Category Archives: Antique Pieces

Transformers – Furniture in Disguise

I’ve always been fascinated with furniture that expands to become something totally different much like the transformers that appear as cars or trucks then become huge robots. I look at these transformers as I do pieces with secret drawers and compartments – it’s a surprise.

During a recent trip through a couple of auction catalogs, I noted a few examples that I thought I’d share. Interestingly, these auctions were and are in London and are of English antiques, This makes me wonder if woodworkers in the United States back in the day were not as creative as European woodworkers, or just didn’t have the customers for or the time to build these hidden gems. You can, of course, find examples strewn around the country, but the largest number of these pieces seem to come from the Old World.

Gateleg

The first example is not as strong of a transformer than the two pieces coming later. It’s an English Gate-leg table. The leaves flip up and two not-so-hidden swing legs pull out to support the leaves. I like this design because when not in use, the table sits compactly out of the way, yet it is not easily tipped over do to its significant base.

GeorgeIII_Writing-Dressing_TableClosedNext up is a smallish two-drawer stand that when looked at, you know there is something about it. You obviously see the added leg fronts. And the drop-leaves let you know that the tabletop grows in size. The question then becomes: What else is in the cards for this stand. This is where it gets interesting. Would you expect that this stand transforms into a writing and dressing table? Check it out.

GeorgeIII_Writing-Dressing_Table

My last example is magnificent. It does, however, fall short of  Roentgen furniture pieces, which are the utmost in secret compartments and transformation. Vanity_ClosedI spent quite a while looking at these photos. I’m amazed at what lifts, slides, turns and flips to open this George III Satinwood, Mahogany and Indian Rosewood-Crossbanded Dressing Table. The auction information states that it is circa 1790 and probably by Sheraton. And the entire piece is listed as only 39″ wide. Oh, make sure you notice the feet. (You can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Vanity

I often get asked if it’s OK to glue up feet and legs. My standard reply, which I might need to rethink, is no because you’ll see the glue lines. If, however, you assemble alternating wood species as shown here, you can make it work – at least Mr. Sheraton did.

If you have examples of furniture that transforms, add a link in the comments section. Let’s see what we can find.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Different Blade Connection

6-Dr_Chest_Complete-1Wonder what blades are? It’s simple. In furniture speak, blades are another name for drawer dividers. As you probably know, there are many techniques and joinery methods to attach drawer blades to the case. The technique shown here is one that is not all that common, but it is found in antique furniture, namely the Moses Bayley high chest of drawers from Newberryport, Mass. (There is a fascinating bit of history surrounding the highboy; read more about it here.)

In the first issue of American Woodworker magazine under the complete guidance of F+W with me as the content director, I built a chest of drawers (shown above) using this blade connection technique – the issue should be available sometime in early June. (You and 100,000 of your closet friends should pick up a copy!)

B_SlotThe process is easy. While the connection could be done without plowing an 1/8″-deep groove, it’s easier to do so and the groove adds another detail to your work. Step #1 is to rout the groove – align a straightedge to your project, then run a router and 3/4″ top-mount bearing router bit along its length as the bearing rides your straightedge. The width of the groove has to match the thickness of your drawer blades.

Step #2 is to form the dovetail on the ends of your blades. The length of the dovetail – how high you need to raise your router bit – is equal to the thickness of the material remaining after the groove is cut. A_DovetailIf you’re using 3/4″-thick material, after the 1/8″ groove you have 5/8″ of thickness remaining. For me this is a bit of work completed at the router table. Set the height of the bit then adjust the fence so its aligned with the router bit exactly at the table’s top edge. This takes advantage of the entire thickness of your blade – if you’re slightly thinner after your cut, that’s OK, but do not leave a flat on the edge of the dovetail. (Notice the solid push block used to guide the tall drawer divider through the cut.) After you have the dovetail ends created, cut away the back edge leaving a 1″-wide dovetail – trim the dovetail away flush with the square shoulder on your blade.

C_LayoutStep#3 is to transfer the dovetail profile onto your case side. As you can see in the photo, the blade slips into the groove and the trimmed dovetail sits tight to the case side. Using a sharp pencil, transfer the profile. Nothing fancy here. No special details to share. Simply install the blades into position then draw the lines. Bingo.

Step #4 is to square the layout lines down the case side 1″ (matching the dovetail width), then draw a straight line setting the bottom of the socket. D_SawIt’s time to define the socket. This is where your ability to saw comes into play. Cut the two sides of your layout down to the inch mark. Follow both lines as you saw. After you’ve established the socket’s outer edges, make a few additional saw cuts between the lines – the more kerfs you have, the easier the next couple steps become and the cleaner your socket will be to work.

Step#5 is to break out the thin pieces of wood that fill your socket. E_PareYou can jam a chisel into the slots, or if they’re thin enough, you can break the pieces out with your fingers. The neat things is that when they break – due to the grain orientation – the slivers break flush with the bottom edge of the socket. (Sometimes they do break slightly above the line.) With the pieces out of the way, pare the socket bottom so it’s smooth and level. Make sure the socket is level from outside to inside. And it wouldn’t hurt to slope a bit toward the inside – that guarantees you’ll have a tight fit on the exterior of your case.

The last step is to fit the blade’s dovetail into the socket. F_FitIf you’ve sawn to the layout lines and trimmed the socket even at the bottom, your blades should fit easily. Brush glue onto the dovetail and into the socket (the best glue surface is the flat-grain to flat-grain connection at the bottom of the socket), then drive the workpiece home. By the way, don’t forget to repeat these steps twice for each drawer blade or divider. Test-fits are terrible with only one socket cut.

I’m not going to show you a finished shot of the chest of drawers – for that you’re going to have to wait until the issue is sent – but I will show you a photo of the highboy mentioned above. In fact, if you’re so inclined to want to see this process in action, I have a full-length DVD on building the Moses Bayley chest. You can purchase a copy here.

Build Something Great!

Glen

G_MA High Chest

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Hand Tools, Joinery, Methods of Work, Power Tools, Routers

One Becomes Three

Photo courtesy of H. L. Chalfant Antiques in Wets Chester, PA

Photo courtesy of H. L. Chalfant Antiques in Wets Chester, PA

When talking about antique chest of drawers, “chest speak” often mentions drawer layout to describe a piece. You’ll read in a magazine advertisement, in an auction catalog or on a web site that it’s a three-over-five design, or a two-over-three-over four design. What is being described is the number of drawers stacked over the next bank of drawers. The first example would be three drawers set in the top row with five full-width drawers set below. The second example would have two drawer in the top row, and three drawers that make up the second row, with four full-width drawers stacked below. (The top rows are often reversed as shown in the opening photo.) Combinations are endless, but you don’t often see numbers get out of hand.

There is something to keep in mind as you look at drawer layout. Is the bank of drawers actually divided into two or three drawers, or is that a single-width drawer made to look like it’s divided? If it’s a single drawer made to look like three, what’s an easy way to duplicate that if you were building the chest? One way is to use an ovolo router bit.

An ovolo bit is similar to a roundover router bit, but there is nothing attached IMG_1599to the bit to guide it path – no pilot (that’s a throw-back design) or bearing such as what we have on most roundover bits. In the right-hand photo you can see the difference between the two different bits that basically cut the same profiles. Both router bits shown have a 1/4″ roundover profile. (Click the photo to enlarge the image.)

The way to use an ovolo bit is to first profile the edge of your drawer front using a roundover bit. Next, chuck the ovolo bit into your router, set the depth of cut to match the roundover profile, clamp a straightedge to the workpiece and run test cut. Measure the distance from your straightedge to the exact center of your ovolo profile. You’ll need that as you layout for the cut in your drawer front. (With my ovolo bit the width of the completed profile is 1″.) Layout work can be tricky. If you don’t pay attention, it’s easy to get the faux fronts a bit off in width.

IMG_1602

Once the layout work is done, measure from the layout line to where you need to set your straightedge, clamp it in position and you’re ready to divide your drawer front. Work slow as you rout, it’s easy to flip out the profile as the router bit enters the cut.

How can you tell the drawer front is not really three individual drawers? Look closely at the vertical divider areas. You’ll see a small gap at the top of each divider if the drawer front is a single-width front and the furnituremaker was attempting to fool your eye.

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WIA Class on Inlay

The purpose of my Woodworking in America session on inlay, “Understanding Inlay: A Key Piece in Connoisseurship & Identification” wasn’t to provide rules of thumb to discover the orientation of antique furniture – the idea was to give a few general guidelines that A1_New York Card Tablewould help identify from where a particular antique piece of furniture may have been built. We focused on card tables from the Federal period due to the fact that each major city built card tables from the simplest designs to the most intricate, heavily-inlaid tables. I emphasized throughout the class that the information presented should be grouped with other gathered information so one could draw a conclusion. That stated again, I’ll pass along a few of my comments.

The first and easiest way to identify a card tables point of origin has nothing to do with the inlay, although you could also establish the same origin if you studied the banding and pictorial inlays on the table. Here, however, construction techniques are a dead give-away. The table pictured above is from New York. We know this because of the fifth leg. In almost all cases, if you have a fifth leg, you are looking at a card table built in New York.

ACD_Dunton_NH TableLet’s get back to inlay. The most fascinating of inlay banding, at least to me, is what is known as lunette inlay. There was a time in our furniture study that whenever this inlay was found on a piece of period furniture, that piece was immediately associated with the father and son team of John and Thomas Seymour. Later, a similar inlay was found on other signed furniture not built by the Seymours. That caused dealers and collectors to question the attribution of the Seymour work. The table shown above is a signed piece built in New Hampshire, and not a card table built by a Seymour.

ACC_Bradlys Seymour SimpleAs a woodworker, I wonder how this inlay was made in the period. (The left-hand photo is a close-up look at lunette inlay.) Was it laid up in a pack then sliced as was other inlay? Some woodworker think so. Or was it laid up a stick at a time? There is a camp of today’s woodworkers who think that was how it was done in the late 1700s. Regardless of how you may think it was made, it is a great piece of work and worthy of the amount of study it has received.

DE_Eagle PateraAnother area that I find interesting is to look at the use of eagles in pictorial inlay. The image at the right is a grouping of eagle patera  I pulled together from “American Furniture The Federal Period” by Charles F. Montgomery. (I highly recommend this Winterthur book if you are at all interested in inlay.) If you study the eagles, you’ll notice a few interesting things. First of all, Connecticut inlay – not just the eagles, but most of the inlay work found in this area – is very artistic and quite different from work found elsewhere. Pinpointing period work from the Connecticut River Valley and from Connecticut is rather simple.

Of the remaining eagles, take a close look at the inlay from New York. Notice how lifelike the eagle appears. This eagle looks bold, strong and very patriotic. The Federal period in which we’re looking is right after the Revolutionary war when New York was the nation’s capital, until 1791 when it was moved to Philadelphia before moving to Washington DC. Patriotism had to be extremely strong at the time. Was this strength reflected in the inlay produced at the time?

DEA_Bradlys_Eagle on ClockOne last thought on eagle inlay: If you study the eagles shown in Pennsylvania, Maryland and the South, you’ll see that each of the eagles have something in the mouth, a streaming banner. This could be a telltale of furniture from these areas. Shown at the right is a door from an antique clock. The clock is known to be from Pennsylvania. And the eagle has the banner held in its mouth.

This is just a taste of the what can be discovered when studying inlay. Over the next couple of months, I’ll present another post on what I’ve discovered about inlay. If you have some interesting information to share, please do so in the comment section below.

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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Federal Card Tables

Baltimore Card TableI’m pulling together the information for one of my presentations at the 2013 edition of Woodworking in America. On Sunday, I’ll talk on the use of inlay to help identify from what regions Federal-period furniture was built. Also in this class, I’ll demonstrate how a few pieces of banding are constructed. Near the end of the class, out come the hot plates, iron skillets and sand because each person in the class – at least those willing to give it a shot – will shade and assemble a sand-shaded fan. It’s not too late to register for the conference, or to pick up a one-day pass, if you’re in the area.

During the period, string inlay – generally categorized as light and dark (no species given) – was found in all regions. So how do you differentiate between Massachusetts and Maryland? The answer is simple; you evaluate how the stringing was used. Another area where you begin to see differences between regions is as you study banding. And of course, pictorial inlay also helps identify regions.

One of the best ways to study and learn how stringing, banding and inlay can tell the story of where a piece was originally built is to study card tables. When these tables were built, the choices furnituremakers had available were limited to what they produced in the shop, but more often than not, they chose from what specialist had to sell – each region had its own banding and pictorial inlays. Sanderson Card TableYou should, however, be warned that you have to study antique or period card tables and not reproduced tables unless the maker was careful in his or her selection of material.

Today, we can have inlay shipped from all over the country, so it would be difficult to nail down where the pieces were built based upon the decoration. In the opening photo, for example, I reproduced a Baltimore card table and while I added the light string around the top’s edges, which is very characteristic of tables from Maryland and Baltimore, I didn’t pay particular attention to the diamond banding at the lower edge of the apron, or to the oval inlays at the top of each leg.

In the second photo, you also see light stringing used on the top. In this example, though, you’ll notice that the stringing is not at the edges of the top, but set a bit off the edges. A simple call to make – and please keep in mind that these rules are not always adhered to – is that this card table was not built in the Maryland or Baltimore area. In fact, this table is from Massachusetts. You need to look at other features to make that call.

The legs on card tables also provide a good indication as to where a table was built. Card Table UnknownPatterns and designs of bellflowers are distinct from region to region, as are the added inlay at the top of the legs. On the leg shown at the left, the icicle drop (segmented triangles of shaded light-colored inlay) is a good indication that the table was originally built in Connecticut, as that design is often found in the area.

Conversely, the photo at the right is more often found on tables from New York, especially if you study the design of the bellflower drops. The intersecting ovals that surround the bellflowers are found on other pieces from the same region. New York Card LegAnd while it’s possible to identify the origin of card tables and other furniture through the study of inlay, it’s always best to use additional information before making the call. If, for example, I showed you a picture of this last table, and you could see that there were five legs – the extra being the swing leg that supports the opened table top – you would be better informed and could more easily place this table in the New York area.

It should be a fun class. I hope you can make it.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Design, Inlay

Different Dovetailed Drawers

IMG_0622The drawers on the Connecticut lowboy that Bob Van Dyke and I found in the back room of the Connecticut Historical Society are tapered from bottom to top. I’ve mentioned in blogs (either here on my blog or on the Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM) editor’s blog) that I’ve seen this treatment of drawers only one other place, and that was on Grove Wright’s Shaker work, including the Shaker Counter I copied and built in the June 2012 issue (#197) of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

The process of making these drawers is a bit different from regular hand-cut dovetailed drawers. To begin, the material for the drawers sides and back are tapered. Because there are two drawer depths on the one lowboy, there are two different tapers needed on the drawer parts. IMG_1280I set up my band saw to just leave the bottom of the parts uncut, and the top edge to cut leaving a 1/4″.

Off the band saw, the cut faces need to be smoothed. That could be a pass over the jointer. But with the narrow edge being only a 1/4″ in thickness, I think it was best to use a jointer plane. It’s from here that things get twisted. I used my marking gauges, but not in a way that is customary when dovetailing drawer parts. I set on gauge to 1/2″ and a second to 1/4″. I used the two gauges to place tick marks at the top (1/4″) and bottom (1/2″) to use as layout lines. IMG_1282The next step – where you would normally use a marking gauge – I used a straightedge and utility knife to score the baselines.

The trick to marking off the pins and tails is to use the square or outside face as a register. (If you use the inside face, your marks can be all kind of funky angles.) After the layout is complete, it’s a matter of sawing to the lines then chopping out the waste. Because I work pins first, I began with the pins in the drawer backs. To transfer the pins to my tail board, I set the completed back in position, making sure the orientation is correct. To cut the tails, I go back to the band saw and cut just off the layout lines, inside the pin waste area. Ordinarily, I would chop the waste at my bench, but because the parts are angled – and the waste area is so narrow – I stay at the band saw and trim the waste using power. Nibble. Nibble. Each time staying just tight to my baseline. Because this is a poplar-to-poplar fit, I get a little smash factor to make it all work.

IMG_1286The drawer fronts are not tapered, but the sides are. Again, I have to use the straightedge-and-utility-knife layout method, but from there the process is the same as with standard dovetailed drawers. The only difference is the tail sockets are tapered from top to bottom. To transfer my pins to the tail board (drawer sides), I set the front at my scribe lines, which is a consistent 1/2″, then transfer the lay out.

In the drawers of the Shaker Counter, the bottom was slid into the 1/2″ thickness of the bottom edge. The lowboy drawer bottoms at applied – it’s good to have the thickness at the bottom for nailing. I use the counter on a daily basis, and the drawers slide spectacularly. I’m wondering if it’s the design (heavy bottoms) or the yellow pine I used for drawer parts. I’ll have a better picture when the lowboy is wrapped up.

Build Something Great!

Glen

This lowboy is an upcoming project in Popular Woodworking Magazine. To see the entire project, pick up the February 2014 magazine – if you’re not a subscriber.

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Make This Your First Lowboy

CT LowboyFor the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on SketchUp drawings for a Connecticut Lowboy discovered at the Connecticut Historical Society. The class happens at The Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in September, immediately following the holiday weekend – the class runs from Tuesday through Saturday. (There are a few class spots left, so now would be a great time to contact Bob Van Dyke at the school to sign up.)

When I built The “Queen Anne Dressing Table” for the June 2010 cover of Popular Woodworking Magazine, I thought I had discovered the easiest-to-build lowboy ever. I was wrong. This project is easier, if you can believe that. And best of all, easy does not translate into ugly. IMG_0634In fact, when I wrote about my 2013 classes in January this year (read it here), I mentioned how this lowboy stopped both Van Dyke and me in our tracks.

What made the dressing table easy was that all the interior parts were nailed in place. What makes this piece easy is that there are few interior parts. Take a look at its inside. There is no top rail on the piece (the case top is the kicker to keep the drawers from tipping when extended), the two interior drawer dividers are solid pieces that run from front to back, drawer guides are nailed between the legs and the only runners are single pieces dovetailed into the front rail and centered in each opening.

Where a piece such as this picks up is pizazz is with details. One feature that makes this lowboy stand out is the cock-bead work at each of the cutouts in the front rail and at the sides. IMG_0623That work takes time to get right. But it adds a real punch to the finished piece. If you click to open the photo above, you can better see this detail. A second interesting detail, and one that makes me scratch my head and search for a connection, is the construction on the drawers. It’s not the fact that the bottoms are applied. That, along with the beaded moulding that wraps the drawer openings, indicates that this piece has an early origin. What I find interesting are the tapered drawer sides. This is nearly identical to the work found on the Shaker counter originally built by Grove Wright that I built for the June 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Is there a connection, or is this a construction method used in the region. Grove Wright spent time working at the Enfield, CT Shaker village.

IMG_0620

Above is another photo of the interior of the Connecticut lowboy. In this photo you can see a drawer divider. Check out how the divider is angled as it stretches from front to back. Was this a way to save on material? Also notice how oxidation affects the coloration on the divider. What you see is not two pieces of lumber with different colors joined together. It’s the fact that the upper section has, for more than a hundred years, been protected by the drawer with the lower section constantly exposed to the elements.

You really should take the time to join us at CVSW as we build a great looking, simply constructed and high in detail Connecticut Lowboy. Register here.

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Joinery