Seeking advice on exotic woods for a special project


When I was young my Grandfather built me a small treasure chest. It wasn't anything really special, but for a boy dreaming of being a pirate, it was a prize possession. I now have 2 young sons and want to build each of them an heirloom quality pirate's chest.
I have spent a lot of time on design down to the last detail - like: size (13" high and deep, 20" long), a false bottom with a hidden release, a hidden document compartment, etc.
So, here's my question: What wood(s) should I choose?
I want it to be beautiful, a llittle exotic, heavy, strong and durable. Dark and authentic looking. I want to use no metal fasteners and will have a local blacksmith hand wrought the handles, hinges and clasp.
I also should say that I am not a very experienced wood worker. Have been building my skills on projects mostly of pine, poplar and oak. So, I need a wood that isn't too difficult to work. Cost is not a material issue.
I've been thinking about cocobolo, bocote and bloodwood (what better a wood for a pirate chest?) with either ebony or African blackwood as accents.
I've seen threads discussing problems with finishing, making clean joints, gluing, etc. and don't want to screw this up. I would really appreciate any guidance, advice and opinions you more experienced woodworkers can provide.
Many thanks - Crash
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Here's one of mine http://codesmiths.com/shed/things/boxes/purple_peril /

I'd probably use something fairly simple, like a pine, although a _good_ pine. Hereabouts I can get nice recycled pitch pine flooring that's dense and fine grained. Trying to find anything comparable as new timber is difficult.
The simple thing about kids' toys is that they just don't notice the timber. If they notice anything, it's the ring patterns in ash or something very obvious like that. I _wouldn't_ use an exotic, because most exotics are dark and somewhat featureless - something lighter and non-tropical is likely to have more visible texture to it.
I'd also make a fairly simple wooden carcase for it and put much more of the effort into the ironwork. That's the bit that small boys will notice.
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On Wed, 23 Nov 2005 11:06:05 +0000, Andy Dingley

I agree with this, but I suggest dark walnut, which for no good reason seems like it would be more authentic to me. (What would those old chests have been made out of?) Quartersawn Oak with nice rays would look really cool too.
For something a little fancier, you could use a curly maple, and really show off some grain. I think the exotic woods will not really have a chance to show themselves in the chest. (Once again, agreeing with the above.)
The old chest we have here is made entirely of Koa, even the bottom and inside supports. I figure there to be 30 board feet of vintage old-growth koa in that stucker, and, though it's well worn and was left in an outside patio for water damage, it's still beautiful. The thing is, it's made of what was not an exotic wood for the maker at the time (80 years ago or so, in Honolulu) and it's just the one wood with some brass fittings on it and some deent dovetailing. It was probably cheap at the time, and just sturdy, but now it's a beautiful vintage piece made of exotic wood!
I guess I'm rambling here, but let's look at this from several perspectives...
1) Your sons receive their chests, and proceed to enjoy the heck out of them. They play, hide things, drop them, ram other toys into them, and generally use them. Pieces break off, and chunks of wood are occasionally dug out. At some point, one of them tries out a new sharpie marker on the lid. At another point, a collection of something that shouldn't be collected (such as chicken bones) rots and makes a terrible stench. Will it matter then what kind of wood you used? Will the type of wood have made a difference?
2) 50 years from now, your sons are digging through their garages/attics, and find the chests. They look at the chest, and have fond memories. They then marvel at the craftsmanship, and realize that you made the box for them. Include whatever emotions you wish here.
Neither one seems really predicated on the wood. I don't look at the things my grandfather made and say "nice wood", but rather "It's so cool that he made that!"
Get a pretty wood, and build them tough and water-proof. Make them fun. And hope that they get completely thrashed from enjoyment!!
Rambling thoughts off. I hope something was useful!
Mark
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Andy Dingley wrote:

Very nice work!
-John in NH
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How about going to a decent supplier and browsing around and see what strikes your fancy? You could get inspired by a particular piece and then build around it.
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My suggestion is to build three chests. Every project I've done can usually be done better the second time around. I'd build the first in pine to find out just how it should be done and not cry about screwing up a $100 piece of wood. It will also help with setups.
As for the "best" wood, that is such a matter of opinion I cannot recommend anything aside from browsing at the local wood supplier.
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I would go with White Oak, Quartersawn or not. It is a good heavy wood, easy to work with and water resistant. Many old english ships were built of the stuff so likely many chests too. It stains up dark real well and can turn blackish if left outside to weather a bit. You could even make it from rough sawn timbers and that would be an even better look.
Teak might be another choice but staining it darker would be a sin. Mohagany is also a possibility.
BW
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wrote:

Given the predominance of oak for all English furniture up to the end of the 18th century, it was used surprisingly little for portable chests. It was used for small cases, such as clock cases, but its density made it less favoured for larger pieces. Static chests were almost always of oak, but those for travelling usually weren't.
Top quality pieces were covered in leather or oilcloth and these were generally of beech. This timber wouldn't have lasted well unless protected from the weather. Other high-end chests in the 17th century were Italian-made cypress, often decorated.
Where a chest needed to be strong, such as the well-known "armada chests" then they were usually of oak. It's notable that almost all the iron-strapped portable chests were of oak, and most of the oak chests were iron-bound - where the weight of oak wasn't a problem, then it was used. It's likely that elm was also used in these cases, but owing to its poor beetle resistance they haven't survived as commonly.
Surprisingly (to me anyway) walnut was also used. This period pre-dates the main "age of walnut" and although the timber was becoming more common, it wasn't yet being bought-up wholesale by the furniture trade.
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snip
Walnut may have been relatively cheap if it wasn't in common furniture use at the time. And it is reasonably durable, so that was probably considered.
--
Charlie Self
Writer/Photographer
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Crash,
Since the exotic woods can be a bear to work with and to finish, not to mention their cost and considering - you will make mistakes, I would be inclined to make them out of white oak and trim with walnut for contrast. A pirates chest http://codesmiths.com/shed/things/boxes/sarah/ can be plain or as exotic as you want to make it. Make these out of the tough old oak, let them use them and beat them up while you now make the heirloom chests you want to make for them.
After you've made them, tuck them away until they're old enough to realize what they represent and that they are a real - pirates treasure - to be relished for the rest of their lives. Besides, you'll know what in the hell you're doing by the time you build the first two. And after a month, all those tiny "embellishments" you added to the first two chests will not be noticeable for all the other dings and scratches and wear marks a Pirates chest is sure to receive....
Bob S.
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Thanks to everyone. I had been planning on building a 'throw-away' from inexpensive pine - but now think I'll build more than one. A throw-away, just to test the design and measurements, then a less-expensive durable one or two out of red oak or the like - where chicken bones and sharpies won't matter - and hope they get trashed.
I like the idea and historical accuracy of oak and contrasting walnut and appreciate Andy's advice on the iron work. (very cool pictures). The rough sawn idea is cool too. For the final product though, I guess I'm still undecided. I think I'll build the first two then order some samples, see what inspires me and then try working with them a little before deciding.
Thanks again to everyone for the advice and input - crash
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For those who stumble across this thread, I found some interesting information on "wood profiles" here:
http://www.woodmagazine.com/wood/category.jhtml?categoryid=/templatedata/wood/category/data/Wood_Magazine_Wood_Profiles.xml
- crash
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