High Status Box

My daughter lives in 1450 at least some of the time - she is a reenactor.  (see https://www.bucks-retinue.org.uk/ )

Sometimes she reenacts as a low status lady, and sometimes high status.   

It seems that high status ladies in the Fifteenth Century have a need for certain nice pieces of jewellery and other bits and pieces of finery.  My daughter wanted an authentic-looking box to keep them in.   Curiously, in medieval times, the pretty figuring I admire so much in oak was not considered as attractive as clean, straight grained oak, albeit with an attractive grain pattern - it appears that excessive figuring may have been seen as lower class.  Funny how tastes change over the years.

Thus I looked for a suitably refined straight-grained source of oak. I found a very old and dark-stained table. It was an elegant drawing room table, over 100 years old, made of thinner wood than most tabletops, which would be good to reduce the weight of the finished box. Obviously it needs to be something that a refined lady could lift. You will see now nice it looks in later pictures, when it is all finished and waxed up properly.

 

The wood was so dark, it could have been elm or oak until I stripped it off and luckily I found the beautiful oak grain I wanted.  I made a box to her specific dimensions, grooved all round to take the bottom.

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A suitable rebate was made all around, and it slotted into the pre-prepared slots nicely.

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I needed a very particular piece of wood for the bottom - ideally all in one width, nice straight grain, and not too thick, so not to weigh too much.

I dug out the top of an ancient English elm bookcase that looked to be perfect for the job.  The caked-on grime of centuries, and the layers of varnish took a bit of cleaning off, but it was worth it - grain pattern - spot on.

Then the last side was fitted and the whole thing glued up.

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A little bit of tidying up with a small hand-plane.

We wanted a shallow tray to fit into the top of the box, to take small items of jewellery and so on, so that was next, also made out of nicely-grained but not figured, oak.  We need some nice thin strips of oak to make this; we don't want the tray to be too heavy and clumsy-looking.

I came across a few odd strips of flooring, in an offcut bin at a timberyard.  It was very heavily stained and lacquered, but I looked carefully at it and was convinced it was solid oak and not vinyl, engineered oak or veneered MDF like so much "wood" flooring is nowadays.  

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Looking at the right hand picture above, you can just see some nice figuring at the end of one strip, which will look good on another project some time. The rest though looked to be without figuring.

I stripped off the heavy lacquer from five of these offcut planks - boy that was some tough stuff.  However, it was not in vain: sure enough, underneath was beautiful solid oak.  Some of it showed figuring, and some had the nice plain grain pattern I wanted. Planed and smoothed, the planks  finished up various thicknesses between 1/4 inch and 3/8 inch thick.  Perfect.   

These rescued oak strips will be ideal for making the tray:

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All polished up and looking lovely. Note the finger holes to lift it out with.      

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Then I put four triangular pillars in the corners of the box, to support the tray.

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It fits nicely.   SWMBO2 said she'd like some small boxes in the tray, to keep small pieces of jewellery and stuff in.  I think I will let her add the silk lining herself, once I've made the boxes.   You can see how well it looks though.

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Now for the lid of the box. The top is the first thing that strikes you as you look at a box, and so it is important that it looks right. For this classy box, it must have a really nice grain, ideally finer than all the rest of the wood in the box.

This lovely piece of wood came from the largest of a nest of three tables, and the grain is perfect.  The piece is too long for the box lid, so we are able to cut off the most swirly part of the pattern, leaving us with the elegant straight grain that we are seeking..

Once the new corners have been rounded to match the original, we offer it up to see how it is going to look.  Then all we need is the hardware: hinges and a hasp and staple.  We want these to be just right, so we plan to visit The Original Reenactors Market (TORM) in November, to research/buy some authentic ones.  You can find out about TORM here

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Here I've made a matching pair of little boxes to fit inside the tray.

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Now I made up some hinges in a suitable fleur-de-lys pattern. They needed to be stressed and artificially aged to make them look right. Then they were blacked and beeswaxed.  I found some hand-forged iron nails to fix them with - see the second picture below.

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I created a matching hasp and staple from bits of old hinges and an iron staple.  Then fitted them all to the lid, and finally again using iro nails, fixed the lid to the box.

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And here are a couple of pictures of the finished box, in the house by a timber-framed wall where it sort of looks the part.

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