I've always liked the look of the antique coffers which you see, but they're old. I wanted to make a new one, but constructing the framework to hold floating panels, and then carving the panels looked like an awful lot of work.
There was some spare synthetic suede upholstery fabric in storage, so I decided to make a blanket chest which had upholstered, rather than carved panels. They would provide enough visual interest to distract from the plain woodwork, and would also excuse a big (comfy) cushion on the lid. The chest is big enough for a medium-sized person to lounge on, and also stores pretty much all the out-of-season bedding which used to clutter up the wardrobe.
Step 1: Cut the Sides and Cut Out the Panels
Decide on the size you're going to want for the chest. I wanted it to hold a queen-size quilt, but that was wider than the wood I had, so it was sized for "queen-size divided by two."
Cut ply for the required depth of the chest, and then cut two ends and two long sides.
I decided on three panels on the long sides and a single panel on each of the ends.
Mark where the edges of the panels are going to be and use a circular saw to cut the straight lines. Since the saw cuts with a circular blade, the cut will be longer on the upper surface than on the lower. Since the edges of the cut-out areas will be very visible on the finished piece, do NOT join up the cuts with associated risk of overcutting.
I ran the circular saw up to a fraction before the corner, which meant that the underside of the cut did not meet by some margin.
Also, if you cover the cut line on the underside with a strip of masking tape it will give you a cleaner cut.
Once all the cuts had been made with the circular saw, a jigsaw was used to remove the last bits in the corners. Take care with this step because the corners do attract the eye in the finished piece.
The first picture shows the four sides of the chest held together with clamps just to get a shot of what the pieces look like.
Step 2: Assemble Sides and Base
The four pieces for the sides of the chest were glued and screwed together.
The legs are going to be applied to the outside of the corners, so there was no need to hide exposed edges nor screw heads.
Once the glue had cured, a thin strip of scrap timber was glued and screwed to the inside of the bottom of the chest to support the base.
Since the pieces of ply had bowed while in storage, some expansion and distortion was applied while fixing these strips so that everything ended up straight.
Once that lot of glue had cured, the sides relaxed to pretty close to straight and the bottom panel was fixed to the strip using screws driven up from underneath.
Step 3: Make and Fit Lip to Top
The plywood used for the chest had bowed quite a bit, so to keep it in line, and to give s better look to the chest, a solid lip was put around the top.
Using 2x2 (50mm square) timber a square slot was routed off-centre. The location was chosen so that the thickness of timber left on the outside of the lip would be the same as the planed timber which was to be used for the legs.
The groove was routed along all the wood, then 45 degree cuts were made for the corners.
The pieces of lip were fitted to the edges of the top of the chest base using glue and screws. The screws were counterbored and later the holes were filled with plugs cut from some scrap.
The dutch windlass used to straighten the ends while the glue cured was sadly necessary, but the finished result is pretty straight.
Step 4: Making Lining
The upholstered panels in the sides are going to be mounted on plywood. This will hold them in alignment for the holes and provide a smooth surface for the contents.
Some pretty low quality ply which at least had one smooth face was chopped up to size.
Once it had been cleaned, dried and sanded, it was given one coat of a primer/undercoat and three coats of gloss.
Step 5: Making and Fitting Legs
The legs were made from two pieces of 4x1 (100x25mm).
One of the pieces was ripped down to about three inches (75mm) to give a better proportion on the side of the chest. The offcut from this was used in the lid.
The two pieces were glued in an L-shape. Since there are no fasteners involved in this bit, a perfect surface and strong pressure was used to optimise the strength of the glue bond.
Once the glue had cured, a quarter-round router bit was used to put a radius on the three angles of the legs which would be external once fitted.
Then the legs were sanded smooth and cut to length.
The legs were glued to the carcass, and were also attached with screws driven from the inside of the chest.
Step 6: Finishing the Lip
With the lip now holding the sides of the chest pretty straight, it was time to finish it off.
A quarter-round router-bit with a ball-bearing was used to round off the top of the lip.
Where the top edges of the pieces at the corners didn't quite meet, a circular saw was run along the line, and then a thin sliver of hardwood was glued into the slot.
Once the glue had cured, this was cut off, planed and sanded flush.
Step 7: Making the Lid
The lid is made of a piece of ply with a couple of strips of timber round the edge:- one fixed to the underside of the lid to provide support and anchorage for thin piece on the outside which provides some visual weight.
The pieces on the underside of the lid were glued and screwed in place, with screws being driven down through the lid. The screw heads were not concealed as the cushion which covers the lid would hide them.
The vertical piece around the edge was glued and screwed in place, with counterbored screws being driven in from the back. Once they were in place, wooden plugs were cut, glued in place, planed down and sanded as was done earlier for the lip.
Since the plywood had sagged while being stored, the second picture shows how it was deformed past straight while the underside strip was fixed. Once the glue had cured and the pressure was removed, the lid relaxed to pretty close to dead flat.
The gaps in the corners of the lid were treated to a fillet of hardwood the same as the corners of the lip had been earlier.
Step 8: Making the Cushion Panels
The cushion panels are made of cheap (even cheaper) plywood, with foam and then a synthetic suede cloth.
For the panels on the sides of the chest, use the pieces which were cut out of the sides as the saw kerf is just about perfect to fit in a couple of layers of cloth. For the lid, a piece of ply was cut to be about 3mm (1/8 inch) smaller than the space inside the edge of the lid.
To avoid having to sew a seam up every corner, use a saw to make an angled cut at 45 degrees into the corner of the baseboard. This should be made at a slope of about 45 degrees, so if a circular saw is used (as here) then the result is pretty good. The photograph of the cut shows the upper surface of the board, which will be in contact with the foam padding and which is only just touched by the cut. The other surface of the board has most of the cut in it.
On a solid flat surface, lay the covering fabric, (I also included a layer of quilted material), the foam and the baseboard with the angled cuts facing away from the fabric.
Use some spacers, cauls and clamps to crush the foam to as thin as it goes. This will allow the stapling of the fabric to be done without stress on the fabric.
Once the fabric is stapled along the edge, it's time to do the neat trick with the corners. Fold the fabric outwards at the corner, and then using a smooth metal edge, press it backwards into the groove cut in the wood. This gives a kind of butterfly fold to the fabric. When this is stapled flat, the corner appears perfect from the viewing side, but there was no need to sew.
Trim off any scrap fabric and then fix a very thin piece of scrap ply to the board, which will allow the board to be fixed to (and removed from) the piece of furniture without fouling on the fabric edge.
Step 9: Finishing and Lessons Learned
A groove was routed into the front of the lip to allow an easy grip for lifting the lid.
There were a number of tiny crevices in the corners of the lid which weren't adequately dealt with by the hardwood fillets, so they were filled with a woodfiller which was left to dry and sanded smooth.
The whole chest was sanded down with paper from 80 to 150 grit and then three coats of a dark stain and varnish were applied, sanding between them.
Finally a pair of hinges were screwed to the lip and the lid and the upholstered panels were mounted.
Relevant things I learned
Don't store cut pieces of cheap ply vertically, they will bend
Don't waste time doing nice hardwood inlays when the dark woodstain will completely hide the result.
Make sure you can carry the finished piece out of the workshop, otherwise you'll have to kidnap a passing neighbour and get them to help you.
Those corner cuts are awesome for making the upholstered panels. I've not seen that before and I am very pleased with how easy it made the process.
Runner Up in the
Furniture Contest 2017