Savor This True-To-Form Salt Box

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Back in the 1880s in Pennsylvania farm country, a quiet group of Mennonite families crafted their way into woodworking fame. Most notable among them, the Samuel Plank family, made the finest wooden items to be found in the area. Their best seller was an item used to store salt on the wall near the stove. The dry heat coming off the stove helped keep the salt granular instead of lumpy. These so-called “salt boxes” sold for one to two dollars then. Today, authentic decorated antique salt boxes go for thousands. 

Over a century later I became friends with Samuel’s great-great- grandson, Doug Plank. Before long we were conspiring to build a “new use” salt box, one inspired by his ancestor. New use could mean storing anything from microwave popcorn packets to CDs to fire-starting materials to whatever. But keep in mind that by making it out of basswood, it is still perfect for kitchen use. Why? Simple: basswood is just about the only wood that never imparts odors or resins to food. Plus basswood has a quality that makes it the finest of all carving woods. It cuts easily and yet holds detail well. Wayne Barton designed and carved the Swiss good luck and friendship patterns into the one shown on page 46. 

I recommend that your first boxes be painted on the outside with milk paint for that antique look. The color should be personalized to match the use and the décor. Folk art additions are entirely fitting to this design. So make your mark and get creative!

Finally, you’ll find this design a very easy one-day project, minus any special hand-painted or chip-carved embellishments. Note that the bottom drawer is “doubled up” to hold bigger items. The salt box originally had two smaller drawers used for storing spices and other kitchen items. To me one big drawer just works better. Here now is how to build it. You can also see the salt box online at WBGU.org/AmericanWoodshop.

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