An Interesting Joint on a Trunk


Many of the campaign-style trunks I’ve examined are joined by through-dovetails at the corners. The trunk I built for “Campaign Furniture” uses a rabbeted joint at the corners that is reinforced with brass screws that have had their heads filed flush after assembly.

The screws are not a common joint, but they were pointed out to me on some pieces by David Silliman of Charleston, S.C., a dealer in furniture from the West Indies.

The trunk shown above, which was sold by Richard Gardner, has some interesting details for you to consider.

1. The sliding till. Many of the trunks I’ve seen have a single till at one end of the chest or nothing at all inside. This one has a till at the end and a sliding till – much like that on a tool chest. I quite like how the till extends above the rim of the lower carcase. A very efficient use of space.


2. The corner joint. I am sure this locking joint has a name. But it is a somewhat atypical machine-made corner joint (at least in this country). The most interesting aspect of the joint is that the maker rabbeted away the corner and added a filler strip to conceal the end grain.

3. Brasses with filed screw heads. I point this out and discuss it in “Campaign Furniture,” but here is another example of screw heads that have been filed flush or mostly flush. This filing removes most of the screw’s slot. It’s a feature that shows up on many infill planes.

So as you plan your trunk, consider adding these details.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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14 Responses to An Interesting Joint on a Trunk

  1. From the photo of the joint, the corner wasn’t rabbeted away; the walls of the groove in the left panel appear to have the same length. Rather, the joint is designed to leave a rabbet when milled square and joined up. That suggests this locking joint was expressly designed with the filler strip finishing in mind.

  2. theindigowoodworker says:

    Somewhere, some blog, some internet search, some book, magazine, tv show, somewhere I’ve seen that exact joint used before.

  3. Perhaps that filler strip was put there not so much for decoration but to keep all that exposed end grain from tearing off in use. I’m sure it made the corner stand up to being knocked around.

    That joint with the front section of the joint full length rather than as we see it here is a common drawer lock joint. The groove is usually a little narrower. It provides a lot of glue surface. The brass corner angles would prevent the sides from separating.

    Quick, easy, and in this case, pretty durable.

  4. amvolk says:

    Any chance of a few more close-up photos of the trunk that include the brass fittings, handles and locks?

  5. Josh Frey says:

    Can you shed any light on how the lid was attached on this chest? From the photo it doesn’t appear to be simply nailed on.

    • lostartpress says:

      Fancier chests had their lids attached using a “groove-in-groove” joint, like the one I used to attach the center lid panel in the anarchist’s tool chest. It’s a royal pain in the but to get just right – I’m using it on the bookcase I am building now. I’m afraid I don’t have photos to share yet.

      • Josh Frey says:

        I looked over the joint as you describe in ATC. My only question would be does the increased height from the center panel get in the way of brass straps?

  6. wiseguy81 says:

    I really like the lock on the till. Just in case you think your bunk mates might get past the first lock.

  7. dball4457 says:

    I like the sliding till. As you said an efficient use of space. If the sides of the till go right up to the top of the lid, I would also think it kept stuff in the till from jumping out. A practical addition might be a pin or something to hold it from sliding back and forth in transit. What a cool chest.

  8. Would there be any concern with the strength of that corner joint? It looks like the maker went pretty deep through the long grain of the side.

  9. Lin Niqiu says:

    I’m glad that you highlight that the corner joint is machine made. Is it a clue to its long term effectiveness that we cannot think of the name for it? Even for a glue joint there is only end grain in contact with every abutted surface.

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