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The Furniture Record

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Capturing Furniture in the Wild
Updated: 1 hour 45 min ago

Things Change.

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 11:07pm

On a recent trip to the Philadelphia area for a wedding, I had a chance to visit some of my favorite antiques dealers in South Jersey. At one of them, I came across this rather ordinary bench:

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Door on the right and vise on the left are missing.

This bench has a tool tray and a tool rack on the back:

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Rather wide breadboard end with dog holes in line with the missing vise.

Drawers have machine cut dovetails:

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It happens. Seems to be a 20th century bench.

An adjustable bench stop is currently frozen in place:

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It can be fixed.

The odd thing here was the label on the front of the bench:

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Not what you expected? Don’t that beat all?

If you know Hammacher Schlemmer at all, you probably know them for that catalog that makes you wonder why you’re getting it. It features such brilliant gifts such as The Best Bug Vacuum for $69.95 and the $50,000 The Barbecue Dining Boat.

Hammacher Schlemmer actually has a more interesting past:

from Wikipedia:

Hammacher Schlemmer began as a hardware store specializing in hard-to-find tools in the Bowery district of New York City in 1848. Owned by proprietors Charles Tollner and Mr. R Stern,[2] it became one of the first national hardware stores. A few months later, Stern withdrew and Toller continued the business until 1859, moving in 1857 to 209 Bowery. In 1859, family friend Albert Hammacher invested $5,000 into the company and the name was changed to C. Tollner and A. Hammacher.

Throughout the 1860s, William Schlemmer gradually bought out Charles Tollner’s stake in the company. When Tollner died in 1867, 26-year-old Schlemmer entered into a partnership with Hammacher and Peter F. Taaks. As a result, the company changed its name to Hammacher & Co. William Schlemmer had been actively involved with the business since 1853 when he moved to New York City from Germany at age twelve and worked at the storefront. After a few years Taaks resigned and since Schlemmer owned a greater portion of the company, the name was changed in 1883 to the present style of Hammacher Schlemmer & Co.

And it was all down hill from there.

Things change. Look on eBay for Hammacher Schlemmer in collectables and antiques.

More history for young people:

Abercrombie & Fitch: Founded in 1892 in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch, Abercrombie & Fitch was an elite outfitter of sporting and excursion goods, particularly noted for its expensive shotguns, fishing rods, fishing boats, and tents.

American Eagle Outfitters: The first attempt was to open American Eagle Outfitters in 1977, positioning it as a proprietor of brand-name leisure apparel, footwear, as well as accessories for men and women, emphasizing merchandise suited for outdoor sports, such as hiking, mountain climbing, and camping.

I bought my first (and last) sleeping bag and tent at American Eagle Outfitters.

I am adding the following item to this blog because I found it interesting and don’t know where else to put it. I did find it at the same shop which makes them location coincidental. It is this box:

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A box with white dovetails?

And waterfowl on the lid:

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I could speculate as to what the bid is but I choose not to.

A closer view does not necessarily provide answers:

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I still don’t know…

My best guess after looking at the actual box and these pictures if that it is a veneer failure. Looking at the corner of the lid you can see the substrate is white and the veneer likes to free itself. There is already a veneer failure at the edge of the tail board. Wood movement cracked the veneer and it either fell off or was picked of by idle fingers.

But, I could be wrong…


I Was Assured They’re Old.

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 10:28pm

I was talking to Peter Follansbee about life, woodworking and this blog when he asked my why I didn’t take pictures of anything really old? My threshold for old is pre-McKinley (1900) while Mr. Follansbee’s is 16th century. The obvious answer is that the places I have access to don’t often have anything old. The number of Empire chests-of-drawers far exceeds the number of jointed English stools in the retail/auction market.

To address Mr. Follansbee’s concerns, I offer here two dealer-confirmed old pieces. I completely trust antiques dealers. What possible incentive would they have to lie or deceive?

Is it a cupboard if it was built before cups were invented? Could it be a jelly if all they had was preserves? It’s that old:

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It’s a really old cabinet of some sort.

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They told me that the door is as old as the rest of the cabinet.

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Hand forged pintle hinges.

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Even the drop pull is hand forged.

Equally old or even older is this chest:

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More frame and panel construction. They didn’t have wide boards back then.

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A coopered domed lid with a hand hewn rib.

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A primitive hinge notched for leg clearance.

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This lock (interior view)

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is held on with clinched nails.

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Looking at the end, somebody really liked their beading plane. Note the through tenons on the legs.

 


A Secret, A Deception and a Mystery

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 6:53am

Wanting to do something different, I recently went out to visit a few antique shops. I discovered many things wonderous and mundane as is typical. These three are not as they seem and I find them worthy of being shared.

First up is a desk with a secret. I haven’t seen one of these in a while. I’m not sure if it is my declining skill in finding them or there just hasn’t been one to be found. Whichever, here is the desk:

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A handsome Georgian number. Around $3,600 as I remember.

The main drawer bottoms are made of several board that over a few hundred years were not dimensionally stable:

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Wood shrinks and splits, who knew?

An appropriately handsome gallery:

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Fancy but not to fancy.

A lot of wood in the drawer fronts:

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Drawers are not dovetailed.

Nice prospect door:

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Brass inlay.

Nothing within the prospect:

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Nothing but air. Doesn’t look like there was ever anything in there. That is unusual.

I reached in to see if there were finger notches to push out the letter boxes on either side of the door. I made a discovery:

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The entire prospect moved.

An it turns out that the letter boxes come out the back:

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No dovetails here either.

There is also a less than obvious drawer above the door:

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Not obvious but is it a secret?

Next is the deception. This deception might have worked better when young and the doors hung true:

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Things sag as they age. Again, who knew?

The press is actually an armoire:

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No shelves or drawers, just green. Is it the original green or at least a historically accurate green?

And now, the mystery. I speak of this large, two piece press, shelves and drawers:

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A large, hulking press.

The upper section is shelved:

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Not tidy within but that is why there are doors! A good place to hide inventory.

Drawers below:

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And yes, they’re dovetailed.

Now, here’s the mystery: how do you access the area between the shelves and drawers? Storage space was always at a premium. I do not believe that the builder would have left the space unused. There are rough sawn board internally above the drawers so the space was not intended to be unused.

IMG_3212

There is lots of inaccessible space between the shelves and drawers.

I don’t think the only access to the space is by lifting off the upper section. The carcass is pinned frame and panel construction so nothing comes off or is hinged.

My only conclusion is the access was gained by lifting out the bottom shelves of the upper section, the top over the lower section being left open. Those bottom shelves did seem loose and not part of the carcass. Inconvenient but workable. I didn’t have the time, patience or chutzpah to try so I don’t know.

Then the question is is it a secret or mystery or just something we don’t know because it is not now in common use?


Yet More of the Same only Different

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:23pm

I’ve recently come across some more furniture that is similar/the same as in some previous blogs. No one piece is worthy of its own blog but taken as a whole, it’ll do.

In April in There are No Rules, I wrote of this chair with this unique leg layout:

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Four legs, just not where you expected.

In the past two weeks, I have come across the following:

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Four legs just rotated 45°.

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In this configuration, the arms supports are carried by legs.

And in Georgia, I found:

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A totally different feel.

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This one is a bit rough, missing a few parts.

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Maybe not even an antique.

In the metal-for-wood category we have:

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Looks like wood, welds like metal.

Two more Wooton rotary desks:

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One in Chapel Hill,

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Looks nice from the client’s side as well.

Another in Monroe, Georgia:

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Looks like the one on Chapel Hill.

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Like this closed.

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Opens to this.

A Hitchcock chair:

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Well, not a real one.

A Hitchcock settee?

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Probably not.

And a gout rocker:

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And now, a word from our sponsor…

 


On Our Return From the Wild Kingdom, We Continue Milking the Auction.

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 8:11am

Back to the auction gallery.

There were a few other auction items worthy of attention. First is this:

American Chippendale Blanket Chest.

Description: Late 18th century, white pine dove tailed case, lid with fishtail hinges and applied molded edge, interior with till to left side (lacking lid), base with two side by side lipped drawers, raised on ogee bracket feet with spurs.

Size: 29.5 x 48.5 x 23 in.

Condition: Wear and marring to top; missing lock; later pulls; feet have lost some height.

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This lot has sold for $310.

They called it a blanket chest while others might consider it a mule chest. The argument is that the drawers make it a mule chest but others say mule chests must be taller. Who knows?

Some interesting details:

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Dovetailed case.

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Dovetailed drawers.

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Drawer bottoms chamfered and pinned.

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Convex bracket feet.

Till lid is missing. Saw cuts were used to make the dados for the till and mortises for the hinges:

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Note the saw cuts by the hinges and till. They were not afraid of over cutting.

The breadboards on the lid are very narrow and really seem to be wide moldings more than ends designed to keep the lid flat.

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Are the breadboard ends wide enough to keep the lid in one plane?

Interestingly, they are attached with through tenons:

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Through tenons to attach the ends.

For a minute I thought the tenons were wedged but a closer look showed me that it wasn’t a wedge but a pinned tenon that suffered a break in the end grain where the pin came too close to the end of the tenon:

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The tenon failed where pinned.

I like the pulls…

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Even if they are replacements.

Next up is this:

Cherry Dovetailed Blanket Chest

Description: 19th century, hinged top with applied rounded edge, interior with till, applied molded base with turned peg feet.

Size: 23 x 38 x 18.5 in.

Condition: Later hinges with break outs and repairs; moth ball smell to interior; surface scratches.

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This lot has sold for $90.

There carcass is dovetailed. Really. Email me if you need to see the pictures.

I haven’t shown any secret compartments for a while so I owe you this.

There is a till on the left. Thetill appears shallower than the till front board would lead you to believe:

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The till seems like it should be deeper. Ignore the scuff marks above till’s front board.

Not all that much or a secret really.

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The front board is captive but slides up a bit to reveal a shallow secret compartment.

Note the arc of a groove on the chest’s lid caused by using the till lid as a stop.

Odd to find a boarded chest at a “better” auction but, here it is:

American Grain Bin

Description: 19th century, white pine, hinged lid, divided interior with two compartments, straight legs from the solid with half-moon cut.

Size:  26.5 x 30 x 16.5 in.

Condition: Rat chew to lid and front boards; tin patch to left side.

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This lot has sold for $160.

This piece had some remodeling done:

George III Chest of Drawers

Description: Early 19th century, mahogany, pine secondary, converted originally from a commode / wash stand, now with four graduated drawers, with a bracket foot base.

Size: 30 x 26 x 20 in.

Condition: Converted from wash stand to chest of drawers; later pulls; wear and chipping.

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This lot has sold for $700.

You see, in this chest, the two doors were rebuilt into two drawers. Original lower drawers are dovetailed:

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Original lower drawers are dovetailed.

Improvised upper drawers are dovetail-free:

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No dovetails on the new(ish) drawers.

Looking at the upper drawer fronts tells the story of its origin:

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This is not traditionally how you build drawer fronts but it is how you build doors.

In review, this chest was initially built with two drawers below with two doors on top. The doors were cut up and converted into two drawer front giving the chest four drawers.

I like this sring pull, too.

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Might not be original but it works.

Finally, apparently no recent blog of mine is complete without a Hitchcock chair. This blog is no exception:

James L. Ferguson’s Hamilton College Hitchcock Chair

Description: Late 20th century, black lacquered wood with gilt and painted decoration, back support with early scene of Hamilton College and signed S. Marshall, stenciled on seat rail “L. Hitchcock, Hitchcocks-ville Conn., Warranted” and gilt signed “James L. Ferguson ’49, Charter Trustee 1973-1988.”

Size: 31 x 24 x 16 in.

Condition: Some scuffs and light wear; overall good estate condition.

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This lot has sold for $140.

And here is the obligatory picture of the genuine stenciled logo:

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Stencil variation circa 1988.

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This is what makes it a presentation chair.

 

 

 

 


Another Mystery Solved

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 9:16am

We have two hummingbird feeders hanging outside our breakfast area. Our cats enjoy watching them feed and I am constantly amazed by their aerobatics and dogfights (bird fights?) Seems hummingbirds don’t get along all that well.

Unfortunately, the hummingbirds prefer the cheap copper toned available from Home Depot. We have tried nice, more expensive feeders but all are rejected. Are these feeders really cheaper when they rust so quickly and need to be replaced annually?

Over the weekend, our feeders started emptying themselves overnight. 2/3 to 3/4 full at dusk and empty at dawn. Hummingbirds don’t feed that much overnight. I’ve heard that some bats might feed there but emptying them both? Suspecting leaks, I brought them in for testing and put last year’s out. In the morning, the old ones were empty with one screw-on base on the ground.

The next step was technology. I place one of my Nikons on a tripod and programmed it to take a picture every two minutes and left the outside lights on at sunset. I got a whole lot of this picture:

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Two feeders, no waiting. Reflections are annoying but this ain’t art.

At 10:41, I got this:

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Caught.

First racoon we have seen in the eight years we’ve lived here. Deer. Opossums. Rabbits. Squirrels. Chipmunks. Cyotes, Foxes. Groundhogs. But no racoons.

Might explain what happed to all the asian pears…

DSC_8843 - Version 2

Can racoons get Type II Diabetes?

 


Different Curves.

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 9:52pm

The auction from the last post was not a great auction, there were no wonderous pieces of furniture. Many nice ones but nothing that jumped out and screamed “Take me to the Met.”

In the absence of greatness, I look for interesting details. Things done differently or things not typically done. I always wonder if these different approaches are naive or brilliant. Did they not know how things were done or not care how others did it. No clue or different inspiration

There were a few items that had a unique approach to curves. First up is this:

Chippendale Style Dressing Table

Description:  19th century, oak, shaped dish top, single serpentine drawer, cabriole legs with ball and claw feet.

Size: 29 x 30 x 18 in.

Condition: Restoration including the drawer being reworked, later glue blocks, break and repair to back right leg; insect damage; surface stains.

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This lot has sold for $110.

To start things off, the ball and claw feet are a bit different:

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That’s not how they did it in Newport.

The drawer has been reworked?

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How was it before the reworking. No dovetails yet I took a picture of it.

The serpentine drawer front caught my eye:

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A drawer front you don’t see everyday.

A sawn serpentine drawer front is not unique. What is unique is how thin the drawer front gets:

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it gets down to below 1/2″.

I do like the bail pulls:

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Seems to be original.

Next specimen is quite a bit taller:

William IV Mahogany Bookcase

Description:19th century, two-part form, mahogany, mahogany veneer, oak and pine secondary, applied cove molded cornice, two hinged glazed doors with original wavy glass open to two louvered shelves, over an ogee drawer, two paneled doors with flush base.

Size   94 x 43 x 18 in

Condition: No key; surface wear; top surface to base with looseness.

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Taller than your average bookcase.

The only curved thing on it is the, as they call it, ogee drawer. Looking at is in profile you see:

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Dovetails look kinda funny.

It looks like it started life as a squared drawer to which bits have been added and removed:

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Used to be square.

Staring at it for a while, I think I might have figured out how they did it. It started out as a drawer with a square profile. The baseline looks like it was made by a marking gauge which would require a flat front. Moldings and fillets were attached and the drawer front was then given the ogee profile. The through dovetails were hidden behind a thick veneer on the concave surface.

The third curve is the first kidney-shaped server I’ve ever seen.

English Regency Concave Mahogany Server

Description: 19th century, mahogany, oak secondary, top with applied gallery, two drawers over two tambour doors, shelved interior, on flush base.

Size: 39 x 50 x 22 in.

Condition: Right tambour door with loose panels; surface scratches; shrinkage crack to top; other wear.

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This lot has sold for $400. The figural humidors not included. They sold for $310.

The tambour doors were a bit stiff. Now knowing how the non-existent Pottery Barn Rule (You break it, you bought it)  applies at an auction, I wimped out and chose to use their picture to show it closed:

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Tambour doors closed.

The joinery might be a bit coarse but it has lasted for 200 years:

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Not perfect nut good enough.

Interesting way that the lower shelf boards installed on a bias:

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Nothing straight about this server.


Amusements From an Auction.

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 8:39pm

With everything going on out there, I thought it might be nice to look at a few (slightly) amusing things I found at a recent auction. First up is this chair:

Pair of Venetian Carved Oak Curule Chairs

Description: Mid 20th century, relief carved crest rail with arms terminating in lions heads and rings, raised on ball and claw feet, crest rail detaching to allow chair to fold.

Size34 x 24 x 19 in.

Note: Purchased by consignor in Venice.

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This lot has sold for $250. (Pair)

We’ve all seen various versions of this chair and wondered what’s its story.  From Wikipedia:

curule seat is a design of chair noted for its uses in ancient and Europe through to the 20th century. Its status in early Rome as a symbol of political or military power carried over to other civilizations, as it was also utilized in this regard by Kings in Europe, Napoleon, and others.

My question: Does it fold?

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Yes!

And the lions match:

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Mostly.

Next, we have:

Antique English Oak Tantalus

Description: Circa 1900, oak case with silverplate mounts, locking hinged handle releases three cut glass decanters.

Size13 x 14 x 5 in.

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This lot has sold for $320.

An attractive and interesting way to carry and display your best liquor. Then you notice the lock on the handle:

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It won’t prevent theft but it might reduce pilferage.

Again, from Wikipedia:

Tantalus is a small wooden cabinet containing two or three decanters. Its defining feature is that it has a lock and key. The aim of that is to stop unauthorised people drinking the contents (in particular, “servants and younger sons getting at the whisky”),[1]while still allowing them to be on show. The name is a reference to the unsatisfied temptations of the Greek mythological character Tantalus.

Not to be confused with Tantalus, a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus.

(Also, not to be confused with the Tantalus Field of the original Star Trek, season 2, episode 4, Mirror, Mirror. Bad Kirk)

And finally, this:

Cast Bronze Figure of a Rabbit

Description: Late 20th century, patinated bronze, possibly Maitland Smith, unmarked.

Size: 16 in.

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This lot has sold for $150.

What was he holding? Could it be a Confederate rabbit? A Federal rabbit?


The Devil is in the Dovetails.

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 2:18pm

Due to the excitement from The Eclipse Event of 2017, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do a blog today. Locally, the eclipse was only partial enabling me to recover more quickly than expected.

I’m OK. now.

Wandering through my favorite auction gallery, I came across this piece:

Antique Continental Inlaid Dressing Table

Description: 18th century, mixed woods, reverse bookmatched veneered top with geometric banded inlaid edge, two cock beaded drawers, with barber pole banded inlay, raised on later cabriole legs with block feet.

Size: 29 x 29 x 17.5 in.

Condition: Later legs; insect damage; shrinkage crack to top with areas of fill; retains likely original pulls.

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This lot has sold for $120.

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Here is the reverse bookmatched veneered top.

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And the geometric banded inlaid edge.

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A cockbeaded drawer with end-grain veneer and barber pole banded inlay.

I opened one of the drawers with end-grain veneer and barber pole banded inlay and was surprised to not see dovetails. My first thought was the applied cockbeading might be covering the dovetails, but that was not the case. It is unusual for a table of this quality not to have dovetailed drawers. Rare but not unheard of.

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Look Ma, no dovetails!! But there are nails.

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At either end!

Looking for more construction details, I pulled out the other drawer:

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There be dovetails here!

 

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Dovetails at both ends of the drawer.

I checked the opposite side of the first drawer and found dovetails:

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Dovetails on this side of the first drawer.

I went back and looked at the first side of the first drawer and found that:

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There probably were pins. You can see the pin residue between the cockbead and the drawer side.

I’m figuring the thin pins failed and the drawer side was replaced with one nailed on.

It happens.

There was another piece there that I ignored at first:

Georgian Hepplewhite One Drawer Server

Description: Early 19th century, mahogany, oak secondary, bow front, single drawer with ebony line inlay to edge, banded line inlay to skirt and square tapered legs raised on brass casters.

Size: 29 x 36 x 19 in.

Condition: Later top; some inlay loss and other restoration.

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This lot has sold for $130.

I had ignored it because the top looked too new and was glued up from several narrow boards. The top had no profile or decoration applied, just a plain edge, similar to today’s Bassett or Ethan Allen furniture.

Just to validate my dismissal of this server as new, I looked at a drawer and saw this:

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Not at all what I expected.

That’s when I checked the catalog and saw that (part of) it was 200 years old.

Not something I wanted. It did find a home for $130.

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I liked the pull, even if not original.


More of the Same Only Different.

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 10:58pm

I had been struggling for a week with what might turn out to be one of my more interesting blogs. Then I read a new blog from an unusually perceptive blogger that, while not changing the premise of my post, is causing me to rethink the presentation.

I’m going to move on and revisit it when I get a clue,

In the interim, I thought I would share some recent pictures of variations on familiar topics. First, sidelock chests.

I met this handsome Eastlake version at an under-tent antiques fair in Abingdon, VA:

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Here’s a form you don’t see every day.

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The drawer screams 1890’s.

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But is just another sidelock chest with more interesting hardware.

This is another small sidelock with a different execution:

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A desktop version.

Here the locking wings are restrained by the bottom drawer and not individual locks:

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Not the way it’s usually been done.

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Different but it works.

It’s been a while since I featured a gout rocker. I now present two.

First is this conventional one that can hold two undesirable things:

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A gout afflicted foot or back issues of National Geographic.

Then there is this fairly modern yet ugly version has no redeeming features:

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Made from plywood and non-coordinating fabric,

Lastly, the torrent of Hitchcock chairs continues:

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Another Ethan Allen Hitchcock.

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Says so on the back.

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An undecorated chair.

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From High Point Bending & Chair Co.

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A rocker in a color seldom seen with uncertain ancestory.

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Undecorated with parts reordered.

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Still not sure who makes it.

And even two authentic ones:

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Green with an eagle.

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The backwards N’s mean something. I just can’t remember what.

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Black with a flower motif.

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More backwards N’s. I believe this is the mark of the last release.


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.

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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:

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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:

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No finish and only roughly planed.

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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.

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The trifid feet are nice.

The drawers are..

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

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Drawer interiors have not been introduced to a smoothing plane.

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Drawers bottoms, only a scrub plane.

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

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Another drawer, another knot.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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And the leg.

Others made the Hitchcock chair:

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When is a Hitchcock not a Hitchcock?

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When it it a Nichols & Stone.

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Or this one?

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Nichols & Stone of a different era.

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North Carolina contributed this less decorated chair.

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

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And our candidate from Indiana.

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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.

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A Hitchcock chair?

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

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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:

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With a solid seat. Most are caned or woven.

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The magic stencil of the true chair.

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

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Looks like a Hitchcock.

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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:

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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:

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

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A different view showing from where the gallery comes.

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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:

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A nice compact chest.

And it opens to reveal:

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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.

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A nice tall piece with a familiar look.

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

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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:

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The metal Windsor chairs.

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Metal wood furniture comes in black, too.

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

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Made from that special magnetic wood.

Tuesday, I found two more pieces over in Raleigh:

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A fan back chair not in wood.

And finally, this desk:

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Does one need a lathe to turn metal spindles?

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Another desk with a history.

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

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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.

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Front legs are too tall to be original.

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

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The swan is not attached.

The tag gives one possible history of this desk:

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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:

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The famous/infamous half-moon winding sticks.

Taking a closer  look reveals some interesting details:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Not elegant but functional.

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The interior view isn’t any more satisfying.

I believe there is a chair under there:

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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:

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An uncommon configuration.

The tins are interesting:

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

The other cupboard is this Eastlake’esque unit:

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The pediment and wood choices make me think Eastlake.

What makes this one interesting is the shelf support system:

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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.

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See how simple period furniture can be.

The back is rough boards just nailed on:

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

There was this very serious looking chair:

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A chair I would prefer not to sit in.

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Was this a commercial product of a user made product?

And a Boston rocker:

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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:

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Not much but it meet the requirement.

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

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Thos. Moser does not make one of these.

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

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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?

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All aboard!

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Not like the trains of home but a train nonetheless.

And then, The Big Chair:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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My ward in front of the adoption agency.

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

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

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In the waiting room patiently anticipating his turn.

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

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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What would Thomas do?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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

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

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A mini tower of three drawers with a gallery atop.

Low and behold, it is also sidelocked:

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

The tower drawers are dovetailed:

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I thought you would want to know.

Another smaller sidelock example is this antique silver chest:

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Quite a handsome example.

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Open it looks a lot like this.

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

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By Gladwin Ltd. of Sheffield, UK.

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Closed, the hinged columns keeps the drawers from opening.

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Opening the column allows access to the drawers.

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

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

The chest has a unique hinge:

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There is one quite similar across the lid.

There is a lock as well:

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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.