[Medal Chest] The Lid, or, No Tablesaw? No Problem!

*Note to my readers—this is the secret project I’ve mentioned a few times.  It has consumed my shop time since February.  That’s why it’s been so slow on the blog for the last few months.  Now that it has been delivered, I can post the details.*

**Oh yeah, this post actually is the result of 6 days in the workshop—some didn’t have pictures and I didn’t want to bore you with just text, so I put it all together under the title of The Lid**

At last, we come to the critical juncture of the project.  I designed a curved lid, rather like a low treasure chest.  But whether or not I would be able to build said lid was another story.  As a result, I had in the back of my mind an alternate plan: build a flat top lid like Peter Follansbee and use peg and dowel hinges.

But first I had to attempt my original design.  It called for 6 pieces of 3/4″ maple ripped to 2″ wide and 18″ long.  On each piece, to achieve a nice gentle arc no higher than 2″ in the middle of the lid, I had to slice off 2.5° each long edge.

First I had to rip 6 skinny planks.  I drew the lines and set up the 8ft plank on the bench.  Using my Japanese saw, I cross cut the first 18″ section about an inch long for good measure.  Then I set that up with a clamped straight edge and got out the circular saw…which promptly started to bind and burn wood after about 4 inches.  Maybe it was the way I was trying to clamp it—maybe it was the rigid foam insulation I had under it to protect the bench, maybe it was my technique, maybe ti was the saw.  Whatever the cause, I had had enough after 15 minutes of sweating and cursing.

I clamped the 19″ stock in my leg vise and hacked it apart with the trusty old carpenter’s saw I got for free from Menard’s last year.  I love rebates.  And free tools.

About 40 sweaty minutes later I was ready for a beer.  But, I had 6 planks ripped from that soft maple.  Who the hell are they kidding?  That maple is anything but soft!

Thus endeth day one.  So far so good.

The next day, tired and sore from my workout with the maple, I got ready to plane angles using the new WoodRiver plane.  But first, I had to go through and square up every plank from my hacking them out of that 8ft board.

So, I turned on the radio and hitched up the lid planks to the workbench and started planing.  And planing…and planing.  But it was fun.  The WoodRiver jack plane really made short work of that maple.  It was remarkable how easy it was to slide that beast over the wood and leave a glass smooth surface with perfectly perpendicular edges.

It took about an hour to true up all the planks and get them to the correct dimensions.  Here’s part of the mess left behind:IMAG3006

On the third day, I had to start planing the 2.5° angle off each side.  Easy enough.  I drew out the angle on a piece of paper.  Transfered that to the bevel guage, then put that up to the wood and traced the angle on the end.  If I had a tablesaw, it would be a matter of seconds—line up the fence, tilt the blade, run the plank through.   Done.

But alas, a tablesaw is something I (a) don’t have and (b) don’t have the space for.  So I had to look to my handheld table saw—no, not the circular saw.  That already failed.  I’m talking hand planes, baby.  Old school.

I simply put the plank on the bench, nestled up to the planing stop and starting planing at an angle until I got it right.  It took no more than 5 minutes per side, per plank.

At the end of the day, here’s what I had—4 inner planks, angled correctly, starting to form the arch.IMAG3079

I realized I’d have to trim them to length later.  I just wanted to get the arch done first.  That left the front and rear planks.  These were angled up pretty quick.  Then it was time for a test fit.  I taped them all up with painters tape and took the assembled lid over to the box and put it together:IMAG3081

It’s finally starting to look like my design!!!  But, you can see the issue—the front (and rear) lip of the lid is angled too steep and makes the lid look unnatural.  So…I measured out lines on where I needed to trim the first and last planks.  That would make the lid drop and sit flush with the top of the box.

But how to cut this?  The little angles on the sides were nothing—just a mere shaving with the plane.  But now we’re talking about 1/4″ chunk of wood that needs to be removed.  Again…if I had a tablesaw, it’d be no challenge at all.  But, I’m rocking this old school so I turned to the new plane to prove itself yet again.

First, I needed some way to hold the plank.  I couldn’t simply rest it on the bench like I did the first time.  The new angle was too steep and it kept falling over.  So, I took out the chisels and hacked out the right angle I needed to support the plank (and let me plane flat down) out of a 2×4:IMAG3083

Here it is on end, with the mark of where I need to slice to on the plank:IMAG3084

This was about 15 minutes into the planing…after another 15 minutes, I had one plank right at the line:IMAG3085

Smooth as glass and accurate to boot.  I took a break for a drink of water and hit the other plank (thank goodness there were only two…this was quite the workout).  After those two were trimmed, I set up the miter saw and cut all the lid planks to length.  It took only a few minutes and got them all within sanding distance of even.  Then, at the end of the day it was another dry fit:IMAG3087

Success!  That fits much better.  I glued up the planks and called it a day.  To glue them up, I simply opened the tape and kept the planks edges touching.  Spread in the glue, roll them up and wrap in tape—it looked exactly like the picture above.  It’s a trick that I’ve seen on so many websites and in every magazine that I can’t really quote a source.  Here’s one to give you the general idea, from Popular Woodworking.

Next up was the sides of the top.  I planned on using the last of the walnut to extend the sides of the box up to be curved and support the planks of the lid.  Here’s how I did it.  First, I rigged up the scrollsaw and cut rough curves out of the walnut to match the curve of the lid.  I set the lid on end and traced the interior line of the planks on each side panel as well.

Break out the chisels, it’s time to work.  I hacked through half the width of the walnut following the inner template and got this:IMAG3099

This is a progress shot of the left side, halfway done.  You can see the inner lip there—that will support the left end of the lid.  My plan is then to sand the outer lip curve down to be flush with the upper edge of the lid.

When I needed a break (chiseling that much walnut was not easy) I began sanding the lid to make a nice smooth curve.  To do this, I started with the random orbital sander on 100 grit.  After all the sharp edges were off, I hit it with 150 grit.  Then I switch to hand power and used 220 grit sand paper.  When everything was nearly there and I could only just feel the raised edges of the individual planks, I took it to the belt sander.  Polished it by hand again with 220 and then 400 grit sand paper and here’s the result:IMAG3100

Then I put it on the box again to check how it looked:IMAG3094

Getting there…but the box was missing something…

IMAG3097That’s it!  Some very fine mahogany strips (1mm thick by 5mm wide) leftover from my USS Independence model I built in law school.  Mitered with a chisel (lol) and glued with super glue, they made a nice little border around the carving, that really makes it pop.

Okay, back to the lid sides…I got both of them done and sized:IMAG3101

and then glued them up:IMAG3107

Once the glue dried I was able to hit the whole lid with the belt sander, orbital sander and hand sander to get a nice smooth surface.  At this point it felt like my arms were going to fall off and I called the lid a success.


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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