Building a Sassafras Punched Tin Pie Safe
By Chris Tramel

Here it is ... my latest finished product ... a sassafras punched tin pie safe. I like to call it my brand new 100 year old pie safe. The wood was locally cut, sawed, and built in this area.

American Indians believed that sassafras had magical properties, and Europeans exported the roots and oils as a tonic for medicinal purposes. The grain is very similar to oak, and is also compared to chestnut.

Sassafras was a lumber that was used by American settlers, with the belief that the wood would repel insects. Beds, cabinets, and pie safes were crafted, while farmers used the durable, stable lumber for gates and fencing. The roots are still used for teas and root beer. When cut, the wood has a distinct sweet aroma.

The lumber was milled at Haney Family Sawmill in Liberty, Tennessee, while the cabinet was built at Tramel's Mercantile in Liberty. It is mortise and tenon construction with walnut pegs. The drawer is dovetail construction with poplar inner drawer and walnut knobs. The shelves are poplar, while the drawer bottom is birch. The ship lap backing was nailed using cut nails.

The hinges are hand forged hammered wrought iron Fleur de Lis Flag rat tail hinges, made by a blacksmith, and all screws that were used are new old stock steel flathead screws. The punched tin is in the "foot warmer" pattern and was aged using gun blue then given a coating of tung oil.

This pie safe was made just like they were 100 years ago.

This is how I spent one of my days, driving square pegs through a round hole. Yes, it can be done. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. I'm making walnut pegs for the mortise and tenon joints on the pie safe. I need 40 of these.

I made little square pegs out of walnut, around an inch and a half long. I then drilled a hole through a piece of metal and drove the pegs partially through the metal, leaving the pegs round on one end and square on the other. This allowed me to drill a hole through my mortise and tenon joints, then use a square punch at the front of the hole. The pegs are then glued and hammered into the hold, leaving a square of diamond shape on the exterior of the piece.

I didn't want to use fancy store-bought knobs for the primitive pie safe, so I decided to make some. With the pie safe pegged with walnut, I thought it would look nice with some walnut knobs. So, here you go.

The metal used in the build was a pre-punched metal with the "Foot Warmer" design. The sheets come nice and new, but I wanted the pie safe to look old and the new bright and shiny tin didn't fit the bill. So, I used gun blue to age the metal. Take your time doing this. The first time you apply the blue you'll think it is not working, but a few minutes later the metal will darken and will look molted.

Afterwards, I coated the tin with tung oil to give it some added protection.

The inner drawer to the pie safe was made from poplar with dovetail construction. Dovetails in carpentry has been around for thousands of years and makes an extremely strong joint.

In addition to the drawer, the shelves for the pie safe were also made from joined poplar, using wooden dowels.

All screws used in the construction (for mounting the top) were new old stock flathead screws, the same that were used in original pie safes during the early 20th century. No modern Phillips head screws.


For more photos, visit Tramel's Mercantile's Facebook page


Back to Main Page