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.
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: 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.