Stephens’ Wooden Chest

Guys, I have been working on this nifty project for like…2 months now. Finally, the day has come that I can show it on here (hoorah). Every other weekend when I came home, provided that both of us had free time, dad and I were putting together something I’ve always wanted: a wooden chest for special family keepsakes. The sucker is HA-UUUGE. And here’s how it’s done (according to us):

We built the wooden chest from scratch, starting with a $200 trip to Lowe’s. When we came out we had:

  • 2- 5/8″ thick 18″X8′ finished and stainable planks for the sides
  • 1- 5/8″ thick 24″X10′ finished and stainable plank for the top and bottom
  • 2- 5/8″ thick 4″X8′ planks for the bottom and top rail
  • 1- 2″X2″X8′ long piece to put on the bottom to connect the bottom rail to the bottom of the chest
  • 3- 3″ hinges
  • 2- 3″ pull handles for the lifts
  • 1- 4″long clasp for the front
  • Stain of choice
  • Varnish of choice
  • Screws

First, of course, we cut most of our pieces. Like I happened to mention earlier, this was no little chest. We made it about 4 feet long and 1 1/2-2 feet wide. More room to put those treasured keepsakes, yeah?

Once we had pieces cut, we started putting together the lid. In the finished product, you don’t want any screws to show so we had to countersink them. Countersinking means you drill a hole smaller than the screw so it will fit snugly and then we drilled a bigger hole so the head of the screw would go down further than level.



Next, we started on the bottom of the chest. One thing you should be careful of when drilling your screws is stripping or chipping the wood. Of course, leaving it as shown would make the end product a bit tacky so I’ll show y’all how to fix ‘er up when these mistakes happen. To prevent it, don’t be drill happy. Keep the drill going when screwing in and pulling out and be sure to drill slowly, listening for the sounds of splitting wood.


Told ya she’s big. Anyways, one thing you want to make sure of when working with wood is the texture. You want it to be smooth….so that means you’ve gotta bust it sanding.

After we built the big bottom and sanded it, we added legs to the bottom to make it easier to pick up and so it looks nicer sitting out.

Now, to get rid of all those chips and what not you need to add wood filler. It will probably go on at first in globs, but after you place it smooth it with a spatula. Let it sit to dry. We were working on this mostly in the crisp November cold, so we used lights for their warming and drying abilities. We also plugged the holes from the screws with wood glue and added dowel buttons.

Now for my favorite part besides the building: staining and varnish. I chose a dark chestnut for the stain and a semi-gloss varnish. When staining, place the color in circles and work it in with the grain. When doing the varnish just go with the grain. Always. Watch for drips and keep your grimy paws off the merchandise! 🙂 As you can from the two photos above, varnish really makes a shining difference.

The varnish took a few days to dry, since it was cold. Normally you would want to put a couple of coats on it since this wood loves to soak it up, but we only got through with one. To improvise, after the varnish dried, we did some work with wax. First we smoothed out the areas that got rough again with sand paper, wiped it down and added wax. Wax on, rub in, let dry, wipe off. Pretty simple.

Then you add the hardware, ya know, the hinges and handles and locks. Be sure to measure out exactly where you want them to go and be careful again when using the screws. You don’t want to mess up at this point. Here she is in all of her glory:

Building something like this, something to last, is fun. Imagine where this chest will be in 50 years, 100 years and so on. It’s a little piece of family history that you built with your own two hands, and it will hold what members of my family earned through struggle and sacrifice.

Keep close, friends.



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