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An embellished lid is your woodworking calling card.

Embellished tool chests are perhaps the quintessential calling card of the cabinetmaker. From Benjamin Seaton’s mahogany and tulipwood masterpiece to the unequalled work of Henry Studley, we woodworkers tend to pull out all the stops when we decorate our chests.

I’m convinced that the old timers built as much for their own eyes as their customers’. And because I don’t build furniture for a living, I designed this chest lid for me, with its inlaid dividers, dovetail saw and crossed chisels. A sort of coat of arms for the battle against cheap furniture. With that in mind I ask you, “are you ready for a war?”

The Foundation

High-class ply. Like a good sandwich, the best plywood is homemade. Make sure you alternate each layer at 90°.

Typical chest lids are constructed either of a solid panel framed by a narrow dust seal, or by a smaller panel or two and wider, more substantial frame members to help keep the lid flat and isolate wood movement. I wanted as much real estate as possible for my embellishments, so a solid lid with a narrow dust seal would be ideal.

To get the stability needed, there is only one option for quality work: lumber-core plywood. This product has all but vanished from lumberyards, so I made my own with the best materials.

Lumber core has the same basic structure as any plywood: an odd number of layers with grain running perpendicular in each layer. But the core is thicker in a lumber-core panel, so you can work it and attach hardware to it like a solid-wood panel.

For the core I used mahogany, which I glued up from three boards, each about 6″ wide. It’s pretty easy to get quartered mahogany in these widths, but any quartered, mild-grain wood will work.

Onto each face of this core, glue a layer of 1⁄16“-thick veneer or two alternating layers of typical…

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