ST. MICHAELS, Md., Jan. 25, 2023 – Grigg Mullen is a noted timber framer who stays busy with a variety of projects, both big and small, on-going out of his home in Lexington, Va.
Sometimes, though, the retired college engineering professor heads to his woodshop simply to find peace and quiet. “If I really want to go out in the shop and relax, I do hand-cut dovetails,” said Mullen, referencing the time-tested technique for joining wooden ends by interlocking them after making precise cuts. “They’re a lot of fun. They look wonderful, and they’re not actually that mystifying when you go to cut them. You’ve got to be careful and pay attention to detail, but they’re not impossible.”
Mullen will get a chance to share that traditional woodworking skill and other tips of the trade as part of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s upcoming Build Your Own Classic Sea Chest workshop.
Over the weekends of Feb. 25-26 and March 4-5, Mullen will lead participants in constructing a 16-inch-by-18-inch-by-36-inch 19th-century sea chest. The building process focuses on using hand tools to create the beveled dovetail joined ends and sloping sides that give the pine chest its classic look.
The cost for the four-day workshop is $775, with a 20% discount for CBMM members, and includes materials. Some basic woodworking experience is required. Register now at bit.ly/CBMMSeaChest.
Mullen was inspired to build his first classic sea chest after seeing a seven-page spread in the September/October 2005 edition of WoodenBoat that outlined author Gary K. Larkins’ 24-step process for constructing one.
Mullen has built a few of these sea chests over the years. One he put up for charity auction and was bought by a former student and another he gave to his 2-year-old granddaughter.
Mullen is excited to finally teach the workshop at CBMM after a previously scheduled version was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
For participants, the takeaway is a unique conversation piece fit for land or sea. By original design, the chest’s sloped sides helped it fit the curvature of a boat and provided a sturdy base for rough seas, but it’s easy to imagine a myriad of potential other uses.
In resurrecting the classic build, the WoodenBoat article’s subtitle promised “sturdy utility from the 19th century.”
Along the way to the finished product, Mullen will guide participants step-by-step. He said the precision required in the process, especially on the dovetails, presents a satisfying challenge for anyone looking to hone their woodworking skills.
“When you’re making dovetails, things can get complicated, but it’s not insurmountable,” Mullen said. “It takes careful layout, careful saw work and then careful chisel work to clean everything up before you fit it all together. It definitely takes patience.”