Chris Schwarz's Blog

Campaign Chests on a Budget

The Ansaldi & Sons die-cast pull in front. A traditional cast one at rear.

When I had a bunch of woodworkers over to my house recently, they spent some time looking over the Campaign chest I finished recently for an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Their first question:

“How much did all this hardware cost?”

The answer: About $700. They gasped, but after examining the hardware on the chest from Horton Brasses, they acknowledged that the money was well-spent. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even blink at the cost of the hardware or the wood for the chest. If I’m going to spend three months building a project, I sure as heck am not going to skimp on the wood or hardware.

But I also know that I’m not typical.

If you are on a budget, you can still build this Campaign chest and other Campaign-style pieces of hardware with a minimal outlay of money. Here’s how.

A Campaign chest with turned wooden pulls and no brass brackets.

A Campaign chest with wooden beckets and turned pulls.

Wood: Many of the Campaign chests I’ve studied were made from mahogany, teak or camphor. If those species are outside your reach, use quartersawn oak or even pine. Many Campaign chests were made from oak, and I’ve even seen some made from pine.

Hardware: You can build an authentic campaign chest without buying a single scrap of hardware. Some chests had pulls that were inset turnings, as shown in the photos. Some chests didn’t have any of the brass corners and brackets. Some chests didn’t have brass chest lifts – they had wooden “beckets” with rope.

But to my eye, I prefer the brass fittings. There are ways to do this on a budget.

Brass pulls: For a good quality cast brass pull you are going to pay about $30 to $40 per pull. With eight pulls on most chests, that can be a hefty brass bill. You can greatly reduce the price by using pulls from Ansaldi & Sons. Their Campaign pulls are about $7 each, so you can outfit a chest for $56.

I won’t lie to you, these pulls aren’t as nice as the heavy ones you’ll get from Horton or Londonderry. The pulls from Ansaldi & Sons are die-cast, so the metal is thinner. They also mount from behind, which is not typical for the style.

Corner brackets from Ansaldi & Sons.

Corner brackets: Ansaldi & Sons also carries corner brackets and L-brackets for campaign chests. These are typical of what you will find elsewhere as far as quality and price go. The downside is that they are designed (mostly) for 7/8”- or 1”-thick stock. If you use 3/4” material, you are out of luck.

If you are short on cash, I think the best solution is to make your own. You can buy 3/4”-strips of .034”-thick brass from many hobby shops. Amazon sells bundles of the stuff; two bundles would do an entire Campaign chest for about $16. All you have to do is cut it, bend it and bore it. All of this is easy to do with woodworking tools and a metal-jawed vise.

So, like with anything in woodworking, you can get around almost any barrier, even a $700 one, with a little imagination.

— Christopher Schwarz

You can read the other stories I’ve written on Campaign-style furniture on this blog by clicking here.

8 thoughts on “Campaign Chests on a Budget

  1. recipio

    Chris, just as a newbee here, I’m really looking forward to the book. It is the only book (I know of ) devoted to actually building campaign furniture.
    Just a question about fitting the corner brackets. It seems suited to using a router jig ? Did you do this or do you prefer all hand work.?

  2. Gary Smyth

    I’ve been following this project from your first announcement. With all respect, your comments about not letting the price of hardware/wood be of concern are not fair. You are doing an article for a national magazine and the advantage of getting it published is that it is an expense that costs you nothing either by expense account or a tax write off. Secondly, how many donations were involved? Honestly, I wish you the best, and I’m looking forward to the article, but I bet you didn’t pay $15 for the Londonderry Catalog. I know that the $300 book on Campaign Furniture was donated to you. You are a skilled craftsman/author. I just feel for the audience you are writing for, true costs ought to be revealed. $700 is the tip of the iceberg. I’m guessing this item for the article on the campaign piece is worth $6000 by the time we figure your material costs and at least part of your time in the design and build. I’ll have to read the article to finnd out if any new tools were involved. Writing/photography is in addition to that. Bring it on, I want to see what you made, but please don’t tell us about the vastly inferior underweight hardware as an alternative – It’s embarrassing. If considering using most of that stuff, it might as well not be used at all. Keep this up and the next thing will be an article about a reproduction Tansu chest, but don’t worry about the Paulownia and hardware cost.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Gary,

      I paid full price for all the lumber and hardware in this project. Period. End of story. Call Steve Wall lumber. Call Londonderry. Call Horton. Call anyone involved in this project and they will tell you I paid full retail. I always have and I always do.

      So there is no deception. No donations. None. Ever. Period.

      As to the book, it was not donated. Who is your source? I paid $100 plus a couple T-shirts for it. Want proof? Come to my house and I’ll show you the e-mails and PayPal receipts.

      True costs have been revealed.

      Chris

  3. Bill Lattanzio

    Thanks for the good tips. I generally steer away from large projects because of wood cost, especially because I don’t like using plywood and would much rather use solid wood. The price of hardware can get scary.
    Also, suggesting Amazon is a great tip. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see all of the woodworking supplies you can pick up on the site.

  4. dfdye

    Chris, I noticed that the Ansaldi & Sons hardware was brass plated cast zinc. Any opinion on how well the plating will hold up? The price is definitely nice, but if the plating is going to peel off in a couple of years, well. . .

    Thanks for relaying alternatives!

  5. don2laughs

    Sure appreciate this update, Chris. I really love this campaign design and have been nurturing ideas and hopes to start some projects to confirm & enhance my hand tool commitment but $700 for the hardware is a deal breaker for me. Believe me …. when I see $85 for one drawer pull …. my imagination is certainly stimulated.

  6. GunnyGene

    Chris great ideas for budget minded folks in this day and age. Thanks. I have my own small forest and use my own as much as possible. Lot of work from tree to chest, but I don’t have much else to do since I retired.

    Shameless plug for someone you might know. Michael Elledge – who builds a lot of civil war cannon carraiges and related stuff, that would go well with the campaign chest. Here’s his site. http://www.jmelledge.com/

    And a post that shows some of his latest work: http://www.woodworking.org/InfoExchange/viewtopic.php?t=31110

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