As woodworkers, we are always on the lookout for interesting pieces to build. There is, however, a need to be mindful of what you study, and what you copy. Are we doing right to copy poor designs? Shouldn’t we know enough about an item to know what is correct and what’s not before we pull the trigger and copy that piece.
Here’s a quick example. Check out the photo of the shutters. These are fiberglass shutters, so you know that this design had to have been studied extensively. I would bet that prototypes were made – perhaps many of them – prior to a final design being selected. The shutter looks good against the brick facing. The contrast of black against the white windows is dramatic, for sure. So what’s the problem?
If you get close-up to these shutters, you see where the design falls apart. The first thing you should notice is the grain direction. The field of the raised-panel design has the grain running vertically, from top to bottom. But the beveled portion shows something strange. The grain around the panels runs perpendicular to the field. I have yet to find boards in which the top 1/8″ has grain running one way and the remaining thickness is rotated 90 degrees. It could have been a veneered panel, but a shutter meant for outdoor application would not have been veneered. If this were my company, I would be kicking someone’s butt. (If you really want to kick this company, how about the bead? The bead should be mitered at the rail/stile intersection.)
How and when do we make this call when building furniture? Obvious problems should be easily addressed, but what about small problems? One of my early pieces was a corner cupboard that I copied from a friend’s collection. If I remember correctly, the cupboard had an Ohio origin and was in paint – the fact that it was painted may have played a part in the problem. The upper door had a two-panel design. The larger panel on the bottom of the top door was oriented as we believe correct today – the grain ran from top to bottom forcing movement from side to side. The top panel, however, was rotated 90 degrees to force the movement top to bottom. (I can only guess that paint hid this reversal for many years.)
When I copied the cupboard, I positioned the panel with its grain oriented vertically as it was in the other panels. Was I correct in doing so? It’s obvious that there was little danger in exploding the door because the piece I copied was an early- to mid-1800 piece. It had survived. Should we try and copy pieces as they were built? Or should we “improve” on the design by employing what we know to be better building techniques today? What would you do?
Build Something Great!