Design and Construction of a Basic Six Board Chest

We’ve discussed the basic elements of the Medieval Six Board chest in previous posts, let’s look at building one using a basic model.

Given regional and temporal variations, we’re going to virtually build a chest using a generic Continental pattern (feel free to follow along with real sawdust). This style would be appropriate for France, Italy, Spain, the Germanies, and Eastern Europe for nearly every era. Though England and Scandinavia seem to have their own Cultural Traditions on building chests, this type would be passable without being exact to the relevant cultures.

Boarded Nail LocationsGiven the ease of availability, all parts are intended to be made from dimensional lumber available at any big-box home center. This is not the most cost effective, nor best quality choice for lumber. All materials in the cut list graphic (below) are culled from dimensional 1×12, which has actual dimensions of 3/4″x11 1/4″. No thickness planing will be required for this construction. Including an overage of 10%, this project will require 14.5 linear feet of dimensional 1×12. The overage is necessary in accounting for loss due to the thickness of saw cuts, and any flaws that might best be avoided. A 25% overage would be better, but given the small scale and simplicity of this project, 10% is sufficient. Choose carefully at the lumber rack.

This project will also require up to thirty-two (32) 1 1/4″ cut nails, or at minimum sixteen (16). These nails are available from woodworking stores such as Woodcraft and Lee Valley, or in volume directly from Tremont. Through Lee Valley, a half-pound of fine finish common 1 1/4″ is under five dollars, with a 200 count. For a beefier nail, the clout head 1 1/2″ comes at a similar count at under $10. Do not attempt to use “headless” brads for this construction, the flare of a nail head is required for correct function of the fastener.
Two strap hinges are needed to complete this construction. Off-the-shelf strap hinges from any home center are sufficient, though nicer and more historically appropriate hinges are available online. My preferred hinge source is, again, Lee Valley:  equal and unequal arms are similarly appropriate.Basic Boarded Cut ListMark all parts in chalk or pencil on the boards before cutting anything. Cut three 30″ lengths at full board-width, these boards will be the Top, Front, and Back panels of the chest.
Crosscut a fourth board with a total length of 28 1/2″, then rip cut the board to width at 9 3/4″.
The two remaining boards are the ends. These are cut at full board-width and 19″ in length.

Boarded EndsPut the long boards to the side for a few steps. Lay one end board flat on the workbench. Using the other as a reference, mark off 11 1/4″ from the top edge of the length. Also, mark in 3/4″ in from each long edge, this can be easily performed by holding the other end board square and flush with the one being marked. Repeat these steps on both faces of both boards. The area that has been marked will be the knees that support the case. Saw these marked parts away to establish the shoulders.
Boarded Back PanelWith the end boards cut, select the back panel and choose which long edge will be the top. On this edge measure in from each end 9″, then 10″. Between these two pairs of lines, mark a depth of 1/8″. Saw and chop out the material between the two sets of marks to this depth as in the image above. This removal of material will create the keys for the hinges to mount to the outside of the backpanel and underside of the lid without fouling. If you find your hinges are wider than 1″, pare away additional material until your hinges fit in the gap smoothly. Once the keys are cut in the back panel, this board can be used as a guide to mark where the hinges will mount to the underside of the lid.

Boarded Nail Locations

Nail Locations shown on an assembled chest

We’re just about to assembly. Using a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the shank of the nails, we’ll be boring at least nine holes on each long board. On the “bottom” edge of the front and back panels, mark five holes about 3/8″ from the lower edge. One hole is centered on the board, and one at each corner, 3/8″ from each end. Two more holes are then bored equidistant from the center hole. Along the short ends, mark and bore a hole about 3/8″ from the “top” edge, and a second midway along the width. Two more holes each may be added, equidistant from the middle hole.
Boarded End NailsA single pilot hole needs to be bored 3/8″ above the knee on the end boards. Two additional pilot holes are then bored between the center pilot and each notched edge.

At this point, all boards are prepared for final assembly. Align the front and back boards to the end boards at the “knees” so that all edges are flush. Tap nails into the pilot holes with a good hammer. If the nails are alternately driven at a slight angle, they will hold better than if they are driven in straight. Also, pay mind to the direction of the wedge on the cut nails. The widest part of the wedge should be in line with the direction of the grain of the topmost board. With one face fastened, flip the assembly over and repeat the installation of the nails from the front and back boards to the end boards.

Once the front and back are connected to the end boards, the bottom panel can be slid flushly into place and nailed in accordance with the pilot holes bored in the lower edge of the front and back panels. With the bottom nailed front and back, the ends are then nailed in for additional security.

Finally, the strap hinges are laid out on the underside of the lid. Mark for pilot holes based on the holes in the strap hinge. Bore these holes through the lid first, then mark them on the back board. Taking the strap hinges to the lid, drive nails through the hinge and pilot holes so that the end of the nails protrude from other face of the board. Bend the exposed ends of the nails over and hammer them back into the face of the board. This is called “clenching” and secures the hinges to the lid in a far more robust method than any other alternative. With the hinges secured to the lid, repeat the process mounting the strap hinges to the outside face of the back panel. Clench these to the inside face of the board.

Surprise, the chest is done. There are almost any number of finishes available that will protect the surfaces of these chests. In a later blog post, we’ll get into historically appropriate and modernly convenient finishes to help your new chest survive a few more decades than it will right now.

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