I received a couple of emails from readers following a remark I made in Drawer Front Dovetail Evolution: “… by the mid-eighteenth-century; English cabinetmaking was of a far higher standard than anywhere else in Europe.”
One reader was surprised by my comment, based, he said, on “the French’s reputation and generally, the highly decorative nature of Continental furniture”. Another reader simply repudiated my argument with a few succinct words that I’m not entirely conversant with.
There’s no argument; French tastes gave birth to much of eighteenth-century England’s style (Chippendale launched his career on rococo, borrowed from the French), but French furniture was all blouse and no trousers.
The veneering, marquetry and parquetry performed by the ébénistes’ was highly skilled ebullient work and the ormolu produced by the fondeurs-ciseleurs was unparalleled during the first half of the eighteenth-century (fig. 1).
Outwardly, French eighteenth-century furniture was indeed highly decorative and imaginative too: Chairs with multiple compound curves and three-dimensional bombe carcases with ever more outrageous foliate ormolu mounts predominated. Appearances were superficial though and virtually everything beneath the gaudy veneer was a bit half-hearted. Unlike the ébénistes’, the menuisiers (the actual cabinetmakers) didn’t strive for perfection, with cabinetmaking achievements being more or less stagnant since the seventeenth-century.
France’s great loss were the thousands of skilled Huguenot craftsmen who fled the country’s religious policies towards the end of the seventeenth-century, settling in Britain, the Dutch Republic (some of the elite subsequently coming to England under the patronage of William III) and other non-Catholic areas of Europe.
I have had opportunities in the past to examine ‘nonpareil’ eighteenth-century French furniture in public and private collections and the internal surfaces of many panels often exhibit riven rather than sawn surfaces. Rails and stiles too regularly look more like recycled bridge timbers with malformed tennons barely touching the interiors of the associated mortices; and which, without being drawbored-and-pegged, would have no integrity or hope of longevity whatsoever.
In England, drawbored-and-pegged frame-and-panel carcase construction fell from use in all but bucolic furniture by the last quarter of the seventeenth-century, but it persisted in French furniture throughout the eighteenth-century (figs. 2, 3 & 4), and indeed, well into the nineteenth-century too.
Continental drawers were often so crudely made they required supplementary nailing to retain some degree of cohesion (the French being amongst the worst offenders – figs. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10).
The menuisiers – a more appropriate name might have been bouchers de bois – were on the whole, an unenlightened coterie who most certainly didn’t cut the mustard.
Filed under: Furniture Making Tagged: ébénistes, drawbored-and-pegged, English cabinetmaking, fondeurs-ciseleurs, frame-and-panel, menuisiers
Is there such a thing as a campaign bench?
That's the question I found myself asking when an email dropped into our inbox a few months ago. There was no text, no greeting, nothing. Just pictures of a gorgeous piece of mahogany furniture glowing with a first-class finish.
But what was it?
I'll let customer Steven Decker do the explaining. After some light prodding, he eagerly sent us an explanation of his creation. Steven is active duty military, so maybe this is a campaign bench after all?
Fair warning: Steven's description contains colorful language.
Pictured at left is the antique crib in which I slept until I was six months old or so. (I’m guessing – but that’s the age at which most of my friends’ babies could roll over and begin to pull themselves up; I can only assume my mother wouldn’t have knowingly left me in what … Read more
It was a bit of a contrast to the rest of the day the Heritage Crafts Association held our annual conference at the V&A in London. There was me in my best suit and Jeremy West shoes on the podium, after a long but inspiring day I took the train homewards to Macclesfield where there was no snow at all. As I climbed further into the hills the snow got deeper and deeper.
There was no turning back by this point and I finally got stuck for the night. Handy to have a camper van, shame I didn't have a sleeping bag. I was woken at 10.30pm by some police who were very keen that I should not spend the night there in case I died, not only did I have half a tank of diesel and a heater, I had gas and cooker, there was also a house 250 yards away, when they had gone I brewed up hot chocolate before crashing out again. It was cold and I didn't have enough insulating material so I slept 2 hours, ran the engine for 20 minutes to warm up then slept 2 hours all night. At 9 in the morning a JCB and snowplough arrived digging the road out. I have to confess to being slightly disappointed the night before I had been told there had been a JCB fast track with a snow blower on the front clearing the road and I was really looking forward to seeing it blast it's way through.
Backing out, it was pretty deep by UK in late March standards.
What I find interesting is that having heard about this most folks reaction is "Oh no how terrible". Yet to me direct experience of the natural environment is one of the things I crave and miss most, the whole thing was a wonderful adventure, at no stage was I ever in the slightest danger and only marginal discomfort.
I have one for my small set of Tombstone Scrapers out of some nice brown pig hair cell leather I picked up from the local leather supply store. I also made a wallet for my graining combs. This stuff is very durable, I have a tobacco wallet that has lasted very well, although I will need to repair some of the linen thread that has worn away.
I did the pattern with a piece of paper 8 1/2″ by 11″ then added another piece 4 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ to provide space for a half a dozen assorted card scrapers. The goose-neck scraper determined the size of the center pocket. I used a ponce wheel with 10 teeth per inch to layout the stitching spacing, using every other mark and an awl to make holes. I had the awl backed up with a scrap piece of soft wood. I temporarily clipped the leather together to insure good alignment before making the stitching holes.
Using waxed linen thread I double stitched with two needles, pulling the thread tight and pounding the thread flat as I progressed. The stitching between the pockets is spaced every 3/8″ apart. I cut out wedges of leather between the three flaps so they lay flat when closed.
It was a fun project that I should have done much earlier. My appologies to Tom.
鋸-鉋-鑿 is a blog about Japanese tools that is written by a woodworker living in Taiwan. I could be mistaken, but I remember reading at one point that the author of this blog is originally from Yugoslavia.
It’s been on a five year hiatus, but I’m glad it’s back. With a terrific photo of Yokosaka Masato, a famous Japanese blacksmith of plane blades, no less.
Christopher Schwarz hits a gold mine of used Japanese tools on his trip to Australia, and sees this:
But the best part was an item that wasn’t for sale.
Underneath the selling tables was an old Japanese tool chest that Izumitani had brought back from Japan. It was simple, of course, but striking in its form, utility and hardware.
Chris provides a Sketchup diagram of the Japanese tool chest he saw, but if you’re interested in making one, I would size it to the tools you have instead of following the dimensions of the Sketchup diagram exactly.
And the result:
I assembled the whole thing loosely to check out all the connections and improve any misfits. It's tight in my little shed, so the picture isn't too clear. You are looking at the undercarriage of the table, seen from the top.
It is a deceptively simple thing. I kind of wonder where all the hours went, making this thing.
I first heard about Colen Clenton’s tools from Joel Moskowitz of Tools for Working Wood in Brooklyn, N.Y. On Joel’s recommendation, I purchased one of Colen’s squares and was deeply impressed by its craftsmanship and accuracy. I asked Joel how I could e-mail Colen and ask him a few questions about his tools for an … Read more
Though I use mostly Western tools in my work, I have a deep respect for the craftsmanship and design of Japanese tools. In fact, before good Western tools became widely available, I had lots of Japanese saws, chisels and knives in my tool chest.
So this weekend I was thrilled to spend hours poring over the vintage Japanese tools offered by Tetsuro Izumitani during a hand tool event at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking. Izumitani is a former furniture maker who now brings vintage Japanese tools to Australia to sell.
He offers items that I’ve only read about or seen in books – incredible saws and hundreds of Japanese chisels of all shapes. I picked his brain for almost an hour on chisels as he showed me what to look for in a quality Japanese tool, from the file marks to the forge-welded laminations.
But the best part was an item that wasn’t for sale.
Underneath the selling tables was an old Japanese tool chest that Izumitani had brought back from Japan. It was simple, of course, but striking in its form, utility and hardware. He graciously allowed me to measure it and take photographs. (Apologies for the crappy photos. The sun was high and the shadows were driving me nuts.)
After the show I went back to my hotel and made a SketchUp drawing of the chest, which you can download here.
The woodworkers who were with me said it was made from “Oregon pine,” which is most likely another name for Douglas fir. The joinery is all nails and finger joints. It’s beguiling enough that I definitely want to build a few – once I can find a good source for the dome-head nails.
I think that building the chest would be an excellent one- or two-day class that would introduce people to basic saw, plane and chisel skills.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites
We had such crowds at the show throughout the day today and at my demonstrations I hardly had chance to do anything but answer questions and find a little rest between bouts. I sensed a little apprehension as to whether we would actually conclude the bench-build by the end of the show because of that but we will press on throughout today. It has been great fun and had it not been for help from Steve, Robin and David and a couple of others too. I met a wonderful couple called the Schwabs who drove all the way from Jacksonville Florida just to see me. Steve and Robin both drove for 6 and 7 hours too to help me with the bench and visit and we had a good time.
The end of the show reminds me of the reason I came in the first place. Life is not so much about networking but more about connecting. Networking somehow interfaces differently. I had breakfast lunch and dinner with friends I knew and those I met along the way. Sometimes it was with families like the Chidwicks and at other times it was a bunch of guys around a table in unknown restaurant none of us ever heard of. Other times it was sitting in someone’s booth or mine and then at others it was in the hotel breakfast lounge. As we build and teardown the show venues we chat between walls and greet one another from show to show. Sometimes its relaxed and others it’s intense, but at the end of the day, a lot of these guys have done this for three decades. They’ve grown to rely on one another as I have this circuit. There is a kindness and care I feel when I see my shrunk-wrapped bench neatly placed in my demonstration area at each of the shows when I arrive. It would be all too easy to take that for granted. Throughout the show I have felt cared for and many things were taken care of without my asking for it. There is no way I could get to everyone or list all of the people along the way who have been so kind to me so I just hope that whoever reads this blog, whether they are with The Woodworking Shows staff, other vendors, visitors to the shows or members of the guilds or whatever, that they feel included in this massive, massive THANKYOU!!! from Paul Sellers and his family.
Blessings to every one of you.