (at the time) soon to be married couple what their wedding gift was and brought them by my house. I showed them several styles of blanket chests from my collection of woodworking magazines. Ultimately they chose the dovetailed chest that appeared in the September 2004 issue of American Woodworker but without the drawers. Credit for the design and plans goes to Jon Stumbras.

Brandyn and Kara got married one year ago but did not have a home at the time and so, opted to wait until they bought a house. This April Paula contacted me and asked if I could start making the chest with a deadline of June 18th, the newlyweds’ first anniversary. I started the build on May 1st and finished it just today.

The blanket chest is made from hard maple. The highlight of this chest is the dovetailed joinery. I used my Leigh 24” jig to craft the dovetails and pins. Over the years I have used the jig many times but only for half-blind dovetails, so this was my first attempt at through dovetails. I did some test cuts in poplar, got the jig dialed in and the cut and fit on the maple went quite smoothly. My adjustable height workbench came in quite handy when it came time to cut the 4 ft. long tail boards. With the workbench at full height, I only had to raise the jig slightly. When it came to the glue-up, Stumbras suggested using liquid hide glue for its long open time. Typically, I use Titebond III for these applications but I thought I would try the hide glue. It worked out well and I like the consistency of the glue. I find Titebond III to be very runny. It lacks viscosity if that’s the right term. The hide glue stays where you put it although it tends to be stickier and therefore a bit messier. However, it cleans up well with just water. As suggested, I added 1/8” clamping pads to each tail (48) using double stick tape and then used a caul at each corner to get good even clamping pressure along the entire length.

The scrollwork on the base was accomplished by making a hardboard template from the detail in the plans. I roughed out the shape on the band saw, taped the template on the pieces and routed them to final shape. A biscuit in each mitered corner supports the glue up. The lid is a glued up panel with a molding applied to three sides. The molding is held in place with a spline. It is glued all along the front but only the first inch or two on the sides to allow for wood movement. Brads nailed through the underside of the lid hold the rest of the side molding to the lid.

I recommended a lining of aromatic cedar to the couple and they agreed they wanted it. Now we move on to the finish. Ah yes, the finish…what an experience. First let me say I had never applied stain to maple before. So, I did some research and learned that like pine, it is prone to be blotchy. Brandyn and Kara’s bed was made by her uncle, David who is a professional woodworker. They wanted the chest to match the bed or at least be close. David provided the finish to me. I was happy to learn that it was Lockwood’s aniline dye. I am not certain of the actual color. My research indicated that a water-based dye is a great choice for maple as it colors more evenly without muting the wood grain. The problem is I also read that an application of 1 lb. cut of de-waxed shellac before the dye can further help in sealing the pores, allowing for more even tinting. Well, I put down the shellac, let it dry and applied the dye. It looked horrendous! It was so blotchy and you could clearly see where the shellac was heavier in some places than others. I was inconsolable…for 2-3 days because I contacted David and told him I had a crisis. He told me not to panic and that it could be fixed. I had to scrape/sand off everything down to bare wood again. To shorten the story some, the second application of the dye without shellac came out fine. I followed that with a 1 lb. cut of shellac, 3 coats of clear satin polyurethane and paste wax. In retrospect, I think there is a technique in applying shellac that I need to learn. I know you have to “move out” because it dries so quickly. You also have to avoid going over spots you “think” you missed. Anyway, I got through it and I think the end result is okay. Thanks for checking in on me.

I neglected to include the dimensions. The chest is 4’ long, 21-1/2” wide and 23” deep.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

30 comments so far

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 5163 days

#1 posted 06-15-2012 03:36 PM

Very nice Lenny – very nice.

Dang I hate finishing. Scares the heck out of me. You pulled it off expertly. I am impressed.

I am sure they will love it.

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5167 days

#2 posted 06-15-2012 03:45 PM

Very nice Lenny!!!!!!!!

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5261 days

#3 posted 06-15-2012 04:11 PM

OUTSTANDING job, Lenny!!!!!!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


22789 posts in 4957 days

#4 posted 06-15-2012 04:40 PM

Nice work! Bet they love it ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 4472 days

#5 posted 06-15-2012 05:21 PM

Lenny, the chest looks great.
The cedar is a classic and must have for a blanket chest. Also, the dovetails look really nice. I really felt your pain when you said you had to remove the first finish….A great project can quickly be turned into a pile of rubble by a bad finish.

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

View Rxmpo's profile


270 posts in 5027 days

#6 posted 06-15-2012 05:51 PM

Fantastic job Lenny! I’m sure they are going to love this piece and it will last for a lifetime!

View MichaelAgate's profile


398 posts in 3605 days

#7 posted 06-15-2012 06:04 PM

Very nice, beautiful.

-- Michael and Matthew

View Lenny's profile


1722 posts in 4808 days

#8 posted 06-15-2012 06:15 PM

Thanks for the kind comments everyone. Steve and Bob K., regarding finishing, I either have to get better at it or send things out. I think I will work on getting better. Mike (Rxmpo), I don’t feel it is up to your hope chests standard but it came out okay.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3766 days

#9 posted 06-15-2012 06:34 PM

That’s 4 feet wide? Wow, that’s a big chest! It came out looking great.

-- Brian Timmons -

View blackcherry's profile


3349 posts in 5104 days

#10 posted 06-15-2012 06:38 PM

Oh yea Lenny this is one beauty of a chest. Sorry to hear about the finishing but in the end the color tone is quite wonderful. Shellac is one of those finishes best to start off with small piece and then it off to the races. Please contact me for a wonderful case good finish, its one show stopper of a finish. Thanks for posting ….Wilson

View Loucarb's profile


2388 posts in 4726 days

#11 posted 06-15-2012 07:48 PM

Fantastic piece Lenny and great finish. Well Done.

View Woodenwizard's profile


1369 posts in 4324 days

#12 posted 06-15-2012 09:29 PM

WOW! Very nicely done. I feel better about some of my finishing attempts. Looks like your save was very successful. I am not sure I am ready to attempt dovetails on a project that large just yet. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

-- John, Colorado's (Wooden Wizard)

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 4204 days

#13 posted 06-15-2012 10:19 PM

Very nice. I’m sure they love it.

-- Life is good.

View BenI's profile


333 posts in 3459 days

#14 posted 06-15-2012 11:02 PM

Beautiful chest, good thinking with using the aromatic cedar on the inside!

-- Ben from IL

View littlecope's profile


3133 posts in 4783 days

#15 posted 06-16-2012 01:24 AM

Great Job Lenny, they’ll be enjoying and using that for generations to come!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

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