Build a Blanket Box
The commission was to design a pair of cases to store linens. They were to sit side by side at the foot of a bed, be no wider than the bed width, double as bench seating and match the decor and colour palette of the existing cabinetry. On a budget!
After visiting the space, I got my direction and created my response, which the client was thrilled with. As I was making the boxes I realized a box like this can be easily scaled up or down and used to store linens, toys, games, clothing…almost anything. It can be stationary on feet or mobile with added casters. It can have an added cushion for seating, or left plain for simple storage.
Materials can be left natural or stained then clear-coated or can be painted for added colour. To match my clients’ decor I went with poplar hardwood for the corners and Baltic birch plywood for the panels, finished with three coats of decorative colour. My only other design element was to provide adequate airflow to within, so if a blanket box became a hiding place for a youngster (remember “hide-and-seek”?) they could breathe easily.
A Scrap Helper
A scrap of sanded plywood is perfect for checking dado width. It will also make shaping the relieved corners of the bottom panel easier, as you can determine the correct shape with the scrap, then transfer that shape to the bottom panel.
Salusbury bored a hole in the inside corner of the notch in the bottom, then used a band saw to make the straight cuts. This notch will fit around each leg.
The grooves cut into the inside surfaces of the legs will accept the bottom panel, and are aligned with the grooves in the panels.
Time for Assembly
Assembly happens in stages to make the process simpler and less stressful. Start with bringing a side panel together with two legs, and repeating the same process on the second side. When dry, bring those two assemblies together with the remaining parts and clamp everything together.
The handles were cut before the lid was cut from the base, so accurately locating the handles is important. The front handle straddles the lid and base, while the two side handles are completely in the base.
Flat-bottomed grooves make for an even look once the piece is assembled, and the lid is removed. These are also strong joints that will stand the test of time.
A recess to accept the long piano hinge was cut into the top of the back, and underside of the top. You can see the applied solid wood moulding on the inside of the cabinet in this photo. This piece provides material to support the piano hinge screws.
Top Trim Pieces
Three trim pieces were cut and installed around the perimeter of the top, completing the look and providing assistance to keep a cushion in place.
With the piano hinge properly installed you will need to attached a bumper of the same thickness as the hinge to the underside of the front corners of the lid.
There are a few types of lid stays available for purchase that will hold the lid in place when in the open position.
By keeping construction simple, based on dado joinery and sound adhesion, accuracy and precision can become the focus as parts are crafted and assembled. The method is just like making a small box; assemble the case, cut the lid portion off, add the details, finish the box inside and out and apply the hardware.
Outside dimensions of each case are 30” wide, 22” tall and 18” deep. Each leg is from stock milled 1-1/2” square and the Baltic ply stock is just under 1/2” (nominal 12mm) in thickness. From these dimensions, all other sizing can be calculated.
I milled all dados with a 3/8” bit in a table-mounted router, taking multiple passes to achieve crisp depths, followed by adjusting the fence to craft a snug fit for the panel stock. As all parts are multiples, a setup can be repeated for each dado in all parts. I find a Vernier caliper indispensable for measuring plywood thickness, as well as dado width and depth. It’s also a good idea to use an off-cut of the plywood stock being used, sanded just as the project stock will be, to get an accurate fit of the stock within the dados; test fitting unsanded stock as I adjust for final dado width is like squeezing a size 10 foot in a size 9-1/2 boot; I can force it to fit, but “ouch”.
From my experience, for the precise fit that glue prefers, it wants to be snug but not tight when the parts are mated under firm hand/arm pressure. Clamps should only be necessary to draw the assemblies to seat fully over the final millimeter of depth and to hold the assembly as the glue cures.
So now that we know the direction we’re heading in it’s time to mill the leg stock and cut it to final length, followed by routing dados in it. I also chamfered the inner corner of each leg to make the box friendlier inside; the chamfer was shaped after routing the dados, maximizing the working surface and stability during dadoing.
I prefer routing over using a dado set on a table saw; the joinery will be fully exposed when the lid is opened and saw-blade dado sets are notorious for producing uneven surfaces at the bottom of the joint.
All the dados are stopped at the lower ends, so a stop-block gets clamped to the router table fence. I find ripping the long dados first makes crosscutting the short dados easier by providing a void behind the cut.
The dados that accept the top and bottom are the same, short of the fact that the dados for the bottom will be cut well in from the bottom end of the legs. The top dados will be machined at the top ends of the legs.
Panels are next
Once I routed the joints and squared up the stopped dado ends with a chisel, I took an accurate measurement of the dado depths so final panel widths can be determined for exacting overall project width and depth. If the joints are routed exactly they should match the project drawings and calculations. If not, by final sizing the panels after the corner joinery is machined I’ve left myself an easy “just-in-case” fix.
With the panels cut to final size, I refined the corners of the bottom and top panels to fit around the legs inside the dado, sanded the panels to P220 grit and eased the edges so they shoehorn into their respective dados firmly, yet effortlessly. The joints at the four corners of the top are not going to fit perfectly, but the three top trim pieces will eventually cover up any gaps that are visible.
Rabbets in the top edges of the two side panels, one front panel and one back panel now need to be cut to accept the top panel. These rabbets are cut the same width as the top panel is thick, and to a depth of half the thickness of the side, front and back panels.
After dry fitting the assembly and making the inevitable little tweaks, it’s time for glue-up.
I located and shaped the hand holds in the case using a hand-held router with a router template I made while the case was curing; end handles for lifting the box and one up front to raise the lid. Alternately, hardware handles could be applied later to suit the application and decor. Regardless, accurate location of the cut separating the box lid from the box base needs to be determined at this point.
Glue it up
To assemble the box, I begin by lightly sanding all parts to remove any fuzz and gently ease all edges so the panels will slip unimpeded into the dados then dry-assembling to make sure of fit and alignment. Next, this time with glue, sides get joined to legs first. I align the dados by inserting a scrap plywood block within the joint as the parts come together. Once dry, these subassemblies are united with the back panel, top, bottom and front panel. Band clamps can be useful here to surround the assembly while checking for squareness and any other unexpected surprises.
Working steadily, it’s time to stand the case on its feet on a known level surface and apply clamps, checking for squareness all the while, making adjustments if required. If the millwork, joinery and panel dimensioning were cut exactly, the assembly should self-square perfectly.
Remove the lid
Next, having set the saw’s fence firmly, I separated the lid from the box at the table saw with a “fine finishing”, “thin kerf” blade raised just enough to cut the legs halfway through in one pass. I cut the ends first and secured a filler strip within the kerfs to hold the gap when making the next cuts. Now raising the saw blade so it will cut through the legs fully, I carefully made my cuts through the front and back surfaces, leaving a clean surface at each corner. Alternately, if there’s any concern about the lid and box shifting during the last cut, by sawing only halfway through the legs during all cuts, a stub would be left at each corner, supporting the lid, which can be cut free then planed/sanded flat after the lid is apart from the box.
Sanding, finishing and hardware
With the lid and box now separated I added a hinge support strip to the inside of the box, that was glued to the top of the back panel. This gave the hinge screws more meat to bite into.
Next, I planned for the long recess to accept the piano hinge. I used a flat-bottom mortising bit in my trim router, and with the help of an edge guide, and a pair of stop blocks to limit router travel, I machined the recess. I referenced off the back of the blanket box, but had to temporarily install a filler strip between the two back legs with double sided tape to create an even surface for the edge guide to run on. Once the piano hinge was installed it became obvious the back, outside edges of the legs needed to be chamfered so the lid could open properly.
It was now time to sand smooth all the cut surfaces, ease all edges, do any rounding and shaping to routed handles/lifts and prepare to finish the parts overall. It’s at this stage that I added the low moulding on the rear and sides of the lid to register a seat cushion to be added after delivery.
I finished the interior of these blanket boxes with a waterborne alkyd varnish. Once dry, I applied three coats of durable Benjamin Moore “Advance” waterborne alkyd to the exterior surfaces. A clear coat, or a stain then clear coat, would also work very nicely with this project. The choice is only determined by personal preference.
Hardware and hinges were applied once the finish fully cured. Here I used a piano hinge at the rear of the box/lid and bumpers of the same thickness as the hinge, where the lid contacts the front legs to maintain the gap between the elements. I also added a friction lid support to hold the lid open when needed. Lastly, glides were installed on the bottom of the legs to ease movement and provide visual lift for the completed boxes.
Side-by-side they offer comfortable seating and generous storage at the foot of a bed; one day they’ll become heirlooms for another generation.