Friday, January 26, 2018

Chuckbox 101

So after my last post about organizing my food box, in which I referenced the Chuckbox, I got some questions about the box itself, and figured I was due to write that up as well.

Trying to describe our portable camp-kitchen is a bit like trying to hit a moving target - it's constantly changing, and it packs in a lot of functions.

The basic construction is super simple.  The outer box is an inexpensive aluminum tool box like this one, turned on its side.  I added cables to hold the lid so I can use it as a work surface.

I never felt the need to lock it, so I drilled the key-lock out of the latch and plugged it with a wooden dowel.  The latch turns to keep the box closed, but I don't have to worry about losing the key.

I divided the box up into three main spaces by using "tempered hardboard" (masonite), some aluminum angle-stock, and pop-rivets.

The spot on the lower-left side is sized specifically to hold my GSI Basecamper nesting pots.  The upper section holds other small items - at various times that space has been used for nesting mugs, two wooden drawers for spices and stuff, and currently my kettle.  The wooden drawers, as I mentioned in the last post, are Ikea "Knuff" magazine holders that I trimmed to height by running them over my table saw.

The larger area on the right is currently subdivided by a "shelf insert" with another piece of hardboard.  That piece isn't fastened to the box, it's just a friction-fit with some aluminum angle pieces to space the shelf up about 3".  I found a cutlery tray that fits under here that holds my knives and other utensils, along with my long items like roasting skewers that are stuffed in the back.  Three cutting boards also fit under this space (two rigid, one flexible).

The top of that shelf is where I tend to change things the most.  I've used little miniature plastic drawers (by Sterilite), tupperware style tubs, custom boxes, etc.  Currently I have a small short drawer of translucent plastic, that's kind of the "junk" drawer that holds all the small tools like corkscrew, lighter, scrubber brush, pot-scraper, etc.  On the right I've made a little wooden box that's the "coffee kit" - just to keep the travel mugs, Aeropress, ground coffee, etc. all corralled in once place.

Obviously the other big change was my custom stove burner thing.  The box is not very deep (9-ish inches), so most camp stoves, even a single butane "catering" burner, won't fit in that depth.  I keep the butane stove in a drawer in the van, but I wanted to have a heat source that was in the chuckbox so that I didn't need to fetch the other stove just to make morning coffee, etc.  (Are we noticing a theme here?  Lots of small changes organized around keeping common tasks like "morning coffee" as simple and efficient as possible.)

I already had a little Stansport burner for use with my Skottle, so I made a mounting plate/bracket and added a couple of thumbscrews so that I could also mount the burner on the side of the chuckbox.  This works surprisingly well, and so far is the only stove that fits easily.  (Not to mention the handy feature that it doesn't take up any work space.)

Currently the box has short (2") feet on it that let me set it on a table and the lid sits flat.  Previously I had mounted it to a modified Harbor Freight folding sawhorse (visible in last photo below).  I narrowed the sawhorse to the width of the box and added mounts for a pair of butterfly latches to hold the box securely.  This was really nice as it gave a stable base and each leg was adjustable for uneven ground.  The negative is that it added a LOT of weight to the box and it made it hard to carry the box from the van for setup.  At this point it's easier to just setup my Coleman camp kitchen first, then set the box on top of that.  (Or use a picnic table or bear box, when available.)

I have also recently added a pair of cables with hooks and carabiners that let me quickly hook the chuckbox onto the rear bed platform while it sits on the back bumper.  This is a little low, but provides a place to work for quick tasks.

You may notice that the box doesn't currently hold anything to eat with, or on. No plates, no bowls, no utensils.  It did, in the early days, but after I completed some of the interior cabinetry, I moved all of that stuff to inside the van.  My thinking was that for quick roadside snacks and picnic-table lunches, I didn't want to have to break out the whole camp kitchen setup just to get to the plates.  Inside the van I've got everything for those quick meals.  Now, the Chuckbox just contains everything I need to cook hot meals, then clean up.

So why a Chuckbox, versus something more compact?  

This is a question I go back around on quite often.  At one point, I had my "kit" compacted down to a single medium-size transport case (circa 2013):

Yes, this was very compact. Fitting this in the back of the van was cake.  At this point, freed from having to keep the dishes and utensils inside it, I could even add the stove back into this box.  The problem was in "ease of use".  Mythbuster Adam Savage has coined a phrase when talking about his custom model-making toolboxes from his time at Industrial Light and Magic, the concept of "First Order Retrievablity" - the idea that you should be able to grab the thing you need, when you need it, rather than having to move 3 other things out of the way first.

That's the problem with my super-nested kitchen kit as seen above - If I wanted to make coffee or fry up a quesadilla, I often had to unpack half the kit to get to the kettle, or the frypan.  Lots of stuff usually ended up sitting outside the case, too, as I rummaged for the thing I needed.

The Chuckbox is all about being able to work like I do at home - prepping food quickly and easily, with the tools I need right at hand and without any risks of contamination from having to set one thing aside in order to get to the other thing nested inside it.
Thanksgiving Dinner: Butate stove, left, Chuckbox-mounted propane burner, center, and Charcoal in the Roadii-clone, right

If I had it to do over again, I'd probably pay more to start with a deeper tool box.  The box I got was super cheap, and it's one of the rare designs doesn't have any mechanism attached to the "lid" which would interfere with using it as the work surface, but 9" depth is a little bit of a pain.  Trying to fit larger items like a stoves or a bigger pan or skillet is a frustrating act of denial.  A couple more inches of depth would make a huge difference!

On the plus side, I've recently found a carbon-steel griddle that I've been able to modify into fitting after trimming 1/2" off the long edge.  I'm keen to give that a go on our next trip as it will serve many of the functions of the Skottle (on a smaller scale) and may also allow me to remove the fry-pan from the GSI kit, which is often just "in the way".

No comments:

Post a Comment