Affordable 13th Century Armor Chests

We finally finished our medieval chests just before Pennsic, and I’ve had a few requests to post a how-to for making period looking furniture like this without a huge outlay of money. My lady Ellice de Valles helped with the carpentry, staining and acquiring the materials. Thus the “we.”

We built the chests for about $60 each. To do so, we took many modern shortcuts, but we built them to pass the “2 foot rule,” not for art-sci projects. We also didn’t want to cry the first time we put a big scratch in one with a pair of spurs…

I won’t bore you with dimensions and sketches, but basically we built a pine box (scrounged from old shelves at the local reStore) and attached the pieces together with 3/8″ dowels and waterproof glue. We then carved the rondels and centerpiece (based on period ivories) using simple chip carving tools.

We then used narrow batten boards on the cover and to reinforce a couple spot, holding them in place with Tremont forged nails that we “clinched” (bent over by hammering against a small anvil) inside the box. We stained the box inside and out with a dark chestnut color.

The big, round forged nails all over the box with the 1″ heads are available commercially, but are very expensive—so instead we made our own prototypes out of Sculpey, and cast them in some plaster of paris. We then dropped a 3/4″ drywall screw into each mold and poured in fiberglass resin. We painted them semi-gloss black for the final touch.

For the straps, we cut most of the ornate ironwork from 1/8″ lauan plywood, sanded the edges and “planished” it on an anvil to leave little dimples. Again, we painted it semi-gloss black.

We couldn’t cheat this way on the top eye-hook hinges however, which forced me to learn a new skill, thanks to my squire Gruffyth, and his dad and his blacksmith friend, I spent a day, with their help, forging several 1/8″ cold steel straps for each chest up in Endewearde.

It was a fun project, but it took me a year to get around to finishing both of them, and I might never have done so were they not taking up half of the real estate in my shop!

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