a board chest, a joined chest…which is it?

white oak chest

Here’s a chest I finally finished this week; white oak with maple and walnut inlay. Mostly millsawn, but the front framing stock is riven. It’s been around the shop for years. One mistake I made was to put the bottom in it, and before I made a lid, I started keeping stuff in it…

so never bothered to finish it! …til now.

This view shows you something more:

three-quarter view

Now you can see, this is not a joined chest in the usual sense. The front is joined, but the sides and back are a board chest. This format appears from time to time in t he 17th century. In this case, I nailed the front frame onto the edges of the board sides. Two 17th-c examples from  Braintree, Massachusetts have square wooden pins securing  the front to the sides.

Here’s a view showing the side of the chest:

end view

There’s a rabbet in the rear face of the front stile, and the end board slips up into that rabbet. Similarly, the rear board is rabbeted at each end to capture the edges of the end boards.

To further the simplicity of this chest, I chose to use a wooden hinge instead of the more common iron gimmals.


There’s an oak slat nailed near the outside top edge of the chest’s rear board. The slat extends beyond the sides of the chest, and is whittled there to a round pin. Then the lid’s cleats extend out beyond the back, and have a hole bored in them to slip over the pins.  A little beeswax keeps this hinge working for a while.  Here’s the rear view:

rear view

Here’s the pin/cleat detail:

wooden hinge

so if you want to take a stab at a joined chest, but feel a little intimidated, make a board chest with a joined front. This one could be even easier by making a pine chest with an oak front. That’d make it lighter too.



9 thoughts on “a board chest, a joined chest…which is it?

  1. Can you post or link to some of the originals you mention in your post? That seems interesting.

    Another awesome post, can you just write a book on Joined Chest’s already? I think you have half a book in material in the blog.

  2. Beautiful Peter!

    So… we’ve found another variant of HSS.
    1) Horizontal Surface Syndrome – usually in the form of bench clutter
    2) Hollow Structure Syndrome – things fill up when you aren’t looking

    I’m with Badger. You’ve more than enough great material to make a book.

    • Richard, have you checked out the videos that Peter has? I learned a lot, and was able to produce decent results from his instruction. Carving isn’t that hard, getting really good takes practice, but taking the plunge into flat relief style carving is not as bad as I thought it would be.

      Give it a try! I picked up some Chisels (“swiss made” and matched the blade shapes to his chart in the first dvd) and gave it shot.

  3. The three known Portsmouth NH chests with joined fronts and board sides are a little puzzling. In time the vertical board sides tend to crack. One at the MFA Boston has heavily repaired sides. One at the MFA Virginia in Richmond had a bottom and drawer added to it early on like 1720-1730 so it never cracked. A new one that just turned up in a family inheritance squabble has battens nailed inside to hold the cracked sides together. Other than the two known Braintree ones, I don’t know of other American ones, although as Peter can tell you a group of Gloucestershire chests are made this way.

  4. Peter,

    Speaking of nailed on fronts and other methods of “cheating”, on a recent trip to Germany, I came across a small 17th century box or chest, roughly 12″×12″×18″ in a museum in the Mosel Valley. It was very similar in appearance to the larger New England joined chests that you reproduce—even with a riven oak till. But on closer inspection, I found that the chest was simply a dovetailed softwood box with a non-structural oak frame applied to the surface with oak pins (so that it had the appearance of a fully joined chest on all sides except the back). The top was similar (pine boards with applied oak frame). The bottom was let into a groove in the front and held on with very large blacksmith-made brackets, and the hinges were also very large and strap-like.

    I took a plethora of pictures, but unfortunately I cannot attach any here. If you’re interested, let me know and I can e-mail you some pictures.


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