DIY: Wooden Display Case for Collectables

Every naturalist – or wannabes like me – are in desperate need of their own cabinet of curiosities. You not only want to store your collected items securely, you also want to see them on a daily basis and, most importantly, want your guests to admire them. What nobody wants is to have to dust them…..and pay a huge amount for a store-bought display case.  

The best thing to do is pay your hardware store a visit and get some cheap construction wood, a glass pane of your desired dimensions, some nice hinges, locks, knobs etc. You might also need stains, dyes, polishes, paints for decorating your display case to your taste.  

Getting started: With my display case I started by drawing a simple plan with the dimensions of the wooden boards forming the grid of the inside shelves and continued with the dimensions for the frame. Then comes a part with a lot of cutting, planing, and sanding, before you can move on to assembly. Since I wanted quick results, I only used wooden dowels and glue, but maybe you are a more skilled woodworker and will want to go with proper. I repurposed the hard fiberboard that came with the glass pane for the back of the cabinet and just painted it blue, but of course you can choose to paint, draw, decoupage etc. on it whatever you find fitting. 

After your main cabinet is done, you only have to fit a frame to the glass pane to close the case. I decided to use some moulding planes for the frame to give it a more elaborate look.  

Finishing and decorating: For base coats I used shellac (it is cheap if you buy it in flakes and easy to make with a bottle of grain alcohol), then I use wood stain (also really cheap when you buy it in powder form and mix it up with water yourself), and as a finish all my wooden pieces are treated with wax. For the frame I decided to plate it with tinfoil and artificially age it with a dyed wax paste. Maybe I put a layer of zapon spray on top of the glass frame, I am not so sure about this anymore, but why else would it have this gloss to it… 

Once everything is put together your cabinet is ready to be filled with your memories and dreams - and nothing can stop you from that ;) 

My display case shows several shells I found, one among them is from my honey moon in Ireland (guess which one ;))  

In a small marmalade jar with ethanol you find the larvae of Cephenemyia stimulator, a parasite specific to roe deer. The adult fly puts its eggs into the sinuses of a host. Once hatched, the larvae eat their way through the tissue of their host’s body, eat their way out, fall to the ground and go into the pupa state, completing their metamorphosis to the imago. Being infested can be life threatening for a deer in the worst case, in the best case it is a nuisance which will pass. I found this specimen in a buck’s head I was about to turn into a trophy and could not identify it at first. I was pretty worried that this were a bad sign for a more serious disease which would make the good meat inedible. Turns out: it is neither serious nor does it affect any other muscle tissue. Dinnertime!

In another marmalade jar is a pellet, most likely eaten and spewed out by a member of the Buteo buteo species, which I found in the forest while walking my dog.  

There are also the jar bones of several other members of the deer family, and lost antlers, some found by me, some found by my great-grandmother a hundred years ago. 

I also like to collect stones and minerals: amethysts from the quartz group, a piece of slate from Ireland, a seemingly unspectacular rock which turned out to be a geode. Feathers, houses from snails,…. 

There are a lot more photos in the accompanying album “Cabinet of Curiosities” if you want to take a look. Feel free to comment (either here or on a specific photo) if you want to know what something is or how I found it.

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