Blanket Chests: A Celebration of a higher level of craftsmanship
by J. Norman Reid
I'm always up for a good read, especially when it concerns woodworking, and in this beautifully-illustrated book Gibson and Turner have given us not just a good read but a great one. Edited and produced with care,
is at once a celebration of some very fine examples of this traditional form, an instructional guide to blanket chest construction and an inspiration to higher levels of craftsmanship.
The book opens with 22 pages of succinct but competent discussion of critical techniques for chest construction. Well-illustrated with step-by-step photos, Gibson and Turner review cutting mortises and tenons, frame and panel construction, breadboard ends, through and half-blind dovetails, double-lap dovetail joints, mitered corners, mortise hinges and half-mortise locks. The section concludes with a discussion of wood movement that includes a table of movement coefficients for a number of species as well as maps showing regional and seasonal humidity levels.
The bulk of the book is devoted to a presentation of 30 chests in an amazing variety of styles and materials. The chests range from the simple, such as John McAlevey's frame and panel chest of walnut with gently flared legs, to the ornate; Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez' Peruvian walnut wedding chest, with excavations, inlays of purpleheart, ebony and German silver and intricate molding evokes a Moorish motif.
Included also are traditional designs, such as Austin Matheson’s mahogany Bermuda chest, which recaptures a style unique to Bermuda that was developed in the 17th century and remained popular until the 19th century. Or Charles Durfee's single-drawer chest of curly cherry, shown on the book's cover, built with a single-board front and employing clean, Shaker-like lines.
A number of pieces reflect highly innovative and imaginative designs that might be loosely grouped under the rubric "modern." Laura Mays' chest of Irish sycamore employs through-dovetail corners and a case topped by a concave lid and is reminiscent of James Krenov's influence. Richard Vaughan's blanket chest of Tasmanian myrtle and Huon pine incorporates curved folds on the lid and sides that replicate the folds of blankets lying flat on the top or draped over the sides. Carol Bass' whimsical chest of hard maple with a blue-green wash employs an angular lid and is contrasted by pairs of stacked spheres that serve as legs.
This is no ordinary display book. Complementing the introductory review of critical chest-building skills are discussions of specialized techniques used in building the chests, such as how Mitch Ryerson made the rope beckets he used for handles on his sea chest.
Once I began this book I could hardly put it down. Anyone with an eye for fine furniture and innovative design will find it a delight. And furniture-builders with a yen to design and build their own masterpiece blanket chests will find plenty here to jumpstart the process.
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The author is a woodworker, writer and photographer living in Delaplane, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, four cats and a woodshop full of power and hand tools.
He can be reached by email at