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Quick project that turned out well

Posted by joeabbott on January 28, 2014


Note: this was written before I traveled and is being posted after I return … the references to “today” and other calendar times are a bit wonky.

OK, by now everyone should be aware that I’m a bit of a slacker: the cabinet project I started 6 weeks ago is sitting and I’m busy building other projects. What’s that all about? Well, I happen to be flying home (back to MN) today where I’ll be attending a niece’s wedding. While there I will visit family and have a chance to wish a different niece bon voyage as she prepares to travel to Australia!

Now, it’s no secret that my wife and I LOVED our experiences in Australia and have a particular fondness for that country. Additionally, my niece is a bit of a piker at 16 years old, so we wanted her to have a little souvenir money. Adding into all that is the fact that this niece, out of the blue, sent me a couple replica pieces of eight when she toured a pirate ship exhibit some years back; it’s not often one of the family sends me an unearned gift! <g>

So, I thought, let’s build her a little pirates’ chest, toss in a few dollars for travel expenses, and hand it to her when I get to MN. I started this project on Sunday and am leaving today (Friday). Now a more experienced wood worker could just knock it out in a day or two but these things take me a bit of time and I have to work, too. But, by driving into work a couple days and working from home another, I was able to minimize time on the commute and spent those hours in the shop.

Had I known how good it would have turned out, I likely would have taken pictures during the construction. As it is, I only have photos from the “completed” state. But, it was a simple design so follow along!


There are two parts to the chest: the square base and the coopered top. I chose to use some of the spare, scrap bamboo from my cabinet project so that locked me into using the over-sized (for this application) 3/4” material. I didn’t have time to consider inlays or other decorative details, so it would all be the simple vertical cut bamboo. A nice wood but I’m not sure it’s very “piratey”.


imageMany articles I’ve come across for building a coopered top box suggest building the top first; the logic being that it’s far easier to build a box to fit the size of the top, than it is to go the other way around. True though that is, I also wanted the base to be a specific internal size: just big enough to hold two rolls of coins wide and two rolls deep. And so I started there.

imageMy estimates said I needed a cube with internal sizes of 2 7/8” x 2 7/8” x 2 7/8”. Aside from the curious fact that 25 coins face-to-face is the same dimension as two coins side-by-side, I now had my external dimensions.

I chose a pretty poor (in terms of strength) design for building up the sides; it made cutting it easy, but without strong glue joints, maybe a little weak. However, I applied liberal glue and clamped the daylights out if it to get the seams tight. At one point the parts shifted out of alignment and I needed to unclamp and reset everything, but it was pretty straightforward.

After the glue set, I ran the sides on a belt sander and the glue cleaned up nicely: all smooth and no gaps! Nice. Unfortunately, the inside well was a bit rough so I ran a chisel down the insides to smooth things up. It was going well until I gave a firmer whack than I should have, and I ended up knocking the bottom off! Yikes! It glued up easily but communicated just how weak the joints were.

To offset that, I used biscuits when putting the bottom back on and then I ran a spline down the sides, both front and back. It may look like a decorative touch, but I really ran those 1/8” strips of walnut along the two edges to hold the stacks together.


imageNot surprisingly, the top gave me a bit of trouble.

First I estimated that, using 3/4” wood, if I made the angles  22.5°, I’d come out with a top that was about 3 5/8” across. Not sure how or why I made that calculation but, in truth, building angles that steep gave me a top that was about 2.5” across. Way too small.

I ran back to my calculating and came up with 10°. OK, seemed shallow but I’d try. Sure enough, that gave a top that was way too big! I was beside myself for being so dim. But, inspiration struck: I’d use some of the 10° pieces and some of the 22.5° pieces and build up a top that worked!

Sure enough, I hit on a good compromise and was able to get a good look: it was a bit shallower than a completely circular/domed top, and that looked good. I used seven pieces and used the old “roll them up on masking tape trick to get the seams tight, and let it sit.

When it came out, I sawed one end flat and traced the inside profile on a piece of wood. I then chiseled, sanded, and sawed that piece so it fit the end, and then did the same thing to the far end. Gluing those in place, I was ready to fit things up.

Constructing and finishing

imageimageI found that, even with my compromises, the top was a bit narrower than the base by maybe a 1/2”. Fitting up my stationary belt sander with 80 grit paper, I buzzed it to within dimension quickly. I then used masking tape to tightly attach the top to the base and peeled away the tape in the places for the hinges.

From the local Rockler, I got a pair of small box hinges for $1.49 and carefully installed them. I then paid twice that much for a pair of hook hasps for the front … I only used one, though.

The one mistake I did make was that I used a 1/16” drill bit for the hasp part of the hook-hasp catch. It appears those screws are even smaller than that! So, I ended up mixing a bit of epoxy, dripping it into the hole, and gluing the screws into place. You can’t even tell!

With the hardware installed, I gave it two solid applications of oil, let it sit overnight, and then a final polish with bees’ wax. Oh, there was a final dusting with 120 grit sand paper and breaking the edges with an even finer grit rub, but I didn’t have to do much. A right simple finish.

To finish the whole thing, I branded the box with a mark that my wife bought for me years ago. She’s an unflagging supporter of my work and wanted me to be able to show a little pride in what I turn out. I don’t use it often but I use it for all the projects I do … which is telling, no? As you can see, I still don’t have the knack of how to use it to get a consistent brand. I guess, like all the other skills I want to learn, only time in the shop will help that out!

Thanks for stopping in to see what’s up.image


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