Rail and Stile Blanket Chest

IMG_20180202_201048 (1)This article is about my blanket chest, comprised of rail & stile panels.  This isn’t a step-by-step guide to making one but more of a “reference” article, summarizing techniques, source references, and retrospective thoughts.  I can’t make assumptions about how you work, so I don’t go into great detail about my workflow.

I hope that this article is useful to someone looking to build their own chest or looking for more information on how to execute the types of joints below.  Feel free to email me with any questions.  A Sketchup Drawing is available here.

Full credit for the design goes to Tommy P. of the Shavingwood Workshop.


The chest isn’t much more than four rail & stile panels joined together with a lid and bottom slapped on after.  There are two kinds of wood used: Cherry for the frames and lid breadboard ends with Pine filling used for the panels, lid body, and bottom panel.

A sliding caddy (which could be used to hold pillow cases) rests on the front and back panels.  It is a simple dovetailed box again using Cherry and Pine.

The wood was sourced from Kettle Moraine Hardwoods.


The stick and cope profiles were cut with a round-edge router bit set from Rocker mounted in my router table.  Also done on the router table was the mortise put into the front stiles, I used a slot cutting set from (cough) Harbor Freight.  I used the 1/4″ slot cutter for the mortise making them 3/8″ tall.

The tenons were done first.  I cut them on the table saw with a normal blade and a two-cut approach.  One cut to set the shoulder, and then rotating the board to cut the cheeks.  The tenons are automatically centered this way because you flip the board end-for-end to cut each cheek.  Note that I had to progressively dial in the width of the tenon to get them to fit nicely in a 1/4″ slot.

I then used one of the boards to set the height on the slot cutting bit to get the mortise in the right position so that the face of the side stile was flush with the side of the front stile.

To avoid another ugly join visible on the top rim of the chest, the mortise & tenon connections are stopped about 1″ from the top of the board.  Sadly I had a climb-cutting blowout mishap on one of the back stile mortises, so I left that tenon full-length along the board.  But for the front tenons I used a flush-trim saw to cut them short to fit into the stopped mortises.

Using the stiles as legs for the chest greatly simplifies the construction but it also leaves an ugly slot on the inside of each leg.  I simply plugged up that slot with some cutoffs  from the tenon construction.


The panels for the side frames are about 3/8″ thick; they started as 4/4 lumber resawn in half.  I used my dado stack to thin down their edges to fit into the 1/4″ slots in the frames.  The ledged side faces the inside of the chest, while from the outside you will see one flat surface.

I left the panels for the front and back frames full-thickness, about 1″.  Again they were slimmed down to about 1/4″ around their edges to fit into the rail & stile slots.  But as you can see I cut out much more material on top in order to give the caddy something to rest on.  When the pine panels are inserted into the frame slots, this fat area protrudes past the surface of the frame by about 3/8″.


I did breadboard ends on the lid mostly because of the character they add to the design, not because I was concerned about the lid warping.  The tenon was cut on the table saw using the dado stack while the mortise was cut using a plunge router and 1/4″ spiral upcut bit.

To make the tenon centered I cut it from both sides of the board using the same fence setting.  So it’s a bit wider than 1/4″, and I then snuck up on the tenon width to achieve a good fit.

The 1/2″ oak dowel are from Menard’s.

Lid Hardware

The lid is hinged with a piano hinge and held up with Rockler’s 35 ft-lb lid supports.  To get a flush lid/body fit, the hinge mortises are each half of the hinge’s height.  I measured the width of the hinge barrel, and this number divided by two was about 3/32″.  I then used a 3/32 drill bit to set the plunge depth of my router and routed out that material in each piece.


The bottom was very simple.  It’s a full-thickness (about 1″) glue-up resting on runners.  Using my slot-cutter set, I put in some 5/32″ wide slots in the runners to accept z-clips.  The bottom is a bit more narrow than the inside width of the chest to allow for seasonal movement.


Shellac was used on this project.  The body & lid of the chest used up my can of Zinsler Clear, while the bottom panel and caddy were done with some lemon flakes.  Each was used in about a 2 pound cut ratio.

My process was:

  1. Smooth-plane and scrape to remove machining marks and to flush any offset edges
  2. Random Orbital sand at 220 for an even surface quality
  3. Apply the first coat of shellac
  4. Sand at 320, again with the RO sander
  5. Apply two more coats of shellac.  No sanding in between.
  6. Remove dust nibs and blobs of finish with #000 steel wool
  7. Apply last coat of shellac
  8. Rub out with paste wax and #0000 steel wool

I’m very happy with the appearance and feel of the finish.  It’s super smooth and even, and has a natural shiny matte look.  The pine panels might have gotten one or two extra coats of shellac because of the thirsty, porous nature of that wood.  It seemed to take longer for it to get that consistent, glossy look.

However, the shellac from flakes seemed to “gloss up” faster than the Zinsler, even on the pine.  Maybe because it was fresh?  Maybe it has more solids than the commercial shellac?  Who knows, but I’m happy that I tried out flakes on this project.

On this project I upgraded my brushes per the advice from this article.  I had always used the good Purdy paintbrushes but they still left and uneven, streaky surface with shellac.  So this time I used artist’s flat wash brushes and they worked a lot better.  They have a sharp edge letting you precisely apply the finish and leave an even coat.  And they’re around the same price as Purdy’s brushes, too.  I used these 1.5″ brushes for the wide surfaces and then these smaller ones for edges.


Here are some things I wish had gone better on this project:

  • I did not route the hinge recesses until the frame was fully glued up and finished.  This made the procedure harder because I had to clamp sister boards on either side of the back rail in order to support the router.
  • Poorly-marked parts: Even though I labeled each part in pencil I still managed to swap two parts a few times.  This didn’t have terribly negative consequences but was frustrating nonetheless.  Next time I do a project with so many pieces I’m going to try using colored stickers to indicate mating surfaces.


To give a better look at the project I short a short video going through the chest