Chris Schwarz's Blog

Let the Campaign Begin

A knock at the door at 8:01 a.m. today marked the beginning of my campaign chest project. Sure, I’ve been sketching, studying and digging up details on campaign chests for weeks now, but for me the project doesn’t really begin until wood gets hurt.

The trucker at my door this morning looked a little bewildered – he was expecting to drop off his 712-pound load of mahogany at a business, not my driveway. But he was cheerful enough when I started ripping into the metal straps on the load of lumber.

Whenever I order wood sight-unseen, I think it’s like a taste of what an arranged marriage must be like. And here I am with a hacksaw on my wedding night, stinky and in sweatpants.

I pulled the 250 board feet mahogany off the truck and stacked each board on the driveway. With every board, my mood brightened. All the boards were wide – 16” to 20” wide. They were clear – only two knots in 250 board feet. And they were long – 15’.

And they were heavy.

Once I got the trucker out of my neighborhood I hauled the mahogany to the back yard to cut it close to finished size on three sawbenches. And that is where I lost my nerve.

One of the interesting features of real campaign furniture, as opposed to fakes or reproductions, is that generally there is no secondary wood. The carcase and all the interior pieces are made from the primary wood, such as camphor, teak or mahogany, according to long-time dealers I’ve consulted.

Why? To make the entire piece resistant to rot and bugs. A campaign chest with a rotten bottom isn’t much good to anyone.

So I resolved to make my version as faithful as I could. I cut all the drawer sides and backs from the solid mahogany, plus all the drawer blades. But when it came to cutting the drawer bottoms from a piece of stunning 18”-wide completely clear wood, I put down my saw.

Either the drawer bottoms will be made from a secondary wood or I’ll piece them together from smaller bits of mahogany. That 18”-wide board is going to become a floor chest.

Also today, I received my first box of campaign hardware that I purchased to examine. Getting the hardware right is critical (to me, at least), and the range of hardware that’s available is crazy. I’ve been shopping at suppliers I’ve never used before, such as from the marine industry.

Later this week I’ll be comparing some of the hardware options. So stay tuned.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Days until the project must be finished: 58.


Want to read more about campaign furniture? Here’s a link to an earlier story on Roorkhee chairs. One of the things I really like about Campaign Furniture is its modernist lines and purporseful construction. If you like modern furniture, you should check out the outstanding “Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery: Smithsonian American Art Museum” by Oscap P. Fitzgerald. It’s a feast for the eyes.

17 thoughts on “Let the Campaign Begin

  1. Sgt42RHR

    Chris,

    I have an interest in 18th century campaign furniture and to date have built (using only hand-powered tools) an 18th century folding field bedstead (see at http://tinyurl.com/33598dv ), and an 18th century folding side chair (see at http://tinyurl.com/3ffstsy ). I also recently completed an 18th century campaign trunk (see at http://tinyurl.com/297u3hm ). The folding field bedstead was based on measured drawings of one of Washington’s campaign beds. The folding side chair is based on images of originals and and designs from Brawer’s book “British Campaign Furniture: Elegance Under Canvas 1740-1914.” I’m looking forward to your articles.

    Cheers,
    John Johnston

  2. Dave Hinkley

    This is great. I am an ‘aging’ military renactor. Consequently I have slowly gotten away from the ‘cold, cold ground’ adding a proper chair, then a bed, then a table, etc. I used to camp with a cassette and bedroll before I discovered the affects of aging. I may camp in the 18th and 19th centuries but that doesn’t mean I can’t be comfortable!
    I have seen very few examples of reproduced campaign furniture in the possession of others and wanted to try my hand at it but lacked a decent guide. I am looking forward to the book and any articles coming out.
    Chris, this may be more popular than one might think with the bi-centennial of the War of 1812 now getting underway. There is some walnut downstairs just waiting for the saw.

  3. Jim McCoy

    Hi Chris,
    I agree 100% in not using that wide board for drawer bottoms. That would kill me to do that. But being less forthright and honest than you obviously are, instead of saying (admitting) I was chicken, I would say something like using several smaller boards gives you the opportunity to better control wood movement. Heck, I’d probably mention the fact that the furniture had to survive some pretty extreme humidity changes too. But then your integrity is top notch too. Boy do I have a lot to learn.

    Really looking forward to the book!

    Jim

  4. Steve Branam

    That’ll be a great project! I was unfamiliar with the style until Derek Cohen recently completed a campaign-style entertainment center out of Australian jarrah on his website (http://www.inthewoodshop.com/Furniture/DesigningandBuildinganEntertainmentCentre.html).

    Gorgeous stuff! Of course, the first thing that popped into my head when he said campaign style was the tiger scene with the British Army in Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life.

  5. tsangelltsangell

    This is in 1st place for “Chris-Schwarz-post-where-I-say-wow-most-times.” Awesome material. I hope you find a way to do solid mahogany and save the 18″ board. INTEGRITY, SON.

  6. The offcut

    Was glue used in the original furniture? Hide glue? Will you use glue, and which type? (Bearing in mind the extremes of environment and infestations where original furniture may’ve travelled…)

  7. festus77

    Wow, wow & wow !!! However, I disagree with your decision to chicken out on the drawer bottoms. And I learned that from you. Shortcuts and compromises?

    Please reconsider,
    festus

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      I probably will use mahogany — just not the 18″-wide mahogany that is nice enough to be on the outside of anything.

      Point taken. Popular would look wrong.

  8. greggc

    Wow! 250 bd ft of clear 16 to 20 inch wide mahogany. I’d feel like a kid in a candy store and I KNOW I couldn’t have cut drawer bottoms out of that 18 inch piece. I’ve experienced that loss of nerve on lesser quality woods. Using secondary wood or gluing up smaller pieces sounds like the right thing to do to me.

    Looking forward to seeing the finished furniture. I don’t know anything about campaign furniture but after seeing the few pictures you’ve posted my intrest is also piqued.

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