Campaign Style Furniture design, part 1: brass hardware, straps and corner mounts.

Campaign furniture spanned more than 200 years of English furniture periods from the Georgian through to the mid 20th century. Even though it was around for so long the campaign-style did not change much in those 200 years, which could be attributed to a couple of factors. First, since the furniture had to be mobile and sturdy for use on or near battlefields there are arguably a limited number of ways to build that furniture. Second, the clientele were military officers to begin with, who tended to be staid, conventional, and reserved in their tastes and styles.

I believe the first campaign furniture was made for British naval officers in the early Georgian period (the early 1700s). I’ve perused the Christopher Clarke Antiques Blog and Christopher Schwarz’s book and haven’t found anything definitive on this and will probably follow up with more posts on the history itself.

One feature of campaign furniture that tends to stand out (and is used heavily in contemporary interpretations) are brass coloured straps and hardware.

Brass coloured straps are a decorative element in modern furniture. You will likely find that on modern pieces the straps, corner mounts and related parts are not recessed and installed flush, but are proud of the surface. Another difference is that the straps and hardware will likely be fixed with tacks, pins, or small nails. You may also find the pieces glued to the carcass.

The utilitarian and mobile nature of Campaign furniture means that the brass hardware is functional as well as decorative. Brass straps and corner mounts protect edges and corners. Straps may also help to keep sides from bowing or flexing and creating gaps.

A corner mount.

Corner mounts will usually be flush with the wood, which requires time and effort and would be difficult to automate. The screws will be countersunk slotted screws and again flush so as not to catch on anything while moving it.

Brass straps.

The brass straps are also mounted flush and protect the edges and possibly keep the sides from bowing or flexing since they are of solid wood (mahogany, teak, or in this case, oak).

For part 2 I’ll talk about the drawer hardware.

Campaign Style chest. Part 1

One thing about building Campaign Style chests is you gotta love the dovetail. Alot.

Hogged out the majority with an electric router.

The dovetails were easily the most intimidating part of the carcass build, so I wanted to practice before I started on the project. I had some scrap pieces of beech that I thicknessed to be the same as the chest would be. I found an excellent tutorial for full blind and secret mitre dovetails at http://www.mikes-woodwork.com

There are so very many videos and blogs that show and/or describe how to make standard through and half blind dovetails, but there are surprisingly few that show how to make full blind and secret mitred dovetails. Even so, I did find several to choose from and always came back to the mikes-woodwork site. His instruction really worked for me and I used it for all subsequent dovetails for the project.

The reason I was looking into the full blind and secret mitred dovetails is that they were used in period pieces, mostly for the top corners. I checked some pieces locally and found that some had half blind and some had full blind, but I haven’t found a secret mitred carcass yet.

And just a warning. I’ll use “half blind” and “half lap” dovetails interchangeably so if you see me change from one to the other in mid-thought I’m still talking about the same thing.

Laying out my lines.
The three pieces with the rebate.
Cut your pins first. It is easier to transfer the pins to the tails with this kind of joint.

Several years ago when I was just beginning to play with joinery, I learned to cut pins first. Not because I watched Frank Klaus or anything like that, but because I found it to be much easier to transfer the pins to the tails. At the time I thought I was cheating or doing it wrong, so I then learned to cut tails first. Since the question, Pins or tails first, has become such a volatile debate, I don’t usually say which way I think is best. That said, I haven’t made enough dovetail joints to even be considered a beginner.

With full blind dovetails you don’t have to worry as much about the proportions of your tails to pins, so make them both big.

I used a mitre jig to reference my chisel from the top and bottom.
And for my first try it wasn’t too bad. Surprisingly little cursing and hardly any crying at all!

Even though my trial run on the hidden mitred dovetail went OK, I decided not to use them in the project. Instead, the two top corners are full blind dovetails (without the mitre). I didn’t take pictures of that procedure but will do so for my next Campaign piece. I did take a picture of the pins though.

Some of my scribbling.

For the backs of these pieces (Chests and Secretaire) the norm was to use a simple boarded back that was screwed into the rebates in the carcass. Another method was a frame and panel. I chose a modified version of the frame and panel for mine. I used mostly offcuts for the frame and panel, but for the frame I needed non-spalted straight grain.

Frame and panel back for Campaign style chests.
My frame and panel back.

The back frame is 12mm thick (about 1/2 inch). I used a half lap here since I didn’t want to fiddle with mortise and tenon that small. The panel is slightly thinner and goes into a 5mm groove in the frame.

Web frame (webbing) for between the drawers.

I had some leftover bookmatched flame beech but it wasn’t long enough to use for the backs, so they ended up in the webbing between the drawers. The web frame is the same thickness as the carcass or 18mm (about 3/4 inch). For this, I used mortise and tenon.

While searching for scrap beech I could use for the frames, I came across some oak that was the right length and thickness, so I laminated a piece of flame beech on the front and called it a day.

And I have a couple of boxes. Getting ready to build the drawers and gallery next.

The flame is beautiful, but I was not careful with this and damaged the soft wood on the left side.

To be continued…

Mission Style Chair

I had been planning to make a chair in the same style of the Prairie Settle because I wanted to fix a few mistakes I’d made with the couch and I just wanted the chair because it’s cool. I still went for the Red Oak because I’m a glutton for punishment. Actually, I don’t remember why I still went with Red Oak, but I’m sure I had a very good reason. There were some measurements for the chair that came with the original plans I’d bought for the Prairie Settle, so I basically made it as a very short version of the Settle.

The build process for this one was rather sporadic, as we moved twice while making it. I started out with the spacious and wonderful garage and basement combo that was a dream.

We then moved to a smaller place with no basement. This was not too much of an issue except in the winter. The garage was not insulated and we were not allowed to heat it (we were renting).

The oak log bench to the left is my bowl carving bench.
Our Dining room as my winter workshop.

When the temperature drops below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period it is difficult to use iron or steel tools. That winter we had snow and cold snaps so I ended up bringing the chair into the house to work on. This introduced some interesting obstacles but also got me thinking about what woodworking and furniture making meant to me and how motivated and dedicated I might or might not be.

But that was not the last move in this build. Alas, we had one more move to go before I finished the chair.

My cozy workshop.

Our final move before the chair was finished was into an apartment. This kind of downsizing introduced so many new challenges and compromises that I honestly think this is where I cemented my love of woodworking.

Our downsizing was all part of a grander scheme so it was all self-induced and not due to a personal crisis or anything.


You can see my fresh air workshop in the background. Working off the back of a pickup and using my carving bench very creatively was actually kind of fun.

I’m going to use the constant moving as an excuse (not a legitimate reason, but an excuse) for some of the issues I had with the chair build. Lack of decent lighting was a constant obstacle and unfortunately, it reared its ugly head during the worst time possible, while I was sanding and finishing. I wanted to try something different and the plan was to use some amber shellac and then a brown wax to kill the orange. As you can already see, my plans went awry and my time limitations kept me from getting the wax on. This was one of those moments where I really questioned some of my life choices. In the badly lit apartment it looked very nearly like I wanted, but as soon as I got it outside and into some halfway decent light, I damn near cried.

But I get ahead of myself. The build itself was fairly uneventful.

Again, prepping and dimensioning the lumber by hand was the fun part. I cut the grooves and spindle channels with mallet and chisel, like the Settle project.

The cauls I’m using here are actually all that remained from a coffee table we got from World Market. A lot of their furniture is made of Rubberwood. When Rubberwood trees are finished providing latex, after 20 to 30 years, they used to be burned. Now they are being used in furniture, especially those in the plantations in Asia. What I saw of the wood in this furniture (that I destroyed and used for cauls) is that the colour could be interesting, but not necessarily pretty. It’s a fairly tight grain and not as splintery as Red Oak. It works easily with hand tools and sands well. Since the colour can be kind of offputting, it’s usually heavily stained.

Just as I was getting ready to start my dry fitting of the frame, the temperature dropped and I was forced indoors. This is where I had to be creative and compromise on some things that I would normally do. Without a large surface on which to rotate, flip, support, and clamp, I had to make sure that I had clearance whenever I wanted to move the chair because the clamps might bang into or damage something in the room. This meant that my clamping was not as aggressive as I would have liked and eventually required modification (fixing).

Once again, the 1/4 sawn Red Oak was beautiful.

I made sure to get the medullary rays to flow away from the chair on each arm. Kind of a nice effect.

This is where we moved once again, so the next piece of the puzzle was done at the aparment. Here I started with the seat frame, doing the same weaving and materials as last time. If something works, go with it.


Using my saw benches to clamp the seat frame. This is most certainly not an optimal setup as the saw benches are not heavy enough to keep the frame still while weaving.

I really miss my workbench right now. 

A closer look at the weaving. I talk more about this on the Prairie Settle post, but I got the idea from one of the plans I purchased and then just modified it a bit for my situation. It’s a simple over under through the warp lines. I used the same twisted sisal that I had before as it is a natural fibre. I did not want to use nylon or anything similar. The only bad thing about working with this twine is that it’s rough on the hands and on the fabric. The upholsterer that we used for this piece came up with a wonderful solution that you will see later.

This shows the clinching I used instead of tacks or nails. In this particular situation, the clinches work better than any tacks or nails. I will definitely use this again on future builds. I did the same on the Prairie Settle and the seat frames did not come loose or need tightening at any time over the years of heavy use.

This shows the clinching for the warp line.

The finished seat frame.

We used Niola Furniture Upholstery in Bloomington, MN for this project. He did an awesome job and even wrapped the seat frame to protect the cushion from the sisal
twine.

With the cushions.
And in the real light.

The medullary rays do still pop.

Mission Style Prairie Settle (not settee).

My first piece of furniture was a Mission (Arts and Crafts) style Prairie Settle that I started in 2014 and finished in 2016. I had been reading about the Stickleys and was drawn to the American Arts and Crafts so I wanted my first piece to be of that style.

I had been through the old Stickley catalogues online and did some searches for mission style plans. I waffled between chairs, bookcases, tables, and couches (settles). I thunk and thunk and thunk some more, then I talked to Holly incessantly until she said, “just do something and stop talking about it!” I took that as a mild suggestion that it might possibly be time to stop thinking about it and just make a command decision.

I ended up purchasing several sets of plans from Popular Woodworking, Wood Magazine, and one from a website dedicated to furniture plans. I then took bits from each plan and some bits and bobs from other plans I’d seen and came up with my plan. I didn’t want it to look like every other settle I’d seen, so I modified the spindles, length, and seat frame.

I didn’t want to spend the extra on White Oak, so I chose Red Oak. Even though it was good lumber, I didn’t like working with it nearly as much as the Ash I’d worked with earlier. A lot splinteryer than the Ash.


Finished product.

I started this before I had finished the rocking horse, so it began its life in the basement. One thing about choosing something this size was that I could not do any final glue up in the basement because then I would not be able to get it out, so it ended up being a good thing that it took 9 months to finish.

I started with my very favorite part of any project, prepping the lumber.

My Millers Falls plane in the background.

My Sargent joiner.

Since this was a piece of Stickley Mission Style furniture there were many, many mortise and tenon joints.


All were cut by hand since I had not purchased the mortiser yet.

Eventually, I did get a mortiser (a Steel City benchtop), and it did work great. Really nice quality for the price. I used it on a couple of small projects, but later on
when I started the chair project I still preferred to do my mortising by hand.

And the tenons. Lots of tenons. Little tenons, big tenons.
Mitred tenons.

I also cut all of the grooves for the corbels and channels for the spindles by hand. Again, this was very therapeutic and cathartic. I’d spend days in the basement, mallet and chisel in hand. tap, tap, tap. Reposition my hands. tap, tap, tap Reposition. tap, tap, tap.

tap, tap, tap…

And then cleaned them out with the Stanley #71 router.

Next came the corbels. Cut on the bandsaw, then finished with hand tools.

The tongues were all done with the Anant rabbet plane.

I had read a few bad reviews about Anant planes, but I was able to look at this one before buying it and couldn’t find anything extraordinarily wrong with it so I bought it. After using it for a while the threads for the fence started to get loose and blade cap screws and threads started to do the same. I used this plane through quite a bit of this project,
but eventually got an old Stanley #78 with both fences. I won’t be buying Anant tools anymore, but I wouldn’t have that knowledge or experience if I hadn’t made that mistake. You don’t really know what a tool is like until you’ve used it yourself. Online reviews are a great general guide, but they can’t make that decision for you.

I started dry fitting in the basement, but knew right away that I’d have to move to the garage for the big glue up. I did, however, glue up the side panels in the basement.

What a monster. This is when I started realizing how big this couch was going to be.

Some more fitting and fiddling before I started with the spindles.

The flooring that these are laying on is for another project I have going on upstairs. We had already ripped up the carpeting from the entire top floor of the house and had been walking on plywood for almost a year. I eventually took some time off from work so I could get going on this. It was all cabin-grade ash (the lowest grade of flooring you can get) with a lot of color variation as well as some damaged pieces. But it turned out to be the best thing we could have done for the house. However, that story is for another post.

After fitting the spindles and spacers. This was a very fiddly process, since I was working with spindles that had to be symetrical as well as gradually increasing in width. I ended up with two thin ones on each side, then increasing the width by 1/8 inch for each of the others (I think). I messed around with this formula until I got something that looked right to me, so it probably wasn’t an 1/8 for each one.

I also had to keep in mind that each side had to be mirrored.

The pair of sides. Almost ready to take it to the garage.

And back in the garage. And you can see just a wee bit more of the fence (you can’t tell I’m proud of that dumb thing can you?).

Now I’ve started measuring out the spindles for the back. This was just as fiddly as the sides, but with the number of spindles and the area to cover, I ended up increasing the size of the spindles after every second one.

I spent hours just looking at spindles. I had bunches of different widths to play with and would get them spaced, look at them, take them out, put different ones in and spaced, look at them, take them out… yadda, yadda, yadda, and I’m finished.

I like this look and will probably try a variation on this sometime in the future, when I make my next piece of Mission style furniture.

It’s starting to look like a couch. And Ruby was feeling a bit camera shy.

The 1/4 sawn Red Oak, looked beautiful. The medullary rays were the star of the show. The arm and back rest had not been glued on yet, I was still getting the grooves to line up. Rather than just do dowels between the top and the body, I made long tenons at the top of each corbel and then transferred those to the bottom of the arm and back rest. This was not easy, but it did make for a very sturdy construction.
Showing the tops of the corbels and the tenons that went into the bottom of the arm and back rest.

The top has been fit and glued. You can see on the left that a splinter had snapped off. I filled and did my best to color it. Once the stain and shellac were put on, it was less visible. If only I’d had my training with Graham and Clare at Chippendale Furniture School then 😉

Here she is on some mismatched workbenches. Did I say I was spoiled? Got my jammin’ sound system on the wall so all I had to do was plug my phone in, start Pandora, and go to town on some Dropkick Murphys. Up above (you can see the ladder to the side) there was oodles of storage in the rafters. You can barely see my Steel City mortiser to the left, gathering dust before I sell her.

The color of the stain is called Provincial. We had looked at walnut, gunstock, light oak, dark oak, light walnut, and ebony, but settled on Provincial, which Holly and I really liked. I don’t have the shellac on yet, but it already looks nice.

The roll at the back is the fabric we chose and of course the thing in front is a Dell Compellent Storage system that I was getting ready to install somewhere (I think).

I had read some articles on different alternatives for seat frames and I latched on to the woven seats like…like…well, like something that latches onto things.

I looked at some weaving techniques and decided that I would do a very simple weave for this. I also chose twisted sisal because I wanted something durable and natural. I didn’t want nylon or anything similar.

I did the warp first and then the weft. Pulled each row tight and then straightened and tightened more before moving on to the next row.

Here’s a corner showing how I have the ends. No tacks or nails. I just have them cinched under the neighboring warp and weft rows.

As for the durability of this kind of cinching. We had this couch for several years and not only did it hold up, but it didn’t start to sag or need tightening at any time. And this was even after moving twice.

And after nearly a year, we finally have the most comfortable couch/sofa/settle we have ever owned.

Three coats of clear shellac and a couple of coats of beeswax and she was ready to rock and roll.

Welcome to Bad Wolf Woodworking

My introduction to woodworking was watching Norm Abram on the New Yankee Workshop and Roy Underhill on the Woodwright Shop on my local public TV station. At the time I was also watching This Old House (when Bob Vila was still on). Even though I did grow up around construction (grandfather was a carpenter, father was an electrician), I went in a different direction until much later in life.

Like most everything else I’ve been curious about, I was very academic (read nerdy) in how I pursued woodworking. Before I purchased any tool or lumber, I read about furniture making and woodworking in general. I followed Norm, Bob, and Roy and then through them, I learned of other woodworkers and scoured the Internet for content. I picked up on Tom Fidgen, Paul Sellers, Elia Bizzarri, Curtis Buchanon and many others. I lurked on dozens of woodworking forums, watched videos and bought books until I was ready to start buying tools.

My favorite hand plane.

I loved my job in IT but knew I needed something to take the edge off after a tough day/week/month, so as I chose my first tools I already knew that I would be primarily unplugged as my intent was to have a quiet (as opposed to the loud datacenter) and relaxing introduction to my new hobby. That said, I did follow the recommendations of a few online and fitted my shop with a 14-inch bandsaw, a 12-inch planer (thicknesser) and a benchtop mortiser and drill press. Of those power tools, the only one I really ended up using on a regular basis was the bandsaw (and to a much lesser extent, the planer).

This blog is about the path I’ve taken as a woodworker. I’ll talk about projects, books, videos, pretty much anything related to woodworking.