Historic Naval Carpentry: The Sea Chest
The Sea Chest is believed to be the most important valuable a Sailor could own during the age of wooden ships and sail. It provided several descriptive guidelines, usually depicted a Sailors status on his ship. The larger a chest, the higher in status a Sailor would be. Many Sailors did not have the craftsmanship to build their own sea chest, so they would pay another Sailor or carpenter to do the work for them. The chest often contained clothing, and other personal items that a Sailor would bring on the ship, similar to the way a coffin locker works in today's Navy. The Sailor would also store items in their sea chest that would remind them of home.
The shape of the chest was important because it often provided a seat for the Sailor. With a straight back, standing about 2 feet high, and a slanted front it was near perfect for storage and sitting. The handles were typically looped rope through hocks on the sides of the chest. To join the edges of the sea chest a dovetail joint was often used because of the strength it lends to the box overall.
In today's Navy the sea chest is an object of the past, but is used in a similar capacity as a shadow box. They have taken on a more rectangular form, with glass, lighting and felt on the inside. Although they have become a retirement gift, the chest remains to have the same symbolic meaning, Sailors use the sea chest as a means to store their uniform components, awards, cutlass, and the all important Combination Cover that has been a symbol of importance to the Navy Chief and the U.S Navy for the last 126 years.