Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Making a Cedar Chest

Cedar Chest

Of all woodworking projects, the popularity of the cedar chest has definitely stood the test of time.  It's a piece of furniture that is usually around for many years, often times passed down from generation to generation.  There are also many different styles, shapes and sizes of cedar chests. Some are made with a different material and then have a thin layer of cedar applied to the inside, while others are made of solid cedar boards.  Some are made with the boards joined together vertically, while others are horizontal.  There's so many options that I'm sure there is one to match your personal style and woodworking experience.  Hopefully, this post is easy to follow and makes it helpful for you to build a cedar chest yourself.

Tools Needed:

Before we get started, let's go over a few details first:
First of all, I used rough-cut cedar boards that were approximately 1-1/4" thick and planed them down to 1" thick with a portable planer.  If you prefer, you can buy lumber that is already planed from your local lumber yard.  If you do, make sure to adjust your measurements to account for the different thickness.  
Also, the particular chest that I've built for this post is 18" tall x 26" long x 18" wide.  The method used here will consist of solid cedar boards.  Each board's width varies from 3" to 6".  The boards will be joined together edge to edge, so you'll need enough boards to account for the lengths of each panel of the chest, plus a little extra. 
Now, let's begin........

The first step for me (after I had all the boards planed) was to Lay out the boards for each panel of the chest.  There are six panels: 
  1. Front- measures 26" L x 16" T
  2. Back- measures 26" L x 16" T
  3. Left side- measures 16" L x 16" T
  4. Right side- measures 16" L x 16" T
  5. Bottom- measures 24" L x 16" W
  6. Top- measures 26-1/4" L x 18-1/4" W
 For example, the Front panel should consist of enough boards approximately 17" long (16" + a little extra) that, when put together edge to edge, will add up to approximately 27" (26" + a little extra).  The extra is there to allow us to trim the panels down to exact size on the table saw when ready.  

Now that all the boards are laid out and you enough for each panel, it's a good idea to Run them through the Jointer.  The jointer is a power tool that operates very much like a thickness planer, except that it cuts the edge of a board instead of the face.  The purpose is to ensure that, when the boards are joined together, there are no gaps in between them.

Biscuit Cutter

Biscuit CutterAfter all the edges have been ran through the jointer, you are ready to Cut slots in the edges of the board with the Biscuit Cutter.  This power tool cuts a slot in the edge of the board.  In turn, a wooden "biscuit" is inserted into the slots and this helps strengthen the joints.  This works in way similar to using wooden dowels.  Before cutting the slots, make a mark about 1-1/2" from the end of the boards, and also every 3-4 inches in between.  It is very important to make marks on every board at the exact same locations.  If you don't, the boards may not fit together.  After all the slots are cut, use some wood glue along the edges and in the slots.  Insert the biscuits in the slots and fit the boards together.

Once the boards are glued, biscuits inserted and fit together, Clamp them together!  I used 3 bar clamps on each panel- one placed at the top, bottom, and in the middle.  Let the clamps remain on the panels for at least 24 hours.  This way the glue has enough time to dry.  Repeat the same process for all six panels.

Clamping Wood Panels

After waiting 24 hours, release the clamps and you are now ready to Trim the panels to the final size.  Using a Table Saw, you cut these panels to the final measurements mentioned above.  Now you should have six panels.  Before you start the assembly process, this would be a good time to sand all pieces with a Palm Sander.

Pocket-Hole System

Now that all panels are trimmed to size and sanded, it's Time to Assemble the pieces.  Let's start by making the bottom.  Turn the bottom panel upside down and attach three 1" x 3" boards across the panel using screws, making sure that the screws do not go all the way through the floor.  This will add strength to the bottom of the chest.  Now you can start attaching the four side panels to the bottom panel using finish nails or screws.  The left and right side panels will fit inside of the front and back panels and will attach with finish nails or Pocket-Hole Screws.  I would suggest that you start by attaching the front to the bottom.  Then attach the left side to the bottom, and then to the front along the corner.  Repeat the process for the other side.  And finally, attach the back to the bottom, and then to both side panels along the corners.  After all sides are in place, attach a 1" x 3" board around the top on the inside of the chest.  This will help tie everything together.  Congratulations, you've now built a box!

Inside of Cedar Chest
The next step is to Trim & Attach the Lid.  Just like you did on the bottom panel, turn the top panel upside down and attach three 1" x 3"  boards across the panel using screws, again making sure that the screws do not go all the way through lid.  After turning the panel back over, trim around the lid with cedar boards, making sure that they are 1/4" wider than the full thickness of the top panel.  For example, if you material is all 1" thick, then your full thickness would be 2".  Therefore, your trim pieces would need to be 2-1/4" wide.  Using a Miter Saw, cut the ends of the trim boards at a 45 degree angle.  Attach them all around the lid, using finish nails, keeping the top edge of the trim flush with the top of the lid.  Now you are ready to attach it.
  There are several different kind of hinges to use on the lid, but I prefer a piano hinge, which is a continuous hinge along the entire length of the lid.  If you can't find the correct length of hinge, you can always buy one that is long and cut it to correct length with a hacksaw.  With the lid laying in place on the chest, attach the hinge to both the lid and the back of the chest with the provided screws.

Cedar Chest- Unfinished
Cedar Chest Handles
After the lid is installed and working, it's time to Install Base Trim & Handles.  Using the same size of cedar boards as you used as trim around the lid, trim around the bottom of the chest in the same way.  This gives a nice finished look to the project.  The last item to install is the handles.  You can purchase handles from a hardware store, or do as I did, and make handles out of cedar boards you have left over.  I used 2" wide boards, that were 5" long, and attached them to the sides using screws from the inside of the chest and they worked great!  If you want, you can also Router the edges of the Lid and the Base trim to dress it up a little more.
Cedar Chest- Unfinished
Now that the cedar chest has been constructed and is working correctly, the final step is to Apply the Finish.  I chose not to use a stain on the chest because I wanted to keep the original color of the cedar.  I did, however, apply three coats of polyurethane.  Polyurethane provides a very durable protective surface to the wood, while also giving it a good shine.  These clear coats come in different finishes, such as satin, semi-gloss, or gloss.  Also, if you apply it with a foam brush, it's easier to control visible brush marks after it's dry.
Cedar Chest- Finished

Cedar Chest.....DONE!

Now obviously this project requires a little time to complete, but it's worth it.  Remember that you don't have to make it too complicated.  There are many different methods of construction out there, but not all are too complicated.  It is definitely possible to build this project, even if you don't have an amazing array of tools, or experienced woodworking abilities.  Hopefully this tutorial will give you the confidence you need, and the know-how to make that cedar chest you've always wanted.

As always, please feel free to leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Good Luck!