Build a Taunton Chest

Robert Crosman was born in Taunton, Mass. in 1707. He is believed to be the person responsible for group of around 30 pieces of furniture – chests of differing designs – thought to be the largest body of paint-decorated furniture produced by a single early craftsman. He was the brother to six sisters, which could have been the impetus for these chests; it is said that he made a chest for each of his sisters on her wedding day. Many of the pieces, today, reside in museum collections throughout the country. The grouping has become known as Taunton chests.

(Fig. 1) Crosman’s work from the early 1700s shows intricate painting, but some of his pieces are “sketchily executed.” (The chest copied here is on the right.)

While the decoration on the fronts vary as much as the designs of the chest (Fig. 1), there are similarities spread across the collection; it helps to unify the chests. A researcher noted, “… the complexity of the decoration varies considerably from one piece to the next, ranging from sketchily executed single trees to far more elaborate overlapping compositions of multiple birds, vines, berries, and blossoms¹.” But one of the important traits of this body of work that groups these pieces together is found in the construction.

It was early in the 1700s. English construction techniques had drawer bottoms oriented with the grain running front to back. Crosman, indeed, used the same orientation to build his drawers. OK. So what? A lot of woodworkers during that time used the same method to build drawers. In building his drawers, Crosman used a peculiar method to secure the bottoms to the drawer sides, something further discussed as we build the drawers. And while it is a historical fact, it is not one that we’ll repeat in our building process.

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8 thoughts on “Build a Taunton Chest

  1. Great project…era ,style nice…

    1. Glad you like it, Bob. I’m in the middle of painting the decorative detail on the front. It’s challenging, but workable.

  2. Hi Glen.
    Nice project. Hope you will do the outer chest at some point. Sized right it would make an attractive jewelry chest.
    Curious as to why you didn’t cut the notch for the front on the bandsaw?
    Thanks Don.

    1. Don,
      To fill that chest with jewelry, someone would have to have a great spouse, be a jewelry fanatic or both. I, generally, don’t feel that a cut coming off the bandsaw is right for assembly, but in this case you have a point. With the front being nailed in place, as long as your skills are adequate the tad rougher surface left from the BS cut would have gone unnoticed.

      I’m working on the paint details right now in hopes to bring it out in a few weeks.

  3. This is a great build. I’m excited to see part two, finishing it off. Thanks so much, one for the build list!


  4. I like this project. I have some cherry that I might try.

    1. Steve,
      Cherry is a great wood for anything. I used pine so I could give painting the front decoration a try. As a first attempt it turned out OK. And I discovered a few tips to pass along when the article is released next month.

  5. I have built the chest. Instead of cherry I used popular. I used through dovetails on the drawers and a piano hinge on the lid. I used wooden round pulls. I am getting ready to paint. I intend to incorporate the wooden pulls by painting them as flowers. In building the chest I placed the trim on the lid too close to the chest. It is a snug/tight fit. I foresee some sticking issues here.
    thanks for a nice project

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