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
I've been thinking about cocobolo, bocote and bloodwood (what better a
wood for a pirate chest?) with either ebony or African blackwood as
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
Here's one of mine
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
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
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
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!
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.
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
Teak might be another choice but staining it darker would be a sin.
Mohagany is also a possibility.
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.
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....
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
Thanks again to everyone for the advice and input - crash
For those who stumble across this thread, I found some interesting
information on "wood profiles" here:
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