Would you like to make a keepsake chest? I’ll walk you through the process of how I made this uniquely themed keepsake chest that I called The Leavenworth.
Building the box
First, you have to have a box. I always build my own wooden boxes for any keepsake chest that I make. There are several different methods to assemble the box, but for this particular keepsake chest I used finger joints on the sides. They are square interlocking fingers that join the corners at a right angles. These give the box strength that cannot be achieved by simple butt joints or 45 degree angled corners. If you’re interested in using another method to build the box, here’s another option that I wrote about. I always test the fit of the joints before I glue everything together, and you can see here how the two sides fit into one another. The top, bottom and sides of the chest are basswood, but I will be using some cedar inside the chest before the project is done.
After applying glue to the necessary places, I carefully clamp the bottom and sides together, and allow the glue to set for 24 hours. When the 24 hours is up, I’ll remove the clamps, inspect the box, and prepare for the next step. I’ll sand the entire box, paying special attention to any unevenness where boards meet and anywhere the glue was pushed out. It takes a lot of sanding to bring the box to a smoothness suitable for carving.
Carving the keepsake chest
Once the sanding is complete the next step is to begin carving. I wanted to make a Keepsake Chest that would be representative of a project I was working on in Leavenworth, Kansas at the time. I was rebuilding from its scattered remains, the only known to exist wooden boxcar from the Kansas Central Railroad (KCR). The KCR was a short lived narrow gage railroad headquartered in Leavenworth and the boxcar is believed to have been built in the 1870s. I did extensive research into the KCR and in the process found this image of one of the steam engines that ran on the early railroad and no doubt pulled the boxcar that I was rebuilding.
I copied the image to make a pattern and then using graphite paper traced the outlines of the image onto the top of the box lid.
Here you can see that the relief carving of the steam engine and corner embellishments is well on it’s way. The lid will be hinged to the back of the box.
I am doing some final sanding to smooth the front of the box in preparation for the chip carving that I will be doing on the front of the chest.
Here I am in the process of chip carving a geometric design on the front of the chest using a special chip carving knife.
Once I am satisfied with the chip carving, the box is at a point where I can apply a few coats of stain. This doesn’t mean I’m finish. I’m just one step closer to the completion of the project.
Inside the keepsake chest
Once the stain has dried I’m ready to start working on the interior of the box. Here you can see I am sawing some aromatic cedar into thin strips which I will use to line the inside of the chest. This will give the chest a nice aroma.
Once the cedar strips are cut and ready, I’ll glue them into place inside the box. Clamps are a fast and easy way of holding the strips while the glue drys.
Once the glue has dried and the cedar lining is secure, I’ll remove the clamps and sand the top of the box sides to remove any excess glue. Next, I’ll gather the hardware that I will be using inside and outside of the box, and measure and mark in preparation for adding the hardware.
This photo gives you a good view of the cedar lining on the bottom and sides of the chest. The cedar is left natural without being coated with a finish to allow the aroma to flow. Here I am attaching clock chain from the box sides to the bottom of the lid. Almost finished.
All of the hardware has now been added to the box. 2 hinges, 4 eye screws, 2 short lengths of clock chain, and a latch on the front of the chest. All hardware is brass or brass plated. Here I’m doing a little touch up work to the stain.
This end view shows the nice look of the finger joints and the contrasting color between the end grain and flat surfaces. Some final touches to the finish and the chest is now complete.
The completed chest
Here’s a look at the finished keepsake chest. All done!
About the Leavenworth
The steam locomotive depicted in this carving, the Leavenworth, is a reproduction of the first engine that was delivered to the newly formed Kanas Central Railroad, based in Leavenworth, Kansas. The locomotive was 35 feet, 4 inches long, including the tender, and weighed 12.5 tons. Built by Baldwin in Philadelphia, the 2-4-0 type locomotive was said to be capable of pulling 12 passenger cars, with 400 passengers at a speed of 40 mph.
The Kansas Central was one of the earliest narrow gauge railroads built in the United States. It originated in the plans of business leaders in Leavenworth, Kansas. Construction of the railroad began in October, 1871 and on December 20th of that year the first engine, the Leavenworth, was delivered.
On February 21, 1872 a large crowd gathered near the center of the city to witness the first demonstration run. The results were reported to be highly satisfactory.
If you have any comments or questions about this keepsake chest, please leave them in the comments section below. If you like this article please share it using the share buttons on this page. We have plenty of other projects in our Workshop, so take a look.
Dick Phillippi says
Very nicely done box. I have a friend who is a train watcher and collector. I’m sure he doesn’t have one of these. What was the dimensions of the pieces of wood for the sides and top ? Thank you.