Frame and Panel and Then Some
This chest is constructed using frame and panel joinery and, in that regard, it is pretty much bread-and-butter woodworking. Where it starts to get a bit tricky is that some of the rails are curved, and that means the panels must match that shape. But before you have to worry about that, you need to start with the posts and rails. Start by cutting the post parts to width and length from prepared stock (pieces 1).
When you use solid hardwood like this, it is a good idea to get it into your shop a week or so before you start to work it. That lets it settle into the environment and stabilize. Now that you’ve started selecting and cutting out the frame pieces, go ahead and machine all the rectilinear rails and stiles to length and width (pieces 2 though 6). Although it is easy to get into a routine when cutting these pieces, take time to select the appropriate figured wood for each of these parts and to mark them to indicate their position on the blanket chest. In an additional bit of machining, all of the bottom rails have a gentle curve scribed and cut on their lower edge. I used a thin flexible piece of wood, which I flexed using a long pipe clamp. I traced the curve onto one of the front and back bottom rails and a complementary curve form in the same basic manner onto one of the bottom side rails. Then I stepped up to the band saw and sliced the curve onto the rails. After I had trued up the shapes using a sander, plane and a bunch of elbow grease, I transferred that shape onto the remaining two rails and repeated the procedure.
The post parts also need a bit of machining. In addition to the groove on one long edge, they are mitered along the other edge and then have a spline groove cut into the mating edges. (The splines will help a great deal when you align the post parts during glue-up.) All of this is done on the table saw. Once you have the spline grooves cut, go ahead and cut the splines (pieces 7) and fit them to the spline grooves. The post parts also have stopped grooves plowed, top and bottom that are 1/4″ wide and 3/8″ deep. I formed these on my router table with a 1/4″ straight bit.
Mortise and Tenons
The next step to consider is machining the various mortises and tenons on the stiles and rails and post parts. It is my habit to form the mortises first, so that I can fit the tenons to match them. First, I carefully marked where each mortise was to be cut. My technique is to clamp the stock that I will be machining between two pieces of wood in my bench vise. In this case, I used a plunge router with a 1/4″ straight bit chucked into the collet. After setting the cutting depth on the router (I like the depth to be slightly greater than the length of the tenons), I use an edge guide attachment to locate the placement of the mortise. I highly recommend testing your setup on scrap material. When you are pleased with your setup, go ahead and form the mortises. I square up my mortises with a sharp bench chisel.
To help form the tenons on the ends of the straight stiles, I made a simple little jig that slides over the fence on my table saw. It is made from MDF and is sort of H-shaped. The upright stop on the long side holds the stiles square to the table saw blade. Clamp the stile in place and you can start the tenons with just one cut per side. (If you own a factory-made tenoning jig for your table saw, it will do nicely as well.) Set up and test your cuts with properly sized scrap lumber. When you have the cuts dialed in, cut all the cheeks and then move on to the shoulders.
The shoulders are formed using the miter gauge on the table saw. Be sure to use a hold-off block to be safe. Cut the shoulders and set them aside.