Monday, April 21, 2014

Apothecary Chest

A while ago I mentioned building an apothecary chest based on a design from a book about their history. I learned a great deal in building it, but was not satisfied with the end result. Part of the carcase shifted during glue-up (It was square, I swear!!!) and so despite tweaking the hinges, planing the bottom, and other emergency fixes, the thing was just frustrating. I shrugged and promised myself to rebuild it someday.

In the meantime, the cabinet just languished. One of the pulls I hastily made for it broke, and I was not motivated to fix it. Well, I have been in the mood to tie up loose ends lately, so I finally adjusted it.

There is nothing I can do about the carcase being misshapen, short of rebuilding it. I did, however, disassemble it and plane it enough so that it opened and closed sweetly. I built a new latch and pulls for the front, and outfitted the shelves with a lip to help secure the contents. I created and installed a little pull for the maple drawer face, and I built a shelf for the whole thing to sit on.

The dark wedge-shaped shadow on the top right shows clearly how out of square it is.

Part of me wanted to treat it like a Japanese ceramic student... to destroy the botched item and move on to the next one. However, I instead mounted it next to my bed to serve as a reminder every day that I need to work at my work. Besides, its still perfectly serviceable.

One of my frivolous pursuits is that of incense and, in particular, tree resins. As these can be pretty pricy, I tend to buy the smallest sample quantities available. I have quite a little pile of myrrhs, copals, frankinsenses, sandalwoods, and other aromatic resins.

Given the spirit of the original chest is to organize tinctures, herbs, and medical paraphernalia, an incense cabinet seemed a fitting purpose.

The inside offers plenty of storage space, and was designed around a module of some glass apothecary jars I purchased. These will serve to hold the various treasures. The narrow slots on the sides of the center section are perfect for the tongs, scoops, and other implements used when melting aromatic saps. My electric incense heater sits comfortably atop the cabinet.

Much nicer than the shoebox I was using before, imperfect as it is.

Soon, back to making new things.


  1. I love the case format and function. As I was reading along, I thought to myself what a wonderful cabinet that would make to hold my aloeswood , incense, or oud! I too share your frivolous pursuit, and recognize some of your treasures. What was the title of your reference book?

  2. Jim, thanks for the reply. I updated the links that I thought I had put into the entry... The book is Antique Medicine Chests by Anne Young (pretty sure I found it for about $15), and it is pretty good if in only that it is the only easily obtainable source I have found like it. Christopher Schwarz's new Campaign Furniture book is full of the techniques needed to do this type of thing. I was aware of his working on that book while working on this, and could have really used it at that point! I had to do a lot of reverse-engineering and some went well, and some didn't.


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