Llustrations By Simon Rodway

Side, showing recessed brass handles

Originally conceived as travelling chests for the military, they can make attractive storage pieces

"I found the prints and worked out the measurements from what I remembered, and what I could deduce, by scaling and measuring the photos"

I made an English military-style chest in oak (Quercus robur) several years ago for a client and when he rang to ask for another one, to be an exact copy of the first, I was pretty confident it could be done. I went to find the drawings, one of the first set I had done on the computer and, needless to say, they were nowhere to be found. Fortunately, I have kept a photographic record of everything that I have made since I started. I found the prints and worked out the measurements from what

Carcass construction

The top is made up first from three of the best widths - the figure is matched carefully to run through and disguise the join, and the joint is strengthened with

I remembered, and what I could deduce, by scaling and measuring the photos. I produced a drawing and sent it to the client for confirmation of the measurements - and it was spot on!


The client lives in a converted barn where the internal oak frame has been sand-blasted to expose the wood. He was particularly keen on the chest being of English oak, including some of the paler sapwood, to match that in the house.

A trip to my usual timber merchant and a root through their stocks of English oak, and I found just what was needed. The timber was delivered to my workshop, sticked, stacked, and left to condition for a couple of weeks. It was then faced and thicknessed to 22mm (%in), all the pieces selected, marked in chalk, and cut out slightly over-size. Through the whole making process any wood not actually being worked on was stacked on stickers in the workshop to avoid any uneven drying and subsequent distortion.

The unglued biscuits in the back were a bit loose so I gave them a short soaking in water to swell them sufficiently to make a tight fit"

biscuits. The edges are planed on the surfacer, finished by hand to remove the ripples, and left slightly hollow in the middle, so that when clamped, the ends will be under pressure. This allows for extra shrinkage at the ends as the end-grain loses water more quickly.

When set, it is cut to exact size and a 10mm (%in) deep by 5mm (!4in) wide slot cut to take the top of the oak-faced MDF back, allowing for an overhang of 25mm (lin) to the back and each side.

Next, stopped housings are cut to take the sides, again allowing for the 25mm (lin) overhang.

Sides and base

The sides and base are made up in the same way as the top from carefully matched pieces. They are cut to size and the slot is cut in the sides for the MDF back. The top drawer frame stopped housing, 10mm (%) wide by 10mm (J/sin) deep, is offset down to leave room for the side tenon into the top, then the 22mm (%in) wide by 10mm (%in) deep stopped housings for the remaining two drawer frames and the base are cut.

The housings to take the feet are cut in the front, set back 6mm (!4in) and up to the stopped housing for the base. The tops of the sides are shouldered to fit into the stopped housings in the top. The shape of the feet are cut in the bottom edges of the sides on the bandsaw and finished with plane, chisel, and scraper.

The base is shouldered to fit the stopped housing in the sides and the housings for the feet are cut in the underside.

Drawer frames

The drawer frames are made up from 64 by 22mm (2Yi by %in) oak, with biscuited joints and shouldered front and back, to go into the stopped housings in the sides. The front biscuits are glued but those at the back are not, and an expansion gap is left to allow for movement in the sides. The unglued biscuits in the back were a bit loose so I gave them a short soaking in water to swell them sufficiently to make a tight fit, tapped into position with a mallet. The top frame sides are rebated to 10mm (%in) for the offset top housing.


The carcass is assembled with the drawer frames glued into the housings in the front and back of the carcass sides,


All the pieces for the drawers are cut to size, fitted and marked. The fronts are from 22mm (%in.) oak, the carcasses from 10mm (Min) oak, and the bases from 5mm (%in) oak-faced MDF. The sides are slotted for the bases, taped together in pairs, with the top one marked out in pencil, and the tails cut on the bandsaw.

The pins are marked on the drawer fronts and backs, one at a time, from the corresponding tails, and the majority of the waste removed with a router. Each joint is then Individually finished with a sharp chisel. It is easier to fit the recessed brass handles into the fronts, before assembling the drawers, so a hardboard template is made. The positions are marked out, the correct depth set on the router, and the recesses cut out freehand. The handles are check-fitted and removed, to be permanently fixed after finishing.

Each drawer is then assembled, with the MDF base glued in all round and pinned at the back, checked for square and wind, and left to set. The drawers are then finally fitted, finished and put on one side.

Foot detail


507mm l'067mm


leaving the sides of the frames a dry, running fit in the sides of the carcass, to allow for future movement. The base is glued all along the stopped housing, as the grain run is in the same direction as the sides.

The back and top are dry-fitted to help keep everything square. Clamps are . applied, the diagonals measured front and back to check it is square, adjustments made, and left to set.

Once dry, the upright between the two top drawers is fitted by screwing through the frames above and below. The screws are deep countersunk, and plugs of oak fitted to hide them. The feet are cut to size and shape, and glued into position in the slots in the sides and base.

I prefer to fit tops upside down where possible to stop any glue running out of the housings. The top is placed on padded trestles with the stopped housings uppermost, glue is applied, and the carcass lowered so that the tops of the sides fit into the housings. Clamp it, check for square and leave to set.

The oak-faced MDF back is then glued into the slots in the sides and top, and glued and pinned to the backs of the drawer rails and the base.


Check the measurements of the front opening of the cupboard and cut the stiles and rails of the doors to size. I had previously checked a double biscuit joint to destruction and was satisfied with its strength, so decided to use it here.

The doors are dry-assembled and the measurements for the fielded panels

"I prefer to fit tops upside down where possible to stop any glue running out of the housings"

taken, allowing them to recess 6mm (Kin) into the frame.

The door panels are made up by deep-sawing some selected figured oak and match jointing with biscuits, for extra strength, in the middle. This produces a pleasing effect in the figure and the colour.

The panels are cut to size and fielded using a vertical profile cutter, keeping

Stopped housings

Biscuit Joints

Traditional drawer construction

Oak veneered MDF back

Biscuit Joints

Traditional drawer construction

Stopped housings

What Veneered Mdf

Oak veneered MDF back

Double biscuit joints have proved to be more than adequate as an alternative to loose tenons

"I stirred it thoroughly - which is very important when using a matt finish or it will \gloss up' - unevenly!"

Templates and marked out recess for handles

Routing waste from dovetails

Fitting doors

Once set, the faces of the frames are finished, and the completed doors fitted to opening, leaving about 1mm (VisTn) clearance all round, to .be adjusted to 2mm (%in) on fitting.

The hinges are recessed into the door only, and not the carcass side, leaving a neater line. They are positioned on the frame and scribed round with a scalpel. The router fence and depth are set to take out the majority of the waste, and the recesses squared off, using the scalpel line as a register for the chisel.

The brass butt hinges are cleaned and polished on the visible faces to take out the machine marks, and screwed into the recess. I used a self-centring hinge pilot drill, and my power screw driver, both of which I swear by.

The position of the hinges is marked on the inside face of the cupboard, and a cutting gauge used to scribe the screw line. The doors are held at the correct height by a metal rule wedged as a spacer underneath them.

The screw line is centred in the hinge screw hole and the self-centring pilot drill used to drill one pilot hole in each hinge. The screw is driven home and the door checked for fit, adjustments made, and the remaining holes drilled and screws driven. Recesses are cut for the finger pulls on the doors by the same method as for the recessed drawer pulls. Brass double ball catches are fitted - and the spring loading on the balls is adjusted to get a satisfying 'clunk'.

Brass fittings

Routing waste from dovetails

Templates and marked out recess for handles the holes with a 2mm drill and used a small 2.4v powerdriver with a nice slow speed, held steady with both hands. All the screw slots are lined up horizontally, of course!


I enjoyed this bit of detective work and felt that the result is a passable copy of the original. I love working in oak and particularly like this mixture of natural oak and brass - it gives a nice simple, solid, English-looking piece - and the client was pleased. I

The recessed drawer handles, finger pulls, straps and corners, used on the original piece were standard military chest fittings and still available from H E Savill.

The raised head brass screws came from Screwfix.

H E Savill 7 to 12 St Martins Place, Scarborough, N Yorks Y011 2QH Tel: 01723 373032

Screwfix Direct FREEPOST, Yeovil BA22 Tel: 0500 414141 Fax: 0800 056 2256 Email: [email protected]

hand-planing and sanding to a minimum.

They are then finished, a groove is cut oil the inside edges of the rails and stiles to take the fielded panels, and the inside edges of the frames are finished.

The doors are assembled, glued and clamped, checked for square and wind, and left to set.


My client had specified a tough, totally matt, maintenance-free finish. I remembered using matt polyurethane on the previous piece so elected for the same on this one. I stirred it thoroughly -which is very important when using a matt finish or it will 'gloss up' -unevenly!

Give it three coats, leaving 24 hours between coats, and cutting back with 320 grit aluminium oxide paper between them. Do not use wire wool on oak as any tiny pieces left in the wood will react with the acid in the wood and turn black. I hesitated to use more than three coats as a slight gloss begins to form, the more coats that are applied.

After the finish has thoroughly hardened, the brassware is fitted. It was all pre-polished and lacquered, and the screws are brass and slotted rather than Posidrive, so great care was taken with the electric screwdriver! I pre-drilled all

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