‘Moveable’ Storage: Military Style

Space, or the lack of it, is a problem for many. A smart, space-saving storage unit, which is also a decorative piece of furniture, can be an ideal solution to some problems. This series on things to make using simple woodworking techniques will provide a range of useful, attractive and versatile items for the home.

This multi-purpose storage unit can be made using only simple woodworking techniques. There are no complicated joints, and the only construction skills needed are accurate measurement, cutting, hammering and simple planing.

It can be built in a variety of heights and widths, but the proportions of this unit should be maintained, to preserve its ‘look’.

The unit consists of three boxes which fit together on the top of each other and are kept in place when assembled by simple bearers, pinned and glued to the bottoms. A bottom set of bearers provides the means of fitting castors or rubber feet. This provides a choice either of leaving the box in a fixed position, or being able to wheel it around.

The unit can serve as a drinks container, toy box, record-storage unit, or even a needlework box. Any box can be fitted with simple trays or containers, to serve a variety of uses.

Brass military-chest handles, which are readily available, are fitted to the front and back panels of each box unit. These are not only decorative but enable each box to be lifted off easily.

A variety of finishes is possible. The unit can be hand or spray painted, laminated, stained or varnished, papered or covered with an adhesive-backed vinyl.

Tools needed in construction are:

Warrington-pattern hammer

Fine-toothed 558mm panel saw

25mm bevel-edged chisel

Smoothing plane


Pair of pincers

Mallet or soft-faced hammer


Nail punch


Glasspaper block and some sheets of fine glasspaper.


Construction is entirely from 12mm Finnish birch plywood, cut from standard 2.44m x l.22m sheets. Measure and mark out very carefully, using the trysquare to ensure accurate right-angles, or the finished boxes will not ‘sit’ square on each other. Cut the sections with the panel saw.

If you wish, a timber supplier will usually cut the panels for you on a machine for a small extra charge.

Panels should be cut slightly over-sized and then, with the smoothing plane set very finely, planed all along the long edges of the panels which form the box sides. Take off the minimum amount from the edge of each panel-just sufficiently to remove any sawing imperfections.

Smooth the inside of the panels with a piece of fine glasspaper, to achieve a fine, clean finish. Make the panels for the box fronts and backs and put these to one side.


Mark out, in pencil, the position of each brass handle. The majority of military-chest handles are recessed into the surface. The handles have a projection at the back which has to be let into the surface to which it is fixed.

Measure the length and width of this projection and accurately mark this on to the panel. Make sure, particularly, that the marking out is not crooked, for this will show up badly.

With a 25mm bevel-edged chisel, cut out the slots for the handle recess. Start in the middle by making a V cut and then carefully chop out the recess. The laminations of the plywood will provide a guide as to depth.

Chop away slivers of about 3mm at a time, progressing away from the slot on one side, using the flat of the chisel so that the waste material falls back into the slot.

Work towards the edges and make the final cut a vertical one. Move back to the centre and cut the recess on the other side, again working away from the slot, so that the waste is again displaced inwards.

It is easier to cut the slots before the panels are assembled into the box unit.


Mark a line at 13mm in from each end of the panel. This indicates the position of the 32mm panel pins used to fix the panels together. Four go into each of the narrow panels and seven into the wider panels.

These pins should be spaced evenly 13mm in from the edge, except when nailing the top box. Allowance must be made here for the narrower back and front. The pins at the top corner of this box must be 33mm in from the edge (Fig. 1).

When all the lines and positions of panel pins have been marked, these can be knocked in, in a ‘dovetail’ pattern, with the Warrington hammer. Allow the points of the pins to break through the surface on the other side by about 2mm, as this will help to ‘locate’ the panel on the end of the adjoining).


Spread a suitable woodworking adhesive (such as Evostik) evenly on all surfaces to be mated. Allowing a 6mm overlap, locate a side on the end of a cross panel (Fig. 3). This overlap can be gauged by a 6mm piece of wood.

Tap the nails almost fully home, but leave enough showing so that you can, if necessary, pull these out with pincers. You need only do this if the pin is incorrectly located. If so, refix it about 5mm away.

Check that these pins do not break through the surface of the front or back panels and then knock them in flush with the surface of the wood.

When hammering, take care not to bruise the surface of the wood with the head of the hammer. When using a hammer on a surface which is being glued, check that the face of the hammer does not become smeared with glue and wipe it clean if necessary. Glue can cause mis-hits, damaging the wood.

Move around to each corner in turn, checking that all edges are level and line up with each other and that the 6mm overlap is maintained; knock in all nails. Punch in all the heads to 3mm below the surface while the glue is still wet.


The punching gives a slight ‘clamping’ action, pulling the glued surfaces closer together and making a better joint. Finally, wipe off any surplus glue with a damp cloth.

Check the diagonals of the box by measuring with a steel tape from corner to corner; these should all measure the same if the box is square. If the box is out of true, a slight hand pressure on opposed corners should be sufficient to correct this.

Finally check for squareness and leave the unit on a level surface for the glue to dry. Repeat the process with the other two boxes. When all have dried, stack the boxes on top of each other to check that they are identical in outline.


Next, check the internal measurements of your boxes and cut the bottom panels to these measurements. Cut the panels slightly oversize to allow them to be planed to fit each particular box.

If the bottoms are to be laminated, this should be stuck on before the bottoms are fitted but after the panels have been planed to size. Apply the laminate slightly oversized and trim to the size of the panel.

The bottom panels are inset to a depth of 6mm. Draw a pencil line around the box 12mm from the edge, so that the panel pins used to fix the bottom can be located accurately.

Panel pins, 25mm long, in a dovetail pattern, are used to fix the bottoms. Spread glue along the edge of the panel and on the inside of the box, then tap the panel into place, checking that the 6mm inset depth is even all round. Fix with panel pins through the box sides. These should also be punched some 3mm below the surface. Do this on all three boxes and wipe off surplus glue.

Make the pair of locating bearers from pieces of plywood. There are two to each box. Make sure that these run accurately from front to back.

The narrow (40mm) bearers are for the two top boxes, and the 65mm bearers, to which the castors are screwed, are for the bottom box. These are glued and fixed with 19mm panel pins.

The lid

Cut the lid and plane the edges. If this is to be laminated, allow for the thickness of the laminate on the edges. The top should not fit too tightly. Allow a 3mm clearance.

To locate the lid on top of the boxes, insert four rubber-headed nails, 8mm-10mm in diameter, in the underside of each lid, inset about 28mm from each corner, so that the lid fits snugly.


Fill all nail holes with a wood filler. Choose a type which adheres to bare wood and, when dry, rub the filler down with fine glasspaper. Make up any depressions and finally smooth.

Paint magnifies any small flaw in a surface, so a good preparation job is essential. Work around the three boxes, filling in any small flaws in the edges of the plywood and, when dry, rub down with fine glasspaper.

With a bradawl, mark the screw holes on the faces of the boxes for the military-chest handles. First, drive in steel screws to cut a thread for brass screws. Brass screws complement the brass handles but break easily in hard timbers, so it is important to cut the thread. Dip each screw in a little wax polish before screwing in as this will ease entry.

Castors can now be screwed on, following manufacturer’s instructions.

10. November 2011 by admin
Categories: Featured, Handyman Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ‘Moveable’ Storage: Military Style


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