Bentwood going small

Over the course of my adventures in making bentwood boxes I have stuck to a relatively small range of sizes all more or less around the size of a shoe box some a bit larger, some a bit smaller but not a huge amount. I based my sizes off of the wood I could bend at first, and then off of some sizes from historical pieces.

In 2019 I was fortunate to go to Sweden and see many really amazing things. One of the things I didn’t see much of was bentwood. I saw a few modern pieces in giftshops, but really I was a bit disappointed.

And then I got lucky. One of the places we went to was the Skansen open air museum in Stockholm, Sweden. We arrived a bit late in the day after three other museums. The Skansen was open but the majority of the demonstrations and shops had closed for the day.

The Skansen is unique to my experience in that instead of art pieces gathered for a museum, it contained actual buildings relocated to the site. One of them was called the Mora Farmstead, a collection of actually historical buildings ranging from the 14th to the 17th century. Inside the main farm building we listened to a presentation on the life and habits of the farmers that once lived in the buildings. While there I spotted two things that made my day. The first was a bentwood box I had only only seen a single sketch of, the second was a small hand sized bentwood box.

The larger box was bigger than my normal boxs and had a totally different method for opening and closing the box, a swivel lock. Prior to that all of my boxs were of the 17th century style called a snapbox. The box had two pegs that stood upright and went through a notch in the lid, to open you pull the pegs away from each other and it allows the lid to slip up. This box had a “T” shaped post on one side, and a swiveling flag shaped piece on the other side. It was a really exciting thing to see in the flesh, but the other thing I saw was a tiny bentwood.

In “Woodworking in Estonia” by lost art press they discuss making bentwood boxs in Estonia in the late 19th and early 20th century. There is a lot of discussion about different containers having different names based on size. There are also a number of manuscripts with illumination of bentwood boxs but they all seem to fall into a range that seems to coincide with the ones I had been making. I had seen a number of smaller ones made for modern use but this was the first I had seen that was really small.

The belief was that the 1762 date carved on the bottom may be the date it was made. There are several very fascinating things about this box. The fact that it is more oval than the mostly round boxes found at hedeby and york, more in keeping with the tiner and svepask I have found later on is interesting. Additionally the over lap shows a very definite taper to the wood, helping to keep it closer to a uniform thickness.

The inner taper is a long gradual taper while the outside is less a taper and more a chamfer. You can also see where the base and lid have shrunk a bit and pulled away from the sides.

I have been asked several times about making small bentwood but never quite got around to it. In 2020 I was in the process of making a number of smaller, but not this small, boxes similar to the size of one of the boxs found at coppergate. While doing that I ended up with some small off cuts I held onto. A few months after that I was contacted asking if I could do a miniature bentwood box. More of a scale model for a project the person was intending. It seemed the perfect use for the offcuts and I got started.

My usual thickness for my bentwood is about 1/8″ or around 2.5mm. For the smaller boxs that proved to be a bit to thick. through trial and error I found that if I thinned it down to about 1.9mm to 2mm it would bend ok and still have some rigidity. For the lid there was not enough height to be strong enough to bend and I had to thin it further to about 1.75mm to 1.8mm. Once I got there I was on a roll.

The “larger” box in the center is one of the ones I was working on from an example at coppergate. The little ones are around 1.75″ across and 2.5″ long.

The nice thing about these little boxs is that it can be done with an old baking pan and a stovetop so about anyone can do it. Next time I will post some in process pics.

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