How to Build a Wood Chest

1 / 2
A homemade wood chest is great for storing firewood indoors.
2 / 2
It's easiest to put together each of the main panels first, and then join them to form the woodbox.

If you heat or cook with wood, you’re probably well aware
of how handy an easy-to-use and ample wood chest can be.
Without one, wood burning often becomes a messy and tedious
chore. Now, you may already have some ideas about what the
perfect wood chest design is, but how about letting me fill
you in on the details of the wood caddy I built? It takes
up relatively little space, holds the wood handy to the
fire and controls the spread of chips, bark and dust.
With the following guidelines for how to build a wood chest, you can vary the size,
shape and style of my model to suit your fancy, and you’ll
be assured of ending up with a handsome and durable piece
of furniture.

Build a Wood Chest: Materials and Preparation

This handcrafted wood chest is made from No. 3 pine boards,
available from any lumberyard. I recommend that you use
wide boards — 1-by-12s if possible — for the front,
back, bottom and two end panels; 1-by-2s work well as
trim, battens and cleats; and rounded-over 1-by-3 stock can
serve for the caps atop the front and back panels. These
are convenient sizes to work with, but the design is
flexible enough that you can really use just about any
lumber you happen to have on hand. (See the diagrams in the image gallery for additional help.)

The first step is to plan the size and shape of the box to
suit the amount of wood you burn and the length of billet
that your stove or fireplace accepts. Once you’ve settled
on the basic dimensions, take a few minutes to lay out your
lumber on the floor, so you can arrange for cuts that
eliminate bad knots and make attractive patterns from the
heart-and sapwood.

End panels are cut to a length determined by the
height of the box, but you might work in some curves on the
tops and bottoms of the boards to add a bit of flair to the
design. I used paint buckets and inverted bowls as
templates to draw the curves and then cut them on a band
saw (a saber saw would work as well). If you need a box
that’s more than 11 ¼ inches from front to back (the actual
width of a 1-by-12), you’ll have to use cleats to hold a
pair of boards together. One cleat toward the top and one
at the height where the bottom will rest are sufficient.

The front panel consists of as many vertical,
side-by-side boards as are necessary to achieve the desired
box length. And, of course, the front panel height will be
determined by the height and design of your end panels. Cut
these boards to the proper length, and lay them out on the
floor, so you can figure out the lengths of the trim
pieces, the battens and the cleat that the bottom will
rest on.

Because the front panel butts against the end panels, the
horizontal trim strips must be cut 1 ½ inches longer than the
width of the front panel to allow them to overlap the end
panels. The vertical trim and battens fit between the
horizontal trim strips, but you may want to leave a gap of
an inch or two between the bottom trim piece and the floor.
You may have noticed from the photo that I beveled (to
about 15 degrees) all my trim strips. This complicates
assembly a bit, but I think it makes the box more

Make your back panel 1 ½ inches wider than the front
one, so it can overlap the end panels. You’ll need two
horizontal cleats that are 1 ½ inches shorter than the back
panel’s width to hold the boards together. The lower will
be the bottom rest. Once again, the height of the end
panels determines the lengths of the 1-by-12s.

The box’s bottom board is as long as the front
panel — it will fit between the end panels and rest on
cleats — and ¾ inch narrower than the end panels. If the
width requires two boards, you’ll have to apply cleats to
the bottom to hold them together.

Finally, cut two top caps to the length of the
finished box. Plane all the edges of boards that will be
exposed and sand the parts before you begin assembly.

Build a Wood Chest: Assembly

It’s easiest to put together each of the main panels first and then join them to form the wood chest. During assembly,
remember to drive 4d nails into the wood at a slight angle.
A 4d is 1 ½ inches long, which is exactly the thickness of two
layers of one-by lumber. Driving them at an angle (or
clipping off about a quarter inch with wire cutters) will
prevent the points from poking through. Using 3d nails
would avoid this problem, but the smaller fasteners
wouldn’t offer much strength. Even with the 4d nails, I
recommend that you use glue on all the joints.

Use the 4d nails to secure the cleats to the front and rear
panels. Nail from the back in both cases to hide the
nailheads. If you have a multi-board bottom, apply the
cleats from the underside with more 4d nails.

For extra strength, attach the end panel cleats with No. 6-by-1 ¼ -inch flathead wood screws. To prevent the wood from
splitting, drill lead holes in the cleats and boards and
then countersink the cleats so the screwheads will be flush
with the wood’s surface.

You’re now ready for the final assembly, which consists of
joining the end, rear and front panels to each other and
to the bottom board with 6d nails. (I recommend that you
drill lead holes for all the 6d nails to prevent
splitting.) Begin assembly by fastening the end panels to
the bottom board, and then place this assembly so that the
rear is facing up. Position the back panel on the ends and
bottom, and nail it in place. Now flip the box over and
repeat the procedure with the front panel.

With the basic structure secure, you can apply the trim and
battens to the front with 4d nails pounded in from the
back. I put the bottom trim piece on first, followed by the
two vertical sections. Then I placed the top trim piece and
filled in with the battens. (When you’re nailing from
behind, it’s helpful to hold a block of wood against the
front to keep the pans from moving.) Finally, I affixed
both caps, allowing a slight overhang on the front and rear
of the chest.

Build a Wood Chest: Finish

If you wish, use a nail set to push any exposed nailheads
below the wood’s surface, and then fill the depressions
with wood putty. Once this material has set, you can apply
finish. I used three coats of a 50/50 mixture of linseed
oil and polyurethane varnish, which I painted on and
allowed to soak in. Then I removed the excess finish from
the surface with a rag. (Note: Rags used to wipe off oil
are extremely combustible. They should be burned
immediately or stored in an airtight metal container prior
to proper disposal.)

When you bring your wood chest into the house, bear in mind
that the National Fire Protection Association recommends
that all combustible objects be kept at least 3
from the fire. Once it’s positioned, fill the
container with seasoned wood. A wood chest shouldn’t be used
to dry wood; that’s a job better accomplished in an airy

Now you can sit back and relax, knowing that you won’t have
to make any barefoot dashes to the woodpile tonight. As I
finish writing this, I’m enjoying the crackle of dry locust
that I recently plucked from my wood-box. The billets were
seasoned as fence post tops for at least a hundred
years — now they’re almost too good to burn. But darned
if I’m going outdoors to get some other wood to use. Not on
a cold night like this one.

Maybe tomorrow…if the sun’s out.