Category Archives: Antique Pieces

To Copy, or Not to Copy

As woodworkers, we are always on the lookout for interesting pieces to build. SAMSUNG 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. SAMSUNGThe 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? C447One 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!

Glen

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Scroll Pediments: On Clocks Anything Goes

High ChestScroll pediments are the front panels found at the top of some of the most impressive pieces built in the 18th- and early 19th-centuries. Furniture such as  Bonnet-top high chests of drawer or highboys (as shown in the left-hand photo), bonnet-top chest on chests and many period clocks have scroll pediments. It’s on these panels that gooseneck mouldings are applied. Scroll pediments, at least on the highboys and other chests that I have seen in books and museums, have the grain running from side to side. (Most scroll pediments attach to the pediment returns with dovetails.) The same holds true for many clocks. But that is not always the case.

Tall case clocks are different when it comes to how they were built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. On tall case clocks, you can find many construction techniques that leave a 21st-century woodworker scratching heads. Some period clocks – some very expensive period clocks – appear to be held together with little more than chewing gum and grime collected throughout the years.

#5024-03I have pointed out a few of the let’s say questionable construction techniques I’ve found on the Egerton clock that I’m working on. The scroll pediment is just another example. On the original clock, which at one time was for sale at $120,000, the grain of the pediment runs vertically. I know this because I have a photo of the back of the hood.

IMG_1058As I work on my tall clock, I am changing many of the oddities I found with the original, but as always the case, a few of those questionable construction techniques are being repeated. Case in point is the scroll pediment. I decided to keep the grain direction vertical. How this changes the building of my clock is most apparent as you work on the pediment returns. Dovetails, which are found on many of the period clocks that have broken-arch pediments, are not an option because the grain on the returns runs perpendicular to the scroll pediment. As a result, I attached the pediment and the returns with screws. I expect that nails were used on the original, but I went with screws (tightly fitted at the bottom and in over-sized holes at the middle and top for seasonal movement) for a more secure hold.

High_Res ScrollWhat is extremely interesting to me is that if you look at the front of the original Egerton clock you could not know that the scroll pediment grain runs vertically. You would, in fact, guess that the grain runs at a 45-degree angle because that’s the look presented at the front. A veneered face with fancy cutouts fronts the pediment.  The veneer grain is angled. (That’s a detail that I will add to my build.)

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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When to & When Not to Reproduce Period Techniques

#5024-04One of the areas in which you struggle when building reproduction furniture – and I’m not talking about a full-out reproduction in which you pit-saw the lumber, scrub the surface flat then build the piece – is in trying to determine when to copy the workmanship. I had another decision to make yesterday as I worked on the Egerton tall clock. In the shop, I built the mask for the clock. That’s the piece that surrounds the dial and sits directly behind the door.

The photo above is of the antique clock. What particularly I wrestled with has to do with the joinery, specifically the dovetail, that joins the stiles to the rails. #5024-04_CloseIn the photo you can see how Egerton did the work. And we get to see the results of 200+ years of wear and tear. Should this technique be repeated? I decided to pass, and here’s why.

If you study the joint, there is no glue surface whatsoever. The stile fits perpendicular to the rail. The only flat grain of the dovetail is at the sides. Unfortunately, where that flat grain meets the rail, the rail is end grain. And where the rail is flat grain, it meets the stile which is only end grain. No structural glue surface. IMG_1007Also, a close look at the photo (remember you can enlarge the picture if you click on it) shows a couple of fractures that have been repaired. One last note is that I did try the joint and as you might expect, the rail broke across the grain even with the cut of the tail socket.

Given that, I passed on the dovetail joinery. I built the mask using a half-lap joint. Flat grain glued to flat grain. (Yes it is cross  grain, but it is still a strong, lasting joint.) Above is a look at the lower-rail-to-stile joint. Below are the two completed masks.

Build Something Great!

Glen

IMG_1006

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Gorgeous Gams & Other 2013 Classes

I expect to have a busy 2013, so I limited my teaching weeks and weekends this year. Scheduled are only two classes that are week long, and one weekend class that begins on Friday. (Guess that would be a three day class.)

LegOnce again, Bob Van Dyke has invited me back to teach at his Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking (CVSW). April 5th through the 7th is Gorgeous Gams & Foot Fetishes: Its all about the Legs and the Feet- A 3 day weekend of fun and inspiration with Glen Huey. (Click here, then scroll about 2/3 down the page for additional class information.)

There is a lot to cover over the three days. Did you know you can get very accurate patterns from photos?  During the class we’ll rip leg and feet from actual furniture photos then learn how to develop those into full-size patterns. I’ll also show you how to shape cabriole legs. Where to start and what tools make the task easy and repeatable – we do want our four legs to match, right? After you get a leg shaped, it’s on to tapered legs. You may think you have a handle on tapered legs, but I’ll fill in a few blanks on what legs fit with what periods and I’ll demonstrate a couple techniques that are sure to add to your knowledge and abilities. And of course, we cannot bypass feet. An in-depth study of bracket and ogee-bracket feet is sure to bring discussion. Contact CVSW to register for the class.

SAMSUNGLater in April (April 29 through May 3), I show up at Chuck Bender’s Acanthus Workshops to teach the first week long class. Since Acanthus is in Chester County Pennsylvania, what better project could you build than a small chest that’s big with line & berry inlay. (A chest, by the way, that is featured in the June 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, in case you get closed out of the class.) This chest, attributed to Moses Pyle and built for Hannah Darlington, is part of the collection at Winterthur Museum. Not only do you build this chest during the week, but you may get a chance to see the original in a day trip to the museum. If line & berry inlay is your weakness, this is the class to take. Construction is not over the top, so we’re sure to finish the project. (That will make the spouse happy, huh?) During the class we’ll use both power tools and hand tools to inlay the piece. (Acanthus has been plagued by website difficulties over the past few weeks. If the class listing cannot be found, give Chuck a couple days to get things corrected and posted.)

CT LowboyRounding out the year, except for Woodworking in America in October, I return to CVSW to instruct a class building a Connecticut Lowboy. This piece, discovered in a backroom tour of the Connecticut Historical Society, stopped both Bob and I in our tracks. I immediately said that this would be a great class. Great minds think alike. Bob added the class to his summer schedule. The class runs from September 3rd through the 8th.

If you are a study of period furniture designs, you see that this lowboy is a transitional piece – originating as we moved from the William & Mary style into Queen Anne period. I especially like the high arched aprons and the molded profile around the drawers. Also, there is a very interesting building technique used on the inside of this piece.

(Might I suggest a “twofor” at CVSW. Sign up for the legs class then return to build a great lowboy. Contact the school for more information.)

If you would like additional information on these classes, please contact me or the schools directly.

Build Something Great!
Glen

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Period Clock Case Craftsman: Smart or Lazy?

On the Burnap clock you see a thin rail matched to a thicker stile. That assembly is positioned next to a square quarter column and nestled behind a fitted corner glue block.

Back in July while teaching at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, school founder and owner Bob Van Dyke offered me the opportunity to examine a Burnap Tall Case Clock at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Of course I accepted. (Read about it here.) As Bob, Mickey Callahan (past President of The Society of American Period Furniture Makers) and I studied the case, we were all taken by the thin rails used on the clock’s face frame. At the time, no real explanation was at hand.

Photo of the original Egerton Clock case.

As I began working on my SketchUp drawings for my version of the Edgerton clock case, I went back to take a look at the photos I had of the original case built in New Jersey around the turn of the 18th century.Once again, thin boards were used for the rails of the face frame.

With an attempt to hold as much original as I could, I decided to draw the rails in at less than the thickness of the face frame stiles. My idea was to size the rails to match the distance from the rear face of the tenon to the front face of the frame, or to create a barefaced tenon at the back face of each rail.

As I worked on the drawings and began to build the case, this face frame detail continued to bounce around my mind. Why would woodworkers in the past use a thin rail? What would that accomplish? Then a thought popped into my head. Maybe an extra 1/4″ or 1/2″ in the case, measuring from front to back, added enough depth for a given clock movement to work properly – there would be no chance that the weights would make contact with the inside front of the case.

It wasn’t until I actually milled the face frame pieces that a second idea came to mind.

Work on the two stiles was just as you might expect; Cut a centered mortise at the top and bottom ends of each stile. (Due to the width of the top rail, I split the tenon into two smaller tenons to keep my stiles strong.) As I began to cut the two rails, I realized that I did not need to create a shoulder on the back face of the rails as it is a barefaced design. That eliminated one of the two major cuts needed to create the tenons. Also, there is no removal of waste material on the face as well. That makes this process much less work, especially when using nothing but hand tools. It’s just a two-step rabbet cut at my table saw.

This made me wonder: Were period clock case craftsmen, by making face frame rails thinner than the stiles, smart in saving the cost of material? Did they discover a clever way to add extra depth to the case? Or were they simply being lazy using a technique that greatly reduced the amount of work while building cases? What do you think?

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Furniture Detective

Take a look at the photos below. Here is a look at the bottom of the original Egerton Tall Case clock. What do you see?

I see tons of information about how pieces, clocks in particular, were built during the period. While I have come to understand that construction methods used back in the day are questionable when viewed with today’s eyes, I am constantly amazed at what we see.

For example, The bracket feet on this clock are attached under the transition molding that wraps the base on three sides – they may just catch the base sides and front, but if they do it’s not by much. Glue blocks, placed at the corners, fit under the case to carry the load. The rear feet in the photos are aligned with the clock’s backboard. Were the feet installed after the back was positioned? Or did the rear feet simply flop in the breeze until the back was added, at which time a nail made the final connection?

In the top photo, a missing glue block answers the question of how the feet were joined. The faint over-cut lines on the rear side foot indicate that the rear foot was dovetailed to the side foot. (Front feet are mitered.) If the block were in place, as it is in the second photo, we would be left guessing.

Notice, also, how thin the base sides appear. My best determination is that the sides are 1/2″ in thickness. With this information, it is clear that I plan to build an adaptation of this clock, not a reproduction – I don’t see the value in working with stock that thin.

Another question is how the bottom is attached. I have photos from other period clocks that show bottoms held in place by glue blocks (see below). That type of construction may seem shoddy, but there is a reason to adapt this method. Sometime during the clock’s life, it is possible that weights, which drive the movements, could be dropped in the case. At 10 – 14 pounds or more, these weights would do severe damage to the case bottoms. If the bottoms were an integral part of the base, repairs would be difficult if not impossible. Easily replaced bottoms keep the clocks in good repair.

I’m sure there is more information shown. If you see something in the two photos, leave a comment below. Information garnered from more than one pair of eyes makes us all better craftsmen.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Egerton Tall Case Clock

Photo from C. L. Prickett Antiques

In New Brunswick, New Jersey between 1788 and 1802, Matthew Egerton built this clock case. The scroll board is pierced to allow a richer and more clear sound to waft from the clock as the bell is struck. Of the five known Egerton clocks that have a punch-work scroll board, this is thought to be the finest. And the inlaid “liberty cap on a pole” adds a bit of whimsy to the design.

The best part of any piece of furniture I build is the beginning. One of the reasons I enjoy woodworking is that about every three to five weeks another project begins. It’s a fresh start.

On Tuesday, after my return from Woodworking in America – West Coast, this Federal-period tall clock is in my sights. I can’t wait.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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