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13th century style chest as a tool box.

Sketchup drawing of the chest to be built.

There are many options for tool chests. There’s the (very popular) Anarchist Tool chest, based on a traditional chest design originally seen in the 18th century. But they are big, bulky and difficult to transport. A scaled down version would be fine, and could be justified as period since there are similar chests in Durer woodcuts. There is the Dutch tool chest, also popularized by Chris Schwarz. I don’t care much for the slant top of the Dutch tool chest, so that design is out for me. I’ve done lots of Scandinavian chests, and we’re pretty sure the Mästermyr chest was used as a tool chest at the end of its life, but I wanted to do something new.

I’ve made several knock-down versions of the 13th and 14th century clamp-front chest, so for the last few years I’ve been thinking a tool chest version would be nice. My friend Angus has a nice tool chest of this design, so I thought “why not” and spend the early Spring of 2021 designing a chest.

I started with an image of a 13th century chest in the Victoria and Albert museum.

Chest from the V and A. See more info at http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O93911/chest-unknown/

The original chest is a little over a meter long, which seems to be a bit large for an easily transported tool chest. Using Sketchup, I scaled it down a bit so the width of the legs matched up to dimensional lumber. I mocked up the design in cardboard to get a sense of the interior size, and thought it would be just the right size for a traveling chest to hold a minimal set of tools.

The chest I constructed is known as a “clamp front” chest. This blog post from the Quiet Workshop, along with the follow-on posts, gives a nice overview and several examples of clamp-front chests. The “clamp” is a furniture term describing the way the front and back center panels are connected (clamped) between the legs on either side. These panels are mortised into the edges of the legs, and usually pinned in place with wooden dowels or nails. The front and back of the chest are tied together by flat boards on the ends and, in the case of the chest I built, a framework of overlapped thicker timber, also mortised into the front and back legs.

This diagram, taken from Church Chests of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries in England by Philip Johnson (1907) shows the end construction of a similar chest. you can clearly see the construction of the framework on the end, along with the stub tenon that fits into a notch on the lid batten/hinge board. Not shown here, but clear in other chests of this type, is the the floor of the chest is supported by a groove in the lowest front-to-back framework piece.

End construction of an early 13th century chest at Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey

As much as I would have liked to build it out of oak, I took a lesson from past projects and further inspiration from Angus’ chest and decided to construct it out of southern yellow pine (SYP). My local builder’s supply stocks 2x material in SYP, so I purchased 3 eight foot lengths of 2x12s. I picked out the board with cleanest and most attractive grain to use for the legs. For the side and end panels, the second board and part of the third was resawn to produce 3/4 thick material.

Resawing setup. The board really is flat.

The resawn panels did cup a bit after sawing, so I had to rip them down to 5 to 6″ wide strips (which reduced the amount material that would be lost removing the cup), and glued them up into the 12″ to 13″ wide panels I needed. After gluing, the panels were planed down to a uniform 3/4″ thick to remove the resaw marks, and further reduce the cupping.

Next post – prepping the legs.

Three furniture projects for an outdoor kitchen: aubry cabinet

The least historically plausible piece of furniture is the aumbry cabinet – a 15th century form, usually used to store church vestments.

My aumbry cabinet assembled

Here are some historical examples.

a circa-1490 piece that was part of the Clive Sherwood collection sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2002. (link from https://www.core77.com/posts/87776/Be-Honest-About-Your-Inspiration-or-Else) This was the historical exemplar that Chris Schwarz used to design the aumbry in the “The Anarchist’s Design Book” which provided some construction hints and templates for the tracery.
English aumbry c. 1490 from https://www.periodoakantiques.co.uk/antique-sales-archive/a-very-rare-english-oak-aumbry-circa-1490-27-stockno-1074/. I traced and modified the teardrop tracery design from this aumbry for mine.

This was the most ambitious piece of the three I built – I don’t know that anyone has tried to make a knock-down aumbry cabinet in this style before; I certainly could not find a description of one. The basis for the cabinet is a combined back/sides and shelf unit that folds up. I’ll refer to this assembly as the carcass of the cabinet, since it can be separated from the face frame or front. The design is based on the ubiquitous folding bookshelf, except with a solid back and sides.

Fold-up bookshelf action of the cupboard carcass. After all 3 shelves are up, the side panels fold in. The semi-circular cutouts are clearance for the bent tabs that support the front of the shelves.

To reduce weight (which was only partially successful) the back is frame and panel construction, with the panels only 1/4 inch thick, and the frame pieces 7/8 inch thick. All of the carcass construction is poplar, with the outside stained to match the front and top and the interior kept natural. (The color match is better in real life. I think the flash made the back shown in the photo below much lighter and more red-toned than it is in person.)

Back frame and panel.

The top is removable; it is just held in place by two cleats that fit snugly into the top of the cabinet. The weight of the top also helps keep it in place. The top is 7/8 inch thick ash with a dark stain. I chamfered the top edge heavily to increase the visible weight. Extant examples are not chamfered, but the darker English aumbry shown above had complex molding to produce a similar affect.

Top of the cabinet removed showing the alignment/stiffening cleats on the underside.

The front is two wide boards (stiles) connected by 2 narrower rails tenoned into the edges of the left and right panel. As Chris Schwarz describes it, the cupbuard front is really a giant face frame. The front and door are 3/4 inch thick ash with a dark stain on the exterior surfaces. Carving was completed before finishing and assembly, as was the scratch-stock molding. The gothic tracery carving was done with the technique presented in this video. Iron strap hinges (purchased years before from Lee Valley) and a blacksmith made latch were nailed on the front frame (with Rivierre nails), with the nails clenched into place.

Front detached from the carcass
Back of the front, showing the clenched nails. Only the door was stained on both sides in an effort to keep the interior as light in color as possible. You can clearly see the pegs that help hold the rails in place and the hardware to attach the front to the carcass.

The hardware that allows the front to be removed is knock-down bed rail hardware. I had the idea for using it for the knock-down cooler chest, but I found there were better options for the chest. Other than trying the hardware on a small mock-up I didn’t know that any of this would work until all the assembly was done and the hardware installed. It turned out fine – it goes together very easily, and requires just a little persuasion to come back apart. The carcass folds up and is not too heavy to carry. The face frame is stiff enough to move easily, and with the latch in place the door doesn’t flop around when being transported. All-in-all a successful project. Now I just need an event to happen so I can try it out.

The key to disassembly – bed rail hardware. The hooks are on the carcass sides, which fold in for storage and transport. The plates are embedded into the front stiles, and are flush with the back surface. The weight of the front keeps the fasteners firmly connected.

Three furniture projects for an outdoor kitchen: trestle work table

Trestle work table.

I have built several sets of trestle legs in the past, none of which were based on any particular period example. for this project, I thought I’d work up a design based on a period example. In manuscript illustrations trestles are mainly depicted for dining tables and the details of the attachment of the trestle to the table top are obscured by the table cloth. I combined two designs from two 14th century manuscript illuminations (shown below) and built the top of the trestles and the attachment to the table top from an extant example. For practicality the trestles knock down for transport. The table top is connected to the trestles with dowels to better fit its role as a work table.

Sources were found at http://www.larsdatter.com/tables.htm – an excellent source of manuscript images of everyday objects. The first illumination I used for the design can be seen here (British Museum). Here’s the portion of the image with the table and trestles:

Table from Add MS 42130, f.208 r 1325-1340

Note the “A” frames in the front are attached to a rectangular board at the top, and are braced with a single triangular stretcher at the top. The legs appear to taper from the bottom to the top. It’s unclear what the coloring of the trestle pieces is depicting, but it could be chamfers or bevels along the edges.

The second source is from a manuscript at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and can be found online here. Here’s the table detail from that illumination:

Guiron le Courtois (BNF NAL 5243, fol. 75r), c. 1370-1380

Here we see another set of trestles, this time connected by a single stretcher lower on the legs. There is no detail of the connection to the top, and once again no depiction of the back legs. It clearer that the legs are rectangular in cross section, and to my eye appear to gradually taper from the bottom to the top.

Here is an article at the St. Thomas Guild website with photos of a 15th century trestle table. Construction details of how the legs were mortised into the top and how the stretchers were attached to the front legs are shown in some close-up photos. These trestles have both an upper an lower stretcher, and a third connecting the front and back legs. For my design, I combined the shapes in the two 14th century photos, but omitted the front-to-back stretcher to make knock-down easier. Here is a photo of the trestles broken down for storage/transport:

Components of a single trestle.

The material for all the components is poplar. The legs and top were cut from 8/4 rough material. The stretchers are 3/4″ thick with 3/8″ tenons. The top stretcher is glued in at the top, and pinned in place with 4 oak dowels. The lower stretcher is glued and also pinned in place. The back leg is 1 1/2″ square.

Assembled trestle. I the top is upside-down – the chamfers should be facing the floor. This is to prevent hitting a sharp corner if you reach under the table top.

The table top was constructed by gluing up poplar boards, and is 7/8″ thick. The ends are oak breadboards to resist warping (the darker wood in the top photo). There are two 1 3/4″ thick battons attached to the underside of the table. When in use, wooden dowels are run through the battons into the top of the trestles to keep the table top from shifting.

Breadboard end on the table top. Oak was used for the breadboard to better resist warping.

Here are some photos to illustrate how the front legs were constructed.

After the stretchers were mortised into the legs, before parts were cut to the final shapes. You can see how the top tenons were laid out on the rectangular legs.
A similar photo, after the legs were tapered, showing the layout of the tenons on the upper stretcher. Note the stretcher tenons are perpendicular to the inner face of the legs which is not tapered.

Before final assembly, the stretcher pieces and legs were finished with an outdoor-safe finish. The stretcher tenons were pinned in place with oak dowels with a slight amount of draw-boring. After the legs were glued up, the top board was marked for the square tenons. These tenons were drilled and then evacuated for tight fit to reduce racking. After both trestles were completed, they were positioned on the table top such that the outermost legs were lined up with the edge of the table. The battons were installed on the underside of the top, and the dowel holes lined up with the top board of the trestles, which were drilled and fit for the connecting dowels.

Three furniture projects for an outdoor kitchen: knock-down cooler chest.

Three furniture projects

In the Summer of 2019, plans were made for a 14th century deed of arms to be held in the late Spring of 2020. My friend Casey asked if I would be interested in helping prepare hospitality for the knights captured during the day. We planned to try our hand at not only producing documented recipes with proper presentation but hoped to run our camp kitchen using 14th century procedures and technology.

As part of that effort, I resolved to create some furniture to enhance the period appearance of our kitchen encampment. I started on designing three pieces in September of 2019 after discussing plans with Casey at Pennsic. The requirements were to build pieces with period appearance that could also be broken down for transport to this and other, future, events.

The first piece would be a chest to conceal a modern plastic cooler. I’d built a cooler chest many years ago based on this article at bloodandsawdust.com. That initial chest has served me at Pennsic and other events for many years. It is not really based on any particular period example, and was sized for a 60 qt Coleman cooler, with very little extra space once the cooler was placed inside. The lid, front and back were dimensional lumber pine boards, with plywood sides and floor. I used the panel brackets from Lee Valley that were shown in the Blood and Sawdust post. Unfortunately, they are no longer available.

First cooler chest in 2010, with its own rain/sun awning.
The new cooler chest

For the medieval kitchen project, I thought I’d build a chest that was more closely based on a period example. I turned to Die gotischen Truhen der Lüneburger Heideklöster, a book describing the chests (Truhen) of the six con-
vents of the Lüneburg Heath – Walsrode, Ebstorf, Lüne, Isenhagen, Medingen, and Wienhaus. The particular chest I chose to base my version on was chest number 212 from Kloster Wienhausen dated to about 1300. Here are images from the book of the front and interior of the chest:

Truhe TR-NR 212
Interior or Truhe 212

Here is an article about chests from Isenhagen from the St. Thomasguild blog:

Article about similar chests from St. Thomas Guild: https://thomasguild.blogspot.com/2012/12/medieval-chests-from-kloster-isenhagen.html

Finally, an image from the Kloster Wienhausen web page showing the variety of chest at the convent:


My approach was to copy the construction details of the original to the greatest extent possible while designing the chest to be dis-assemblable for transport. I also chose to make the chest out of tulip poplar. Poplar is much lighter than oak (the material for the original chest), readily available in central Pennsylvania from my preferred hardwood dealer (Alderfer Lumber, Mt. Pleasant Mills, PA) in a variety of thicknesses.

I’m not going to do a full construction journal here, but the gist of the design is that the front and back are one assembly, the sides are panels with narrower rabbet that fits into grooves in the front and back legs. The lid is removable, with wooden cross-beams (or cleats) that form an integral hinge with the back legs. The floor of the chest is removable and made from plywood. The floor of these cooler chests is subject to the most abuse – there’s always some leakage or condensation from the cooler, and the floor is kept enclosed and covered, so there’s a possibility of mold and mildew buildup. This means it should be as replaceable as possible, thus plywood construction with a heavy coat of varnish for protection.

I did not include the carving decoration or the piercing of the front legs in my design, but those could be done/added at any time in the future. There’s also no lock set on the chest, as I’m not planning on putting anything of real value into it. Strap hinges were added to the top for decoration – some of the other chests from Lüneburg had strap hinges in addition to the wooden hinges. Having seen this style of wooden hinge fail on other chests (both modern and period) the strap hinges were mounted such that they can be used as the real lid hinges in the future by adding another strap down the back leg.

Here’s my cooler chest broken down for transport:

All the component parts of the cooler chest, which take up relatively little space for transport.

Here’s the front panel:

The center panel is mortised into grooves on the edges of the legs, and pinned into place with oak dowels.

Here’s a view of the wooden hinge joint:

Wooden hinge with a wooden dowel hinge pin. I will replace that with a steel pin before the chest is used in the field.
Hinge detail – note that for this to work, the back of the legs and center panel have to be curved to match the radius of the lid travel. A minor detail that is not called out on the construction details of the original chest.
Assembled chest with the lid raised. The wooden hinge limits how far the lid will open. You can also see how the lid cleats/cross beams will fit into the recesses in the front legs and the clenched nails holding the strap hinges in place.
The connecting hardware that keeps the sides in place. These are Rockler surface-mount bed rail brackets, Item #38892. They work great for this application.
Interior of the chest showing the removable floor. The semi-circular cutout is for a drainage hose from the plastic cooler, and the corners are notched to clear the brackets that hold the chest together.

The next blog post will detail the work table and trestles.

Three Scandinavian Chests – Construction details of Oseberg 178 and Hedeby sea chest

These more-or-less self-contained Mästermyr instructions will take you through the steps of laying out and constructing the trapezoidal-style chest.

In this section, I’m going to discuss some of the differences between the 3 historical chests, and some overall design considerations for construction.

Oseberg 178.
This is the simplest of the 3 chests for several reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the archeological drawings and photographs.

Conservation drawingFigure 6 – conservation drawings for Oseberg 178.

Figure 7 – zoom in of conservation drawing of the end of the Oseberg chest 178, along with a photograph of the end of the chest.

Figure 8 – photo of the bottom of the chest.

Things to note with this chest – as will all 3 of these chests, the bottom of the front and back is flush with the bottom of the floor of the chest. There is a very shallow rabbet along the sides which can easily be skipped in construction. It’s also not shown in Figure 7, so the conservation drawings are not clear. The simplifying detail is the joint between the sides and the ends of the chest – the notch in the ends corresponds to the bottom of the sides, therefore no notch is needed in the sides – they are just plain trapezoidal pieces. There is also a shallow dado in the ends to house the floor, but unlike the other two chests, it does not have to be “blind,” so if you choose to cut this in, it’s much easier to create.

Now, let’s look at a drawing of the Hedeby sea-chest:

Figure 9 – Hedeby Sea-Chest drawing from Crumlin-Pedersen. Note the drawing is scaled, so the ruler was included in the scan to pull dimensions from the drawing.

The major difference with this chest and the Mästermyr chest is the lack of rabbets on the front and back boards to mate with the ends, and the design of those side boards that dip below the floor of the chest at the ends

Figure 10 – Photo of the chest from the museum.

Here’s a link to my older handout on building the Mastermyr style chest.   This will walk you through construction of the slightly more complicated chest.

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