Spotted in a Muskoka Cottage: Bonnet Chest

I’m sure the Bonnet Chest isn’t only a Canadian phenomenon. But, if you Google it, you will get lots of Canadian, and only a few US links. Even Wikipedia doesn’t know about them; searching for bonnet chest there will get you nothing. They are not mentioned in the otherwise excellent: The Heritage of Upper Canadian Furniture by Howard Pain. It seems that they may have been a Mennonite piece designed, of course, to protect bonnets. The design made its way into Canada from Pennsylvania and seemed to have become more popular here.

I have always liked their shape. Especially the ones with the upper section projecting out a few inches (chest on chest), highlighting the oversize drawers; makes me want to pull one open and look inside. There’s just something about the lines and the substantial size. So, a bonnet chest has been on my list of things to make for a long time. Recently I saw a fairly good example of what was once a lovely chestnut piece at a cottage we sold. Unfortunately our seller was keeping it, and it moved away.

Now recently, in that case, was more than two years ago. I went out the same week and bought some 4/4 curly maple. It took a couple of weeks a bit at a time to process the rough sawn wood into useable boards. But, it took over a year to build it. Not just because furniture making is done in my spare time. It’s because I was designing my bonnet chest based on ones I liked, while looking at pieces for sale on the local Kijiji and Craigslist.
And while looking, I saw one that I had to buy in Beeton. Over the years it had been pretty much reduced to a pile of water-stained boards, it was 90% apart, had had some type of birds (chickens maybe) living in the lower drawers and all the upper drawers and backsplash were gone – years ago and nobody knew where. But, it was only a hundred bucks or so, what was left was all made of butternut, and the money went to support Beeton hockey so I bought the pile of parts, headed to a sawmill and bought some rough-sawn butternut to replace the missing pieces and took it all home.
It was winter so we weren’t too busy with cottages and within a week or so it was done.
I feel great about saving this one; it could go on for another century or more, rather than rotting away.

Original (mostly) Bonnet Chest

We are VERY busy in the summer, and pretty busy the rest of the year, so I got back to the new chest only from time to time. I am fairly slow with carcass pieces to begin with. In addition to turning some 8/4 maple on the lathe for the legs, which took some time to get around to, I knew I wanted to hand-cut dovetails, front and back in all the drawers. This turned out to be 100 dovetails in all, which makes the piece cool in the builders mind, but added a couple of months to the project in “eked out” time.

Anyway, the bonnet chest is complete now, just as the summer is drawing to a close. We don’t have any bonnets, so we keep dog-leashes in one of the bonnet drawers of the old one, and not much at all yet in the new one.

My take on the Bonnet Chest, in curly maple

100 hand-cut dovetails.
Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditShare on Google+Digg this

4 thoughts on “Spotted in a Muskoka Cottage: Bonnet Chest”

Comments are closed.