‘Campaign Furniture’ – by Chris Schwarz

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I am fortunate enough to live about ten miles from Christopher Clarke Antiques which is one of the very few dealers in proper, original campaign furniture in the world. I can regularly be found leaving nose marks on the windows there whilst looking at the gorgeous pieces he has for sale. In short; I am a fan of campaign furniture so when I see that Lost Art Press has published a book and it is written by Chris Schwarz on campaign furniture it ticks all of the boxes.

Chris is one of the very few authors writing on any element of woodworking who does the ‘hard yards’ due diligence of proper, detailed research on his subject: His latest book; ‘Campaign Furniture’ is no exception and Chris has once again shone a penetrating light into an area of the craft that has, undeservedly, received almost no attention in recent years. Schwarz travelled extensively in search of first-hand source material for this book (including at least one transatlantic trip to Chris Clarke’s). The effort shows: The result is that ‘Campaign Furniture’ is crammed full of high quality content that shows serious scholarship.

I obtained my copy a few weeks ago and, due to my crazy schedule, was not able to sit down and read it properly until now. I wish I had. Why? Because my first thought when I read it was ‘Why hasn’t anyone written a book like this before?’

Whether you intend to make any campaign furniture or not, once you have read this book you will begin to see campaign furniture in a whole new light. The style is abundant, influential, robust in the extreme, looks great in almost any setting, modular and is relatively easy for less skilled woodworkers to make. Once you realise this you will probably find yourself asking ‘Why don’t I have any campaign furniture in my home?’

Chris takes us on a concise tour of the origin and development of the style which sets the scene nicely for what is the real core of the book and Schwarz doing what he does best: walking you through the bones of an an old or forgotten style and translating it into something relevant and new that you want to start building right now.

Once we have been whisked through the history of the style Schwarz takes us through a selection of timbers it was made from (including the epic quantities of mahogany that were used up whenever The British Empire tooled up for a tussle overseas). A surprising range was used however including still-non-endangered species such as Oak, Walnut and (occasionally) Birch which show up in the historical record.

The book covers the anatomy of chests, secretaries, camp stools, chairs, trunks, desks, (intentionally!) collapsible bookshelves and travelling bookcases. In fact, I defy anyone who reads this book not to find a piece that they would not personally find useful somewhere in their home. These dissections are invaluable in enabling interested parties to make pieces themselves.

The book’s core strength is Schwarz’ translation of what the record shows of the form and techniques used to build these pieces into explanations of how to build in this style and pointing out the pitfalls before we arrive at them during a build. I was particularly impressed with Chris’s explanation of the hardware that is the signature of the case pieces of this style. He goes to great trouble to explain the various ways in which it was made originally and the many ways in which it is made now (cast, pressed and extruded are all included). Given that Schwarz is not an engineer by trade he does a creditable job of getting the details of hardware manufacturing right. Usefully, we get several variations on how to successfully fit various types of hardware using hand and power tools.

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All of this scholarly effort would be for nothing if it were dull to read but Schwarz’ prose is always a pleasure to read: the high quality content is there for sure, the style is easy (though he sometimes challenges the way you think about making) and he is, on occasion, laugh-out-loud funny (read p61-62 on extruded hardware to see why).

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with both black & white and colour images. It has a thorough index, a source list for hardware and a well-chosen list of further reading. The book is Smyth-sewn and cloth bound in the traditional Lost Art Press style; the only adornment being gold blocking on the cover which echoes campaign hardware.

The best compliment that I can pay Chris and the team at Lost Art Press is that it set me in motion on a campaign build of my own and I’d like to thank them for that. This book needed to be written – thank goodness it was Chris Schwarz and Lost Art Press who did it.

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2 thoughts on “‘Campaign Furniture’ – by Chris Schwarz

  1. It’s a great book, and one which I definitely found inspiring (a Campaign Secretary, Bookcase, and Roorkee chair, have all found themselves added to my project list since reading the book). As you say, Chris does a fantastic job of examining the material culture of the British Empire, so that what is ostensibly a woodworking book becomes an insightful social history of the time. As a former historian, this is something I am increasingly interested in.

    As it happens, we spent the Whitsun bank holiday in Stow, so I got to spend my birthday wandering round Christopher Clarke Antiques (I have a very understanding wife), with my jaw dragging along the floor at the examples of campaign furniture they have.

    Kieran

    • (taking a break from planing some walnut – guess what for…) Agreed Kieran it does make a very interesting social commentary and, in some ways, an ecological one too. I think this is an important book for many reasons.

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