Transit Cases for Campaign Chests

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One of the rarer forms of campaign furniture is also one of the simpler and rougher forms.

Because campaign furniture was designed to travel, it often was transported in a specially fitted case, box or canvas bag. So instead of strapping your mahogany chest to an elephant, you would first put the chest into a painted and iron-bound case. And then strap that to your elephant.

When you arrived at your destination, you removed the nice piece of furniture and then used the exterior case as storage. You could fit out the case with a brass hanging rod, curtains or shelves. Other upgrades included using elm for the ends of the cases or rounding the corners, according to the furniture catalogs of the time.

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I’ve seen surviving exterior cases for campaign chests only once in the wild. They were in an antique store in Charleston, S.C., and had been refinished and polished.

So when I had a customer ask me to build some transit cases and a campaign chest, I jumped at the chance. In fact, I think I was a little more excited about building the transit cases than the chest itself (I’ve built many campaign chests).

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The chests are simple to construct. I used poplar as it is inexpensive and strong enough (and what the customer decided on). The top and bottom boards are rabbeted all around. The ends of the cases are screwed to the top and bottom boards. The rear of the case is filled in with shiplapped backboards that are nailed on. The doors fit inside the rabbets on the front edge. This clever detail prevents the doors from rubbing on their neighboring doors above or below.

The flat-panel doors are assembled with mortise-and-tenon joints. The hardware is steel. As the customer was on a bit of a budget, I used zinc-plated hardware. I stripped the zinc with citric acid and then colored the steel with gun blue. The hardware looks good and saved the customer about $2,000 over blacksmith-made stuff.

We painted the cases a dark green that matched a transit case I own for a Duro chair. And then I nailed on thin steel strapping on all the corners to protect the cases and conceal the screws. The strapping was custom made by my local sheet-metal fabricator (just $20 – yay for the still-industrial Midwest).

Finally, I screwed on poplar cleats for feet that have beveled edges. These cleats allow you to drag the case across the floor easily.

The cases look quite handsome and (I think) were worth the extra effort. The only downside is that one of my other customers saw the cases and asked me to make one for him to fit his Roorkhee chairs and ottomans. So I think I have a lot more of these cases in my future.

— Christopher Schwarz

If you are interested in campaign furniture, I wrote a book about it called “Campaign Furniture.” Also, check out the website for Christopher Clarke Antiques. They are the best sellers and historians of campaign stuff that I’ve met.

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to Transit Cases for Campaign Chests

  1. Justin L says:

    I really need to find a use for these in my life….like, soon. Nice work, Chris!

    Like

  2. Gerald says:

    What do you upcharge the customer for shipping by elephant? I’m guessing two day delivery is not an option.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pascal Teste says:

    Fantastic stuff Chris! That’s going to be one very happy customer. It was interesting following your project after I had just finished reading your book Campaign Furniture. Thank you.

    Like

  4. Laura Smith says:

    A work of art to contain a work of art! Would campaign chests have been transported fully loaded, or would the things destined to be contained in them be transported by a separate elephant? I realise that sounds like a mocking question, but it’s not – it’s a genuine one!

    Like

  5. Al says:

    What is the name of the catalog in the picture? Is it possible it is on-line at archive.org?

    Like

  6. For the next week, I am going to use the phrase “Strap that to your elephant” as often as I can.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keith Collins says:

    Everything looks great, but I have to admit, I am most intrigued by the cut off part of the ad that mentions The Midshipman’s Sea Chest. Any change the rest of that page might see the light of day?

    Like

  8. Matthew Holbrook says:

    Chris

    Your transit cases are so attractive and practically built that that they may just be the solution for shop storage on the wall.

    You can hide all you portable power tools in one case.

    Next item for sale at Crucible Tools – transit cases to meet all your woodshop storage needs.

    Like

  9. Diana Henderson says:

    I loved reading your Campaign Furniture book…like the gentleman in a previous post…I’d like to know more about the Midshipman’s chest as well.
    (o bad the furniture in my Navy barracks room never looked this nice).

    Like

  10. Scott Petersen says:

    I was highly intrigued by those when I first read about them in your Campaign Furniture book. It’s really inspiring to see them in the flesh (almost). I feel like a set of those with glass inset doors would make for some great industrial chic shelving.

    Like

  11. Nice! Maybe another ADB supplement for Transit Cases coming soon? 🙂

    Like

  12. Joshua Layne says:

    Is there anything to prevent the nice campaign furniture from ‘rattling around in its cage’, so to speak?

    Like

  13. Paul Drake says:

    Paint it Police Box blue so that it’s bigger on the inside?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Iain Perkin says:

    I have a transit case in my bedroom. Still has the original owners rank & name “Lt Col JB Maclean”, and regiment “Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars” stencilled on. The grandson had left it at girlfriends house and she turned it into a TV stand, including drilling a few holes in the back for VCR, when he left without repaying her some debts. I picked it up on Craigslist about 8 years ago (along with the history).

    Liked by 1 person

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