Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Box for Blocks

For my son's first birthday I made him the Skunk Bench. For his second, I'm making him a set of blocks. Of course, I hadn't been working on the blocks for very long when I realized that they would need a place to live. Bam! New project!

I decide to make a chest. I looked through Lon Schleining's excellent book Treasure Chests and saw several "sea chests" that inspired me. Of course, I had to change things; it's what I do.

Some changes come from my design muse, some from problem solving during the construction process. I like it when the changes provide a certain amount of "funky" or "quirky" character to a piece - it keeps things interesting. I've posted about this before.

I sketched out a rough design and went with a raised panel bottom set in grooves in the sides and ends. On a chest this size, I think it would be more common, and arguably better - as it would have not stolen from the depth of the interior, to just nail on a solid bottom. But I liked the idea and how it makes the box different.

Once I started building, a couple of other changes appeared. First I didn't have wide enough stock to make the top out of one board, and rather than gluing up wider stock, I modified the top design completely. Then, after numerous attempts at modifying the handle hardware, I threw it away keeping only the bails; and replaced the mounting hardware with simple eye screws. All the hardware I blackened with a linseed oil patina that I first experimented with back on the Turning Saw project. After seeing the blackened hardware sitting on the raw wood of the box, I liked it so much I abandoned my original idea of painting the box.

After deciding not to paint the box, I also decided to leave the nails exposed, and to use wrought head nails to attach the hinges. This was the first time I'd used the clench nail technique, and I had mixed results. The nails I had were either too short or too long. As nails that are too short are not clenchable, I went with the too long option - but things got messy. In the end, it worked, but it was not pretty...

One special thing about this project for my son was that I used a tool with family history. It's a hand drill from our hardware store, that my father gave me as a boy. I love the idea that there is a three generation connection in this project.

In the end, I think I created a functional box for the blocks, but one that has just the right amount of unique character to make it extra special for my son.

And finally, the traditional shot of the tool kit used on this project:

Not pictured: shooting board and miter box.


  1. I have rarely used clenched nails, but almost always use clenched teeth!

  2. Josh - Well, there was one time during this project when I seriously thought about burning it! Pretty sure my teeth were clenched then. :)

  3. Did you have a post anywhere that lists the dimensions of the blocks themselves?

  4. Brian - Not yet - the chest took over! I'm making them from the library chair oak. They are unit blocks, with the basic unit being 1x2x2. I'll be posting about the blocks in the near future.

  5. You have me getting more interested in hand tools. Nice box, but I am most interested in the third photo.

  6. Dan...very nice box! I'm sure your son will love it. Just curious...will the wood be finished or left unfinished?

  7. Dan,

    Very nice. Consistent design and workmanship. Just right for its purpose - the nailing and big hinges give it a rugged look, not too fussy. But its character will, I think, be intuitively appreciated by your son now, and, what is really nice, in his years to come. Good job by dad.


  8. Jeff - I'm glad you like the third photo. As you may have noticed I like hand tools - and those "tool kit" shots at the end of projects are always a secret treat for me. Thanks.

    A&J - Thanks! I was originally going to use milk paint, but the longer it hung around unpainted, the more I liked it that way. I put some mineral oil on it for now. Later I might add some Tried & True.

  9. Rob - That's exactly the look I was going for - thanks! I think it will be the perfect home for a little boy's building blocks. And I did imagine him still having it as an adult and thinking of Dad. Hopefully it won't get destroyed anytime soon :)

  10. Really nice Dan! And as he grows, this could nicely transition from a block box to his first tool chest ;).

  11. Dan,

    I think you done it again my friend. Lovely as it is, I think the little one will adore it of course when he gets older, but he will like the inside more with the blocks! lol

    Great job, I really like it.


  12. Dan... really nice chest for the blocks. I can see uses for this design in other ways too. One suggestion is to add a soft close box support, such as this one from Rockler:

    No bending hinges and no chest lid catching little fingers.


  13. Bob - Thanks! And great idea on the tool box!

    Handi - I think you are right about the blocks! And I bet you're glad I didn't paint it, aren't you?

    Gary - Thanks for the link; that's a good idea.

  14. Dan,

    lol. Amazing you remembered. Right on the money my friend. I'm not much on painting wood. I'll go as far as stains but that's it.

    Thr project looks really nice. And not to mention even though paint may look nice and be safe after curing. I'd still be a little concerned since it will be a 1 year olds birthday present. As you k ow over the years paint dose crack and flake and there is always that possibility.

    Anyway, it looks really good. I like the lid and all.


  15. Dan,

    Really like the box. I've just recently discovered your blog and am enjoying reading past posts.
    In the photo of tools, there is a block plane. What type of plane? Stanley? Year?
    I just purchased one from a junk store that looks very much like the one you have pictured.


  16. Handi - I'm with you most of the time, but sometimes paint is better :)

    If I had painted it, it would be milk paint which is pretty safe stuff, and as far as I know doesn't chip or flake.

    I'm glad you like it.

    Stephen - I'm happy you are enjoying the blog. As far as the block plane in the picture, that is a Stanley #18. The knuckle joint lever cap has a Sweetheart (Sweethart) logo that I believe places it in the 1920's or early 1930's. I really prefer the knuckle joint block planes - they fit my hand better, and I don't bump the lever and accidently loosen the iron.

    Finding one in a junk store is a pretty good score!


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