The Next Campaign Chest


Today I had a weird feeling. Not the kind in your pants – the kind in your head.

Because of a combination of odd events this afternoon, I ended up with about two hours of free time. No crushing deadline to meet. No frantic e-mails to answer.

FeetSo I designed the next chest for my book on campaign furniture. This one will be made using 40-year-old teak from Midwest Woodworking, which has been sitting in the corner of my shop for many months.

When I design a piece that won’t be painted, I begin by measuring all the pieces of lumber that I have picked out for the project. Unless I’m building an exact reproduction, I let the wood on hand provide the overall dimensions. If I have 17”-wide stock, I’m not going to draw a 20”-deep case.

Most of my teak is 18” wide. I have a 12’-long board and a 10’-long board. Plus three 50”-long boards and a shorter 13”-wide board for the drawers and thick chunks for the legs. These boards encouraged me to draw a chest that is 17” x 35” x 35” and that sits on 4”-tall turned feet.


How do I know that this will look good? I’ve spent the last two years (actually longer) collecting images and dimensions for campaign chests I like. I started looking at their overall sizes and sorting them into chests that were on the wide side and those that had a subtle vertical aspect to them.

This chest is going to be a little taller than it is wide. I pulled out images of about a dozen chests that are taller than they are wide and started sorting them into ones that had drawer arrangements I liked and those that were forgettable.

Then I fired up SketchUp.

When I draw things in SketchUp to build them, I draw only the things I don’t know. I don’t draw the joinery if it’s stuff I know how to make. I don’t draw drawer sides and bottoms and internal guides, runners and kicks. I know how to make all that stuff – drawing it will only slow me down.

If there’s wacky compound joinery, I’ll draw that. But that’s pretty uncommon.

When I work in SketchUp, the major question I want answered is this: Will this project look like something that will avoid the burn pile for the next 200 years? This is SketchUp’s superpower. You can draw a chunk of something and look at it from an infinite number of perspectives. You can put it in a room, by a loom or on the moon.

So I drew a bunch of 17” x 18” x 35” boxes and sketched drawer fronts on them. I drew a bunch of feet. Then I put the boxes together and looked at them from a bunch of perspectives. For a project like this, the entire sketching process took about an hour.

Before I quit SketchUp and fetched a beer (Bell’s Hopslam), I made a cutting list for the major parts and took that down to the shop and confirmed that the lumber on hand will support the design on screen.

And finally, with chalk in hand, I’ll start sketching my cutting lines on the rough stock.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. What about the stuff I draw for magazine articles? That is a totally different process. That’s when I draw everything the reader doesn’t know. So I draw every part, every joint, every assembly. But I do that after the project is complete.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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19 Responses to The Next Campaign Chest

  1. Brian Zirkle says:

    Are you choosing round legs for the look or for a structural reason? My first thought was the round leg looked out of place on such a boxy chest but I assume there may be a strength advantage over a leg with a corner block glued in for strength on a square corner. Obviously both are historically correct given all of your photos, just wondering what your thought process was.

    • lostartpress says:

      The feet are a fairly common feature of original chests. They typically could be removed by unscrewing them from the case for transport.

      I like the way they look — after seeing a bunch of these chests the unusual drawer arrangements and feet tend to grow on you. Well, they grew on me.

      And if I don’t like them in the end, I can unscrew them and thrown them on the burn pile.

  2. Scott Meek says:

    Completely off the topic of campaign chests, but nice pick on the Bell’s Hopslam. LOVE that beer, and I’m so happy that I can still get it down here in Asheville.

  3. Dinger says:

    Excellent choice on the Hopslam…also, can’t wait for the chest!

  4. David Pickett says:

    That’s a very elaborate post just to boast about a large stash of 40-year-old teak. Good luck with the hand planing….

  5. Bob Davidson says:

    Shiver me timbers! That’s a beautiful pile of teak. If I had it, I would have to make another boat, just so I could deck it and trim it with the teak. Too bad it’s being used for a landlubber project. Everyone knows that campaign chests should be made from mahogany, like the good lord intended;)

    • lostartpress says:


      Teak was used a lot for campaign chests, as was camphorwood and white oak.

      • Bob Davidson says:

        Argh! Y’er talkin’ to a boat bigot ‘ere. I know landlubber’s like to steal the secrets of the finest boat builders! White oak, now there’s another great boatbuilding wood. Landlubbers like to use that a lot, too, drivin’ up the cost of white oak so us fine boatbuilders have to pay a lot more fer it! Argh!

  6. Bob Davidson says:

    Seriously, I’d love to make a campaign chest from teak, but I don’t think I can afford it. I’m thinking I’d like to make one from oak, though. I’m looking forward to your book on campaign chests, as well as the trade edition of your new Roubo book. I hope you can get both published soon (Like next week? — ha, ha — outrageous, I know.) I think I’m developing an addiction to your books!

  7. phil williams says:

    But will SketchUp let you put it in a box with a fox?

  8. Sam I Am says:

    I’d choose mahogany over teak any day!

  9. abtuser says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the chest in teak. I’ve been working with it lately and it’s beautiful stuff. Can’t wait.

  10. Nice looking Teak. Very tight grain and from what I can see it looks Burmese. Use it while you can I say. The price is going to get crazy high very soon (as if it wasn’t high already)

  11. Andy hsieh says:

    Hi Chris

    Certainly one of my favorite chests. I saw one in South Africa years back where the top and bottom unit were dovetail keyed on the sides to keep them from moving.

    Do you have any plans to lock the top and bottom?


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