Doll Trunk / Travel Case

My grand-daughters were getting 18″ – “American Girl ” style dolls for Christmas. My daughters asked that I build doll cases for them. They had some suggestions on how they should look based on a discontinued one from Pottery Barn Kids and another on Ana White’s website. One of the goals is that these would be able to be passed down to future generations much like the Pencil Post doll bed I had made for Elyse, as well as other accessories that had been saved. So, they need to be rugged as well as pretty.

The ruggedness drove the use of 1/2″ baltic birch plywood for the sides. This will provide a strong base for the hinges, latches and handle. The “fronts” and “back” are 1/4″ plywood to save weight and these really don’t have any hardware fastened into them . The vertical “closet” divider is also 1/4″. The top of the “dresser” is 1/2″ but you could probably substitute 1/4″ as well. The sides could easily be solid wood, but I had the baltic birch left over from making kitchen drawers. The girls wanted these to be painted rather than stained. So this also opened up some more flexibility in the joinery choices.

The joinery is simple with all rabbets and dadoes. The rabbets make it relatively self-aligning and ease single person glue ups. The dadoes are just for the inset dividers, so that there is no need for additional brackets / gussets.

After ripping the sides, tops, bottoms to the same width of 5.5″ , then cut the pieces to length. The sides are 21″ long, the long / back top and bottom are 17 1/2″ long and the door top and bottom are 8.5″ long.

Next the rabbets for the fronts and back are made. These are 1/4″ wide (across the thickness of the plywood) but the depth will depend on exactly what thickness plywood you have for the fronts and back. It could range from 5mm all the way up to 1/4″ (6.3mm). Cut these rabbets for the fronts and backs first on all of the sides, tops and bottoms.

Parts for the larger “back half” laid out, ready to assemble. Note the rabbets on the sides, top and bottom where the back will fit into.

Ideally the rabbets are all done with a dado blade. Bury the blade in a sacrificial fence for the back panel rabbets and then push back the fence for the top and bottom (approx 1/2″ wide) rabbets.

Rabetting for the tops and bottoms . Note the sacrificial fence board clamped to the rip fence. The hold down / feather board helps ensure consistent depth of cut and keeps fingers well away from the blade.

The last cuts are for the dadoes. These will likely be a different width. With a dado head this means removing, adjusting and and then resetting the height. The key thing to watch for is that the dadoes must be equal to or slightly shallower than the depth of the back panel dadoes to ensure that they will not show on the exterior, once it is assembled. The test cuts below illustrate this.

Test cut scrap piece. The dado on the middle / left is too deep and will show when the case is assembled. The one on the right is about right.

The dadoes for the ~1/4 ” panels are likely need to be narrower than a dado set can go. So you will need to make the first cuts, move the fence make more test cuts and proceed.

With all of the case pieces cut our you can now start to assemble. What is critical is that the 3 case pieces are square once assembled.

For the “back” start by gluing in the closet divider. Then proceed to add the sides and last the back

Clamps are placed lightly at first to hold things in position and then the panels are tapped into place. Be careful not to over-tighten the clamps and bow the sides which will cause gaps with the back panel.
Checking for square. Not perfect but close. In this case the clamp was still too tight and causing the side to bow.

Glued up backs for 2 of the doll cases (I made 4).

The assembly for the “front doors” is similar. However be sure to dry assemble them and make sure the pair is not wider than the back. A small gap is OK and even desirable i.e. both doors together 1/16-1/8″ narrower than the back.

When designing these cases, I was doing it the “old fashioned” way with my gridded notebook, pencil and ruler (can’t forget the eraser as well). The sketches below are photos as my scanner apparently died recently.

Sketch for the “back half” of the cases
Sketch for the “front doors” of the cases
Sketch for the drawers