Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Americana - Sugar Chests

While searching for a wedding chest idea, I came across a bit of Americana.  For early Americans, sugar and coffee were expensive and hard to come by commodities. As such required a special place for storage.  Used primarily in the middle southern states from 1790 to 1860, these chests often had a prominent position in the parlor.  After about 1850 sugar processing became much less expensive and the sugar chest was no longer needed.

To prevent insect and rodent invasion these chest were made of solid planks of wood and elevated off the floor with legs.  In terms of the wood source, the planks needed to be cut from a fairly large tree to get a 18-20" wide board without the center rings.  With the unique place and relatively short life the sugar chest had in American history, the prices for antiques in good shape are fetching.  Moreover, the wood to make these chests properly is difficult if not impossible to find today.  Remember, plywood did not exist back then.

I wanted to build a sugar chest as a wedding gift for a neighbor's son and new daughter-in law.  I choose Aspen because it is a bright wood and should not darken much as it ages.  The construction is far from period perfect.  I used blind dove tails to join the boxes.  Also, the bottom panel is light weighted with a panel inserts made of plywood.  Overall the chest is about 32"w x 18"d x 20"h.

The chest is basically composed of two boxes.  The upper is for sugar and the lower a drawer frame for spices.  To keep the top box clean, the bottom of the top box is screwed from the underside.  Then the drawer frame was attached with pocket screws. Finally the bottom was screwed from the underside.

The bottom is shy so the photo is out of focus.  Laughs.  This picture shows the lightweight bottom and screws attaching it to the drawer frame.The feet are attached with center mount leg plates and hanger bolts screwed into the foot.  A decorative moulding was added around the bottom panel to balance the chest and hide the edges and foot attachment.

 The top is attached with double hinges.  I like hinges.

 Cross braces were added to the top for structural support and aging.

Note the interior of the upper box is free of cleats.

Some how, I did not get photos of the drawers.  Sorry.   The drawer boxes are made with dove tails and a 1/4' dato for the drawer panel.

Here are some photos of the finished chest.  All the materials are available at one of the big box hardware stores.  Have fun.

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