Most of the remaining examples of large chests pior to 1650 seem to have legs integral to the design. However, from an in depth article on the chests found on the Mary Rose wreck (see Rednap), it seems that simple boxes without legs were commonly used to store and move equipment. These simple chests have largely not survived to be displayed in modern museums.
As described by Rednap, there are a few different methods for contruction that can be used. The simplest but weakest is nailed construction. This involves lining up the pieces and nailing them together. A stonger method is rabbetting and nailing. For this construction, a grove or rabbet is cut along the edges of the joints to add to the stability. The pieces are then nailed in place. Dove-tailing is a superior form of joinery, but takes significantly more effort or tools and will not be described here.
For some other excellent descriptions on the history and making of period chests, see Master Oakley's Boarded Chests plans, the Viking chests plans, and Master Dafydd's Medieval Chest article.
The chest described below is a simple box for storing SCA rapier equipment. It is based on the examples from Rednap's study of chests on the Mary Rose.
The box as pictured was built from pre-cut lumber and is roughly 12"x12"x48" external dimentions. This box is large enough to hold equipment for one rapier fighter, but is about 1-2 inches too short to hold most delTin blades. For more than one person's equipment, I would recommend 16"x16"x50" external dimensions. Most pre-dimentional lumber comes in 4' increments, so it may be easier to always use 4' as the length. Please also take into consideration the size of the vehicle that will transport the finished box.
The lid is the largest single piece of wood used and should require little or no cutting to size. The lid should over-hang the front of the box to provide a lip for easy opening and the back of the box to provide a natural stop for the open lid. Lid(width) will be the short dimension, lid(length) will be the long dimension.
The front and back are cut identically and can be the full dimensions of the lid. If using simple nailed construction, no additional work is needed. For rabbet joinery, cut a rabbet as wide as your wood is thick and a 1/4" deep along both short sides and one long side of the front and back. Front(width) will be the short dimention, front(length) will be the long dimension and front(thickness) will be the wood thickness for both front and back. Rabbit(depth) is 1/4" and rabbet(thickness) is what is left of the wood (likely 1/2", but will depend on the lumber you use).
The two ends are also cut identically. For nailed constuction, they should be [lid(width) - 1"(for over-hang) - [2 x front(thickness)] ] by [front(width)]. The wood grain should run up and down or the front(width) direction. For rabbetted construction, they should be [lid(width) - 1" - [2 x rabbet(thickness)] ] by [front(width)]. Cut a rabbet on the bottom of each side 1/4" deep and as wide as the bottom is thick. Side(height) will be the dimention in the grain direction, side(width) will be the other.
|View of snipe hinge||Inside view of the wheels||How the wheels extend||Ready to move|
The bottom will need to be cut down to size. For nailed construction, it should be [front(length) - [2 x side(thickness)] ] by [side(width) - [2 x front(thickness)] ]. For rabbetted construction, it should be [front(length) - [2 x rabbet(thickness)] ] by [side(width) - 2xrabbet(thickness)]. If wheels will be added, cut out a section of the bottom to hinge for wheels. This is easiest done by dilling and hole in each corner and using a jig saw to connect the holes. File or sand the top of one of the long cuts to allow the wheel piece to easily swing into place. Attach the hinges on the bottom and the wheels inside the box.
Line up the pieces to nail in place. I like to add some glue to the joints for strength even though there is no evidence for this in period. Also, I find that pre-dilling the nail holes helps to prevent splitting the wood. For nails, I recommend wrought heads nails.
Some of the lids from the Mary Rose chests were simply nailed on and would have been pried off to reveal the contents. For hinged lids, two types of hinges were found: strap and snipe. Strap hinges can be expensive and difficult to find, so I recommend snipe hinges which can be made from 2 cotter pins easily found in the local hardware store (for about $.30).
Some other possible hinges: