Toy Chest: Design

A friend came to me with the idea of a toy chest for her daughter’s first birthday.  What a great idea – rather than buying some plastic stuff, she’s investing in a solid piece of fine furniture that can last a lifetime!  It will start life as a toy chest and grow into a blanket chest.  This project is named after her daughter, “For Kyra”.

I had the idea of using the letter K on the front of the chest, so I started sketching some ideas.  I quickly came upon something I liked, so I took it to Google Sketchup.  I worked with the some dimension contraints from my friend and designed around those.

The chest is built from walnut for the frame and cherry for the panels.  I had a piece of curly walnut in the shop (from Exotic Lumber) that will be for the K on the front.  I went to my favorite lumber shop, Artisan Lumber, and picked up another stick of walnut (8/4 x 12″ x 10′) for the remaining frame parts.  I have a lot of cherry in the shop that I will use for the panels.

I start with building the front of the chest, the K, as that curve may not end up with exact dimensions from my sketch.  Once built, I can take the measurements for the rest of the chest.

From sketchup, I printed out the actual size + shape of the K, which spans 5 pieces of paper.  I taped those together and layed them over the walnut.  I chalked the outline and it’s time to start cutting.

Toy Chest: Creating the Curved K

I first want to create the curved K and the entire front of the chest, as I will then use that as the final dimensions for the rest of the case.

I had my piece picked out for the curved legs of the K to re-saw and book-match.  I laid the template, printed over 5 pieces of paper from Google Sketchup, over the piece and chalked the outline.  A rough-cut oversize on the bandsaw and joint + edge, ready to re-saw.  My re-saw didn’t go that well, which doesn’t matter because I have plenty of material to work with.  The real problem was exposing too much sap wood in the middle of the board, which really didn’t look good.

So, I decided to re-saw just the front half to avoid all sap wood.  I first cut the curved legs of the K more exactly on the bandsaw and spindle sander.  Then I performed the re-saw on the tablesaw: each piece is about 1/4″ thick.  I was able to avoid all sap wood and it looks great.

Now that I’m dealing with a little bit thinner pieces for the curved section, I want more support at the stile (leg) of the K.  So rather than just butt them agains the leg, I inset them slightly.  I cut out a corner of the stile about 1/4″ deep to provide that support.

So – the front K is all done: the straight leg (stile) and curved sections (1/4″ thick).  On to the rest of the frame and panel to finish the front.

Toy Chest: Front Panel

I first want to create the whole front panel, including the rails, stiles, panel and curved K parts – so then I can take measurements for the final width and height of the toy chest.

As I got started on the frame and panel parts for the front, I got a little side tracked creating all five panels for the chest.  It took 3 boards of cherry for them all.  I ripped each ~6in piece in half, jointed+edged, and re-sawed those in half – to end up with 4 pieces of 3/8″ wood per chunk of cherry.  I then glued those all back together either book-matched  or slipped-matched, depending on what looked the best.  I clamped downwards first to keep all the parts in the same plane, and then across the glue line.

With all the panels oversized, I started cutting out the frame parts from the walnut board.   I roughed them all out, jointed+edged and cut on the table-saw oversized.  I then finalized the front rails and stiles.

For this project, I’ve decided to use the Festool Domino for the joinery.  A huge shout-out to my buddy Dyami for lending me his Domino.  It makes a traditional joint (two mortises and a loose tenon), but in a really fast way.  All the parts are cut exactly to size and then zip-zip, two mortises and a festool-supplied loose tenon finishes the joint.

With the front rails, stiles and joinery complete – the dry assembly gives me the final dimensions (height and width) for the chest.

After finalizing the rest of the sides and back, a dry assembly of the whole chest gives me the dimensions for the top and I can cut those pieces.  Everything is now all cut, final dimensioned and joinery cut.

I’ve also started work on some details for the chest.  More to come on those.

Toy Chest: Parts all Dimensioned

All the parts for the toy chest are cut to final dimension and the joinery (dominos) are complete.

Unfortunately during this process, I found larvae activity from wood beetles along the two back rails.  Luckily it was only in those two pieces.  Lots of holes bored  throughout those pieces, and half a larvae!, meant that I am getting rid of those boards and cutting a couple of new ones.  They are along the back, so it’s not a big deal to cut two new rails.  The new ones have some good-looking sapwood making the back interesting, but it is the back afterall so doesn’t need to entirely blend in.

The panels are getting boiled linseed oil and shellac prior to assembly, so when they expand and contract there’s no unfinished surface exposed.

I give a quick shop tour showing the mess that means progress is being made!

Toy Chest: Details’ Construction

I wanted to share how I constructed the various small details that are on this Toy Chest.  They are:

Different Planes

The various pieces of the chest are all offset by about 1/16″.  The legs are slightly proud of the rails, which are a little proud of the panels.  This gives a very nice textured feel to the piece.  It highlights the fact that it’s a piece of furniture made from elements in 3d.  These are created by offsetting the joinery.

Chamfer Edges

I used the 60 degree edge of a chamfer bit to softly lead from level to level.  So, there’s a very slight chamfer on the edge of the leg which leads down to the rail.  The chamfer is a little less than 1/8″ wide by less than 1/16″ deep (60 degrees).  This was created on the router table using a Freud 30 degree chamfer bit and running the pieces on edge.

Square Pegs

I constructed the chest using a Festool Domino, so it’s all hidden floating tenons.  I used pegs in the corners where rails meet stiles to highlight the fact that there’s a joint there.  This implied joint is a fun detail.

I used square punches designed by Darrell Peart to create the square holes.  I created the pegs by hand using sandpaper and a chisel.

Foot Indent

I wanted to highlight the foot of the chest, where it meets the ground.  I feel that this grounds a piece nicely.  I decided to do a small indent that “fades away” in two dimensions (up and in) and is about 1/16″ at its deepest.  I created this by first scribing the outer edges using a marking gauge and then chiseling the fade/slant right near the scribe line.  I then chiseled away the waste from the outer edge (fading to nothing) into the edge.

Curved Indent

The rails all got a slanted, curved, indented feature that was created on the tablesaw.  I judged where I wanted the deepest part to be (about 1/16″ deep) and then angled the tablesaw blade to “fade away” to nothing about 1/4″ from the bottom edge.  I used the tablesaw blade profile to define the outer corners.  I had to put the piece in place against the fence and then raise the spinning blade into the piece.  Since the blade was angled, I couldn’t drop the rail down onto the blade.

Magnetic Side

I embedded some magnets into the lower side rail.  I think Kyra will have fun attaching things to the sides!  I used a forstner bit to make the 1/2″ holes and dropped a rare earth magnet in.  I added a small peg to keep the magnet pushed against the front edge.  Then attached a small piece of wood on the back to hold everything in place.

All of those details really make this toy chest that much more elegant.

Toy Chest: Assembly

I’ve got the toy chest all assembled and am finalizing the details.

I first assembled the front frame and panel and then glued on the curved K parts.  I only glued the curved parts into the middle third or so of the panel, allowing the rest of the panel to float behind the K.  I did put some slotted screws out in that area so the curve would stay attached to the panel throughout.

With the front assembled, I went ahead and did the back and sides, simple frame and panel assembly with the domino joints.

The front needed some final additions, including the small serif details on the outer edges of the K, some glue blocks and other odds and ends.  All those went on easily and now need to be finished to match the rest of the case.

All the frame and panel parts have already been pre-finished on the outside. The process was 3-4 coats of diluted boiled linseed oil, followed by a couple coats of shellac (brushed), followed by one coat of shellac rubbed on. I then rubbed-out finish with steel wool and will finally followup with some wax.

Toy Chest: Complete

The toy chest is finally complete, and I am super excited by how it all came together.

I bought lid hinges from Rockler that hold the lid at any angle.  A very cool feature, especially for a kids toy chest!  You calculate the depth of the lid and weight (assuming even distribution) and purchase the correct number and type of hinges.  They worked really well.  I mortised them into the lid and the chest.  It then took an hour or two to fit them just right so that the front closed perfectly.  I had to re-add a little material to the back of the chest on one side, but I finally got it where I wanted.

A lot of details to wrap-up, small pieces to add and finish to match the rest of the case.  And I banged in the small peg details as well.

The toy chest is all done.  It’s been a blast to build and it actually turned out even greater than I imagined.

Toy Chest: Designing the Details

I spent a lot of time designing not only the entire chest proportions, shape and construction – but also the finer details found throughout the chest.  These are extremely important to set the chest apart from other crafted furniture – making it an elegant, highly interesting piece of furniture.

I don’t recall where I read it, but I think it was George Walker either in his blog or in a Popular Woodworking article that he wrote.  It was about designing furniture for the Far, Medium and Close views.  A piece should not only draw in a person to inspect it, but reveal more character at each level.  At the far view you notice the overall shape, proportions and main elements.  As you move closer, the piece reveals medium details such as hardware, wood figure or large decorative elements.  As you lean in, the inlay, carving, pegs and other small pieces show themselves.  I really like this line of thinking and want to make sure that my pieces of furniture cover all three views.

The other influence to this piece came from a class I recently took from Darrell Peart on Greene and Greene details.  G&G constantly re-used a variety of details on both their architecture and their furniture.  We reviewed these in class, building a small sample piece that had a few of their most-used details.  I thought about those details, what I think they do for a piece and created some of my own either directly or indirectly from their style.

This video shows the design at different levels and how Greene & Greene influenced my work.