Solomon, who was acclaimed as the wisest man to ever live, is famous for saying that “There is nothing new under the sun.” Who knew that the ancient king was a woodworker? (He may have even been a fan of the Art & Crafts style — it seems like it has been around for at least that long.) So I was really intrigued when editor in chief Rob Johnstone asked me if I wanted to help his staff at the Woodworker’s Journal work out a design for an Arts & Crafts blanket chest that would include a couple of twists. After all, the style is well-established … what sort of twists could he have in mind? Some aspects of the project were not at all a departure from the Arts & Crafts genre: its quartersawn white oak lumber is strictly Stickley in its origin. We also worked out a stain and finish that closely mimicked existing Stickley finishes.
The exposed breadboard end joints are a step away from traditional Stickley construction — although the concept of exposed joinery is right in the Arts & Crafts sweet spot.
The “corner posts” are one area where we took our own path. In an early 1900s piece, these posts would have been full thickness chunks of wood — we chose to miter 3/4″ stock to create the look of a solid leg.
You might think that the arched cathedral panels were a bit of extracurricular design, but you would be wrong. That look is pure Stickley — but how we went about constructing those panels with their adjacent curved stiles is a 21st century take on the look. As a result of our design process and decisions, I think this blanket chest not only turned out to be a solid representation of the Arts & Crafts style, but a really fun project to build.
It Starts with the Wood
While you might just possibly be able to get away with cherry lumber for this project, the choice of quartersawn white oak lumber is absolutely the way to go. And be certain to select your stock so that its figure is shown off to its best advantage. All quartersawn stock does not display equally. Some has regular straight grain without many medullary rays — but other boards show off the classic quartersawn flake (the rays mentioned earlier) with serious flair. Work out in advance where you want each type of grain to be most prevalent. I wanted the dramatic flake to be most visible on the book-matched flat panels and in the aforementioned corner posts. One of the big advantages of building up the posts is that I was able to show quartersawn figure on both exposed faces of the posts.
The whole of the chest is made, or resawn from, 3/4″ stock. The significant exception to this is the lid, which is formed from 1-1⁄4″ stock. There are a couple of lid supports that hold the top in an open position, and I chose solid brass butt hinges to attach the top to the chest, although other options would have been fine. One important note: As this chest is configured here, this is not a toy box. The lid is heavy, and the hinges and lid supports do little to hold back the momentum of the top when closing. Little children and this chest should not mix.