Add a touch of charm to your kitchen with a classic from the Aussie bush.
Believe it or not, we haven’t always had fridges. For this reason meat and other perishables had to be kept in fly-proof enclosures designed to allow a breeze to pass through and keep things cool – the Aussie meat safe. In the 1890s it was developed into the Coolgardie Safe, where wet hessian was added to the sides to actually cool items in the ‘safe’. Traditionally, these hessian-sided meat safes stood in a basin of water to stop ants getting in.
These days, a meat safe makes a great place to store bread and veg. So give this easy project a go – it has simple joints and no tricky joinery. If you’re using recycled timber, such as oregon, find the best faces to feature and mark them lightly with a pencil. Once you’re ready, precut all components for the main frames.
Use this diagram to assemble meat safe
Gather your supplies
A Uprights (8) 75 x 19 x 1200mm, Oregon
B Rails (8) 75 x 19 x 400mm, Oregon
C Cleats (6) 42 x 19 x 512mm, Oregon
D Door stiles (2) 75 x 19 x 510mm, Oregon
E Door rails (2) 75 x 19 x 360mm, Oregon
F Door beads (4) 20 x 8 x 400mm, Maple
G Upright beads (6) 20 x 8 x 490mm, Maple
H Rail beads (6) 20 x 8 x 440mm, Maple
I Shelves (5 or 6) 250 x 20 x 550mm, Oregon
J Top (2) 250 x 20 x 650mm, Oregon
K Top centre 100 x 20 x 650mm, Oregon
L Top cleats (2) 90 x 19 x 512mm, Oregon
- Step 1: Cut all uprights and rails (A,B) to length. Set out each frame so the top rail is flush with the top of the uprights and the underside of bottom rail is 600mm down from top.The joints are simple screwed butt joints, but the screwheads are sunk well below the surface and hidden with dowels. To find screw positions, mark in 2 drill holes per joint on the edge of the uprights using rails as a marking guide.
- Step 2: Drill an 8mm hole at each of the marks made in Step 1, but only to a depth of 25mm. This counterbore hole allows you to use 75mm screws. Each of the visible holes will be plugged with an 8mm dowel once the frames are completed. As the timber is oregon, the bit will want to wander and is also likely to tear the wood a little, so start with gentle short bursts until the outline of the hole is formed, then bore the hole.
- Step 3: Switch to a 5mm drill bit and, in the centre of each hole, drill all the way through the timber for clearance holes for the screws. Make sure that you drill straight so that the hole exits the timber in the centre of the back edge.
- Step 4: Clamp a spare piece of timber to the bench as a handy stop, then glue and screw uprights to rails with 75mm screws. Check that each assembly is square before tightening all the screws. Old oregon is prone to splitting, so insert the top screw in each frame last, as the screwholes are close to the edge. If you hear a cracking noise, stop screwing and let the glue do the job. In a similar way, make the other 3 frames.
- Step 5: Join 2 frames by gluing and nailing along the edges. Use 2 x 50mm nails, and predrill each hole with a 2mm twist bit. This will still hold as the galvanising makes the nails a fraction over 2mm in diameter. Apply glue, then nail frames together. Repeat the process to join all 4 sides, with side frames outside the front and back frames, then punch the nail heads below the surface of the timber. Hold frame together with clamps to help prevent the timber joints jarring apart before the glue sets.
- Step 6: Glue and gently hammer 8mm dowels into the visible counterbored holes.
- Step 7: Fill nail holes. Trim off excess dowel lengths with a fine saw. Then sand the entire unit to remove sharp edges, smooth out dowels and disguise joints that are not quite accurate.
- Step 8: On the narrow inside face of each leg, measure up 100mm from the bottom, and then 280mm down from the top. Cut the cleats (C), predrill clearance holes and countersink each end, then glue and screw in place, the bottom cleat with its top edge flush with the 100mm mark, the centre one flush with the bottom edge of the rail, and the top cleat with its top edge on the 280mm mark.
- Step 9: Screw the door stiles (D) to the rails (E) in the same way as for the main frames by counterboring, drilling clearance holes, gluing and screwing together. Finish by gluing dowels in holes, then trim and sand.
- Step 10: Cut brass mesh into four 500 x 450mm rectangles. Cut the door beads (F) to length with a 45º mitre at each end. With the door flat on a bench, align the mesh and bring in 1 of the beads flush with the inside edge of the door frame. Drive in a 20mm panel pin, align mesh then drive in another 3 panel pins.
- Step 11: Bring in the next bead, align the mitre and make sure mesh is straight, then nail on the second bead. Repeat for the others, ensuring that the result is square and aligned.
- Step 12: Trim the excess mesh with a utility knife, flush with the outer edge of the beads. Repeat the process for each of the other frame openings in the meat safe, using the upright and rail beads (G,H).
- Step 13: Centre and screw the door to the front opening of the meat safe with two 50mm butt hinges. This will leave a 2-3mm gap between the door and the cabinet. If you want a tighter fit you will have to carefully chisel out the face of the cabinet and the back of the door so the hinges become flush.
- Step 14: To make a timber latch, rip an offcut of oregon to 20mm wide, then cut off two 70mm lengths. Sand smooth then drill a clearance in the centre of 1 length, and round and shape both of its ends. Screw the flat latch block to the frame beside the door, avoiding screwing in the centre. Then screw the rounded latch part to the block with a washer in between. Tighten until you can just move the latch.
- Step 15: Cut 5 or 6 shelves (I) to length and sand the edges and corners so they are smooth. Position shelves on the cleats, 2 at the bottom, 2 in the base of the safe and 1 or 2 on the upper cleat. Remove after checking fit.
- Step 16: To make the top, lay 1 wide top piece (J) each side of the centre top piece (K) with the best side face down. Measure 50mm in from the ends of the boards, then predrill, glue and screw the top cleats (L) to the marks, centred front to back, on the underside of the top.
You’ll also need
PVA glue; 2 x 50mm galvanised nails; 75mm and 35mm screws; packet 8mm dowels; 1m of 900mm-wide brass insect mesh; 20mm panel pins; pair of 50mm butt hinges; oregon offcuts for latch; small washer;Feast Watson Mastertouch French Polish; methylated spirits; Feast Watson Mastertouch Carnauba Wax