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The Furniture Record

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Capturing Furniture in the Wild
Updated: 2 hours 34 min ago

Have You Even Seen Period Furniture?

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 10:31pm

Some of the best furniture ever made is being made today.
Steve Latta,  6/24/2017

Steve Latta actually said that. Or something real close to that. That certainly is the gist of what he said. Might even be the exact words. I can’t remember.

Steve Latta is a professional furniture maker, teacher, scholar, author and star of several Lie-Nielsen instructional videos. He teaches full-time in the furniture making program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pa. He also teaches at nearby Millersville University and conducts workshops at woodworking schools across the country.

He made this statement at the beginning of a breakout session on Rustic Inlay he was giving at the Mid-Year Conference of SAPFM (Society of American Period Furniture Makers) in Winston Salem, NC this past June.

On the drive home, I thought about what he said and decided he might be right. I have been to three SAPFM events where members displayed and explained their creations. Most were not professional furniture makers but highly skilled and motivated other-than-professional furniture makers. (I couldn’t come up with another descriptor that wouldn’t alienate someone.)

These people do have some advantages over those working in the past. A few members went on for a bit about procuring just the right wood. Checking with all the hardwood dealers with an email address looking for just the right pair of matching 14 inch wide by 11 foot mahogany boards for a secretary for their niece as a wedding present. This is a luxury not enjoyed by those working in the past. You can argue that they might have had better wood but I believe they didn’t have the access to any and all wood that we have today.

Information. You can learn how to do anything you can imagine by watching a video, reading a book or magazine, taking a class, or asking your local neighborhood expert. This might not be equivalent of an apprenticeship but we have the advantage of only building what we want to and not having to learn things we don’t care about.

Controversially, tools, both power and hand. Many of the presenting SAPFM members use power tools. Past furniture makers did make fabulous furniture using hand tools alone but there are advantages to power tools. Starting the annual Toys for Tots build, I have to process a few hundred board feet of 4/4 poplar into 1/2″ stock which will then be cut to size, rabbeted, have sliding dovetails installed, drilled and rounded. I can and have done all this with hand tools but am grateful for things that plug in.

Good furniture can be built with either type of tool. On some level it has become a religious discussion. No right answers. Whatever works for you and is within your comfort level.

I do cut dovetails by hand for reasons of aesthetics. Those machine cut dovetails look too industrial and I can’t afford the Leigh jigs. (I can, I choose not to.)

The biggest advantage some have is time.

If you’re not getting paid, it’s practice.
Chuck Bender, Some time in the recent past.

When I heard this, I made Mr. Bender repeat it. It was a bit of a slap in the face but I got his point.

We were taking one of his classes. Some members of the class were not happy with the quality of their work. (My standard line from any class is alway: Not my best work.) Frustrated, Chuck was trying to make the point that it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We are there learning new skills and attempting techniques for the first time. There should be no expectation of perfection. However, regardless of how badly things work out, we will probably still be able to make our mortgage payment. Our livelihood is not dependent making a salable piece of furniture. Furniture makers in the past  needed to produce to pay for food, supplies, employees and apprentices. We have the luxury of time. It would be interesting to discover when in time did the hobbyist woodworker become a possibility.

Your niece’s wedding date is important but if you miss is but a week or so, you might be embarrassed but no long-term repercussions. Your spouse already knows better than to take any promised delivery date too seriously. Career furniture makers actually have to deliver. For the rest of us, it’s a matter of pride, self-esteem and perceived worth as a human being. That and we just invested a great deal money and time in a another pile of firewood.

Having delivered the sermon, I will now show an actual piece of period furniture. If you only see period furniture at museums and historic house museums, you are not getting to see the full range what was made. More and more, museums are thinning their collections so they just contain the best of the best. A few organizations, like MESDA (Museum of Southern Decorative Arts), do have some vernacular furniture, but that is an exception.

Let’s look at this piece from a recent auction:

Pennsylvania Chippendale Walnut Chest on Frame
Description :  Circa 1770, poplar and white pine secondry, later applied cove molded cornice to the dovetailed case, three upper side by side lipped drawers above four graduated lipped long drawers, on a later but appropriate styled frame with a scalloped skirt, cabriole legs and trifid feet.


This lot has sold for $900.

Embarrassingly, in my zeal to get lots of pictures of construction details, i neglected to take a picture of the whole piece. This is their picture.

A look at the top reveals they only used the finest of hardwoods in the case construction:


A few knots but it looks flat. Made from a traditional Pennsylvania hardwood, pine.

Their picture shows the attention to detail given to the back of furiture:


No finish and only roughly planed.


The back of another chest shows rotary planer marks. Power tools were in use way back when.

In a previous blog, I asked the question:  Would Duncan Phyfe have used Masonite® or Luan? Maybe not Duncan Phyfe but certainly some lesser makers might have. The function of the back is to provide structure and to keep dust out. Plywood would have worked as well as some of the wood actually used.


The trifid feet are nice.

The drawers are..


Dovetailed but overcut. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…


Drawer interiors have not been introduced to a smoothing plane.


Drawers bottoms, only a scrub plane.


And the not-veneered drawers fronts, gasp, a knot. Looks to be a stable knot.


Another drawer, another knot.


And the same care and attention to detail was followed on crafting the interior of the chest.

Furniture from the past might not be as finely built as the best furniture being built today but there were different expectations and different pressures on the furniture makers. Modern customers also have different expectations. For the money they are paying for period furniture, I do not think they would accept the furniture as it was built back then although some of them might also buy IKEA furniture.






Hitchcock Chairs

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 5:29am

There was a time when I knew nothing about Hitchcock chairs and cared even less.

That changed one day when I was in the overheated mezzanine of an overstuffed antiques shop just north of me. Obstructing my path to the stairs was an older slip of a man with an intense stare in an immaculately tailored vintage brown suit. (Is the suit vintage if he has been wearing it since it came off the rack?) He was standing behind a chair that he tilted toward me slightly and proclaimed: “This is an original Hitchcock chair!” My confused look caused him to repeat himself more emphatically and tilt the chair more.

Discretion being the better, part of valor, I accepted the chair and examined it closely. I picked it up and viewed it from all angles before returning it to him. I told him it was a fine and desirable chair and if money and space were  infinite, I would undoubtedly own several.

He gave me a look that indicated he understood my predicament but did not fully approve my judgement. I took advantage of his momentary acquiescence and fled. Still, the name and image of the Hitchcock chair stayed with me. IT people of a certain age might call it a background job.

Then came the Great Chair Awakening of 2017. In March of that year I had a discussions with two chair evangelists that enlightened me to the ways of the chairs in their beauty, design and function in the world. Since then, I have taken note (and pictures) of most/all of the chairs I’ve seen.

The Hitchcock chair goes back to Connecticut woodworker Lambert Hitchcock making the first mass-produced chair in 1820. Hitchcock was influenced by a local clock maker that made affordable clocks using standardized parts and production line techniques. Hitchcock had achieved early success by producing unfinished chair components sold by local merchants as replacement parts for broken chairs.

His chairs were a variation on Sheraton chairs with some Empire and touch of the Baltimore chair blended in.


A Hitchcock chair. The most recognizable of their designs.

The woven seats were unique in that the seats were enclosed on all four sides by moldings or trim.


I wonder if the trim is removable or does the weaver have to thread all the material through a small gap?

But the true marker of a genuine Hitchcock chair is the Hitchcock name being stenciled onto the back of the seat:


There were three variations of this stenciling over the years. Age can be estimated based on variation.

Other features of the Hitchcock chair include:

(Cut and pasted from The Hitchcock Chair from the Spruce)

  • Back is typically composed of a crest rail at top (usually a turned roll; often a flat rail, especially after 1835); a large central cross rail; and a thinner slat below
  • Turned front legs, often ringed or beaded in gold half-way around
  • Rear legs rise to form the chair stiles
  • Wood of choice: maple; oak, birch, poplar used as well
  • Legs are footless or have ball feet
  • Stretchers on the front, back and sides; beading on the front stretcher
  • Seats are square, usually made of cane or rush
  • Stencil motifs: baskets of fruit, flowers, cornucopias, leaves, lyres

How many of the listed features can you find on this chair?


And the leg.

Others made the Hitchcock chair:


When is a Hitchcock not a Hitchcock?


When it it a Nichols & Stone.


Or this one?


Nichols & Stone of a different era.


North Carolina contributed this less decorated chair.


High Point Bending & Chair Co. Later the Boling Chair Co. Now operating as the Boling Group.


And our candidate from Indiana.


From Tell City, Indiana, the Tell City Chair Company, 1865 to 2011.

From the the Spruce article:

With success came imitators, and over time, a “Hitchcock chair” began to mean any painted and colorfully-stenciled chair that roughly resembled the originals – that is, medium-back in height and largely square in shape.


A Hitchcock chair?

The there are some Hitchcock chairs that are Klismos chair hybrids:


A Klismos Hitchcock chair.

I’ve been struggling on the post on and off for a month now and I don’t know why. Too much information and struggling looking for a narrative. The good thing about the delay was coming up with two more unique examples. First is a genuine Hitchcock chair found in Warrenton, Missouri:


With a solid seat. Most are caned or woven.


The magic stencil of the true chair.

In Fenton, MO, I found this chair from an unexpected source:


Looks like a Hitchcock.


It is a Hitchcock from Ethan Allen.

Hitchcock Chair Co. has come and gone and is back again. Boling Group is still in business. Nichols and Stone is still around. Tell City Chair is gone. Ethan Allen is going quite well.

Yet nobody I found is currently producing a Hitchcock chair although Hitchcock is making something similar.

To see my large selection of Hitchcock chair photos, go HERE.



Some Ideas Just Live On.

Sat, 07/22/2017 - 10:05pm

I was making a rare visit to a local antiques mall recently when I came across a small desk similar to one I had seen and written about in November of 2015, (See Convertibles.)

The dealer called it a traveling desk:


I’m not sure where it traveled to.

The novel feature is that this desk like the previous one, opens to reveal the gallery hidden within:


Ink holders lead me to believe this is not of current manufacture.


A different view showing from where the gallery comes.


The gallery is extracted by two brass brackets attached to the lid.

This might be one of those times I disagree with the dealer. I don’t think it is a traveling desk. Among other things, the legs don’t fold are a bit on the delicate side to travel much.

I looked at the previous blog and realized it is the same desk. It had disappeared or been buried under other inventory for the past two years only to reappear and taunt me.

One new discovery made using the same technology is this bar unit:


A nice compact chest.

And it opens to reveal:


Glasses and liquor. What else?

While we are looking at recycled idea, I found this side locked piece that might properly be called side latching.


A nice tall piece with a familiar look.

The side doesn’t really lock having only a ball catch and no lock.


A different configuration with a desk up top and drawers below.

Not that old. Phillips screws on the hinges. This desk was definely made after 1936.

OxyAcetylene in Furniture Making

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 10:07pm

Your are going to be disappointed to learn this post is about furniture making and not woodworking. They aren’t always the same activity. I haven’t come up with a new subtractive furniture making technique using flame.

What the title refers to is furniture I have found that looks like wood but is actually metal. First I found some chairs in Alpharetta, GA. a few years back:


The metal Windsor chairs.


Metal wood furniture comes in black, too.

Next, I found this kitchen rack at a local antiques multi-dealer shop:


Made from that special magnetic wood.

Tuesday, I found two more pieces over in Raleigh:


A fan back chair not in wood.

And finally, this desk:


Does one need a lathe to turn metal spindles?

You can tell it’s metal by looking at a drawer side:


No dovetails!

Good Ideas Travel Fast

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 8:51am

Back in June I found this modified plantation desk at an antiques shop in Winston Salem, NC:


A plantation desk, another flexible term with many definitions and no real meanings.

It had been modified to change the angle of the writing surface:


Tapered pieces added to the sides to change the pitch of the writing surface.

This piece was covered in Less Than Fancy Furniture.

We were in Hermann, MO over the weekend for a wedding. We arrived Friday night and the wedding wasn’t until 3:00 PM on Saturday leaving some time for research. Our plane left at 7:15 PM on Sunday leaving more time for research. I am a very diligent researcher. In a shop in Warrenton, I came across this desk:


Another desk with a history.

This desk has also been modified to change the lid angle:


Same idea but not as severe since the original angle was not as severe..

Looking inside leads me to believe that they might have replaced the front legs as well.


Front legs are too tall to be original.

This desk is has a gallery rail and locking storage box affixed to the top:


The swan is not attached.

The tag gives one possible history of this desk:


Ir that’s what the dealer says, it must be true.

I am now looking for a third one and I won’t stop until I find it.

And not even then.

My Turn.

Sat, 07/15/2017 - 6:46am

A rather well-known author/publisher/editor/woodworker/furniture maker/journalist/educator/entrepreneur/raconteur/anarchist/cicerone/father/husband has now gotten two blogs out of something I found and shared with him. Now,  it’s my turn.

It all started with a unique pair of winding sticks I found near Charleston, SC. I was told there are no tools to be found in the Charleston area but I am too stubborn/stupid to listen and went out looking. To be fair, I wasn’t only looking for tools and there weren’t all that many to find.

But find them I did and these are them:


The famous/infamous half-moon winding sticks.

Taking a closer  look reveals some interesting details:


Up close and personal.

First piece of revelatory information is that we have been using the wrong terminology. These are not winding sticks, they are wood levelers. A knowledgeable dealer would not go through all the trouble of writing the wrong name on the label of an item he/she wishes to sell.

The second is not really that important and I am not going to waste your time making you read something that is unimportant and uninteresting.

This was not my first set of wood levelers. My first set was a purchase from Lee Valley for a saw bench class taught by Chris Schwarz at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. I bought them because the levelers were on the tools list that was sent out three days before the class. I was out-of-town on business and would be getting home just in time to pack my tools and head out on the long 0.57 hour drive south.


They are extruded. And not wood.

I did take some abuse from the instructor for having store-bought, aluminum levelers. I worked through the shame and humiliation, after all, better abused than ignored.

The next set I made when I got a really good deal on some thin hardwood strips:


Unclean. I used power tool to make these.

My fourth set came from a toolmaking class I took from the aforementioned Chris Schwarz at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta. This was his classic layout tool class, hand tools only.


Sapele. Only hand tools used. Really. The reversing grain made it a challenge to plane. Maybe there was a reason Highland Woodworking provided us this wood.

Which is my favorite set? I use them all equally.

I might repost this post with better pictures. Then again, I might not.

If you want, you can read those other blogs HERE and HERE.



Less Than Fancy Furniture

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 10:57pm

I spent last weekend in Winston Salem, NC at the Mid-Year Conference of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) being held appropriately at the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). I was surrounded by fancy furniture and the people who curate fancy furniture and people who make fancy furniture.

There were two hours with no scheduled events on Friday. I assume this was to allow members to visit some of the other buildings and exhibits at Old Salem. Being a member and frequent visitor, I sought alternate ways to be informed and enlightened. There is an antiques mall just down the road that by design or happenstance is the best place for primitive furniture in the area.

I went.

There was much there that new and wonderous. There was this plantation desk:


A plantation desk, another flexible term with many definitions and no real meaning. Google it.

What makes this one unique is that it has been remodeled. A previous owner decided that the writing surface angle was not to their liking and modified it. They added a wedge of wood to change the angle.


Not elegant but functional.


The interior view isn’t any more satisfying.

I believe there is a chair under there:


I hope it wasn’t unique or one of a kind . We will never know.

There were two step back (stepback?) cupboards that caught my eye. First is this cupboard/pie safe:


An uncommon configuration.

The tins are interesting:


A touching image but I don’t believe the date is accurate.

The other cupboard is this Eastlake’esque unit:


The pediment and wood choices make me think Eastlake.

What makes this one interesting is the shelf support system:


Not saw tooth or dados but rounded shelf supports fitted into matching supports.

The supports are very easy to make. Take two 4″ wide boards and using your favorite hole installing device, drill a series of holes through the stacked boards on the centerline at an appropriate spacing. Then just rip the boards on the centerline and you have your four supports.


See how simple period furniture can be.

The back is rough boards just nailed on:


with an odd hole caused by a rodent or an individual wanting to plug in the mixer.

There was this very serious looking chair:


A chair I would prefer not to sit in.


Was this a commercial product of a user made product?

And a Boston rocker:


Or is it a waterfall rocker.

I have seen similar rockers called either Boston or waterfall and dissimilar chairs identified as Boston or waterfall. I still  think we need some federal regulations leading to a standardized set of furniture terminology and nomenclature. We would all be better for it but I do not believe anything so useful should be expected from the current Congress.

There needs to be some form of workbench at any antiques mall dealing in primitives:


Not much but it meet the requirement.

Here is a primitive settle or the back half of a tiny house:


Thos. Moser does not make one of these.

It’s been a while, but here is a woven gout rocker:


Rolling pin sold separately.




Fostering (cont.)

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 9:38pm

It was a few weeks before Hans had an opening in his schedule that allowed us to go out and hit the road again. I had promised him the chance to go out and learn about the furniture heritage of North Carolina.

We drove south two hours to start the day in Charlotte, NC. We were hungry and decided to try a local ethnic restaurant I had heard about.  Nobody over 70 that I talked to had anything bad to say about it. Plentiful food at reasonable prices. It was even in my GPS!


Big parking lot. Hans climbed atop my car to make sure we were in the right place.

The food there is all organic in that for the most part it is carbon-based. I believe that there was some issues a few years ago with respect to their special meatballs and the local Health Department but I can’t find the article and I don’t want to be seen trading in unsubstantiated rumors so I will not mention it for now. Forget you read this, assuming you did.


It is a really large place with many different departments. Besides the restaurant, there is a large store selling all sorts of exotic and prepared foods.

Part of the store is filled with hand-made, boutique furniture from some of the finest local artisans the world over. It reminded me of 10,000 Villages or Pier One Imports. There exists some obvious cross-pollination between the artisans and some of the brain-training companies. This outfit offers a line of puzzle furniture with abstract shapes and cryptic pictographs you solve in the vague hope of assembling the purchased item. As a bonus, the cardboard box often proves to be as useful as the contents therein.

From Charlotte, we headed north to Thomasville, NC. Thomasville is known (to some) as The Chair City due to a combination of the furniture manufacturing (2000 chairs per day in 1916) and the presence of The Big Chair (see below).

We stopped first at the statue of John Warwick Thomas, founder of Thomasville:


Politician and entrepreneur. He arranged for the railroad to be built through Davidson County and built the first store (1852) in the area in anticipation of the railroad’s arrival.

What youngster doesn’t like trains?


All aboard!


Not like the trains of home but a train nonetheless.

And then, The Big Chair:


A large-scale reproduction of a Duncan Phyfe chair, 30′ high, It was built in 1950 by Thomasville Furniture Industries. It is built of steel and concrete.

I have two problems with what they describe as the world’s largest chair. Is it really the largest? I was unable to independently verify this. For convenience’s sake, I will just accept it until proven otherwise.

The more fundamental question is is it a chair or a chair-like structure? Does labeling a chair mean it is a chair or does calling it a chair imply that it can be used as a chair for chair-like purposes. Does chair define its function or describe its appearance as does Einstein Bros. make bagels or do they make bageloid sandwich rolls? Does a label make it so?

In Highpoint, we found the world’s largest chest of drawers, 36′ tall.


No doubt about this being a chest of drawers. Note the socks jauntily hanging out of the middle drawer.Not best housekeeping practices but it does have a certain visual appeal and whimsy.

Our last stop of the day was in nearby Jamestown, NC at Furnitureland South, home of 1.3 million square feet of ugly furniture (my opinion). There, they have the world’s largest highboy dresser.


At 85 feet (29.908 meters), it’s huuuge! Drawers are not dovetailed, however


In case you missed it. One of these is made of wood.

We drove home, tired but happy.



Fostering: Part 1

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 9:26pm

I recently had a chance to be a foster parent for a few short weeks. An acquaintance of mine, actually an acquaintance of an acquaintance’s neighbor gained custody of a Hans J. Wegner designed CH36 dining chair by Carl Hansen & Son.This person wanted me to pick up the chair and give it shelter until transport to its forever home could be arranged. I was quite willing to help and went over to the agency/auction house and picked it up.


My ward in front of the adoption agency.

As a precaution, I took little Hans to a local practitioner for a checkup:


One of Pittsboro, NC’s best known clinics at The Woodwright’s School.


In the waiting room patiently anticipating his turn.

Eventually Dr. Underhill came out and did a quick evaluation:


The Doctor is not sure what to think examining this stranger in a strange land.

We then took it into the clinic for a more through exam:


The Doctor is listening for parasitic infestation while his assistant, Bill Anderson, looks for external signs of disease.


Here Dr. Anderson is checking for scoliosis.

Then a tragedy was averted. Will Myers, of Moravian workbench fame, and Ed Lebetkin of the Woodwright’s Tool Store were about to adjust limb length based on a misinterpretation of the ratios in Walkers/Tolpins’ By Hand & Eye.


Bad math but good technique…  Fortunately, the first aid kit was nearby.

We had a chance to meet with famed woodcarver Mary May. She had a few ideas of her own.


Mary May suggesting some orthotics of a more traditional design to deal with his obviously flat feet.

Next, a trip to respected conservator Martin O’Brien’s shop for a consultation.


Here Martin is overwhelmed by the Wegner’s raw beauty and the yet unrealized potential.

Brandy Clements of Silver River Center for Chair Caning lead us in a discussion of style and color:


Once a blonde, always a blonde?

When introduced to scholar/furniture maker Jerome Bias, the discussion immediately turned to how Thomas Day (pre-Civil War North Carolina cabinetmaker and free man of color) might have built it.


What would Thomas do?

No day of visitations would be complete without visit to noted Windsor chair maker, Elia Bizzarri.


Here Elia is try to figure out where all the other chair parts are. There just aren’t enough.

He tried to help. I had to stop him.


When the only tool you own a froe, all problems look like green oak…

The last stop was at the home of my immigrant neighbors to meet some of his younger countrymen.


No matter the differences, you know they proudly share a common ancestry.

It had been a long day when I finally showed him to his room.


Small but comfortable and very private.

Tomorrow, I take him on a tour of the furniture centers of North Carolina to help him understand his cultural heritage:


A major international folk festival is held here. Exotic foods and crafts are on display.

And a trip to MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts) to help explain regional differences.


At Old Salem he got to spend time with some locals.



Nonreligious Variations of Sidelocks.

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 10:49pm

In a recent blog, we discussed chests that had in common a vertical hinged panel that, when locked, prevented access to the drawers and/or doors. This posting is about chests with the same basic notion only smaller.

First up is this desk:


The center writing section was out being repaired or reproduced, depending.

Looking at one of the drawer towers, you see this:


A mini tower of three drawers with a gallery atop.

Low and behold, it is also sidelocked:


Not really a surprise since it is the reason for this blog.

The tower drawers are dovetailed:


I thought you would want to know.

Another smaller sidelock example is this antique silver chest:


Quite a handsome example.


Open it looks a lot like this.


If it had silver in it, it would look like this.


By Gladwin Ltd. of Sheffield, UK.


Closed, the hinged columns keeps the drawers from opening.


Opening the column allows access to the drawers.

The columns are held in place by brass plates on top of the columns:


The holes in the brass plates aligns with tapered pins in the lid, Note the screws are clocked.

The chest has a unique hinge:


There is one quite similar across the lid.

There is a lock as well:


It’s British, don’t you know

I will continue to look for more examples and bring them to you as I find them.

It’s what I do.

Ode to a Hand Tool Woodworker

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 8:26pm

You are a proud and dedicated hand tool woodworker. Equating religion and hand tool woodworking to you trivializes both. You were quietly resentful of the workers at the sawmill when they used a forklift to load your wagon. There was a perfectly good jib and several block and falls that could have accomplished the same task more appropriately.

Since your spouse suffered a back injury, the pit saw has been a challenge.


You’ve tried both methods. Both have their advantages.

Pitsaw00 (1)

This is how you do it.


This is how the Dutch did it.

You’ve tried using your six-year-old twins. If you put them in the pit, they immediately start complaining about getting sawdust in their eyes. Then, after about a half hour, they start playing in the meager pile of sawdust they made leaving their end of the saw unguided.

According to the judge and Child Protective Services, you can’t put them pack on top of the log until you can get Texas Heritage Woodworks to make you some toddler-sized harnesses for required fall protection devices.


Less the little darlings fall off the log.

Once they can safely ascend the log, you know that with their short stature they will we capable of only relatively short strokes. Not all that useful but any stroke is better than no stroke.

For now you have rigged some ropes and pulleys. The best you can saw is around four logs a day. All life is a compromise.

Your infill plane are still three years into the future. You couldn’t fit the ebony into the frames in any way that meets your high standards. You are trying this method you think you remember from a woodworking guild blog that you can’t find anymore. You flew to Madagascar and implanted three bronze and steel plane frames into some ebony trees (Diospyros celebica) in 2013. In three years, you should be able to harvest the trees. Once you get the proper clearances (remember Gibson Guitars fun with Customs a few years back), you can bring the planes home and complete the fitting. There may be some shrinkage but you are a dedicated hand tool woodworker.


An infill plane, just not yours.

With all your tremendous hand tool woodworking skills, the one task that confounds you is pen turning. Your well-intentioned family and the cretins at work have all pressured you into making them pens for gifts and charitable causes.  The first year you made a few hundred by splitting out the green wood and then shaping them with drawknives and spokeshaves. You then bored them out with a brace and spoon bit. Close to round but still tricky fitting all the various pen parts.


The spoon bit.

The next year you added a dowel plate to the process. First thing you learned was to bore the holes after pounding the body through the dowel plate. A matter of centering and structural integrity. Lesson two was to not use a fluted dowel plate. An interesting texture but hard to finish. There was still tear-out using the plain dowel plate but you were able to smooth them with a scraper.


User-built dowel plate.

Being a hand tool woodworker, you decide a lathe may be the answer. You try a spring pole lathe. Not bad but you don’t like the tear-out on the lathe’s backspin and you aren’t coordinated enough to pull the tool away in time.


A spring pole lathe.

Next, you try a treadle lathe. Results are good but the treadle banging the floor annoys the twins and your back-injured spouse.


One variety of treadle lathe.

You tried your Narragansett Machine Co. hobbyist lathe but it looks too industrial and still smells like a machine shop.


Narragansett Machine Co. “hobbyist” lathe. Most of it.

The wheel lathe? Your back-injured spouse is not willing to try before finishing physical therapy. Your fallback engine is the twins. The pit saw has given them some impressive upper body strength but their short arms still limit their power. You try a longer crank but that lifts them off the ground for about 1/3 of a rotation. You try a second crank 180° out from the first but that creates more problems. If they are on the same side of the wheel, one tries to kick the other in the head as they pass over one another. If you put them on opposite sides of the wheel, one claims the other is not doing their fair share of the work. Within ten minutes, all you hear is screams of “Not fair!”. This is not productive.


Another Moxon drawing of a wheel lathe.

IMG_1557 - Version 2

A wheel lathe from the Dominy shop exhibit at Winterthur. Setup for outboard turning of a tabletop.

This year, your pilgrimage to Handworks in Amana brought you the answer. In one of the area antique shops You found this:


Another foot powered lathe. You can sit at this one.


With this lathe, you might be able to spin your pens fast enough to use the traditional cyanoacrylate (Super Glue) finish.

So, you can be a purist hand tool woodworker and a pen turner. They are not mutually exclusive.

Note: I do not own the rights to most of the photos. In fact, I never even asked. What do you expect, I’m a blogger.

Sidelocks Not of the Religious Variety.

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 10:55pm

This blog is not about the hair of certain religious persuasions. Or firearms. Or knives. Or vertically sliced smoked salmon.

What I am talking about is typically a vertical chest with several drawers and a hinged panel on one or both sides that flips in, locks and traps the end of the drawers. Like this:


Chest locked up safely.




And the lock.

Many of the ones I’ve seen have that Eastlake vibe:


Late Victorian, but Victorian.


This one has one drawer and two doors.

Many have drawers with Knapp joints. This places them firmly in the 1890-1900 era.


Not dovetailed but Knapp jointed.

(Read all about the Knapp joint HERE.)

I found one that is closer to but not quite Shaker:


Simpler but not simple.

They come in tabletop sizes:


Sidelock on a stand.

And homemade sidelocks:


The claim is made that this one is from reclaimed teak from ancient Asian ships and houses.

Then there is furniture that looks like a sidelock but isn’t:


Sides don’t swing and the locks are in the middle. It’s just a chest.

Some antiques dealers talk about Wellington chests:

The antique Wellington chest was named after the famous Duke of Wellington’s victory of 1815. They are tall and narrow chests, usually with seven working drawers, one for every day of the week. Unusually they come with a swinging locking arm that locks all the compartments with one key.

But I have also seen the label Wellington used with other types of chests and furniture. Until we can get some federal regulations that more reliably label furniture, we must watch our words and be suspicious of the words used by others.

To see more pictures of sidelock furniture, click HERE. Or is it side lock? Or side-lock?





Is There Really Any Such Thing As Coincidence?

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 10:44pm

Remember this from a few days back?


To remind you, this is George’s.

Thursday, I found this:


Also George.


You be the judge.

There Are Old Mansions in the Northeast Too or So I’m Told.

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 7:19am

I have been told that I focus too much on southern plantations and that rich people have been building large houses in the northeast since the 17th century. And not just in Newport.

Back in October, I realized that the Yale Art Gallery exhibit of Rhode Island Furniture, Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830, would be ending soon and I needed to make an effort to see it.

Searching around, I found cheap flight, a cheap hotel and a cheap rental car. Almost cheaper than staying home. Before I left, I finished my chores, the lawn, the laundry and the litter boxes. Early the next morning, I drove to the airport for a dawn flight to Boston.

This trip happened so quickly that I hadn’t really planned for much of anything. Yale was on the schedule for day two. It was day one. I was in a rental car and no clear idea of what I would be doing between 8:30 AM and bedtime. I pulled out the iPhone and started looking at some online resources.

I decided to visit Old Sturbridge Village in the afternoon. All I needed to do was find something fabulous en route. Three minutes later, I found a target and spent another two minutes trying to start the keyless car. I resolved that inconvenience set off for the Gore Place.

1804 to 1806, Governor/Senator Christopher Gore and his wife Rebecca built their mansion in Waltham, Mass for $24,000.  In 1827, Christopher dies. In 1834, Rebecca dies. Having no heirs, the estate is auctioned and runs through traditional series of owner that presided of the inevitable decline. In 1921, The Waltham Country Club purchased the estate. They build a golf course and tennis courts on the grounds and use the mansion as a clubhouse. The Great Depression hastened the bankruptcy and failure of the country club in 1935.

The buildings fall into disrepair and are scheduled to be torn down to make room for new housing. A group of Bostonians with a view toward preservation raised money to buy the estate and formed the Gore Place Society.

Like other auctioned estates, the furniture is scattered by the auction. The Gore Place Society is faced with repopulating the mansion with appropriate furniture. What they did was to acquire Boston built furniture for much of it and track down and return the actual pieces when available.

This server is in the mansion:


An unusual and handsome server.


The green acanthus leaf indicates it is a Boston piece. The diamond pattern is the Gore coat-of-arms indicating it was owned by the Gores.

This commode is of the estate:


Much nicer than George’s.


To remind you, this is George’s, not the Gores’.


This simple bed was the Gores.


Of Boston but not the Gores.


Neither Gore nor Boston but still nice.


And this little gem just fill a niche.

To see all the pictures I have, click HERE.




A Plantation From An Earlier Visit.

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 10:22pm

I still have a few plantations left from my most recent family avoiding New Years trip to New Orleans. I will get to them but first I thought I would clear another from my backlog of fascinating places with furniture. I’m still sorting the glass negatives from my visit to the Titanic right before it sailed. Good stuff but I’m still working on the narrative.

I had work in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in July of 2015. To save the company a few hundred in airfare, I offered to fly in and out of New Orleans and drive up in a rental car. I have a condition that requires me stop every so many miles and walk around for a few hours. It’s a burden I bear but such is life.

On the return to New Orleans the timer went off as I was approaching the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, St. James Parish. (Wikipedia article HERE.) Not wanting to risk my health, I stopped and wandered about for a bit. I even paid money and took a tour of the mansion.

First, about the name Oak Alley:


This explains the name.

Not entirely, the oak alley was planted in 1710. The mansion was not built until 1837.


A view from the balcony.

Oak Alley was built from 1837-39  by Jaques Roman on the grounds of his sugar plantation. It was built entirely with enslaved labor. Jacques Roman died in 1848 of tuberculosis and the estate was then managed by family. As seems to happen so often, the family lacked the skill, knowledge and discipline to manage the estate. when the patriarch dies, the family is not prepared to continue running the business. The Civil War and the end of slavery did not help the plantation’s fortunes. in 1866, the plantation was sold at auction.

Oak Alley then passed through a series owners as its condition deteriorated. In 1925 the property was acquired by Andrew Stewart as a gift to his wife, Josephine. She commissioned architect Richard Koch to supervise extensive restoration and modernize the house. When Josephine Stewart died in 1972, the grounds and mansion were left to the Oak Alley Foundation. Oak Alley was then opened to the public.

Based on the history of this mansion, you can feel certain that the furniture within is not original to the estate. The best you can hope is that the owner has assembled an interesting collection of period appropriate furniture and accessories.

Well, they did. Or so I think, but I’m no expert. One of the first things that caught my eye was this overhead fan in the dining room . It’s function was to circulate the air and the resident flies:


It was operated by staff, possibly not paid staff.

In the master bedroom was this rolling pin bed:


A bed with a rolling pin that was practical and ornamental.

The claim was made that the rolling pin was used to smooth out and pack the stuffed mattress. The mattress was stuffed with Spanish moss and other available organic materials. Insects aside, the problem has that this material tended to bunch and not compress uniformly. They used the rolling pin as a daily fix for this problem.

I have seen many similar beds and this is the only bed about which the rolling pin claim is made. It is also the only bed I’ve seen that the rolling pin is not securely attached. I’m not saying that the rolling pin was not removable and used for leveling the mattress. I’m just saying that I’ve not found any independent corroboration.

Not that it really matters.

There was this very attractive office:


I would like this office. And I am will to accept gifts.

On the property, they have built six replica slave cabins. The cabins are furnished with period appropriate vernacular furniture. As troubling as I find the whole notion, I took pictures:


Not the same quality as in the big house.


I find this furniture as interesting as the antiques in the mansion.

To see the entire set of mansion and slave cabin furniture pictures, click HERE.

This Blog Took A While To Write. Not Sure It Was Worth It.

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 12:46am

Way to sell a blog, huh? Right up front, warning the reader that they might be facing fifteen minutes of their life they’ll never get back. If you’re smart, you’ll click-through to Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic blog. Today I hear she is covering when to use Alabaster, when Pure White may be a better choice and under what conditions Snowbound is right. Dover white was covered in a previous blog.

Today’s topic is Modern Designs from the Barcelona Museum of Design. This exhibit filled an entire floor of the aforementioned museum in the aforementioned city. From their opening placard:

From the World to the Museum

Product Design, Cultural Heritage

In almost everything we do throughout the day, we use one or more objects. If we want to sit down, we use a chair; to do laundry, we use a washing machine; to see each other, we turn on lights… These objects, which have a host of different designs and purposes, accompany us throughout our lives and show us how just as the world changes, so do objects.

How is it, then, that certain objects come to be a part of the Museum’s collection but not others? Each of the pieces on display is considered a representative sample of the design of its time, of the different material and technical contributions proposed by their designers, as well as of their sociocultural resonance.

Product design is one of our great forms of cultural heritage. After all, when we set our sights on Barcelona or Catalonia, now or a few years from now, we will only be able to understand how we lived if we if we know that objects we had by our sides, and some of them are now part of the Museum’s collection.

I thought it was a very interesting exhibit. The problem arose when trying to write the blog. It wasn’t all that different from the modern designs we are used to. Modernism seems to have transcended borders. (I always wanted to use transcended in a blog. Well, not always, but for a while.)

Does this chair scream Spain when you see it?


The classic Butterfly chair in leather.

A quick story about this design. As a wee lad, I was drug to a store where my mother located one of these chairs in yellow fabric with black piping discounted because of a large scratch on the frame. She claimed the damaged chair and raced to back the stack to see if she could find another imperfect unit. Not finding another and lacking a tool to install a matching scratch, mother then started arguing with an assistant manager to discount a second chair because one chair just wouldn’t do. He relented, not because of her clear and remarkable logic but the belief it was worth the $10 to be rid of her, thus rewarding bad behavior.

I am still traumatized by the sight of these chairs.

This chair is also familiar:


I’ve not seen this exact chair but certainly some close cousins.

And their motorcycle, like most motorcycles, has a wheel in the front, one in the rear connected to a centrally mounted engine by a chain, with a seat, handle bars and a tail light:


An early ’70’s Montesa Cota 247 trials bike. I think. Let me know if you know or think you know better. The elongated, one piece gas tank is a nice touch, though.

These chairs are all familiar:


Have you seen most of these? I believe I have.

Why does furniture of this era remind me of 1950’s Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons?


Used without permission or knowledge of Warner Bros. Studios or their successor companies.

Of course, there is some unfamiliar furniture to be seen:


Pink and green is back…

And this chair is among one of the most creative cross uses of technology I’ve seen:


The face is familiar but I can’t place the name.

The exhibit provides this explanation:


Kinda makes you want to see what you have squirreled away in the basement, doesn’t it?

Another placard in the exhibit states:


With type big enough I didn’t have to retype it…

If interested, you can see the entire photo set HERE.

Maybe He Just Doesn’t Like to Share.

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 8:51pm

This is George’s chamber pot:


It’s not complete but you get the idea.

George must be very proud of his chamber pot in that he took the time to inlay or have inlayed his name on the lid. George feels better knowing that it is indeed his chamber pot. Can you imagine George’s horror waking up in the middle of the night and using somebody else’s chamber pot. That must be why he put his name on it.


Simply “GEORGE”.

Or, I could be wrong. It could be this chamber pot was made by the George Chamber Pot Company of McKeesport, PA. Expensive way to display your company’s logo.

It could be the model name or style. You know, the George chamber pot.

Or maybe it was a retirement present. What better gift for your retiring 19th century executive than a monogrammed chamber pot?

Maybe he just doesn’t like to share…