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Reconstructing Chests

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We have built a number of styles of chesst and related boxes to store and carry our gear. Surviving artifacts are limited and most represent the sort of chest that is too large to be mobile or are finely finished pieces that are works of art in themselves (thus contributing to their survival). We have been looking to combine practicality (we have to move these things to and from shows in our vehicles), a period design esthetic, a desire to represent ordinary (rather than princely) versions of these things, and period construction and decoration techniques. So far our boxes have been built with sawn lumber rather than the split lumber of used in most of the orignials that we have examined.

The "clamped front" or "hutch" type chest

Here is a chest built of oak. Its size has been determined by the vehicle in which it needs to travel and (to some degree) by the availability of suitably sized boards, but it is approximately 75-80% the size of the chest we took as a model for its construction. The front and back "panels" of the chest are made up of two vertical stiles and a horizontal board that spans the space between the stiles. This board is mortised into the stiles and held with wooden pins. This construction is the "clamped front."

Medieval survivals often have an iron plate set over the spot where the wooden hinge pin enters the stile. Presumably this is an effort to thwart anyone trying to pry or drill out the hinge pin and thus enter the chest while circumventing the lock.

Inside the there is a till, a built-in box for the storage of small items. The front and bottom of the till are thin boards set into mortisses in the stiles. The ends and back of the till are made up by the chest's carcass. The lid moves on integral pins (carved from the lid board) that are set into round holes in the stiles.

The lid of the chest is attached to two battens. The battens are part of the lid's hinge, fitting into slots on the back stiles with a wooden pin passing through the end of the stile, on through the batten, and back into the stile. Note that the top of the stile has been rounded to alow free movement of the batten and the lid. In fact, the whole upper back edge of the chest's back has been rounded for this purpose.

Here is a shot showing the carving on the front stiles. Chests that were expected to spend their lives up against something (most of them) don't seem to have had their backs decorated.

To the left is a similar chest. Rather than a till, this one features a small shelf. The stiles are narrower and carry a different decoration scheme. Both of these chests have simplified ends, just the hinge batten, although many clamped front chests had elaborate framing on their ends. To the right is an example from one of our early chests (yes, we know the stiles are too thin) showing one form framing. When the lid is closed, the hinge batten appeasr to be part of the framing.
Here is another variation, this one a "cheaper" version. Rather than the more time consuming mortise-and-tenon joints, this one uses half-lap joints on the clamped front. Similarly, the end panels are inset in a rebate on the stiles and pinned in place. It still uses a batten as the hinge, but the batten resides inside the chest.

Variations on the "six-board" chest

This chest uses six boards in its construction. The lid has been slightly rounded on top. The sides are simple rectangles set on notches cut into the end stiles. The bottom is cut with tenons that fit into mortises in the end stiles.

This chest has metal bands to bind it, some of which operate as hinges. The central band extends into a hasp which takes a padlock.

This chest has a carved front. Its three major panels utilize motifs from 14th century decorated pieces, with the clothing and armor modified to suit the late 14th century.

Its construction is similar to the one above, though the mortises for the bottom do not go all the way through the sides, and the construction uses wooden pins rather than nails. It has iron hinges and handles as well as a panel lock.