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.
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