WWII Ammunition Boxes

Posted by tony on Jun 8, 2008

During the Second World war many prisoners, captured by our forces, were sent here to England and kept in in various camps around the country.

I can remember my Father telling me about this when I was of an early age. He became an apprentice carpenter when he left school but then of course got drafted to fight for King and Country. I know he hated every minute but still had a few tales to tell on the very rare occasions that he spoke of his exploits.

It seems that a lot of these prisoners came from the Italian army and quite a few of them were pretty good with the tools of the trade. A lot of furniture produced at the time was the handywork of these prisoners. Along with most everything else, materials of any kind were in short supply so, just as today, recycling was a must and, mend and make do, was the order of the day. One thing that didn’t seem to be too rare was the subject of this post, i.e. Ammunition boxes.

The pieces produced were, I believe, known as wartime utility furniture. Utility they may have been but practical, strong, useful and attractive they certainly were, all-be-it they were generally a uniform dark Oak in colour.

I was given just such a piece, a drop flap desk, by an ex work collegue and friend several years ago and sad to say it has been moldering in the shed ever since. Regretably the lower section was infested with wood worm and had to be destroyed but I did salvage some good sized pieces from the upper section and both drawers from the centre piece. The latter now hold my planes in one and my toy templates in the other.

As the drop flap was quite nicely crafted with a central moulded panel I based my box on the dimensions of the flap. This has to be the largest box I have made (700mm x 300mm x300mm) and with the timber being 20mm thick it is quite heavy. One thing that has me puzzled is the wood itself. It

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looks like Oak, it is as hard as Oak (Oak gets harder as it ages) but it does not smell like Oak when it is cut. Fresh cut Oak, dried or green, has one of the nicest of aromas imaginable, to a carpenter anyway, this stuff has a most unpleasant pong, almost dungy. I can only think that it comes from the finish that was applied to the wood to stain and polish it. Anyone reading this with any ideas please let me know.

Anyhow, having sized and cut the various pieces, with breaths of fresh air every now and again, I have turned the drop flap desk into a free standing chest with lockable lid, or it will be if I can find a key to fit the original lock. One problem with using recycled timber, especially if it has been formed, stained and polished for a long period of time, is that it is fairly well set into its shape and in this case the pieces that formed the sides of the desk were very definitely cupped over their length. Getting the mitred edges to line up was quite a task as it just would not pass through the saw at a constant angle.

We crafters in wood now have access to many little tricks and compounds that conceal a lot of our mistakes so unless one examines the piece closely it looks just fine, after all everyone knows that a good painting or piece of art looks better from a distance.

Just to reassure you, now that it is finished, it has quite a pleasant smell to it. As a bonus I have had our local Locksmith make up 2 keys for it that will be supplied.


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Chickens

Posted by tony on Jun 5, 2008

What have chickens got to do with box making? I hear you ask.

Well, my youngest son has got it into his head that if Mum says he can’t have a dog or cat for a pet then let’s at least get a pet that will give something back.

Many years ago when self sufficiency was all the rage (mid 70’s and ‘Tom & Barbara Good) I was hooked by it and have recently been telling Alexander about my various exploits and my first move to Norfolk with some friends.

I managed to buy a run down cottage with a large garden which took all my money and most of my time. I kept chickens, ducks, rabbits and my faithful old pooch Lindy, sadly missed and never replaced, she couldn’t be anyway.

To come back to the present, what we need now is a big box for the chickens to live in, hence the connection. I have to admit to wanting to cheat and save time by just buying a house for them but after a little research and huge intakes of breath through the teeth (remember the time you spoke to the garage mechanic when your car needed fixing) I knuckled down and got out the sketchpad for a little designing. One thing I discovered is that chickens seem to be the latest “must have” fashion accessory and believe it or not I came across lime green and purple plastic monstrosities that were selling for anything up to £800

As we have told him that 3 chickens will be more than enough to look after, it didn’t have to be of shed proportions. So together we sat down and designed his house and run. It is of typical ark construction made with 50mmx50mm and tongue and groove cladding, all left over from when I built the potting shed for the wife. I always say no piece of timber is too small to be of use and this proved to be the case here as the top of the arc needed parts less than 100mm wide. The hinges for the access flaps were recovered from an old pine display unit that I have just refurbished for a client, they were a little bent but nothing that couldn’t be cured in the vice with a few clumps from the old hammer. All in all I have only spent time so it has been a good project. The expense comes when the birds are purchased.

I worked for a couple of years in the poultry trade, back when birds were housed in cages, some still are unfortunately, so I am well aware of the horrors of battery farming. Not wishing to divert too much from the subject but I hope you will believe me when I say that all of us who worked on those farms spent a lot of time and energy on the welfare of the birds and a lot of the drama in the media was directed towards the horror sites which was a very small minority on the whole. I am glad it is now finished but if you want cheap eggs….. I shall now climb down from my soap box. There’s a thought.. make a soap box.

The next part is the run. I know it sounds very romantic to have chickens wandering around the garden and yes they eat lots of insects and creepy crawlies but they will also devour just about anything that is green and we would like to have the vegetables on our plates next to the chicken not inside the chicken. Woops!!  horror story, no no I am not going to eat his pets they are for the eggs not the table. Besides which Mum will be even less keen if they ate all her flowers as well. I remember a goat we once kept that managed to get into the next door neighbours garden and ate all his onions. We milked her the next morning, as usual but had to throw it away as it tasted, you guessed it, of very strong onion.

Back to the run. A very simple construction of 3 triangular shaped sections covered with chicken wire and simply attached to the chicken house

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with a couple of quick release clips to assist in easy moving. This will be part of Alexanders routine husbandry to give them a fresh patch of grass every day. It remains to be seen when the novelty wears off but I am hopeful he will stick at it.

 Awaiting Livestock


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