Pennsylvania Spice Box Plan
Small chest is a craftsman’s showcase
Synopsis: Steve Latta designed this spice box to commemorate his 10th wedding anniversary. Fitted with banks of small drawers and a two hidden compartments, it features a dovetailed case with an inlaid frame-and-panel door that can be personalized, as Latta did, to mark a special occasion. The box is small enough to fit comfortably atop a dresser or sideboard, but don’t let the small size fool you. This piece contains a wealth of craftsmanship.
When I decided to build a piece for my wife and I, to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, I had two important goals. I wanted it to be on an intimate scale— something smaller than a sideboard or dining table—and I wanted a piece that could be personalized.
This spice box seemed a perfect fit. It’s compact enough to sit on a dresser or in an alcove, and it’s great for storing jewelry and small treasures of all kinds. And, as on many original spice boxes, the inlaid decoration allowed me to personalize the box and commemorate the occasion.
Because Elizabeth and I are Quakers living in Chester County, Pa., I was drawn to the history of the spice-box form. This design is typical of those popular among Pennsylvania Quakers throughout the 18th century. Fitted with banks of small drawers and often hidden compartments, they were displayed as symbols of prosperity. The cases typically were made of walnut, the doors or central drawers veneered or inlaid with combinations of maple, boxwood, holly, cherry, walnut burl, locust, and red cedar. A finished spice box is small, but it contains a wealth of craftsmanship.
Start with the case joinery
The case is dovetailed, and the various rabbets and notches for the door and the back complicate the joinery a little. Lay out and cut the dovetails (but not the pins yet), keeping in mind all those insets and rabbets. Next, mount a 1/2-in. or 3/4-in. straight bit in a handheld router and “bury” the bit in a fence clamped to the base. Set the router to cut a rabbet that is 3/8 in. deep by 1/2 in. wide, and use this setup to rabbet the rear, interior edges of both case sides. These rabbets will receive the back.
For the front of the case, you now need to cut a stopped rabbet on the interior of the left side. When closed, the lock side of the door will fill this recess, which should be 1⁄4 in. deep by 13⁄16 in. wide. Adjust your fence and bit depth, then cut the rabbet, stopping 21⁄16 in. from the top. Don’t square the rounded end of the rabbet just yet. The squared end should be trimmed flush with the bottom of the false top, so wait until you’ve fitted the false top before taking this step. On the hinge side, the door sits in a notch 13⁄16 in. deep that stops 21⁄16 in. from the top.
The next step with the router is to rabbet the dovetails. Reset the router fence to cut the length of the tails. For both pieces, be sure to rabbet only the dovetails, not the notches in front and back.
From Fine Woodworking #196
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