Steamer Trunk/Toy Box

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Project by James posted 07-07-2013 04:57 AM 3167 views 6 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

just finished my daughter Sophie’s Steamer Trunk…well really a toy box for the first few years. I decided to hold off on making the lid for now mostly because she would not be able to open the lid herself and more importantly I considered it a safety hazard for her fingers. For me this project was a challenge, I had never used a bunch of the joinery or techniques that were used in the building of this trunk. It also gave me a chance so see how the work flow in my shop was and use a bunch of my new tools…all of them in fact. That was the one really cool thing about building this chest, I used every tool in my shop.

The details:

The chest is made out of Purple Heart and Cherry. The purple Heart was 4/4 material and the Cherry was 8/4 material that I resawed. The design is a frame and panel design based on the one Marc Built on his site a few years ago, which is based on the Rockler Steamer Trunk. The panels are floating panels and the legs are rabbeted and each piece has a 1/4” groove for the for the panels to float in. The faux straps are walnut and I decided to go with two instead of three strips. For the hardware I used the steamer trunk hardware that Rockler sells. For the finish I used Minwax Polycrylic water based finish and I sprayed it on using an LVLP gravity feed sprayer that I bought from Grizzly.

I had never done frame and panel joinery before so there was a small learning curve. Having never used a dado stack before it took me a little longer than it normally should to set up for each cut. Any to be honest I was really nervous running the 36” long rail pieces across the dado stack fortunately I took my time and used The Magswitch dual roller guide to help keep the rails in place while going over the stack.

Resawing was also something that I had never done before and there was plenty of it. I was mostly happy with the results but I did end up with some drift. My expectations were not to high for my little 14” Grizzly bandsaw but it was up for the task. I made sure I had it set up properly thanks to one Michael Fourtune’s videos on the Fine Woodworking website. Once I resawed the lumber I was faced with another issue and that was now having to joint one face flat before sending through the planer. I ended up using double stick carpet tape and attaching it to a piece of plywood and running it across the jointer. This method was recommend by a couple people on this forum and I was very pleased with the results. I sprayed two coats of finish on the inside of the trunk prior to installing the bottom.

There were a few mistakes that were made. First off I glued up the legs a lot earlier than I should have and this posed a few problems. The biggest problems is that I could not glue up each panel individually. The second and even bigger problem was that I could not cut the rabbet for the bottom in each panel individually and had to use router to route the rabbet. I have very little router experience and had never cut a rabbet like this before so I made a couple mistakes. Fortunately the mistake were on the bottom and covered up pretty well by the hardware. The rabbets on my legs were a little gappy so I had to fill them with a glue mixture that I made from purple heart sawdust and glue.

I have never sprayed on a finish either and I have to tell you that the LVLP sprayer is probably the best $40 I have ever spent. The water based finish dried very quickly and I was able to finish the outside of the trunk in a day. I used a Festool S1000 abrasive pad between coats and a S2000 after the final coat. The finish turned out awesome, very happy with this finish!

Final thoughts:
I literally used every tool in my shop for this build and it gave me a good idea of how the functionality of my shop was. I was very pleased for the most part but there are a few concerns. I just recently added a new dust collector but I noticed dust collection on my table saw is very poor. This is not flaw with the collector but with the design of the contractor style table saw, one that I will be addressing in between builds. I also noticed that Purple Heart and other hardwoods may just be a little to hard for the tooling in my shop. I am going to stick with woods that are softer from now on and may only go as hard as maple for future projects.

I really enjoyed this build and it was a very gratifying experience. I am probably only going to build a couple items for the shop in the next couple of months and enjoy the summer here in the Pacific Northwest, there will be plenty of shop time when the rain and cold start back up.


10 comments so far

View Hawaiilad's profile


3374 posts in 3414 days

#1 posted 07-07-2013 05:37 AM

Great looking chest…your daughter will love it for years to come.

-- Larry in Hawaii,

View Vince's profile


1189 posts in 3822 days

#2 posted 07-07-2013 05:54 AM

Nice work, it looks like it will last a life time.

-- Vince

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3749 posts in 2644 days

#3 posted 07-07-2013 04:36 PM

I hope you included a maker’s mark and put some date reference on this future family heirloom. Looks great with the purple heart and cherry. Nice job on the finishing too!

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

View Ottacat's profile


501 posts in 2244 days

#4 posted 07-07-2013 04:44 PM

First this is a really awesome looking project. I love your choice of woods. I think the decision to hold off on the top is a good one.

Second the comment about how it used all tools in your shop and helped you learn about your shop was quite interesting. It is great when have projects that come out so successful as this one and yet educate us about our shops. They also validate all the time, money and effort that goes into tool purchases.

I know dust collection is big PITA on many tablesaws. I used to have a contractor saw and I used cardboard and duct tape to block it off as best I could and channel the dust to home made bottom chute. There are articles out there on doing this. When I chose my new SawStop the number two reason after the safety brake was its awesome dust collection.

View James 's profile


138 posts in 3319 days

#5 posted 07-07-2013 04:57 PM

Thank you for all the nice comments! Don, I have not put a makers mark on it yet but I should.
Ottacat- that is a good idea to just use some cardboard to help with collection and make a homemade dust shoot.

View aussiedave's profile


3114 posts in 2217 days

#6 posted 07-07-2013 05:09 PM

Oh my, what a great looking steamer trunk/toy box, the purple heart really sets it of. A really beautiful build, great work.

-- Dave.......If at first you don’t succeed redefine success....

View Kean's profile


74 posts in 2954 days

#7 posted 07-07-2013 10:55 PM

Very nice build!

A couple of suggestions, if I may:

1> Build the lid now, even if you don’t attach it. That way it will age (color shift) the same amount.

2> If you are concerned about little fingers getting pinched, check these hinges out.

-- Kean - It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

View James 's profile


138 posts in 3319 days

#8 posted 07-08-2013 04:42 PM

Kean- I think you are right, I should build the lid now. I did get some hinges that came with the Rockler kit that I bought.

View Eric's profile


83 posts in 3369 days

#9 posted 07-14-2013 12:25 AM

Cool looking chest! Nicely done

-- Eric

View AngieO's profile


1267 posts in 2540 days

#10 posted 09-12-2013 09:27 PM


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