Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Casing Chest

Casing is the process by which vegetable tanned leather is prepared for carving or molding.  It involves wetting the leather and then creating the conditions for the water to work its way uniformly through the leather.  As the name implies, this usually meant leaving the wet leather in a heavy box for several hours.  Historically anything from an ice box to a humidor could work as a casing chest; it just had to be mostly air/water tight.  These days the casing chest has often been replaced by ziploc bags and/or plastic wrap but there have been many times I've wanted to just have a big box I could drop my leather in to case (or keep it from decasing overnight).  So, naturally, I built one.


Most of the chest is built from cedar tongue-and-groove boards that I could lock together to form the walls.  I used some old 3/4" plywood we had sitting about for the floor and lid. 

Most of the descriptions of antique casing chests I could find (which totals two) described a heavy cedar chest lined with galvanized steel.  The cedar I could handle but plates of galvanized steel were a tad outside my budget.  So I've substituted it with HVAC tape (basically aluminum foil with a sticky side).  To simplify the structure I ran a bead of hot melt glue down each groove between the boards.  Then I ran some gorilla glue (which expands to fit the space available before hardening) over that and covered the whole kaboodle with the tape.  After an hour or two the walls were basically flat.

I was originally going to lock the whole thing together with some old fashioned dovetails but that turned out to be impractical with the tongue and grove boards so I settled for some simple butt joints.  Once I had the floor installed and the first coat of tung oil applied I glued some strips of latigo to the upper edge of the chest.  Aside from looking nicer than the ends of the boards, it should function as something like a gasket.


After a second coat of tung oil I cut the window in the lid and glued a big sheet of plexiglass under it.  I was concerned early on that a big, dark box with lots of humidity and little air flow would soon gather mold.  There are some "classic" solutions to this problem (periodically scrubbing with vinegar and the like) but I figured if the box wasn't constantly dark then it might not be a problem to start with.  Time will tell if my hypothesis is correct and if it isn't... well I know where to find the vinegar.

I still need to find a pair of hinges that will fit the lid but the box is effectively finished as it is.  When I find the hinges I can just bolt them on.  The chest was sized so that it could fit inside the shelves in the Studio but putting it in there keeps it in shadow and limits how far the lid can be opened.  Fortunately I had enough wallspace left to bolt a small shelf to the wall.  Done & Done.  I'm looking forward to trying it out on my next carving project.







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