Dutch Chest Lessons

Building the Dutch Tool Chest has had some important lessons for me.  Aside from the obvious “make sure the dovetails all face the same way”.

First, the one that bugs me most, is get decent lumber.  I got Common Pine (“whitewood”, a very soft pulpy wood-like material), which cupped after I got it home.  By the time I dressed it the “1 by 12″ (.749″ out the door) was closer to 5/8” thin.  This doesn’t leave enough for nailing and dadoing in my view.  It also continued to move around after it was flattened, and is super soft.  I wanted Select Pine but the home center has been out for several weeks.

A consequence of the soft, thin boards is that the cut nails I’m using caused blow out in several spots as they went into the pre-drilled holes.

Wrought-head cut nails.  I like the look, the blowout on the endgrain, not so much.

Wrought-head cut nails. I like the look, the blowout on the endgrain, not so much.

Something else I’ll do differently is to put the back on after the drop-front is fitted so I can glue on the brackets for the sliding latch more easily.

Drop front ready for battens and some shaping on the catches for the latch bar.

Drop front ready for battens and some shaping on the catches for the latch bar.

I had a bit of a struggle with the boards on the back.  I decided to go with tongue and grooves instead of shiplap.  Problem #1 was my tongue and groove plane doesn’t make a joint that works right off the plane.  The tongue is too big (or the groove too small).  It’s problem with the cutter width, I’ll need to replace something there.  I also installed the boards from the top to bottom.  Bad call, I should have started at the bottom, and not cut the bevel on the top board until it was ready to go otherwise.  Live and learn.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this project was to dust off my hand tool skills and take a break from the crazy detail of marquetry.  I tuned up my coffin smoother, it leaves a super surface now.  That’s a great feeling, it works better than my metal smoother with a more carefully prepared blade.

Smoothing parts for the drop front latch.

Smoothing parts for the drop front latch.

This tool chest is going to get a coat of milk paint and go into service as storage in the house.  I’ll make another one to use when I go to woodworking classes.

Dovetails fit nicely (picture is after rough planing them level, cleanup still to do)

Dovetails fit nicely (picture is after rough planing them level, cleanup still to do)

Without grading on a curve, this will be a B-minus project when it’s done.  Everything will be functional and square, but the details aren’t quite a nice as I’d like.  I’ll do another with either select Pine, or maybe some VG Fir I saw at the wood store.

Just need to trim the lid and get some hinges to complete this one.

Just need to trim the lid and get some hinges to complete this one.


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10 thoughts on “Dutch Chest Lessons

  1. ant11sam

    The wood I use the most in my projects is “portuguese pine”.
    Around here we have 3 – umbrella pine, maritime pine and “nacional” (this is the softer, cheaper and the notyer of them all) from young trees.
    I buy it and let it season (in tha garage) for a while and even so it cups and warps a lot.
    That’s why I usually buy rough sawn boards that are almost 1″ (2,5cm) thick, and get the finish thickess around 3/4″ or less (<2cm)
    And from the picture it seams that wood came from young tree as well…

    One "trick" from an old man that I use is to get narow boards and glue them (to get the panels) with the anual rings in direferent directions, so if it warps(cups on board the other do the "conter-warp"/conter-cup.

    Any way the chest looks good!!


    • Hi Antonio,

      I agree with your thinking. This was (is) supposed to be a quick and cheap project done with home center materials. Even the “Select Pine” (Radiata Pine) is young and fast growth, and is S4S to .75″ x 11.25″. I’m thinking I’ll make another of these from the “Select”, but the best thing to do is get real wood from somewhere other than the Home Center. Like you, I’d prefer to get rough sawn and let it acclimate. In fact, the local speciality wood supplier has 1 x 12 rough sawn vertical grain Douglas Fir that would be beautiful for this. I’ve really come to appreciate fine grained fir. Unfortunately it’s about three time the cost 🙂

      • ant11sam

        I get what you write about prices. Around here wood is quite expensive – that’s the ONLY reason i buy rough sawn cheap pine boards…. 😉 My wifes initial comments were “….why do you buy that board? That over there is already clean…” Then I show her the price tag and no more word were needed… lolol

        Looking forward to see your progress in the chest!
        And I forgot to tell you, how much I admire your “patience and skills” for marquetery.

        All the best!

  2. JR

    In the West, Ponderosa Pine has become ubiquitous. At least at the local home center. Ponderosa Pine is technically classified as a yellow (hard) pine, but it shares many characteristics with white (soft) pines, having a considerably lower density than the yellow pine species found in the eastern United States.

    It is softer (Janka scale 460 ) than Eastern White Pine in all of it’s variegated spices—Pinus strobus, Pinus taeda, Pinus palustris, Pinus rigida, Pinus echinata, Pinus virginiana, an Pinus others all lumped together basically to banboozle the public into believing there is one easy to market pine.

    Pinus ponderosa, which I suspect you are, and have struggled with here machining and so forth, is much softer or if you will squisier than other spices of pine. Hence the difficulties you encountered cupping, nailing etc.

    May I suggest pine’s Eastern brothers or, god forbid the expense, of Clear Vertical Grain Douglas Fir, which really isn’t a fir at all but is more closely allied with the Eastern varieties of pine? Especially if your project is to be painted, as slash sawn fir will not keep a coat of paint for long.

    BTW: The city of Flagstaff, Arizona was named for a flagpole made of Ponderosa Pine that was used to raise a United States flag (then 37 stars) during a centennial ceremony on July 4, 1876.

    Long gone. Lesson learned.

  3. One odd thing I’ve noticed moving back to the midwest, is that the construction lumber and even home center wood is more carefully dried than in California. Not that the overall quality is much different, but it seems like in CA they just assume it will dry out fast enough – which may be true enough if you are framing a house.

  4. Thanks for this post. I have been thinking about making one.

  5. In my area, this kind of pine, also labelled as white wood is particularly bad stuff. Defects include sap pockets which can bleed right in front of your eyes. But, it is good for some things like the router table I built. I think you need to build the dutch tool chest all over again with the select pine. 🙂

  6. Looks good despite the challenges of the material. Good practice at any rate.

    • Immediately after posting this I read a blog post by Christopher Schwarz with a hint to keep cut nails from blowing out as mine did. Better and thicker wood will help too. It was a fun, fast project. I need to make a nice one now, we’ll use this one for storage.

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