Plein air painting is a wonderful option that I’ve been exploring in the last couple of months. This previous post describes our Larry Moore workshop. While he was kind enough to lend pochade boxes to us, I wanted to get my own set up. The boxes are fairly expensive at a hundred and half dollars or more, so here is what I came up with. It’s approximately 10" X 12.5" X 2.5" and weighs about 6 pounds, including the tripod shown here. Not counting the tripod, it cost about $25 in materials.
Though my woodworking skills are rudimentary at best, I took The Box on a test run yesterday and it worked fine for me. It started with the lids from two unfinished “decoupage memory boxes” from Michael’s. Since they’re made from basswood, they aren’t as rugged as a hardwood box would be, but that also makes for a lighter box. The short sides were reinforced with strips of maple to make them thick enough to screw the hinges into. The maple wood was bought at Woodcraft and was 3/8" X 3" X 15".
The photo below shows it opened up ready for painting. The mixing area in the middle is a sheet of 3/16" plywood that conveniently rests on the maple strips. The little side trays attach onto the sides with clips made from aluminum strip. By the way, before attaching any hardware the wood components were varnished twice with clear satin waterbased poly. Three coats would have been better, but I had to finish it for a painting trip.
A vital component of a pochade box are the hinges. The commercial ones can be locked open at any angle. After a long, fruitless online search as well as stopping by assorted hardware stores turned up zilch, I cobbled hinges together with mending plates (bought at Lowe’s but widely available), 1/4" bolts, locking nuts, and wing nuts. The side view (below left) and rear view (right) show how they work, hopefully. The lower bolt has a nut with a teflon interior that locks onto it. The wing nut assembly on top includes a locking washer. I brought along a screw driver just in case, but didn’t have any trouble with them loosening up.
One other little glitch... the wood screws that came with the mending plates were 3/4" long and would have punched through the maple strip. But the next size down was 1/2", which was too short. At my husband Andy’s suggestion, I filed off about 1/16" from the screws with a metal file, which did the trick. Pilot holes were a must or the maple strips would split. The other important feature is the tripod attachment. It is a thing called a tee nut, that is easily available. This is a 1/4" X 5/16 one with prongs. I drilled a hole in what was left of the maple wood, banged in the tee nut, and glued it about 1/3 of the way from the back of the box.The canvas is held in place by an elastic band with more aluminum clips. When ready to go, the trays fit into the bottom lid. There isn’t a latch at this point, but since the hinge wing nuts can be tightened up, it’s not a big deal. I have seen some cool latches for cigar purses online that would work. So there it is... hope this info is useful for somebody.