Joined chests

I’ve been reading through the pages of my new book “Joiner’s Work” recently, and was thinking about how many joined chests I have made over the past 30 years. I don’t have an exact number, but a careful guess is over 60 of them.

Back when I made furniture in a living history museum I got to practice all day long – a pretty good way to learn. Sometimes the chests I made there were based on careful examination of period examples, other times all I had to go by was a photograph & I had to fill in the details based on what I know of period practices. Lots of leeway. Here’s a few that aren’t in the book:

This one is loosely based on a picture in Chinnery’s book Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. I remember when Vic and Jan Chinnery came to visit, Jan was surprised to see this chest – the original was in their house!

oak chest, two panel front

This one is totally “made-up” in that it is not copied from any one source. I made it in 1997. All white oak. Probably pitsawn; I was younger then, we all were.

H:25” W:47 ¼” D:16 1/8”

joined chest

Here’s part of my inlay phase! Also made-up. Also pitsawn, or mostly so. These all got used hard, and for most years got a new coat of linseed oil every year. That’s part of why they darken so. Some of the secondary wood on this one is elm, the lid panels & the end panels. Maybe the floor boards too.


These photographs came about because I was forgetting which ones I had made or my co-workers made before me – so at one point I started shooting them each winter as I cleaned them and tried to catalog them. Some we shot when they were new – this one was late in my career there – I’d guess around 2004-2005, which is when I first saw chests with that wide center muntin.

a small oak chest


There’s one of these “5-panel” (really 14 panels!) chests in the book. This one I made for a PBS series called Colonial House in 2003. It’s a copy of two chests from Marshfield, Massachusetts…


One more from that Colonial House batch – I built four houses’ worth of furniture for that project.  I remember later working on the motif that’s carved on this top rail & muntins – thinking I had never done it before. Clean forgot about this chest!

H:29” W:47 ¾” D:19”

joined chest, oak & pine


There’s no measured drawings in the book, but it shows you how to make a chest, and how to figure out the dimensions. Each one’s different, as you can see in this sampling. So glad I don’t have to move them around and clean them every winter anymore…but I’m glad I have even these basic photos.

OK – one more. In process, April 2011 it says. This one’s in the book incidentally; some process shots show it underway.

wainscot chest

17 thoughts on “Joined chests

  1. So pleased to have one of your small chests.

    Did any of your work make it’s way to Historic St Mary’s City exhibit buildings?

    Genie Posnett

  2. Hey Peter
    I loved making a chest with at Conn. Vally. How about a class making the headboard and footboard of a bed?


  3. Peter, you mention that these chests were probably made in part from pit-sawn wood. I was under the impression that you always used riven wood, but are you saying that you sometimes had to defer to sawn wood? If so, was it primarily flat sawn, rift sawn or quarter sawn? Also, when using sawn wood, did you still try to duplicate the look of riven wood, such as by having corner posts that were not exactly rectangular in cross section?

    • The chests I was making in that period were intended to represent chests brought from England. There, much of the joiners’ work was done w pitsawn material – less wasteful than riving. I have used flatsawn, quartersawn and in-between sawn. Quartersawn is what I choose as a second-choice to riven stock. As far as the shape of chest posts, or stiles, some are rectangular, some have 5 sides to them; a shaved-off inner corner. It’s all in the book, you’ll see.

  4. I ordered your book the day your announcement came…can’t wait to see it!
    I thought that your book on the Stool was excellent as were two of your DVD’s that I own.
    You have a real talent for teaching both in your classes and in your publications.
    I hope to have the opportunity to take another class with you.

  5. After seeing that painted chest, I now feel less guilty about testing using resin for that…

    I might even do an actual proper carving and try with that instead of ten minutes of hacking on an offcut just to see what it would look like…

  6. I notice the panels’ grain in the small chest with the large muntin runs parallel to the rails. Does that occur often in your work / studies?

    This chest looks very dramatic, I love it.

  7. Peter–I am really looking forward to the book and pre-ordered it from Lost Art Press. I have appreciated your work for years and own all of your DVDs. As an educator and a long-time supervisor of teachers, you are a great teacher. Ironically, there was an ad attached to your email this morning from Wayfair. The byline, “Don’t Buy Furniture Until You See This” was posted underneath a picture of chest for sale. Isn’t capitalism wonderful!

  8. Peter, now I’m going to have to watch colonial house again, should’ve known it was your furniture in there!

  9. Peter, were those pit sawn boards carved while they were still green, or dried first? How much of your work is with dry wood?


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