Mark’s Steamer Trunk

Viewer Project - By Mark van Koersveld from Cape Town, South Africa
Added on September 4, 2013

A novice when it comes to carpentry, this is my first large scale project. I was fortunate to grow up with a father who was a self-taught hobbyist. He liked to call himself MacGyver! He always managed to make a tool or jig to make his life easier and to save a few bucks. Sadly, growing up I never showed much interest in woodworking. By the time I got involved in DIY projects, my father had long since passed away. He had sold pretty much all of the bigger machines but he did leave his smaller hand power tools. Thanks to him, I’ve never been afraid of getting my hands dirty and getting involved when I needed to. I have finally found myself back in the workshop.

Prior to starting this project, I was trying to decide on a wedding gift for a mate and his wife. They had the usual gift registry, but I didn’t see anything I would actually want to give them. About this same time I had found The Wood Whisperer and came across the steamer trunk project. So I decided to build one thinking it wouldn’t be too tough since I had watched the videos and thought it simple enough. (Insert evil laugh here, dear reader.) Little did I know how tough it would actually be.

I used reclaimed wood from old train cabins that my grandfather had save in the 70’s when they were updating them. It was all Mahogany or Teak and I used it for the framework. For the paneling I used 4 mm thick pine ply. Initially I was concerned the two would not work well together but it was all I had. Fortunately, the contrast between the two gave a lovely finish. Not finding hardware that I liked, I ended up making it out of 1 mm brass plate. For the center piece, I drew on graph paper and then cut out of 3 mm thick brass plate. Let me tell you, hand fret saw work is not as easy as it looks.

I was working with an old Rockwell Delta Hobby table saw I had picked up cheap because it was not running. Turned out to be a loose wire on the start capacitor. Setting this little guy up was a mission because everything was worn from years of use. It gave me some problems but I figured it out. Once the planks were cut to length and width, I had to thin them down by a couple of mm. Not having machinery like a thicknesser to do this, I needed to find another way. Once again I hit the forums and online tutorials and found a way to use my spare router to get the job done. It’s in one of Marc’s videos when he was leveling out the workbench top he made. It works on a similar principal but rather than moving the bed and the router, you end up just having to clamp down your planks in the jig and then move the router freely above it and you can set how much you want to take off with how far your router allows. This worked really well. (Thanks Marc for the tip.) Once the planks were the same thickness, I could start getting the framework together, or so I thought. This was my next roadblock. I didn’t have the tools to make the joints I wanted. So yeah you guessed it, back to the internet. I soon found a way to do loose mortise and tenon joints once again using my spare router. Who would have thought a router could be so versatile. The jig basically allows you to do the vertical and horizontal mortises using the router. Once I made the jig I could set the depth on my router, set the width as well as centering or offsetting the mortise. The tenon which is almost like a rather thick biscuit, was made by cutting a length of timber which was the correct thickness for the mortise to the correct width. Then using a 1/4 round bit, I took off the edges so that it fit snugly into the mortise. I did this on my router table. Now all that was left to do was cut the tenon to fit, put the grooves in for the panels and then I was ready to put the framework together. The gluing process was fun because I only had enough clamps to do one at a time.

I finished up bending the brass I had cut for the edges and then it was time to get the base glued up. Again a challenge without sufficient clamps, but I managed to get it together. It is not 100% square and if you look closely you will see all the little irregularities. For the finish I used Woodoc No10 which is an indoor polywax sealer, applied with a sponge. It gave a velvety look which I really like.

I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this build. Even those days when I thought I had hit a serious snag, there was always someone out there who was willing to pass on a bit of advice. And I am happy to say that my mate and his wife were super stoked!

I would like to thank Marc for a great site! I’m sure I would still be busy with this trunk if I had not had access to the amount of information that is so readily available here. I hope you all enjoyed this novice sharing a bit of his learning curve into the wonderful world of carpentry. I look forward to the journey of discovery that lies ahead!