The Dale C. Maley Family Web Site

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Practice for Hannah's 1747 Chest  NOTE: This web page is obsolete and has been replaced, Use this link to go to updated page

The June 2013 Issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine has a small chest design that caught my eye.


I just liked the look of the chest.

Building this chest would really stretch my woodworking abilities. I have a lathe and the turned legs are not a new challenge.  I have cut some hand-cut dovetails before, but I do not know if I can make them as neat looking as the pattern, so this will be a challenge. I have never done any inlay work, so this will definitely challenge and stretch my abilities.

Original Chests

I found the museum where one of the two original 1747 chests are located. This chest has the initials of the person who received the chest, as well as the date of birth of the recipient, as was the custom in 1747.


Google Sketchup

I always enter my projects into Sketchup first.  This process helps me to better understand the design and construction of the object, as well as find any errors in the pattern.

I actually found several errors in the magazine pattern. The first error was that a quantity of one side piece was required in the BOM (bill of material).  You need two side pieces for this chest.

The 2nd error was that the 1/2" dimension is not dimensioned correctly.

The 3rd error was the dimensioning of the bottom area of the chest was incorrect.  I emailed the magazine editor. The email chain is below:


Dale Maley <[email protected]>
May 4 (6 days ago)
to megan.fitzpatr.
I really liked Hannah's chest and am probably going to build one of two of them.
I put all of my woodworking projects into Google Sketchup before I build them.  This helps me to better understand the design, before I build it.
On the bill of material, it only calls out for a quantity of (1) side piece.  You need (2) sides to build this box.
On the side section view, there is a dimension of 1/2" on the right hand side that is not correct.  I believe the 1/2" refers to the height of the cleat for the false bottom.
If the front rail is 1" high, and is lowered into a 1/8" groove in the bottom, this leaves 7/8" from the drawer bottom to the chest bottom.  This means the drawer runners need to be 7/8" tall.  The BOM calls for these runners to be 3/4" high, versus the 7/8" needed.
I think I will decrease the front rail height from 1" to 7/8" high, leaving the drawer runners at 3/4" high versus 7/8".........since my wood stock is 3/4" thick.
I will also shift the false bottom down an 1/8", and shift the bottom of the front panel down 1/8" to keep the drawer heights the same.
I know it is tough to get all the dimensions correct........on all the numerous plans you publish.
I love the magazine, keep up the good work.
Fitzpatrick, Megan
May 4 (6 days ago)
to Glen, me
Yes - we're chagrined about the 1 v 2 sides error - that one should have been easy to catch...

I'm copying Glen here on the other dimension comments - he just built that piece again this week with students, so he may know off the top of his head! (Note that he's traveling home this weekend, so it may take him a couple days to respond)


Megan Fitzpatrick
editor & content director
Popular Woodworking

I think it's obvious that it takes two sides to complete a box. Actually,
these could be labeled as ends, but either label there needs to be two.

The 1/2" measurement is correct as it calls out the cleats used to hold
the false bottom, as you suggest. Due to space limitations, the
measurements was shifted slightly downward in the diagram.

You are correct with regards to the chest bottom. I think I used 3/4"
thick material for my bottom, but had drawn the plan using a 5/8"-thick
bottom. To correct the problem, you should push the bottom into the chest
by a 1/4" to be able to use standard 3/4"-thick material for the runners.

If you have any additional questions, please contact me again.

Build Something Great!

Glen D. Huey
Managing Editor
Popular Woodworking Magazine
I did not really understand Glen's suggestion on his email.
I moved the bottom horizontal rail, the 2 vertical drawer styles, the front, the false bottom, and its 4 support pieces up by 3/16" inch.  This gave 1/16" clearance between the bottom of the drawers and the molding piece.
Google Sketchup
Lie-Nelson Radius Cutter for Inlaying
The magazine author recommended buying and using a Lie-Nelson radius cutter to make the curved inlay grooves.  I purchased the cutter set. The prices and a photo are shown below:



 Because of the relatively high cost of this cutter set, I had better plan on learning on how to do inlays and do a bunch of future projects  :)

1/16" Router Bit & French Provincial bit 

I also do not own a 1/16" router bit, so I ordered one. The pattern calls for a French provincial bit, but it has a 1/2" shank, and my old Sears router is only a 1/4" max. I substituted another router bit with a 1/4" shank.



Holly Wood for the Inlay

I googled online and found a company that sells holly veneer. I bought 2 square feet.

Brass Hardware and Cut Nails

 The magazine called for getting the brass parts from the 2 suppliers below.


Because the londonberry pulls were much higher priced than the same basic pulls at Horton Brass, I got the pulls from Horton brass.  I also got some antique cut nails to nail on the bottom from Horton. I'm going to get the escutcheon's from londonberry because Horton does not carry the exact same style.

You can order from Horton's web site directly, but you can not order from londonberry's site directly. You have to order by phone.




My daughter and I went to Bloomington, Illinois, to the Restore Store. People bring used stuff to this place, they sell it, and the proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity.

In this store, we found a stack of left over hardwood flooring boards. Upon closer inspection, it looked like mahogany, not oak.  I was able to buy about 100 feet for $25.

Researching on the internet revealed that most mahogany flooring is made from Brazilian mahogany.

The hard finish on 1 side must be removed.  I used my belt sander to remove a lot of the finish before running it through my planer. Internet articles say that one of the problems of using flooring is that the finish side is very hard on planer knives.  The floor boards have 2 grooves in the bottom. By the time you plane both sides, you end up with about 9/16" thick stock.  The plans for Hannah's chest call for 9/16" thick mahogany, so this worked out ok.

Here is a photo of some of the flooring material:



Practice Makes Perfect

Since this project puts me in uncharted waters, with respect to my woodworking skills, I decided to practice, and make a small box.........before I make the full-scale size box.

 This will let me improve my hand cut dovetail ability, plus learn how to inlay wood.

 My first small box of hand-cut dovetails did not go well.......but by the 2nd box I got quite a bit better...





Making Inlay Grooves

 I first scratched a circle using the Lie Nielsen compass style cutter. I was surprised in that the blade has 2 V cutters, which start to cut 2 v-notches, not a flat-bottom groove. You have to go deep enough where the v-notches start to disappear and you get more of a flat bottom. I ground the pointed end of a 16-penny nail a little narrowed than 1/16", so I could scrape and make the groove more flat-bottomed.

I used the router table to make the straight lines with a 1/16" wide router bit.

I did have to warm up the 1/16" wide holly inlay in hot water to get it to bend for the circle without breaking. I used a scrap piece of wood and a hammer to tap the inlay firmly to the bottom of the groove.







Practicing Making the Inlay

I wanted to buy 3/4" thick holly, but ended up buying .024" holly veneer. It was shipped to me in a box and coiled like this:


I sawed the veneer into 1.5" strips and glued 6 of them together. I guessed at using a thickness of 6......


I found a method of table sawing inlays to only 1/16" wide and used it on my table saw:


I had to do some trial & error sawing, by moving the fence, to get the inlay the exact width that fit the inlay grooves.  Here are the inlays glued up, but not sanded flush yet.......


I had to soak the holly inlay strips in hot water, so they would bend around the circle without breaking. 

After using the belt sander to sand down the inlay, it turned out very nice!


Cut Nails

I have never used the old-fashioned cut nails recommended by the author of the article.  I ordered them from the Internet.

I had more trouble than I thought with the cut nails. I had to experiment with the pilot drill size, finally settled on 3/16" drill diameter. I also had to grind off about 1/4" from the end of the nail.  My mahogany is so hard, that it is difficult to nail.



I also broke a drill bit in the mahogany. I ended up leaving the bit in the box. On subsequent holes, I drilled and retracted in increments to keep the hole clear, and I did not break any more bits.



I bought the nails from Horton Brass. Model N-20 at 1.25 inches long is the smallest size they sell. I think 1" would be a better choice given the board thicknesses and how hard my mahogany is.

I intentionally made the box bottom about 1/4" over-size, so I could use the router flush trim bit to trim the bottom to the exact size of the box:



 Routing the Lid Edge

The plan says to use a 1/2" round-over bit.  I checked my lid, which is the same thickness as the 9/16" called for in the plan, and 1/2" is too big.  I selected a 3/8" round-over bit.  It worked fine. I did it in 2 cuts to minimize burn marks. I had some slight burn marks on the end grain, but they hand sanded out easily.



Making the 2 Lid Edge Trim pieces

Per the plan, I made them 9/16" square, and as long as the box. I used a stain can close to the recommended arc, and traced with a pencil. When I tried to cut the arc using the scroll saw, the wood started to burn! Wow, is my mahogany tough stuff. I then tried using my new 3" diameter sanding drum on the drill press, and that method worked fine to put in the arcs. I think the drum paper is about 60 grit, or pretty rough.


Gluing the 2 pieces onto the bottom of the lid:

 Making the Decorative Trim Around the Box Bottom

I grabbed a piece of mahogany, eye-balled it, and said to myself, it is long enough to make the 3 trim pieces. I should have measured! When I got the 3 pieces done, I came up about 3/8" short on the main front piece!! I had to start-over with a longer board.

The pictures below are of the 1st attempt. On the 2nd attempt, I scaled the trim down from 1.25" tall to 7/8" tall......because it looked better on this smaller box.

I copied the author's technique, in that you take the fancy bit, and gradually raise it up......with the trim board vertical. Then you round-over the edge with the trim board horizontal. The last step is to rip the thin molding from the larger starting piece. My flooring board stock has 2 grooves in the back. I ripped the board at one groove, to leave the full 3/4" thick section needed for the big chest.




I used the old string and 16d nail trick to clamp the trim which I glued and nailed it to the box. I used 1 inch brads. I nipped the end off one brad and used it as the drill bit. You have to aim the angle correctly so you don't come out the bottom of the box (which I did on 1 nail).


Finished Box Except for Hinges, Sanding, Finish

I was going to make 4 turned legs at 1/2 scale of Hannah's box, but decided not to.

Finished Box









Closing Thoughts

This little box really turned out nice.  If I had it to do over, I would have selected a better looking front piece. When I started out, I was just practicing my hand-cut dovetail joints, and later I decided to make it into a box. The grain is a little dark on the front piece.

If I using the flooring mahogany for the real larger Hannah's chest, I will have to carefully select which pieces to use, since some pieces have ugly grain.  The grain on the lid is gorgeous, for example.

When Installing the hinges, I broke another 1/16" pilot drill bit. With this hard of wood, you have to feed a little ways, then back out, then feed again.

All-in-all, I'm glad I practiced on this box, before building the entire Hannah's chest project.







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