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6-board-chest-art - 7/24/08


"Building a Six Board Chest Patterned After the Mastermyr Find" by Lady Stephanie Lilburn


NOTE: See also the files: chests-msg, caskets-boxes-msg, caskets-boxes-bib, furniture-msg, Lea-Hardware-art, woodworking-msg, wood-finishes-msg, wood-msg, tools-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This is the class handout for a class that Lady Stephanie taught at the Ansteorran King's College event in June 2008.


Building a Six Board Chest Patterned After the Mastermyr Find.

by Lady Stephanie Lilburn


In 1936, in Gotland, Sweden, men were plowing a field in a newly drained bog.  The plow caught on a chain and dragged an oaken box and a cauldron to the surface of the dirt.  In Europe, all antiquities belong to the country in which they are found, and each country has an antiquities department that handles such finds.  The appropriate authorities were notified and they came to take possession of the find.  Upon examination by the authorities, it was determined that this was an oaken chest filled with blacksmith and carpentry tools.


The chest was determined to date from approximately A.D. 1000.  The owner of the property, who had leased the farming rights out to the farmer who was overseeing the plowing that day, was given 300 Swedish dollars as a reward for turning in the artifacts.  He gave 100 dollars to the tenant farmer and 100 dollars to the laborer who was actually doing the plowing that day.


The authorities dug several test trenches in the area of the find in case this was only one of many deposits. Several sites have been found that appear to have been sacred areas where sacrifices of fine weapons, tools, and gold and silver were made.  However, nothing was found in the test trenches.  Since the site was a lake when the chest was deposited there, it was concluded that the chest and cauldron were accidentally lost to a boating accident.


The Mastermyr chest was made of oak, with a lock and hinges of iron.  The lock on the chest was a draw-lock. It was riveted to the lock disc on the ward plate and three cruciform wards were marked there, each 0.5 cm high.  The lock plate is nailed to the wood. The nails were turned over on the inside of the box to secure them.  The archeologists who examined the chest speculate that it was originally used for something other than tools.  It appears to have originally been a strong box to hold money or jewels.  One corner was badly damaged, and this damage may have caused it to be relegated to a tool chest.


The chest is important both because of its age and its construction.  The sides, top, and bottom appear to have been cut from a single log.  The sides are slanted inward, so that the bottom of the chest is wider than the top.  This A-frame construction makes the box very stable.  The bottom of the box is fitted in a rabbeted slot.  This is a grove around the bottom of the sides that securely holds the bottom, yet allows the wood to move some as it expands and contracts with the weather and seasons.  Bottoms fastened in this way tend to be much more stable than ones that are nailed to the bottom or just glued.  In addition, the bottom is held with mortise and tenon joints in the ends.  These joints are the type where a slot is cut in the end, the mortise.  A projecting square tab is cut in the other piece of wood.  The tab is fitted in the slot, securely holding the two pieces together.  Finally, holes were drilled in the sides and bottom and pegs were inserted to hold the piece together.  The bottom was definitely not going any where.


The sides were joined to the ends by means of a half lap joint and more pegs.  In a half lap joint, the top part of one edge is cut away, and the bottom part of one side is cut away.  The two tabs fit together.  This joint is simple to do, but very stable.  The ends carry all the weight of the sides on their joint.  Pegs were added to ensure that the joint stayed together.


The chest is surprisingly small. It is approximately 35 inches long by 10 inches wide by 9 inches tall.  Many people have the idea that all the chests used in the medieval ages were massive pieces of furniture.  While there were certainly such chests, the chests in which every day things were carried were much smaller.  The six board chest which we will be building is approximately 11 inches wide by 16 inches long and 11 inches tall.  This is about as big a chest as can be comfortably carried by one person when it is full.


The chest was filled with the basic tools a blacksmith would need to do his work.  In addition, there were many carpenter's tools.  The Mastermyr Project is a project of some blacksmiths in the Known World that have attempted to replicate all of the tools found in this chest. The exact dimensions of all the objects found in the chest are on their website, http://www.netlabs.net/~osan/Mastermyr/.


The Mastermyr chest is built in a manner that indicates a skilled craftsman made it.  The slanted sides and rabbeted bottom, as well as the mortise and tenon joint, can be difficult to execute properly.  For that reason, we will be building a much simpler six board chest.  The instructions for replicating the Mastermyr chest are included in the accompanying article for those that are interested.


The directions for the six board chest we will construct are included in the handout "Build a Simple Chest" by John Lambert.  First, one must buy a 1 inch by 12 inch by 8 feet board.  I have used pine for two reasons.  It is fairly cheap and it is fairly light.  Using a hardwood such as oak significantly increases the cost and the weight, making it difficult to carry when fully loaded.  Now, the dimensions that are on the piece of wood are not exactly the same as its true measurements.  A one by twelve is actually a 3/4 inch by 11 1/4 inch.  It was cut as a one by twelve, but when it was sanded smooth, this is what is left. The length, however, should actually be 8 feet.


The easiest way to cut the board to length is to cut it in half, then cut a 15 inch piece from each half.  You then cut the remaining halves into half, leaving you with two 15 inch pieces for the sides and four 16 1/4 inch pieces.  Pick the worst looking long piece for the bottom, and the best for the top.  The remaining pieces are the sides.


The end boards stand on end so they are 15 inches tall.  The side boards run horizontally so they are 11 1/4 inch tall.  Take each end and cut a piece 3/4 inch by 5 1/2 inch from the top of each side.  This is the first part of the half lap joint.  In addition, cut an arc from the bottom of the side so that two edges sit on the ground.  This adds stability when sitting on uneven ground.  The arc should be 6 inches long in the center of the board.  You can see this more clearly in the handout on building a simple chest.  Set the ends aside for now.  Take each side, and cut a 5 1/2 by 3/4 inch piece from the bottom of each edge.  This is the other half of the lap joint.  


A word about glue choices.  The most frequent glues used before AD 1600 in Europe were hide glue, made from cow, ox, or whatever was handy, and fish glue, made from the skins of fish. These hides were cut into small pieces and boiled over a fire in a big pot until they were a gooey mess.  The glue was heated to between 95-100 degrees F, at which point it was liquid, and brushed on the joints.  When the glue cooled, the joint was solid.  To repair the piece of furniture, heat was applied to the joint, the piece was disassembled and repaired, then re-glued.  The disadvantage of hide glues is that they smell, are messy to make, must be bought from specialty shops or mail order houses, and the glue melts in the heat.  That makes hide glues impractical in places such as Texas, where it gets very hot in the summer.


The other major type of glue is a casein, or milk glue type.  This is similar to the Elmer's glue most of us used as a child.  Synthetic milk-type glues are liquid at room temperature and are sold at every home improvement center.  However, once they are dry, the joint cannot be reopened without chiseling it apart or sawing it apart, so make sure the joint is straight before the glue dries.  The glue typically needs to be clamped for around an hour and reaches full strength in approximately 24 hours.


You are now ready to assemble the chest.  First, you join the front and back to each edge.  You drill holes for two dowels in each section of the joint.  I use glue when putting the dowels into the holes to make sure they stay there.  You should have to tap the dowels home with a mallet, but not have to use too much force, if your holes are the correct size.  I used a 1/4 inch dowel and cut it to length.  You can use screws instead of dowels if you want, countersink the screws, then use wooden plugs to hide the screws.  However, I have carried my wooden chest joined with dowels around for three years and have not had a problem with it coming apart.


After the sides are joined, you have to put the bottom in.  First, cut 1 1/2 inch off the length of the bottom and 1 1/2 inch of the width of the bottom.  Then slide the bottom into place so that it is flush with the bottom of the sides.  You may have to do some sanding to get it to slide in, but do not take too much off the bottom or there will be a gap that things will fall through in your box.  After the bottom is snugly in place, drill the holes for the dowels to hold it.  Each side and end needs two dowels into the bottom.


Now you are ready to join the top to the rest of the chest.  When I first built my chest, I used a leather hinge. This didn't work too well, as the leather tore out around the holes.  I found out that those decorative strips of copper nailed between the nails and the leather were really functioning as washers to keep the nails from pulling out. Now I use regular brass box hinges.  You can also get decorative hinges resembling the original hinges, but these make a lump that is uncomfortable to sit on.  Since I use my chest as a chair at times, the box hinges work better for me.


A hasp or other lock is optional. It will keep your box from opening and spilling its contents in your vehicle or when dropped.  I originally used a wood hasp and a peg to close my chest.  This worked until it was dropped on concrete, then broke.  A metal hasp will work better and can be obtained at any hardware store.


These little boxes are less than $20 to build if pine is used, are fairly simple to make, and are very handy to have.  I hope you enjoy your box as much as I have enjoyed mine.  If you have any questions or have difficulty building your box, feel free to contact me.





Rhys, Capten gen y Arian Lloer. (n.d.)  A few notes on the design and making of a Viking Age Tool Chest Based upon the Mastermyr Find. Available from LordRhys at gmail.com.

Lambert, John.  (Winter, 1993)  Build a Simple Chest.  Sacred Spaces, Issue 4, pages 8-10.

Arwidsson, Greta & Berg, Gosta (1999).  The Mastermyr Find:  A Viking Age Tool Chest From Gotland.  Lompoc, CA:  Larson Publishing Company.

The Mastermyr Project. http://www.netlabs.net/~osan/Mastermyr/


Copyright 2008 by Stephanie Smith, Ph.D. 433 County Road 1006, Wolfe City, Texas 75496. <Lambdakennels1 at juno.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org