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Tired of those plastic bins peeking out from underneath the bed? Scrap them and make yourself a storage chest that will last for generations. Constructed of solid oak using a type of box joint, this chest is as sturdy as it is good-looking. Follow along as senior technical editor Mark Powers and colleague Douglas Adams show you how to craft an attractive piece of furniture with clean, quiet lines that also happens to provide loads of useful storage space.

How to Build a Storage Chest

Illustration by Doug Adams

Day-to-day timeline

  • SATURDAY Cut the lumber and build the panels (Steps 1-5).
  • SUNDAY Assemble the box and attach the base and lid (Steps 6–14).

CUT LIST

  • 1x4 box front- and back-panel long pieces: six @ 36 inches
  • 1x4 box front- and back-panel short pieces: four @ 34½ inches
  • 1x4 side-panel long pieces: four @ 20 inches
  • 1x4 side-panel short pieces: six @ 18½ inches
  • 1x6 lid pieces: four @ 40 inches. After being glued and clamped, bevel-cut the sides and front edge to 38 by 21½ inches
  • 1x6 skirtboard base pieces: two @ 37⅝ inches (from long point to long point)
  • 1x6 skirtboard base pieces: two @ 21⅝ (from long point to long point)
  • ½-inch oak-plywood floor: one @ 36 by 20 inches
  • 1x1 cleats: two @ 29 inches ripped from scrap 1x6
  • 1x1 cleats: two @ 13 inches ripped from scrap 1x6
  • 1x nailing blocks: four @ 1¼ by 1¼ inches square

Step 1: Cut the Boards

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a miter saw, cut the front, back, end, and lid boards to length according to the cut list.

Step 2: Lay Out the Side Panels and Lid

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Cover your work surface to protect it from glue. For each of the box's four sides, lay out five boards apiece, alternating long and short as follows: long boards at the top and bottom for the front and back, short boards at the top and bottom for the ends. Stand a scrap of 1x4 on end to block out the correct spacing at either end of the short pieces, as shown.

Step 3: Glue and Clamp the Boards

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Apply wood glue to the edges where the boards meet, using your 1x4 spacer to realign them as you go. Partially tighten two bar clamps on each assembly, and wipe away excess glue with a wet rag. Use a scrap block and a hammer to level uneven seams, as shown, before further tightening the clamps. Add a third bar clamp on the opposite side of each assembly to prevent it from cupping. Build the lid the same way, using four 1x6s flush at the ends. Remove the clamps after one hour, and allow the glue to cure overnight.

Step 4: Sand the Sides and Lid

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Once the glue has completely cured, lay the panels on a flat work surface. Using a belt sander and 80-grit paper, sand both sides of each panel until the seams disappear. Then use a random-orbit sander to sand both sides, stepping up from 180-grit to 220-grit, until both sides are smooth.

Step 5: Cut the Handle Notch

Photo by Ryan Benyi

To make it easy to lift the lid, make a notch at the top of the box's front panel. Use a combination square to mark a centered cutout 6 inches long, 1 inch tall, and angled at 45 degrees on each end, as shown. Cut the lines with a jigsaw, then hand-sand the cut edges smooth with 220-grit paper.

Step 6: Dry-fit the Side Panels

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Before you glue the box together, dry-fit the panels at each corner to make sure they'll assemble smoothly. Use 180-grit paper to knock down any tight spots. Once all the joints mesh, brush a thin coat of glue onto the mating surfaces, one corner at a time. Make sure the frame is square, and use bar clamps to cinch it together. With the clamps in place, glue and nail a ½-inch oak-plywood floor to the underside, flush at all edges, using a brad nailer and 1-inch brad nails; the exposed seam will be covered by the skirt.

Step 7: Drill Pilot Holes

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Use a combination square to mark pilot holes on the faces of the longer boards, ⅜ inch from the ends and ½ inch from the top and bottom edges. At each mark, use a ⅛-inch bit to drill through the face and into the end of the adjacent board. Switch to the TruFit step bit and enlarge the pilot holes to accept the Miller dowels. Blow out the sawdust with a compressor or a drinking straw—a vacuum won't cut it.

Tip: Use a square wood scrap to keep the drill bit on target (as shown), and to help keep the pilot hole straight and level.

Step 8: Insert the Dowels

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Apply wood glue to the dowels and insert them into the pilot holes. Use a hammer to tap them fully in place. Install the dowels on the adjacent side of the corner in the same way. Then install the dowels at the other three corners.

Step 9: Cut the Dowels Flush

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Using a small flush-cutting saw, cut the ends of the dowels even with the face of the boards. Using a sanding block, hand-sand the corners of the box, first with 180-grit paper, then with 220 grit, until they're smooth.

Step 10: Rip the Bevels

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Set the blade of your circular saw to 45 degrees. Clamp a 1x6 skirtboard piece with the long edge hanging off the work surface, and rip a bevel along its entire length. Repeat on the other three pieces for the base. Then use the circular saw (or a sliding compound miter saw if you have one) to miter-cut the ends of these four skirtboards, as shown, to fit around the chest.

Next, take the lid you made back in Step 5 and clamp it overhanging your work surface. Use the circular saw to bevel the edges of the front and sides sloping in toward the chest.

Step 11: Notch the Feet

Photo by Ryan Benyi

To make the notches in the skirtboards, first draw a parallel line 1½ inches from the bottom (unbeveled) edge. Then, using a combination square, draw 45-degree lines toward the center of the board, 3 inches in from each end, intersecting the parallel line. Use a jigsaw to cut out each notch. Sand the pieces smooth with 220-grit paper.

Step 12: Attach the Cleats

Photo by Ryan Benyi

On the back of each skirtboard, countersink pilot holes and attach a 1x1 strip along the top of the notch with 1-inch deck screws, as shown. Attach a nailing block flush with the bevel on each end of the shorter skirtboards, in line with the top of the cleats. To form the base, join the mitered corners of the skirtboard pieces, like a picture frame, with wood glue and 1-inch brad nails.

Step 13: Slip the Base in Place

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Drill pilot holes and drive 1½-inch deck screws through the cleats on each side of the base and into the bottom of the chest, as shown.

Step 14: Install the Hinges and Lid

Photo by Ryan Benyi

Screw the torsion hinges to the underside of the lid, flush with its back edge. Set the opposite side of the hinges on the top edge of the back of the box, and screw them in place. Finish the chest with wipe-on stain. Seal it with polyurethane for a hard, durable coating or with tung oil or wax for a soft, hand-rubbed look.


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