Wood-sample collection chest, part 1—The importance of prototypes


Over a year ago, a friend and I began collaborating on ideas for a chest in which she could proudly house her wood-sample collection.  Barb, a turner, is working out plans for a tool storage cabinet similar to the Shaker stepback built and detailed by Megan Fitzpatrick from Popular Woodworking Magazine in the February 2009 issue.There will be one difference though: Barb wants the doors to swing open onto a view of her wood-collection chest that will be centrally located within the cabinet. She intends the chest to be the focal point of the interior.

The journey of this build began with an idea and a sample drawing. One evening, Barb and I added a lot of detail to her sketch over dinner at a local restaurant. We envisioned an Art Nouveau-styled carved mahogany chest with a slanted lid, tiered storage,  and a secret compartment.

I embarked on carving out a rough design in Honduran mahogany to see if it met with Barb’s approval (it did) and started making a structural prototype out of poplar with our ideas in mind, but reality showed what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate into feasibility. In fact, what looked good on paper didn’t work at all. The sides and bottom needed to be thicker to hold the weight and accommodate the carving. The slant-cut lid we imagined would have necessitated cutting the box open through the middle of the carving, so we decided on a drop-front. The secret compartment had to go, as there was no room for it in the completed 19″ x 12″ by 8″ piece. The only things that would work were the use of mitered full-blind dovetails and the alder interior lining.

Sample carving

Sample Carving





Mitered full-blind dovetails

Mitered full-blind dovetails





Mitered full-blind dovetails









I finished the prototype with a home-mixed mahogany dye over a golden amber wash – a wash that nicely blended the sapwood and heartwood—and   made some quickly executed plywood dividers.  I went about it quite sloppily as I was eager to move on with the project, but Barb now has a second box to hold the overflow of her wood collection.



Prototype – alder liner







Wood Samples – photo by Barb Siddiqui

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2 Responses to Wood-sample collection chest, part 1—The importance of prototypes

  1. hbm-la says:

    With all the craze over exposed dovetails in the last few years, I was really questioning my memory of fully blind ones. There is class without exposing Halloween zombies and toothy pumpkins! Thankyou!

  2. You’re welcome. In truth, the full blind dovetails are easier to make than those that are exposed. One doesn’t have to be quite so finicky about how they will look.

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