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.
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.