Thursday, March 9, 2017

Campaign Style Bookcase

Before I started following Chris Schwarz I had never formally heard about campaign furniture although I always knew I liked the furniture stylings of the Indian Jones movies and the vignettes at the ride in Disneyland is the most interesting part of the ride for me. I followed Chris' blog closely in the months leading up to the release of his book 'Campaign Furniture' and bought it as soon as it came out. It's one of the few woodworking books I've ever read from cover to cover rather than just using it as a reference.

The project I had in mind when I heard about the book was a bookcase for my son. I will admit I was temporarily disappointed when I saw the bookcase in 'Campaign Furniture' since it was much smaller than I had in mind. That disappointment faded quickly however for two reasons.
1) The bookcase Chris did would be perfect for a complete set of Hardy Boy books so it's on the list for a future project.
2) The book focused as much on techniques as it did on specific pieces of furniture so it gave me everything I needed to design and build my own.
The design process for me ranges from detailed measured full size drawings to sketches on a piece of scrap paper. This project was the latter. I knew three 'units' would give me good height and storage capacity and the measurements flowed quickly based on the size of the wood I had available. In this case it was 8 foot lengths of African Mahogany ranging from 8 1/2 to 9 inches in width. That put the width of each box at a little under 32 inches and the height at 16 inches.

With basic measurements in hand the boxes came together quickly with half blind dovetails. 'Campaign Furniture' preaches full blind dovetails and I do like the idea, however I don't get to do as many woodworking projects as I would like and if I'm going to do dovetails I want to show them off at least a little bit. All three boxes are identical and I toyed with different designs for the insides. I drilled shelf pins in all three but only the middle unit has a shelf. The top unit got a bank of three drawers and the bottom unit has a pair of doors.
I had a few crazy ideas for the base of the unit. At one pint I was considering stealing the brass kick plate from my front door and replacing it with a stainless steel one from the home centre so that I had a piece of brass to cover the front of the base. In the end I had the perfect amount of wood left over to do a simple dovetailed frame with a couple of cross members to allow me to bolt it to the bottom. I went with full dovetails here and at first I wasn't sure you'd even notice them but in the end they elevate the case nicely and are fairly visible.
The drawer unit in the top gave me an opportunity to add a few fun bits. In this case three hidden compartments. The first is simply a small recessed area in one of the drawers. The second is a false bottom on the middle drawer and the final one is a small box behind a short drawer. As with many secret compartments, once you know they exist they aren't hard to find however if you don't know to look there isn't anything obvious indicating the treasures hidden within.

I will admit that the scariest part of the build for me was all the inset hardware. I fretted over creating jigs and various other options but in the end I went with a relatively straight forward approach.
1) Mark the heights with a marking gauge and the roughly mark the width.
2) Use a handheld trim router free hand to route out the bulk before cleaning up with a chisel.
3) Hold the hardware in place to mark the width and finish up with a chisel.
All 24 pieces were done in an evening.

The finish I originally had in mind was a darker stain and pre-aging the brass. When I did some test samples of the African Mahogany with a wipe-on poly however I liked the look and decided to keep things simple.  I figure after a few sea voyages to India it will darken on it's own and develop the patina I am looking for.

This was a fun project and I'm hooked on Campaign Furniture.

Shut the Box Times Six

Each Christmas I try to make at least a few of my Christmas gifts, especially the ones for the kids teachers. In the past they've been simple cutting boards, small boxes and clipboards. This year I saw plans for a game called Shut the Box which fit with my theme of trying to build a game for the kids each Christmas. It was a bit more involved then a cutting board but I figured if I batched them out it would be worth the effort. In hindsight, even batching them out takes time when you are doing something like this six times. I got the two for the kids school done on time but the rest didn't get mailed quite in time.
Construction is straight forward with finger jointed corners, plywood bottom and floating panel solid top. I have a jig that is permanently set up for 3/8 fingers on the table saw with a flat bottomed dado blade so set up is quick. Making the box is actually quite quick. Most of the time is spent in the glue up and finishing. For the prototype (a 7th box) I hand wrote the numbers but for the next six I bought an inexpensive set of stamps for the numbers. Felt bottoms on a 1/8 inch plywood substrate, brass piano hinges and a wipe on poly finish things up. Easy construction and should last a life time of fun.

For plans you can go to