Finished outdoor storage box project

Whatever deck or patio items you need to store this fall, here's a stylish and weather-resistant chest to keep them dry year-round.

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A "deck box" is helpful for storing outdoor cushions, yard or pool toys and gardening supplies, but the home center options for these containers leave much to be desired. Many are made of lightweight plastic that tends to fade and fail after a few years. Why settle for flimsy when you can build a sturdier and better-looking chest yourself? Ours offers nearly 14 cubic feet of storage space. We made this one from Spanish cedar (a rotand insect-resistant South American hardwood), but cedar, cypress, mahogany or even painted pine would be other good options. The top panels are covered with sheets of stainless steel and accented with stainless handles to give this chest a contemporary look that matches today’s trendy grills and patio appliances. Here’s how to build one for your yard goodies.

Making the Frame

Milling mortises in storage box legs with mortising machine
Mill 1"-deep mortises in the legs. A mortising machine equipped with a 3/8" hollow-chisel bit can cut them cleanly in four overlapping passes.

The chest's legs (pieces 1) are joined to the long and short frame rails (pieces 2 through 5) with sturdy mortise-and tenon joinery. Start by surfacing stock for all of these parts to 1-1/2" thick, then cut the legs and rails to width and length, according to the Material List dimensions. Since the top mortises of the legs stop just 1/4" from the part ends, leave the legs overly long for now to prevent splitting their ends during mortising.

Cut legs for storage box marked with their eventual installation points
Join the leg mortises with 3/4"-wide, 3/8"-deep grooves to fit the slats and top panels. Rout these carefully to avoid a climb-cutting situation.

Lay out the leg mortise locations, using the Drawings as a reference, and choose your favorite method for hogging out their waste. We opted for a hollow-chisel mortising machine, which squares the 1"-deep mortises as it cuts them. A drill press, 3/4"-diameter Forstner bit and a sharp chisel would work, too. When the mortises are done, trim the legs to length.

Cutting grooves in storage box rails at a table saw
The rails also receive continuous slat/panel grooves: one into the top and bottom rails and two along both edges of the middle rails.

The bottoms of the legs have a 1"-radius cutout on their inside corners, so lay these out and cut them to shape with a jigsaw or band saw. Drum-sand the cutouts smooth.

Detailed view of a joint cut by a v-panel router bit
We used Freud's V-panel Bit Set to rout decorative "V" profiles and interlocking tongue-and-groove joints into the edges of the chest slats.

Notice in the Drawings that the chest's V-grooved slats and metal-skinned top panels must fit into 3/4"-wide grooves in the legs and rails. Cutting these grooves is your next task, and for that we headed to the router table to round up a 1/2" straight bit. You could use a 3/4"-wide straight bit also, but the challenge here is to line up the grooves perfectly with the leg mortises; a narrower bit can allow you to sneak up on that alignment more easily. To rout the leg grooves, mark your bit's cutting limits on the router table first so you'll know where to start and stop these cuts.

Mill the grooves to a depth of 3/8", and be careful of how you position the router table fence for the cutting process. The first passes will, of course, open the groove, but then you’ll need to reset the fence to widen the cut to 3/4". Make sure you arrange this setup so you move the router fence backward and away from the bit: this way, the bit will continue to cut against its rotation on the front side (closest to you) instead of with the bit's rotation on the back side. The latter orientation creates a dangerous climb-cutting situation that will tend to pull the legs through the cut and likely out of your control in a split second.

Using a table saw to cut grooves in slats for outdoor storage box
Assembled "dry," the joints will solve seasonal wood movement issues.

When you've connected the leg mortises with grooves, head to your table saw to raise tenons on the ends of the rails. Size the tenons so they’re slightly thicker and wider than necessary; this way you can refine their fit by hand.

Adding screw locations for storage box slats
Start two subassemblies by gluing a bottom and middle long rail to a leg, then slipping 18 prefinished slats into their grooves. Center the middle two slats and tack them to the rails with single, centered brads, top and bottom. Spread out the other slats, leaving 1/32" spaces in between.

Gather up the rails and head back to the router table to mill continuous, 3/8"- deep grooves along inside edges of the top and bottom rails and along both edges of the middle rails. Again, move the fence backward to widen these groove cuts as needed. Once the grooves are finished, dry-assemble the legs and rails to create the chest framework. Use a shoulder or rabbeting plane to shave the tenons for an easy friction fit in their mortises.

Making the Frame

Gluing steel sheets to outdoor storage box panels
Bond a sheet of stainless steel to each of the four top panels with slow-setting epoxy. Clean the metal with acetone first to remove any manufacturing residue.

The vertical slats that wrap around this chest are going to expand and contract slightly as the humidity changes from season to season, if you make them from solid wood, as we did. But, with a little planning, that’s not problematic. A tongue-and-groove joint between each pair of slats is a good solution here: regardless of shrinkage, the slats will still keep the chest contents dry because their joints can open up slightly without creating gaps. And, you can simply dry-assemble the slats in their grooves without gluing them together so they each can expand and contract independently but still hold position correctly inside the leg/rail areas.

Freud Tools offers a handy V-panel Bit Set (item 99-191) that cuts both an attractive "V" profile as well as a tongue-and-groove joint. But, if you'd rather not invest in these cutters, you can duplicate the same effect with a V-groove bit and use other common options for the tongue-and-groove portion. Either way, cut 54 slats (pieces 6) to width and length, and mill the edge joinery at your router table. Once their edges interlock easily, you'll need to rip the two outermost slats narrower for the front/back and side assemblies (see the Drawings). Doing this will provide these panel assemblies about 3/4" of expansion space along the rails to allow for seasonal changes. Give all the slats a final sanding, and pre-finish them now. We brushed on a combination deck stain/sealer with UV additives. It offers coloring and protection in one easy-to-renew step.

Gluing and clamping set-up for storage box panel assembly
Apply a thin coat of adhesive to the wood panels with a foam roller, and clamp all of the panels together to act as a press until the epoxy cures overnight.

Once the finish dries, you’re ready for some assembly. Glue a bottom and middle long rail to two legs to begin forming front and back chest subassemblies. For clamping purposes, it's fine to dry-fit the opposite legs into place. When the glue dries, pull off the loose legs and fit the end and intermediate slats in place "dry." Use a centered, 1-1/4" brad-nail to pin the middle two slats of each assembly to the rails to hold position. Drive these brads through the inside faces of the rails in the groove areas. Then spread out the other slats on either side of the fixed center slats evenly, allowing about 1/32" gap between them. Tack the rest of the slats in place now, too, with a centered brad, top and bottom.

Set these partial front and back subassemblies aside for now so you can prepare the metal-skinned front, back and side top panels (pieces 7 and 9). We made them from solid wood. When you plane them to thickness, be sure to allow for the thickness of the metal facings (pieces 8 and 10) you plan to use: our stainless steel was 24-gauge, so about .024" thick.

Adding slats to outdoor storage box side assemblies
Continue to build the carcass by gluing the six side rails to a completed subassembly. Slip the side slats and top panels into their grooves. Then glue and clamp the other subassembly in place.

Since these wood panels are relatively narrow, their potential cross-grain expansion is minimal. So, we simply rolled on a coat of slow-setting marine-grade epoxy to one face of each panel, set the stainless in place and clamped the four panels together to press them flat until the adhesive cured. Give the epoxy overnight to fully set, then pull the panels out of the clamps.

In the meantime, you can rout a shallow mortise in the top back rail for the lid's piano hinge. It's a simple "drop cut" at the router table, with a 3/4" straight bit set for a 5/8"-wide exposure and raised 1/16" above the table. (Make sure the mortise opens toward the back face of the back rail when arranging the cut.) Square up the ends of the mortise, then go ahead and complete your front and back chest subassemblies by sliding the top panels into their grooves and gluing on the remaining legs and top front and back rails. Make sure the metal is facing out in the direction of the V-grooves before gluing and clamping those final legs and rails in place! After the glue dries, flatten the leg/rail joints as needed, and sand the bare wood smooth.

Attaching side slats to storage box carcass
Spread out the side slats to fill the groove spaces, just as you did for the front and back slats. Thin plastic spacers create uniform gaps as you position and tack the slats to the rails from inside the chest carcass.

Completing the chest carcass is a repeat of what you've already done: glue the six side rails to one of the two subassemblies first. Let those joints dry before tacking in the side slats, adding the top panels and gluing the other big subassembly to it. When the clamps come off, ease the outside edges of the legs with a 3/4"-radius roundover bit, then sand and topcoat the rest of the bare wood.

Rounding outer corders of storage box with a router and roundover bit
Ease the outside corners of the legs with a handheld router and a 3/4"-diameter roundover bit — or a smaller diameter bit, if you so choose. Rounded edges are attractive and improve wear and tear.

While the finish dries, cut the chest's bottom panel to shape from exterior-grade plywood, and make up four long and short cleats (pieces 11 through 13). Sand and finish these parts before installing them in the chest. Screw the cleats to the inside faces of the bottom rails, flush with their bottom edges, then fasten the bottom panel to the top edges of the cleats with more screws.

Building and Attaching the Lid

Cutting groove and mortises in outdoor storage box breadboard ends
Mill a continuous groove and three mortises in the breadboard ends.

You could use a single solid panel for the lid, but we've added breadboard ends to help the panel resist warping and to give it some woodworking panache. The lid and two ends (pieces 14 and 15) are connected by haunched mortise-and-tenon joints. As the Drawings show, the three tenons on the ends of the lid are separated by solid wood areas in between, which strengthen the joints.

Routing shoulder tenons in outdoor storage box lid
A wraparound edge guide improved accuracy when routing matching shoulders on the lid’s long tenons.

The front tenons fit into snug mortises, but the center and rear tenons have wider mortises so the panel can expand and contract to the rear. Fashion these joints by first milling a centered groove along the inside edges of the lid ends. Make it 5/16" wide and 1/2" deep. Now cut the six, 1-1/4"-deep mortises inside these grooves.

Attaching breadboard ends to outdoor storage box lid
Saw these tenons into three shorter segments to fit the mortises in the end pieces.

We created continuous 5/16"-thick, 1-3/4"-long tenons on the ends of the lid next, using a wide straight bit in a router and running the edge of the router's base along a wraparound edge guide made from scrap. The jig ensures that the tenon shoulders are perfectly aligned on both faces of the panel. Rout the tenons in several stages, deepening the cuts until the final tenon thickness is achieved, and then shifting the straightedge back to make subsequent rounds of cuts to lengthen the tenons.

Filing holes in storage box lid tenons for wood movement
Drill and file slotted holes in the lid's center and rear tenons to allow for wood movement.

Three rounds of resetting the edge guide should be enough. Use a jigsaw to convert the two long tenons into six shorter ones and to shape the outside corners of the lid ends into 1-1/2"-radius curves. Plane the tenons thinner as needed until the lid and its ends come together in a good friction fit.

Routing down cedar dowels to create mortise pins
We made dowels to pin the mortise-and-tenon joints together. They started as square sticks of Spanish cedar run twice past a 3/16"-radius bullnose bit.

While the front tenons can be glued and pinned into their mortises, the center and rear joints will need to be pinned through slotted holes in the tenons so the panel can expand and contract. Use a 3/8"-diameter brad point bit to bore the centered dowel pin holes through the assembled lid, then pull the pieces apart and widen the middle and rear holes into 1"-long slots. Once the joinery is completed, glue only the front mortise-and-tenon joints, and tap six 3/8"-dia. dowel pins (pieces 16) home. Sand the lid to flatten the dowel areas and smooth it, and apply finish.

Closing the Chest Project with Hardware

Attaching lid closing mechanism to outdoor storage box lid
A pair of stainless- steel eyelets and a length of flexible steel cable form a simple stop for the lid when opened.

Your storage chest is nearly finished! Attach some sturdy handles (pieces 17) to the side panels, and cut a length of piano hinge (piece 18) to fit its mortise. Mount the lid to the chest, driving hinge screws into every hole. Make sure the outermost screws stop short of the breadboard ends so as not to impede wood movement. Then add a lid stop: we strung a length of 3/32" galvanized steel cable between two eyelets mounted to the lid's bottom face and one of the top side rails. Make the cable long enough so the lid tips back a few degrees past vertical.

Click Here to Download the Materials List and Drawings.