One of the more common pieces of campaign furniture is the simple trunk, sometimes also called a “strong chest,” “traveling chest” or “barracks chest.” The one shown in this chapter, however, has some unusual details you should be aware of. More about those oddities in a few paragraphs.
Trunks typically have square ends – both the height and depth of the trunk can be roughly 15″ to 25″. In general, they are somewhere between 25″ to 40″ wide. The chests are frequently dovetailed at the corners and bound with brass corners and other brass straps. Despite the dovetails, many of the lids and bottoms of trunks were merely nailed to the carcase. It is not unusual to find a trunk with a lid or bottom that has a split.
The trunks almost always had a lock or hasp to protect the contents.
Many of the trunks were raised on some sort of foot. The foot could be as simple as a sledge (sometimes called sled) foot – just a square of wood – all the way to a complex bracket foot.
Inside, many trunks had a small till with a lid, much like a typical household chest. This till stored small items and its lid served as a stop to hold the trunk’s lid open. The chests are typically made from mahogany, oak, teak and camphorwood, which naturally repels moths.
The trunk shown here is typical in many of its attributes except for the joinery at the corners. Instead of dovetails, I have chosen an uncommon (but definitely reliable) type of joinery found on trunks from the West Indies.
That’s a Rivet? I first encountered this joint while haunting antique stores on King Street in Charleston, S.C. One of the trunks there had a series of brass circles that ran in a line up each corner. At first it looked like brass inlay, which is a common feature of some Anglo-Indian campaign pieces.
Instead of decoration, the brass circles turned out to be the joinery.
The dealer, who had imported campaign furniture from the West Indies for decades, explained that some collectors referred to that joint as a “rivet.” He explained that the rivet was nothing more than a brass screw that had been driven in so its head was still proud. Then the screw head was filed flush to the carcase, eliminating the slot.
It’s a surprisingly simple and (I think) attractive way to make a strong joint that looks a lot better than having 12 wooden screw plugs lined up on the corners.
This approach shows up in other applications in the woodworking field. Sometimes, screw heads are filed flush with a piece of hardware. And if you’ve ever seen infill handplanes, you know it was common for the maker to screw in the wooden infills and the lever cap then file off the heads – making for a clean sidewall of the tool.
This trunk is based on several smaller English examples I’ve studied that were dovetailed. But instead of the dovetails, I substituted “rivets” as the joinery to make the trunk look more like one from the West Indies. If you want a more English look, cut through- or full-blind dovetails at the corners. The other decorative details, such as the brass corners and bracket feet, pretty much remain the same.
Almost a Butt Joint
The joinery of the trunk is as simple as a modern kitchen cabinet. The ends are captured by 5/16″-deep x 5/8″-wide rabbets cut on the ends of the front and back pieces. This corner joint is first glued then later screwed. The bottom is captured in a groove plowed in the ends, front and back.
The lid is built a lot like the case below. The ends are glued into rabbets in the front and back pieces. The lid is then nailed on top of that assembly.
When building the carcase, there are two basic paths you can follow. You can build the entire chest and lid as one unit then saw the lid free from the carcase. Or you can build the lid and carcase separately.
I took a path between these extremes. I cut the joints on all the parts. Then I ripped the lid parts free from the carcase parts. I assembled the lid and carcase separately. Why? I don’t like pushing a big assembled carcase over a table saw. But all three approaches work. Choose one you like.
Bookshelves that fold at or disassemble are common items among surviving pieces of campaign furniture. These ingenious units were generally pretty small. After all, it’s not as if you were traveling overseas with a Carnegie library, and books of the 19th century were usually compact items.
How small? A typical campaign shelf unit is 3′ wide, 2′ high and 8″ to 10″ deep. That’s not a lot of shelf space.
Many of these shelving units were designed to sit on top of another piece of furniture, such as a campaign chest or desktop. Or they were intended to hang on the wall, which was especially handy during a sea voyage.
Common Types of Portable Shelves The most common type of portable shelf isn’t one you’d expect to see in a book on woodworking because it’s mostly metal. These shelves are tubular metal uprights that screw together with two, or usually three, wooden shelves between.
These shelves look spindly but are robust enough for the job.
A less-common variant on these shelves replaces the metal with wooden uprights – usually turned spindles – that screw together with the wooden shelves to produce the finished piece.
Another type of shelving unit is a folding book rack. The simplest form of book rack has a at shelf with two “bookends” that fold flat while traveling. These simple racks are not exclusive to the campaign style; you’ll find variants during every furniture period where books were common.
The ends of the three boards are mitered and hinged. Sometimes the ends have handles so you can lift and move the loaded rack.
There are more complex mechanical book racks that also expand in length as well as having folding ends. These usually require some tricky hardware to make them function well, so I decided not to build one for this book.
The third common type of collapsible shelving unit folds like an accordion. You usually remove a center shelf (or two), and the uprights fold in on themselves, turning your shelf unit into a flat pile of lumber. The first time you see it in action, it’s actually a little bewildering. But it is quite cool.
This type of shelf unit requires no special hardware – just a small pile of butt hinges. And there is almost no real joinery to speak of. So it’s an ideal project for the woodworker without access to a forge or a metal shop.
These accordion-style shelves came in several dierent sizes and configurations that were embellished or plain. Some versions were designed to hang on a wall; others sat on top of a chest or desk.
The shelves I built for this book are based on a unit I admired in one of the Christopher Clarke Antiques catalogs. The original was made from teak; mine is mahogany. While the only joinery in the whole project is cutting two dados, you will become quite an expert at installing butt hinges. It takes 12 hinges to get the whole thing to work. And installing the hinges precisely makes the shelf unit sturdier and makes it collapse more smoothly.
Happy Monday! (Editor’s note: She wrote this on Monday; I was lax in getting it posted.) Hopefully everyone has recovered from Woodworking in America (or has stopped scouring Instagram for the most recent updates like I was) and is ready for a regular week of reading the forum and working. Remember, if you have a question about our products, procedures in our books or anything related to Lost Art Press, the fastest way to get an answer is our forum. Check it out here.
Is it Abnormal for a Brace to be Out of True?
Saul has a brace where the angle of the chuck to the crank arm is less than 90°. When using it, it causes the brace to oscillate. He wants to know if this is something common and if it is something fixable. Have you had a similar issue? Was it worth fixing?
Sea Chest / Pirate Chest Plans Adam wants to build a 1700s -tyle wooden chest similar to those used to transport goods on ships. He is looking for a source for plans or instructions. If you have any insight on where he could find some, let him know here.
Planing End Grain?
Stephan is puzzled by his recent planing experience and is curious to see if it is normal. He has an 8/4 x 14″ x 72″ ash slab that he is making into a bench. When planing the end grain he found that his smoother left the best finish if he planed radially, not simply across the end. He wants to know if this is a technique that other people use or if he and his ash are just weird. Comment here before he starts to think it is just him.
Scandinavian Planes Anybody know of a source for vintage planes from Sweden or Norway? Michael is on the hunt. He knows they are difficult to find but would love some help if anybody has some to offer.
A Novice’s Campaign Over 200 hours and two years later Todd completed an incredible campaign secretary. (picture at top) His daughter is crazy lucky to be able to call it her own. This is a beautiful piece and well worth the time! Congrats!
Yet Another Workbench Newbie… Also a shout out to Mark for finishing his workbench. I love the excitement when people finish their first couple builds and this is a great example. It looks awesome. Here’s to years of new builds coming from this one.
Good Morning and Happy Monday! It’s that time of the week for a forum update. Remember, if you have a question about our products, procedures in our books or anything related to Lost Art Press, the fastest way to get an answer is our forum. Check it out here.
Making a Wider Bookshelf
Thomas needed a bookshelf to fit a 6 foot space in his home, so he modified the bookshelf from “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” (shown above) Now he is trying to decide on a paint color. See his modifications and put in your vote for a paint color here.
1770 French Bench Doe’s Foot
Ever wonder how one would plane the edge of a board that was too short to reach the hold fast holes on the right hand leg on the vise-less French benches? Or wonder why the doe’s feet shown on most plates are so wide and short? Chris had. And then he saw the recent posts on the Lost Art Press blog. See his thought process here.
The Campaign Worktable of Necessity
How do you guarantee yourself a great workspace if your job moves you around to different offices on a regular basis with no promise of a decent desk at the next location? Build yourself a campaign worktable of course. And not just any table, one with style. Above it is shown disassembled and ready to be moved. See the table assembled here.
Why do cut nails rotate when driven?
John has noticed a rotation when driving cut nails and was wondering if there is a way to avoid it. A few suggestions have been provided to him as to how to prevent this. Have your own solution or the same problem? Here is the place to comment.
A Boarded Campaign Chest Joshua’s Campaign Chest that he was looking for some feedback on a couple weeks ago is coming along really well. (shown at right) The hardware is a great touch. Now for some feet and it will be set to go!
Jeremy has been working on a split top Ruobo and has a couple questions on parallel guides. Check out the specifics of his build and see if you can offer some advice here.
An eagle-eyed reader spotted this photo at the National Portrait Gallery in London – Sir Winston Churchill in 1944 in North Africa with Field Marshal Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis (sorry, had to include the full name) and Wladyslaw Anders, a Polish army general.
And look! To Churchill’s right is an excellent example of a Roorkhee chair with canvas covers. The chair has square blocks at the tops of the legs, a type I have seen before but never built. If my memory serves me right the feet finish with somewhat of a stake-like point, perhaps to dig into the terrain.
After building about 25 Roorkhee chairs since researching my book “Campaign Furniture,” the amusing fact is that I haven’t built one for myself. I still have just enough latigo leather and mahogany to do the job. I just have to find the time.
Read more about this photo from its description at the National Portrait Gallery here.