A treasure chest for kids

Kids will love to build (and load up) this toy chest



Photo by Roger Yip

Shiver me timbers! This project is great for any little pirate’s favourite treasures, and it’s also an excellent way to bring a young woodworker into the shop for some practice. I chose butternut for this project, but any wood will do.


Baby Steps

Start with all your stock milled to the final thickness and rip all pieces to final width. Let your little woodworker cross cut the bottom, front, back, end and lid end pieces to length.

Glue the front and back pieces to the bottom and clamp the assembly before setting aside to dry before nailing.

While you’re waiting, have the junior sawyer work on cutting the 1/4"-thick slats to length. This is a good time to teach the novice how to lay out a line using a square. I also recommend a bench hook fitted with a toggle clamp to support the wood. This item holds the workpiece firm, allowing the child to focus on using the handsaw rather than keeping the wood steady while sawing.

Let the nailing begin. Predrill all nail holes for practice and to prevent splitting. I suggest a broken drill bit chucked into a hand drill so that the chuck will act as a depth stop. A child has better control with a short bit that does not flex. (If you don’t have a broken bit, don’t worry–you soon will.)

Select two of the lid slats, then glue and clamp them to join the short end faces of the lid ends.

New Material

Leatherwork begins during this second drying period. As with the wood, I cut the leather into long strips and let the child cut those pieces to length with scissors. Punch a hole 1/2" from the ends of the two leather straps, then secure the handles with 5/8"-long pan-head screws.

Unclamp the lid assembly and start gluing and nailing slats into place using 1"-long finishing nails. Begin at the front, omitting the nails in the sixth and ninth top slats as well as the back face slat. You will fasten the leather hinge straps (as well as the slats) using common nails instead of finishing nails. The head of the common nail is large enough not to pull through the leather, keeping the hinge operational.

Put the lid in place and secure it with masking tape before nailing the leather hinge to ­the back of the lower portion of the treasure chest assembly.

Final Finish

For a natural finish, I recommend mineral oil. In the kids’ woodworking classes I teach, we always wear face masks and gloves, even when working with food-grade mineral oil. This is mostly to teach good work habits for the future, even though mineral oil is non-toxic and is a popular finishing choice for cutting boards.

Don’t worry about filling the chest with valuables. As Franz Kafka once said: “Anything that has real and lasting value is always a gift from within.”

Patience is a Virtue

I find this is a popular project with the kids in my woodworking seminar. Any building project is about more than working the wood. It is incredibly rewarding to share the joy of building something with your own hands with someone else. However, the rewards are twofold, as you will take away as much as you impart.

My best advice to all woodworkers who bring children into the shop is to exercise patience. Never redo an operation that one of the kids has just performed; instead suggest that perhaps they might want to give an edge a bit more sanding or some other constructive tip. Remember the object of this exercise is not to cut and glue lumber into a box so much as it is to mould and bond people through achievement.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Bottom butternut 3/4" x 5 5/8" x 9 1/4" 1
Front/back butternut 3/4" x 3 1/2" x 9 1/4" 2
Ends butternut 3/4" x 5 5/8" x 2 3/4" 2
Lid ends butternut 3/4" x 1 3/4" x 6 5/8" 2
Lids slats butternut 1/4" x 3/4" x 9 1/4" 11
Hinges straps leather 1/16" x 3/4" x 6" 2
Handle straps leather 1/16" x 3/4" x 6" 2

* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools


A treasure chest for kids

Illustration by Len Churchill

1 comment

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Jul. 22, 2013

10:34 am

I have made similar projects like this one. I gave them to friends that were pregnant at the time. They were very happy the put their "little treasure" in it.

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