Viking Sea Chest – Ducal 2022 Entry

As I attend more events, I’m constantly beleaguered with the need to haul yet more and more gear with me. Helms, feast gear, changes of tunics, the pile keeps getting bigger! Now, I am not without my trusty plastic totes and armor bags, but it lacks a certain amount of style.

But Michel, how do you move away from old reliable totes you ask?

Simple, it’s time to start building chests!

The chest that is featured in this post was created as an art piece for my entry into Brennan & Caoilfhionn’s Ducal Challenges and will find a home with the lucky fighter that picks it from the prize pool.

Design Concept

This chest is modeled on the sea chest found in the Oseberg burial ship, Oseberg 178.

Oseberg Sea Chest, 9th Century AD

When drawing up the plans for this chest (available for download below!) I wanted to keep the trapezoid shape that it’s known for. Due to time constraints, I removed one of the more complicated portions of the build, the mortise and tenon used on the bottom board, opting to dowel it in place instead. The overall dimensions of 11.25″ wide x 15″ high x 25.75″ (top measurement before the angle was added in) long were chosen with the desire to make the chest very functional, but not so oversized that it would require more than one person to carry. Overall it would take 6 boards and a few angled cuts to make this a reality.

CAD Sketch of the planned chest

In addition to making a useful chest, I also decided that the lid should bear some decoration. Browsing through some Viking age legends. In the Völsunga saga I came across the Story of Sigurd slaying Fafnir for his treasure, and what better way to symbolize the purpose of the chest than to show the heroics of Sigurd! With the decoration decided, the top of the chest would have a stylized image of Sigurd slaying Fafnir painted on.

Materials & Tools

As I pine for having a forge connected to my workshop, I had to acquiesce to finding hinges made by another artisan that would be appropriate for this project. Some day, I will have access to metal working magics, but sadly, that was not the case for this project. 

Many electrons were used in the production of this piece.

All wood that is listed is pine as it is readily available and within budget for this project.

  • 1x10x6 QTY2
  • 1x12x10 QTY 1
  • ¼”x 48” Dowel QTY 2
  • 1.5” Wrought Iron Nails QTY 6
  • Hand Forged Hinges & Hasp QTY 1
  • Wood Glue

And the usual suspects for tools

  • Drill & Bits
  • Table saw
  • Band saw
  • Back saw
  • Orbital Sander
  • Bench Belt Sander
  • Variety of Chisels
  • Bar Clamps
  • Bevel Gauge
  • Wood Plane

With a guest appearance of a propane torch! (Because what good woodworking project doesn’t somehow involve fire?)

Preparation

There was little to prepare in this project. To get the sizes needed for the front and the back of the chest, the two 1x10x6 pieces were cut in half, doweled, and edge glued together to create a 3 foot by 19 inch board to produce the front and the back. The top, bottom, and sides utilized the 1x12x10 at the dimensional lumber size.

Time to make a mess!

Once the boards were edge glued, they were planed smooth to remove any cupping that was in the boards before they were cut to shape.

Construction

When I set out to cut out the first of the six boards needed for the chest, I decided to do the front and back first. These two boards were the most complicated to cut as they are the ones that give the chest its distinct shape. 

Using the freshly flattened and squared 3’x19” pieces, I measured out the rectangular area I would need to create the trapezoid using the largest measurements of the piece. When the overall area was laid out, I marked out on the top line of the piece 1” on both the left and right sides to create the angled line required. This gave us an angle of 4.5 degrees, setting the lean for all cuts in the future of this project.

The sides were ripped to the correct height on the table saw, and after adjusting the miter, crosscut on the table saw for the correct angle.

Along the bottom of these two pieces, I cut a ⅛” rabbet in them to set the bottom piece into. This was performed with the table saw as well for lack of a rabbet plane in my tool collection. I initially wanted the rabbet to be ¾ “, but due to an error on my part, I set them to a full inch instead. Not the end of the world, just takes away some of the interior volume I initially intended to have. These were cleaned up with a chisel and light sanding

To create the ears that would sit on the sides of the chest, a centerline was struck measured from the top of 6 ⅜ “, from there, a ¾” line was marked coming in from the side and created an area that needed to be removed to create the ear. It is important to note that the ¾” line was marked at the 4.5 degree angle and the line at 6 ⅜” was cut at 90 degrees, perpendicular to the top and bottom. These were cut out using the band saw and any adjustments that needed to be made were performed with chisels and some light sanding.

Inside shot of completed front panel

The sides of the chest were the next challenge. First two 15” long pieces were cut from the 1x12x10. The ears of the front and back panel need to sit on shoulders carved into the sides for support. To do this, a similar process was done to create the shoulders. A rectangle 6 ⅜” long and ¾” wide were created from the top of the piece for the side on both edges. Using the bevel gauge set at 4.5 degrees, we struck a line on the side starting from the bottom of the rectangle created and made sure that the angle was starting from the same direction on both edges. From this line, we created a matching rectangle on the back for the area that needed to be removed. The angle for the shoulders were then cut using the back saw as it is easier to control than trying to use the band saw or table saw to perform this cut. Once the angle was cut, a quick trip to the band saw let us remove the rest of the waste wood without issue. 

The bottom was the next piece cut before assembly. A 27″ length was cut from the 1x12x10 that would constitute the bottom of the chest. Dry fitting the overall size of the chest, we were able to measure a distance of 10″ between the rabbets for the board. A rip cut was done on the table saw to bring it to size and some light sanding and quality time with the hand plane were used to flatten the piece. Then the ends were mitered to 4.5 degrees to match the edges of the chest.

Side getting flattened a bit

The top of the chest was cut from the remaining 1x12x10 to the length of 25 ¾”. There was no further modification made to the top except for some planing to flatten the piece. When the planing was completed, I noticed that there was some damage on one corner of the board, it was a shallow crack missing from the corner, undeterred, some creative sanding with the orbital sander, I rounded over that edge and the missing material was no longer noticeable, this became the front edge of the top.

After all these were cut, it was finally time to assemble the chest!

I started out with dry fitting the front, back, and two sides all held together with bar clamps. To get the pieces as flush as possible, they were sanded, chiseled, threatened with the fire pit, and formed to fit. Remember, while doing this, the best thing to do is mark each corner with a quick pattern to ensure you’re always fitting the same sides together. With everything secure, I turned the piece on to its top and lowered the bottom into position. While like this, I marked on the inside where the bottom was and measured out where I wanted to drill for the dowels. They were placed 1” from each edge of the sides, one in the center of the board, and two more 5” away from the center of the front and back. I disassembled the piece once more to do the drilling of the ¼” holes for the dowels and reassembled the piece to align the bottom. Using the holes drilled into the front and back, I used them as guides to drill into the bottom piece. 

Reminds me of 3-D puzzles…

I applied some wood glue in the rabbet to provide some additional strength to the construction, however, this is not a needed step. The dowels were not cut to a specific size. Instead, I used the bench sander to taper the end of the dowel slightly and coated them in wood glue. I pressed the dowels in by hand as far as I could, then cut the dowel off the 48” rod about two inches from the chest. Once that was done, I lightly hammered the dowel in the rest of the way leaving any excess dowel to be trimmed later. 

When the front and back were completed, I drilled holes in the ears of the front and back into the sides and from below the shoulders of the sides into the front and back. I repeated the doweling process again.

Then it’s time to take a break, remove the inch of sawdust that has built up on your arms, and wait for the glue to wholly set before pursuing the next step.

After taking a much needed mead break, the dowels get trimmed flush, some material gets added to flush a stubborn gap, and an excessive amount of sanding starting at 80 grit and working up to 320 is performed. With the chest now shiny, it’s time to move to the next part of this project!

Doweled & Sanded!

Details & Finishing

Now with our chest mostly assembled, it came time to decide on how to decorate and finish it. Personally, I’m drawn to an aged look when it comes to pieces that should look and feel used, that it should present like something plucked from a longship’s deck. This brand new piece needed a bit of age to it, and the best way to do that is a liberal application of fire!

Lighting up the propane torch, I charred the surface of the chest to enrich the grain. I did only the exterior surfaces and left the interior alone. After some quality time with the torch, the box was sanded once more to balance out the tones left from the char. 

Before the char was sanded down

The time has come to decorate the top of the box! The image was traced on to the box utilizing carbon copy paper. The paints used are acrylic Liquitex Black and Windsor Newton Crimson.

After the paint has dried, a coat of boiled linseed oil is applied to the entire chest and left to soak in over the course of a day. At the end of this soak time, any excess oil is wiped away with a clean cloth.

Now to wait for the oil to soak in…

Hinges and hasp are mounted to the box using wrought iron nails. When using these types of nails on wood, remember to pre-drill them! These nails are not sharp, and as a result, the blunt tip and square body can split the wood. The length of the nail that protrudes through the wood then gets bent over and made flush to the wood, a method commonly referred to as clinching.

A final wax gets applied to the chest and all of the metal hardware for shine and protection. 

As a final touch, my mark gets branded into the bottom, and we’re ready for Ducal Challenge!

Link to Plans Coming Soon!

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