Purser’s Chest

The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s favorite warship and was lost in battle in 1545. The wreck was rediscovered in 1968 and salvaged during the 1970’s and 80’s. She has proven to be a treasure trove of Henrician artifacts, a virtual time capsule some four hundred years old.

Many of the artifacts are storage chests of several types. The Purser’s Chest is one of these. I decided to build a replica.

14 Responses

  1. Ishiyama Shônagon

    This is awesome! I love the way the lid of the till is a prop for the lid of the box. Nice work on all the joinery, and I love the detective work on the spandrels.

  2. Madoc Arundel

    Laird Coinneach… it seems we have more in common than just pouches. I’ve entered a couple different chests in Ice Dragon in the past, and although I consider myself a novice, I have a lot of interest in the craft.

    I was very excited to see this project as a a reproduction of a Merry Rose chest. Your documentation is very good, using both the photos of the actual chest and the assessments/assertions of the Merry Rose Trust. I am a huge fan of using museums, foundations, etc. because the people in those locations LOVE talking about their projects to anyone who shows an interest… and you often get the story behind the story.

    Your explanation of your process is excellent, as is the explanation of your choice of materials. I would have liked to see additional photographs of the extant piece, but the scale drawing provided you by the Trust was an awesome addition to the paper. Finally, while I am familiar with the woodworking terms used throughout your paper, I was very glad to see the footnoted definitions used. This significantly helps the less familiar reader with following your process.

    As Ishiyama mentioned, I too am impressed with the way the till lid acts to prop up the chest lid.

    THF Dagonell: Good trick using the stained outlines to recreate the pattern of the iron hinges.I would have liked to see more discussion of your smithing.

    I do have a question regarding the finishing of the chest. In the photos, it appears as though the finishing is still in progress? Can you tell me what you used to stain the wood, and whether you are planning to apply an actual finish to the wood prior to use?

  3. Laird Coinneach

    The chest is finished with an oil-based enamel from Sherwin-Williams. The color choice was made from the paper cutout available on the Mary Rose website (maryrose.org). The clerk at my local Sherwin-Williams store took the paper and matched the color almost exactly, and as I do not expect to put this chest under glass, the enamel will give a more durable finish, even if enamel isn’t the appropriate material. I painted the outside of the chest and the underside of the lid. I do not anticipate painting the inside; the lighter color will make it easier to find things.

    When I was planning my Ice Dragon entry, I included the less-common tools I used as part of the display. I can (and probably should have) shown them in the documentation.

    I would love to take credit for the till lid as a prop, but that’s how it was in the original.

  4. THFool Dagonell the Juggler

    I am a member of the New York State Designer Blacksmiths, Niagara Region chapter (Buffalo and Western NY). I was a novice member at the time Laird Coinneach asked me to make the hinges for him. The master level blacksmiths have done a great deal of historical reproductions. Next time you’re in Amherst, NY stop by the Heritage Museum. They did ALL the ironwork for “Ye Olde Blacksmith Shoppe” including the nails! They were happy to assist me with this project.

    The photocopy was enlarged to full size, copied onto cardboard (a cereal box as I recall 😀 ) and then traced onto scrap steel using chalk. (The chalk is period, thin wood would have been used as a template in period.) The hinges were then chiseled out of the steel. One hinge half has a central tab, the other two side tabs. I spent two entire work sessions, one for each hinge, just getting them to fit together properly. The tabs were then molded separately around a steel pin with continuous rechecking to make sure they still fit together. The pin was cut to size on a cutting hardy. Picture a triangular cross-section with a strong, thin peak. You heat the pin, place the rod on the hardy where you want it cut and hammer straight down on the peak. The hardy cuts it from below. Reheat the pin, upset one end (mushroom head), drop both pieces onto the pin, then upset the other end to lock them in place. Correctly done, they’re loose enough to pivot freely around the pin, but not have the room to slide back and forth on the pin.

    I did not have enough time to make a third iron piece for the front of the chest where the lock should go before it was entered in Ice Dragon. I’m looking forward to trying to build a lock.

  5. THFool Dagonell the Juggler

    Forgot to mention; the nail holes in the hinges were made with a punch while the metal was hot. I didn’t want Coinneach breaking drill bits trying to drill through forge hardened steel. As it was, he did try to enlarge one and mentioned something about witchcraft! 😀

  6. Laird Coinneach

    Witchcraft indeed! The hinge grabbed the 1/8″ bit and twisted it like the top of a DQ ice cream cone!

  7. Madoc Arundel

    Thank you for the additional information. I respect your choice of finish for a piece that will see practical use. In the past, I have wrestled with various finishes both ‘natural’ and ‘chemical’ for the same reason, and while I prefer the natural ones, I find that on hot days in camp, they tend to get a little sticky. My go-to on pieces not intended for competition is a simple spray-on polyurethane… and even then I have to wait for a non-humid day to do it. 🙂

  8. Katja

    Hi Coinneach!

    This is a lovely piece of work and it really does look remarkably close — to the best of my inexperienced knowledge and recollection — to the one at the Mary Rose museum (which my husband and I visited two years ago). I mean, *seriously*, it pretty much looks like someone just removed it from the display case.

    I am not an experienced woodworker, but I am a research Laurel and professional editor, and I very much appreciate how well written and clear your documentation is. You explained competently why you made the materials choices you made and the techniques you used, and specifically you made it clear for a non-woodworker to understand your process — which is the mark of good documentation! As to the piece itself, the joinery looks clean and well done, from the photos. I can’t offer any useful advice on improvement, but I think it’s spiffy that you entered this and hope to see more in the future. 🙂 I hope others offer more useful feedback to you.

    Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina, OP, OL, CB, Barony of Thescorre

  9. Laird Coinneach

    Thank you for the kind words, Katja! I tried very hard to make the documentation accessible, as well as showing the weekend woodworker that period joinery is within reach!

    • Katja

      It really is spiffy, from a nonexpert’s point of view! I remember looking at the one in the museum at length because a friend made my husband and I a version of it (to be used as a feast gear box) as a wedding present 15 years ago, based on the Mast book because he had not been able to visit the actual Mary Rose site in Portsmouth. I was looking very carefully to see how similar/different it was to what we have. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good photo of what we saw there — it’s a bit blurry. And yes, your explanation makes it sound like woodworking is not a huge mystery. 🙂

  10. Laird Coinneach

    Your last comment rings many bells; I built a few scaled-down chests for use as feast-gear chests, and I’ve also never been to Portsmouth. I worked from the exploded view in Before the Mast before I was able make contact with the Trust and get the unpublished view of all parts. The people at the Mary Rose Trust have been unfailingly cheerful and helpful in giving me information and diagrams, and if I ever get to Portsmouth I hope to thank them in person! I’ve sent the photos from this entry to Prof. Eleanor Schofield at the trust, and she was pleased to see the result.

  11. Iohn

    Laird Coinneach
    Most impressive. I saw your work-in-progress last year, and it’s very well done. I’ve seen the pictures &cetera in Before The Mast, and was lucky enough to visit the Mary Rose Museum in 2018, so I’m familiar with this chest. Your use of period-appropriate tools is something I appreciate no end, being a woodworker of similar bent myself. The explanations and footnotes regarding the tools and processes are well written, and demystify the terminology of the craft. Every craft has its own jargon, as we all know, and I love to see the correct terminology being used.
    Again, nicely done!
    Yours, TH Lord Iohn Spooner