Chickering & Sons Piano Box

Quite some time ago, a friend contacted me and asked whether or not I’d be interested in a piano that had been in their family for a long time but was now relegated to the garage.  I had visions of fantastic, old growth Cherry, Mahogany, or Walnut so of course, jumped at the chance!  It was an upright that had definitely been well used so, with her permission we proceeded to take it apart.  The maker of it is Chickering & Sons which she dated to approximately 1917.  Here’s a LINK to some history about this particular brand of pianos if you’re interested.  As it turned out, the piano was veneered and after running it through the planer discovered some interesting Chestnut and also Poplar.  I also kept some of the keys for the Ebony — the other keys and ivory went to a local luthier school.  In any case, here’s what was made from some of the wood:

It’s a basic hand cut, dovetailed box which could be used for pencils, remotes, keys, or decorative item.  I like the grain patterns of the wood and used an Ebony key for the lid handle.  Dimensions are 3″ high by 4 3/8″ wide and 9 1/4″ long.  The inside is lined with a red velveteen material and the finish is hand rubbed PolyX oil.  This box will be added to my inventory at the Store at Mesa Art Center.  I suppose this would fit the current movement of up cycled, recycled, re-purposed stuff but to me it’s just using and showing the beauty of wood regardless of where it came from!

Marked for proper grain alignment

Construction details are pretty straight forward and all hand tool with the exception of cutting the board to width and length which I do on the table saw.  It’s important to me that the grain continues around the box so the box is cut from one piece of material.  That means only one corner will not have a perfect grain match.  I’m making two of these boxes but you can see how they are marked on the inside to ensure proper alignment.

Stanley 140 Trick

The first step is to cut a slight rabbet at the end of the long sides.  This is referred to as the Stanley 140 trick and one I use in any dovetailed construction.  The purpose is to give a tight inside corner.  If you make it deep enough it will also conceal the groove needed to insert the bottom of the box or drawer.  Not having a set of skewed block planes means I use a Veritas skewed rabbet plane which does the job nicely and, unlike the Stanley 140 has a depth stop.

Plowing groove for bottom


The next step is cutting the groove to insert the bottom.  In this case a piece of 1/4″ Baltic Birch plywood.  Plow plane is used for that process.  Cutting the dovetails is a process I’ve written about many times so won’t bore you with that again.  Just a side note, as a member of the co-op at the Mesa Art Center I’m required to give demonstrations at the store.  The first box was demonstrated previously but I’m scheduled to demonstrate  again today from 2-6:00 pm.  Today being March 16, 2019 so if you’re out and about stop by and see me!


About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my currently available work, boxes, carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
This entry was posted in Hand Cut Dovetails, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Mesa Arts Center Store, Recycled Wood Furniture and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Chickering & Sons Piano Box

  1. Bob Easton says:

    Very handsome box John!
    and of course, a fine recycling project.

    Interesting note about the ivory… It sounds like you donated it. Good thing, because a few years ago it became illegal to trade in ivory in the US. Because other countries can’t control poaching on their own lands, and because some think we in the US are the root of all evil, our Federal Fish and Wildlife agencies declared ivory trade illegal. Prior to that time, there was an import ban, and allowance to continue using previously imported ivory, which included piano keys. The new ban outlaws ALL ivory sales, thereby killing dead any art form that uses ivory. Yes, there were a few active scrimshaw artists recently. No more.


    • The ivory is very thin so not sure it’s usable. I’ve taken pictures of the piano before dismantling and keeping them “just in case”. Don’t want to become the shop teacher in the big house while serving my time 😎


  2. Pingback: I Love the Challenge! | Woodworks by John

  3. Pingback: Another Dovetail Tutorial: Social Distanced! | Woodworks by John

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