They Should Have Know Better…

Today’s parable of the movement of wood concerns this George III Linen Press:


This lot has sold for $380. Furniture is soft right now.

Description:  Circa 1800, two-part form, high-grade burlwood mahogany veneers, mahogany, pine secondary, applied arched cornice with ebonized line inlay above a vertically veneered frieze, upper cabinet with two hinged doors, center with an applied reeded brass mount, each door featuring a rectangular panel with an inset square to each corner, interior with four pull-out linen drawers, base with two over two graduated cockbeaded drawers, raised on French bracket feet with a shaped skirt. (Thus sayeth the auction house.)

The maker of this press made an interesting choice when they made the doors. A large, wide board would have been a bad idea. The wide board would move and be highly unlikely to stay flat. A four-panel board would have been a common construction for a press in that era. Or any era. What is unusual is that they veneered over a four-panel door. A bad idea:


Just asking for trouble. And they got it.


They veneered the inside as well. Also a bad idea.

If you have ever read about, seen a video about or (God forbid) actually made a panelled door, you know that if you are using real wood for the panel, you don’t glue the panel to the frame. With our 20th/21st century sensibilities we know that the panels will move, expand across the width of the board. If glued, the frame may crack or glue joints may fail.

I have to believe that a 19th century cabinetmaker would have known about wood movement and the perils therein. Yet they choose to glue veneer to a panel that is guaranteed to (and did) move. With the expected results. To their credit, they did a really good job gluing the veneer down. No glue failures here. And the doors still exist in one plane, no warps. Impossible to say how long the veneer held it together.

Now, on to the drawers. I do like the pulls. They seem to be original:


An original pull? How unique.

The dovetails again are unique:


The nails don’t look original.

They seem to have left a pin off. Then again, symmetry is so overrated.


Curves I Have Known.

I know I said I would be finishing with the Barcelona Design Museum but there is just so much to process that I need to take a break from it until I figure out how to properly report on it. That and I am in week three of a cold I brought back from the Philippines. Oh, yeah, I was in the Philippines for about a week. I got per diem so it must have been for work. That’s the difference between a business trip and a vacation. If you get per diem, it’s a business trip. If you choose where you’re going, it’s a vacation. Something to be said for both.

Fortunately, the local better auction house has provided me with topics so plentiful that I should be able to enlighten and amuse you for quite a while. Eh?

First up is this American Hepplewhite Sideboard:


This lot has sold for $420

Description:  Early 19th century, probably Mid Atlantic, mahogany, mahogany veneers, white pine and poplar secondary, concave central section with single drawer above two small cabinet doors, flanked by rounded corners, with cabinet doors, raised on square tapered legs. Size   38.5 x 64 x 23.5 in. (From the auction house.)

The curves were what caught my attention. There are many ways to bend or curve wood. We learned from a recent plantation visit that you can bend certain species by soaking them in a river for one year per inch of thickness to make the wood pliable. If you don’t have a convenient river, you can use steam for a more practical one hour per inch.

Then there is bent lamination in which thin layers of wood are glued and placed in a form of the desired shape. (Think freeform plywood.)

If you want to know about kerf bending, you can look it up.

If you can’t bend, you can always make it look bent or curved. There is the brute force method requiring a block of wood that is large enough to contain the curved part and cutting away the parts that fall outside the curves. This method leaves a lot of wood on the shop floor assuming, you can locate a block of wood that is large enough to contain the part. Then you need a saw (hand or powered) that is large enough to accommodate the blank.

A common variation is stacked lamination in which you do as above but one inch in height at a time. Start with a one-inch block of wood: work it to the desired contour. Glue another block atop it and contour to match. If you are into power tools, typically it’s a pattern router bit with bearing or a flush trim bit with bearing. And a router.

Repeat until you reach the desired height.


That’s what they did here, a stacked lamination.

The downside of this technique is that, unless you like the striped look, you need to veneer it. Not a problem if veneering is where you are going. I can see some modern studio furniture using this technique unadorned.


A wider view giving you more construction details.


How to curve the carcass.

Breadboard ends on the curved door provide stability and hide the end grain:


Breadboard ends and a thick veneer.

 The center doors are also stacked laminations, just in the opposite direction. The interesting feature is how the gap between the doors is handled. Typically when doors meet, there is some device to minimize the gap between the doors, a rabbet, a molding or one door overlapping the other. On this server they used beveled edge. The doors do not meet with a 90° butt joint, they are angled:


Beveled edged minimize the appearance of the door gap caused by seasonal movement or other causes.

I’ve seen this in other case pieces but this is the first time I’ve seen it used on curved doors.

No blog of mine can be considered complete without an examination of drawer construction. The veneer hides the truth but I believe the drawer front was cut from a thick block of wood:


The top veneer hides the construction of the drawer front.

The thickness of the drawer front does provide for some really interesting through dovetails:


My favorite dovetails of 2017. So far…

As we saw in recent blog, the thick veneer allows the maker to use through dovetails instead of the fussy, annoying half-blind dovetails.

Llits d’Olot (Beds of Olot)

Olot is the capital city of the comarca of Garrotxa, in the Province of Girona, Catalonia, Spain on the European continent of the third planet of a star located at Sector 001. Approximately.

This blog is about the beds of Olot or more accurately, the headboards of the beds of Olot created in the late 18th century. Reading badly translated articles, by 1787, there were six workshops specializing in making headboards, making 300 to 500 per year. There was no master bedmaker but rather a collaboration between carpenters, carvers and painter/gilders.  The articles also claim that some of these headboards were even shipped to the Americas in spite of their bulk and delicate nature.

From the wall in the exhibit:


I couldn’t have said it better myself. And it saved me a bunch of copying and typing.

The beds/headboards speak for themselves so I offer them without comment.




This headboard seems to be a variation of the one below.


Or this one is a variation of the one above.



Might Be Woodworking But It Ain’t Furniture.

Woodworking is where you find it.

Over the next few blogs I will present the balance of my pictures from the Barcelona Museum of Design (Museu del Disseny de Barcelona). We were there in early November of last year. Perfect timing to avoid the election. (Who won? My wife still won’t tell me.)

I have already shared some pictures in a previous blog, Mules of Another Autonomous Region, a collection of eight slightly (extremely) over the top mule chests from the Catalan region of Spain. There is a history lesson back there too if you have yet to read it.

This blog is a quick one to highlight some pictures that don’t fit into other categories or topics of discussion.

I’m sure that most people realize the shape and volume 19th century dresses did not come entirely from petticoats and starch. But did you ever stop to consider what did the work. This did:


The cage crinoline. A multidisciplinary endeavor.

And this one:


Pardon the background images. I am embarrassed but it couldn’t be helped.

The hoops were typically steel but whalebone and various forms of vulcanized rubber were also used. These hoops looked to me to be wood but short of climbing the cases, I couldn’t be certain. I just need them to be wood for the purposes of this blog.

Regardless of the material, I wouldn’t want to wear one. There were many health ramifications to such garments including being burned alive when the well-aerated fabric caught fire.

There was also an exhibit of 18th and 19th decorative fans:


Again, maybe be wood but being made from whale bone is not out of the question

An interesting Wikipedia article about crinolines HERE.

Next, beds of Catalonia. And it’s not what you think.


Explain This One.

This blog has dovetail content but is not about dovetails. Dovetails are only used to illustrate the construction of the furniture in question. No dovetails were harmed in the production of this blog.

If you look at enough furniture you see things that defy expectations. Not wrong. I try not to be too judgmental. But things that not consistent with most other things I’ve seen. I always try to understand what they did and why they did it.

I really need to get a life.

Take this antique Empire chest of drawers:


American Classical Figured Maple Chest of Drawers This lot has sold for $1050.

The auction listing states:

Description: Attributed to Ohio or western PA, cherry top, mahogany and bird’s eye maple veneers with poplar secondary, upper projecting drawer supported by fully turned columns above three graduated cock-beaded drawers, tiger maple paneled sides, ebonized turned feet.

Simple enough. The form and wood selections are typical, nothing out of the ordinary. Do an image search for antique Empire chest of drawers and find many similar chests.

The variation is observed when you open a drawer and examine its construction:


A veneered and cock-beaded drawer.

(Cock-beading is a decorative bead added to a drawer, typically a thin strip of wood with a bead on one edge, set in a rabbet around a drawer front. These strips may be purely a decorative or may also be used to protect and conceal the edge of a veneer.)

A closer look may be required to see what caught my interest:


If you still are at a loss, I will explain.

What is unusual to my eye is the use of a dark wood as a secondary wood in a veneered and cock-beaded drawer. The wood looks like walnut although it could be something else. Usually when the wood is being covered and concealed, a cheaper secondary wood is used as in this example:


The drawer front (substrate) is a secondary wood covered with the expensive stuff.

I just wonder why. My first thought was that it was initially a walnut chest that had been remodeled to appease a client or respond to changing tastes. Furniture does get rebuilt with some regularity.

I am not entirely comfortable with this answer having had some time to consider it. Look at the columns in the above pictures. They look too good to be rework. Or do they? It certainly is an odd collection of woods. Maybe walnut is just what the maker had. There was less of the ability and opportunity to go out and get wood as needed. They often just had to make do with what they had.

Impossible to know but interesting to speculate…

Pie Safes of the One Percent (1%).

More like pie safes of the 15% but 1% has more punch.

Pie safes are one of those ubiquitous items that seem to be found in almost every antiques mall in the US. Just like those cobalt viobots (violin bottles) with ears (tuning pegs):


Referred to as a viobot to those in the know.

There is such a wide distribution of these two items that I have a theory that they are required, it not by law, then by the secret cabals that run all the antiques malls in 46 of the lower 48 states. (They’ve been driven out of New Hampshire and Oklahoma.)

Pie safes have been around since the 1700’s protecting high value foods from whatever pests and vermin that have chosen to dwell in the encompassing dwelling. I have a previous blog with too much information and too many pictures HERE.

Most pie safes look ordinary and plain, not unlike this one:


The pie safe ordinaire. Southern Punched Tin Painted Pie Safe. This lot has sold for $500.


The not-so-ordinaire punched tin.

But the elite 17% can’t be expected to use ordinary pie safes, they need something a bit more interesting. Because they can afford it.

Like this one:


Southern Punched Tin Food Safe from Virginia This lot has sold for $2200.


With more elaborate punched tins.

And since it is a superior pie safe, it has dovetailed drawers:


One steep pin with all its helpers, the nail family.

(It wouldn’t be my blog without dovetails.)

Another example:


Virginia Punched Tin Pie Safe. This lot has sold for $2000.


Punched tins on three sides.


Wedged dovetails, often a German thing. Looks like it might have been painted in the past.

And a fancy punched tin to match:


A more sophisticated fylfot design.

I worked very hard to find the word fylfot. I was trying to avoid swirling swastika or pinwheel. I knew the phonetics of the word but not the spelling. I looked at hundreds of images before I found a picture of the cover of Furniture in the Southern Style by Robert W. Lang and Glen D. Huey. Seeing the cover, I walked over to the bookshelf and found my copy, looked on page 144 and found the word fylfot. A quick google search showed me fylfot translates as swastika. Ya can’t win…

Fylfot was also used in the auction listing had I bothered to read it.

As we enter a new era, I wanted to show a pie safe from the other 17% as represented by this safe:


White Punched Tin Pie Safe. This lot has sold for $430. The pie safe for the rest of us.


This one has a punched tin on all four sides.


View from the inside shows the built up nature of this design.

Plantations – Day One.

I recently spent a few days in New Orleans for no other reason than to avoid my family over the holidays. I was accompanied by my wife. The Marriott points were hers. It’s useful to have a place to sleep, even in New Orleans.

I have nothing against my family but I think we are all happy we live where we do. Elsewhere. You can now bicker by text and Skype remotely where in the past a physical presence was required. My wife and I did spend four days with the family in Missouri. The family moved there via Denver after I left for college. Visiting a place for almost 40 years does not make it home…

New Orleans in a great food town and we ate our way through it as only we can. The free breakfast at the hotel is almost worth what you pay for it. I’ve been told they’re not powdered eggs but instead arrive in a plastic bag. A lukewarm comfort at best.

This leave us time to fill between meals. We have already hit most of the museums, historic houses and antique shops on Royal during past visits. The antique inventory may change but the character remains consistent. To find new thing you need to go to new places.

This time we rented a car and headed out to the plantations west of town. We have avoided renting cars in the past in that overnight hotel parking runs $40 per night. A local lot allows you to park overnight for the discounted rate of $26.50! This is as much or more than the car rental. This trip we found a hotel three blocks from an in town car rental agency and rented one for the day as needed. About as fast as waiting for the valet.

The first plantation we visited was the Nottoway Plantation,  now the Nottoway Plantation and Resort. Apparently have around 200 enslaved workers kept you from attaining resort status in the day.


Nottoway Plantation, a Greek Revival and Italianate-styled mansion built by John Hampden Randolph in 1859.

It is the largest extant antebellum plantation house in the South with 53,000 square feet of floor space spread over three floors in 64 rooms.

Architecturally, the most interesting feature is the white ballroom. Everything is white. The floor is white. Walls are white. Trim is white. Window treatments, white. And one of the interesting feature in the ballroom is this alcove with the curved wall:


Apparently we were there around Christmas

Eavesdropping on the guided tour, I heard the claim that the wall were made from bent cypress. To bend the cypress, the wood was soaked in the Mississippi for one year per inch of thickness. No claims were made as to the thickness of the cypress of the length of time soaked. The mansion was built in three years from lumber harvesting to move in so the wood must only be about 2″. Our Audioguide made similar claims so I will have to accept this as the truth, at least as they see it.

The furniture is not surprisingly mostly Empire and Regency with some Biedermeier/Belter style furniture thrown in as accents:


A blocky yet handsome secretary.

We can’t forget the French influences throughout Louisiana:


Try as we might.

Another bed seen in many of the grand southern houses is the half tester bed:


Draperies not included.

If you are curious about the meaning of half tester, there is an informative blog HERE.

The last piece I am including in this preview is this carved chair:


I’m sure at this point in furniture making history some automation/mechanical assistance was available.

Still, it amuses me:


Though I am easily amused.

The rest of the pictures can be found HERE.

Something Odd This Way Comes.

(With apologies to Ray Bradbury)

At the now (in)famous auction was one of the oddest pieces of furniture I have ever seen. It was (and still is) an Italian Shell Carved Swivel Stool:


This lot has sold for $1400.

From the catalog:

Description :  19th century, mahogany, the seat is carved in the form of a large scallop shell which is supported by three cabriole legs with paw feet, the whole raised on a shaped plinth.


Another view.


Worth a third look.

It is just, to me, one of the most bizarre pieces of furniture I have seen in a while. And I see some odd stuff.

Then while visiting the Houmas House Plantation near New Orleans I saw this piano stool:


Not identical but another set of cousins.

The age of the stool was unknown but was in service of a 1901 Steinway Baby Grand.

You just never know what you’re going to find…



The Did It Their Way

Today’s lesson in freethinker’s woodworking come from the same auction as the last blog. It is contained in this Louis XVI Style Parquetry Inlaid C-Scroll Writing Desk:


This lot has sold for $600.

From the catalog:

Description:   Early 20th century, mixed wood inlays including kingwood, satinwood, and mahogany, a three quarter gallery surmounts the desk’s “C” scroll lid, interior with pull out writing slide with old tooled leather insert, with two small drawers with parquet, featuring an inlaid floral basket medallion above three side by side drawers with parquet inlays, on straight tapered legs, embellished with banded veneers, on brass cast feet.


Let’s look at this head on. It’s French, OK.

Nicely veneered on all surfaces.


The dovetailed carcass reads through the veneer.

What caught my eye and amused me though was the dovetails on the drawers. (You’re surprised by this?) But first an explainer about how dovetailed drawers as supposed to work.

Through dovetails were the first ones that most of us were taught to cut. They are most commonly used for carcass or box construction.


The tails of the dovetails extend through the pin board exposing end grain on both the pin and tail boards.

In half blind dovetails, typically used in drawer construction, the tails do not extend through the pin board usually stopping 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through. The technique presents a smooth, uninterrupted pin board face.


Half blind dovetails leave a clean drawer front or other furniture face.

Half blind dovetails are more challenging to cut in that the tail sockets can only be partially sawn and then chiseled out. It is not  unusual for some people to overcut the pin board on the inner face to make it easier to clean out the socket.

What these people did was to cut the pin board as if were a through dovetail and then just chop out a partial tail socket.


They can do this because there is a veneer covering the unexpected saw kerfs.


Another drawer showing the overcuts and veneer.

A thin veneer will not adequately cover a through dovetailed joint. In time, the wood movement will crack the veneer, or if well glued, cause ripples in the veneer telegraphing the dovetails.

I have seen a few examples of through dovetailed drawer boxes with veneers in excess of 1/8″, thick enough to conceal the tails. But not many.

This overcutting is an interesting compromise. The veneer is thick enough to conceal the saw kerf.

Being French, it also has the odd dovetails at the back of the drawer boxes:


Some claim they are cut this way to act as a rear drawer stop. I’m not so sure but don’t have a better explanation.