Full Chisel Blog

July 13, 2010

Sea Chest

I have wanted to make one of these for some time now and at last I have an order to build one.  I may have to make two as I like the design.  The sailor’s sea chest was his seat, table, tool box, strong box, food locker and the only place on board that was uniquely his.

I will be making it from pine, dovetailed at the corners.  The top and bottom moldings will be attached with glue and nails, the hinges are simple offset strap hinges secured to the inside with rivets or clinched nails, the lock will be a double lug half mortise lock with a self escutcheon.  The box will be painted blue with Prussian blue oil based paint, not as bright as the drawing and interior decoration to be provided by the new owner(s) as will the beckets [the rope work handles].

The side handles are attached to the box with long clinch nails and the rope work ‘beckets’ will be done up through the round holes provided.  Some of these are quite simple and some are incredibly complex, occupying many hours of work during long voyages.

The chest is 31 1/2″ wide on the bottom, 28″ wide at the top; 24″ deep at the bottom, 16″ at the top and 18″ high.  These are approximate sizes, pending approval of the sailor that placed the order.  I got the design and dimensions from a photograph and it was difficult to scale, but I think I got the measurements close to the original.



  1. Stephen… I have one of these made of butternut. The top is a solid plank with a flat bottom and the top of the plank is slightly crowned to allow water to run off.

    Comment by Gary Roberts — July 14, 2010 @ 12:10 am

  2. Nice project! I’ve had one of these on my round tuit list for awhile myself. Someday I’ll get tuit.

    Comment by Bob Rozaieski — July 14, 2010 @ 5:51 am

  3. Don’t forget that there is one in one of Roy Underhill’s books to for comparison.

    Comment by David — July 14, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  4. I’ve been tempted to make one of those, but the angled sides scare me. I’m working up to that in terms of skill.

    Comment by Badger — July 15, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  5. what would it cost me to have you make one of these for me, and more importantly, how long would it take to get it from you?

    Comment by Brian M — July 15, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  6. Also very similar to one depicted in Hervey Garrett Smith’s “The Marlinspike Sailor”. It is my goal to build one before the end of the year. That being said, this has been my goal since I first set eyes upon the design many, many years ago.

    Comment by raj — July 23, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

  7. raj,

    I have his other book, I need to get a copy of ‘The Marlinspike Sailor’.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — July 24, 2010 @ 5:35 am

  8. The Ashley Book of Knots (1944 edition) has a very nice frontispiece of seachests and beckets. Some of the old chests were angled and dovetailed, but many, apparently, were not.

    Comment by P.M. Leenhouts — July 27, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  9. PM,

    I do have a latter edition of Ashley’s Book of Knots but I have lent it out to a friend, I will have to get it back to look at the chests. I plan on using the book to tie the beckets for my chest.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — July 28, 2010 @ 5:48 am

  10. I borrowed a copy of the Marlinspike Sailor as well as some other nautical books to study.


    Could you possibly scan the frontispiece in your edition and send it to me. My copy does not have that.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — August 1, 2010 @ 9:43 am

  11. I have made some replicas, using 3 1/2 pine, biscuited together. Floor and lid are 1X8, also biscuited. The floor is bamboo-pinned on all four sides as well as glued. I did the last two tumbledown. A till is left-side. I have added my own idea of a lid prop. It has a swivel on the lid end to allow for the different lengths, folding down to level. It is all wood, using dowels for axles. I am not proficient at dovetailing, so each course is alternated so that the corners are overlapped. The lid is lapped all four sides. I planed the wood to 1/2, except for the floor which is 5/8, to cut down on weight. The most recent is 28 X 20 X 17-1/2. Also not versed in beckets so made wood side handles using 1″ dowels. Beckets are my next attempt. Dovetails will follow. Everyone who has seen these (five so far) likes them. One was bamboo flooring – that went to my brother-in-law. The biggest was 28 wide and made to a friend’s specs. His son made beckets for him. I love woodwork and especially these chests. – Bryan in Delaware

    Comment by M Bryan Rice — August 27, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

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