A History of Christmas in Tools.

We are not the Waltons.

My step-mother believes we are. Or, perhaps, she believes that if she acts like we are the Waltons, we will become the Waltons.

We know better.

We are scattered geographically (Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri X 2 and California) and by age, I am 8, 14 and 16 years older than my siblings. When I left for college in Pittsburgh my family moved Denver. And I never lived with the family again except for four to six days occasionally at Christmas and three weeks when my father died. How the sibs turned out is not my fault.

So, like many other families, I assume, we do a Christmas lottery. Every sibling and spouse participating is assigned another sibling or spouse in an allegedly random draw and given the opportunity to purchase said sibling or spouse a gift from a supplied list not to exceed $100 exclusive of shipping and tax although point has been so subject of some discussion and dispute. Over the years the proffered gift lists have gotten shorter to the point of being only for a gift card or cash.

Annually, I supply my list of 4 of 5 items that actually requires a fair amount or research. Making an Amazon wish list helps. What inevitably happens is that a sibling or spouse would “buy” something my wife had already purchased from the same list. Many of these items were tools. In recent past, there were many tools at the $99 price point. Now, not so much.

These tools have included:


An 8″ Ryobi bench grinder.

Home Depot now only stocks a 6″ bench grinder for $45. I don’t use this grinder much anymore since like all good Kool-Aid® drinking woodworker, I have replaced it with a slow speed grinder.

This is not the actual grinder I was gifted. My sister gave me one like it the year the family was spending the holiday with her in Los Angeles. Driving to the airport, I was concerned how I was going to check it and how much it would cost for a third checked item. I found a Home Depot en route and returned that one for cash. I bought this one at a local Home Depot the next day.

Then there was:


The current version is green, $129 and has a laser.

Still used for the annual Toys for Tots build. This year I had three drill presses for the build. I could have used a fourth but space is not infinite.


More Ryobi. Current one is green and $129.

In a break from Ryobi, there was this:


The Delta tenoning jig. The box had a picture of Norm Abram on it.

This is now the Rockler Heavy-Duty Tenoning Jig, Item #: 29840 for $129.

Moving away from woodworking:


A ubiquitous Craftsman n+1 piece 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″ socket set.

The missing sockets and drive live in the bandsaw now.


I thought Woodcraft was selling a rebranded version of this one but I can’t prove it.

Home Depot is now selling a Wen that looks a lot like a Rockwell that looks like a Triton that looks like a Grizzly that looks like a Scheppach. Then I stopped looking.

The last tool I mention in this walk down memory tool lane is this classic:


The low-end 12″ dovetail machine. A tool I never thought I’d use.

I did buy an additional template and use it to make box joints.

Discontinued by Porter+Cable, this machine next spent time as Woodcraft’s WoodRiver 12″ Half Blind Dovetail Jig. It is now the MLCS Dovetail Jig. Old tools never die, they just get new boxes.

I thought I would never use this dovetail jig because I don’t like the aesthetics of machine cut dovetails. Maybe if I had one of those $500 dovetail jigs I might feel differently but I don’t and I don’t. I’m not one of those dovetail purists/fetishist that rejects the existence of machine cut dovetails on philosophical grounds. They are a valid method of joinery. I just don’t like the look.

I never thought I would use the jig until I found this on eBay:


Seems to be a variation on the J. V. Hammond dynamite box for use in mining.

But this one is different:


The bottom is attached with half-blind dovetails.

I was bothered by this in that is not like the others in the collection:


Typical of others in the collection.

The typical box has a bottom attached with a sliding dovetail creating feet to keep the contents away from damp mine floors.

I was also bothered by the fact that a design feature of the boxes was that the were assembled without any glue. The joinery hold the box together. No glue required. Half-blind dovetails cannot rely on friction to maintain joint integrity. What keeps the box together?


Turns out the dovetails are pinned in all four corners.

Having bought one, I had to build one:


And I did.


Right down to the half-blind dovetails.

Not pinned yet.

Many blogs about these boxes if you care. Just search for blasting or Hammond.

The family took a vote this year on the Christmas lottery. Some of us felt it had become functionally like taking $100 from the left pocket and putting it in the right pocket. Less tax and shipping. The vote was two to discontinue, one to continue and one abstention. Maybe not a principled abstention, more like disdain or disinterest. Only siblings were polled. We didn’t think it fair to get spouses involved in such an emotionally charged issue.

A white elephant exchange was suggested. (Everyone provides wrapped, low value gift. The first person selects a wrapped gift. The next person can either select a wrapped present or take the first person’s gift. If a gift is stolen, the victim can select a wrapped gift or a previously selected gift. You cannot immediately steal back a stolen gift. And so it goes.)

This did not happen because one sibling was very seriously concerned about ending up with a $25 tchotchke they didn’t want. Apparently they never heard of regifting…

We all just donated $100 to a charity of our choice.

Seating of Distinction (Part One)

At a recent auction there was an unusually large number interesting seating units. There’s always a lot of chairs at an auction but this was the most interesting assortment I have seen locally. Too many for one blog so I will just start with the multi-user seats.

First up:

Large Antique Continental Paint Decorated Storage Bench


This lot has sold for $1,550.

Description19th century, pine, two hinged seats, with bootjack feet, the whole retaining old painted surface featuring floral sprays.

Size: 28 x 118.5 x 18 in.

ConditionInsect damage; surface wear; paint loss; signs of outdoor use; shrinkage crack to one seat and left side.


When they say “decorated”, they mean this.


This view show construction details and the extant of the damage both weather and insect. Also, note the bootjack feet.

Up next:

French Provincial Style Double Back Settee


This lot has sold for $140.

Description: Late 20th century, mahogany, shaped ladder backs , rush seat, curved arms, raised on six cabriole legs with turned stretcher base.

Size : 41 x 48 x 22 in.

Condition: Light surface wear; overall good estate condition.

Not much to say here so we move on to:

Dutch Marquetry Inlaid Double Back Settee


This lot has sold for $825.

Description: Early 20th century, mahogany, mixed light wood inlays, shaped crest rail, upholstered back and seats, reticulated arm supports on a curule form base, the frame with barber pole and flowering vine inlays throughout.

Size36 x 41 x 18 in.

Condition: Later upholstery; some shrinkage cracks at base.


This give you a feel for the fabric and marquetry.


Marquetry continues on the arms and frame.

And finally, this is a single-seater but it is similar in nature to the above settee:

Dutch Marquetry Inlaid Arm Chair


This lot has sold for $460.

Description: Early 20th century, mahogany, light and dark wood vine and floral inlays throughout, shaped crest rail, rolled arms, on paw feet.

Size: 35 x 30 x 25.5 in.

Condition: Later velvet upholstery; expected wear especially at feet


Less frame but similar marquetry.


A better view of the craft.




What’s in a Name?

mule chestnoun 
                                                            (from various sources) 
low chest with drawers, mounted on a low frame.
A hybrid form of chest, intermediate between a simple chest and a chest of drawers
A chest commonly wider than it is high and deep. A mule chest has drawers in its base and a hinged top, beneath which there are either two short drawers or one long one.
1 – Although strictly speaking a horse/donkey hybrid, the term ‘mule’ is commonly used to designate many hybrids. The term mule chest arose because it is a hybrid with a combination of drawers and a top-flap compartment.
2 – This design of chest was used by peddlers to transport their goods on a mule. The chests were often used in pairs, one on each side of the mule, and the drawers were used for smaller items, while the trunks held cloth and larger items. The peddler could easily gain access to goods in the drawers without unloading the mule, and could thus accost potential customers even when on the move.
There are as many types of mule chests as there are definitions/explanations. Take these two examples from a recent auction.
First, the fancy:

George III Oak Mule Chest


This lot has sold for $420.

Description: Late 18th century, two-part form, top with hinged lid and applied molded edge, interior with two drawers and secret compartment, upper cabinet with two lipped drawers, lower chest with two cock beaded drawers, on straight bracket feet.

Size: 45 x 44 x 22 in.

Condition: Shrinkage cracks and staining to lid; no key; missing locks; later pulls; shrinkage crack to right side of lower case and small chip near waist drawer.

Kinda a mule chest on chest with bracket feet. The upper three drawers are just applied molding and pulls:


Inside, space, not drawers. There are drawers in the till, but they don’t count.

The drawers in the till were a bit stiff so I did not pursue the search for the hidden compartment as aggressively as I might have.


The drawers are dovetailed so it is truly a quality piece.

Then, there is the primitve nailed version:

New England Painted Mule Chest


This lot has sold for $250.

Description19th century, white pine, red wash, remnants of old blue paint to molded lid, two lipped drawers, raised on bootjack feet.

Size: 37 x 37 x 18.5 in.

Condition: Later red wash; top missing hinges; later foot facing to front.

I would show you the inside but there are no hinges and the lid kept falling off. No till. I can show you this ingenious repair of a sort:


Rodent damage a notch for a power cord? You decide.

And the back:


37″ covered by two boards. And the patch.

Notice, as I have pointed out before, the back is unpainted. They really didn’t care what the wall saw. Of course, it could have been dipped, stripped and repainted.


The pulls seem original but I’m no expert.


And, of course, the drawers are dovetailed.

Looks Like a Lot of Work.

Then there was this piece from local auction:

Georgian Mahogany Collector’s Cabinet on Stand


This lot has sold for $430. Shame about the later stand.

Description: Early 19th century, pine and poplar secondary, one part form, applied cove molded cornice with dentil molding, hinged panel doors, opening to reveal (20) graduated drawers, on a later custom Chippendale style base.

Size: 54.5 x 35.5 x 20 in.

Condition: Later stand; refinished; lacking operable key.

If one opens the doors on a collectors chest, what does one see?


Drawers. Twenty graduated drawers.

And if one looks more closely at the drawers, what does one see?


Dovetails. Twenty graduated drawers with dovetails.

If one looks even more closely at the carcass, what does one see?


I’m not really sure.

The second drawer position from the top (ninth from the bottom)  has extra dados. Was there an option for shallower drawers or trays?

The other thing I noticed was the drawers bottoms being nailed on and extending beyond the drawer sides becoming a the drawer runners. Not a common arrangement but not rare either. I’ve seen six to eight cabinets with this style drawer although it seems more common in primitive pieces.

Another fascination of mine, as regular readers know, is the back of furniture.  Many furniture makers just nailed on whatever they had lying around the shop. Any wood will do..


This one is no exception but better than many.

I really like the mover’s inventory stickers left on. Much of our furniture still proudly wears theirs.




Not Your Daughter’s Cradle. Or Son’s.

I saw this interesting cradle at an auction recently:

American Primitive Cherry Cradle


This lot has sold for $80.

Description: 19th century, two part form, dovetailed cradle with iron rod swing supports on a boot-jack foot base with metal handles.

Size: 32 x 40 x 15 in.

Condition: Later metal handles; surface scratches; small shrinkage cracks.


Through tenons on the stretchers, not that interesting.

What is more interesting it the method of suspension of the cradle body:


Suspended by a pair of hand-forged hooked metal discs.


Another view showing a metal bearing driven in to the stand.

What was confusing was the description of this being a “dovetailed cradle”. I believe that I am eminently qualified to find dovetails, yet I found none. Look at the cradle for yourself:


If there were dovetails, they would be here.

P1010873 - Version 2

There be nails and split wood but no dovetails. Unless they are really thin pins. Typical of all four corners.

I am truly disturbed by the apparent discrepancy between the written and the observed. I know that the people that write auction descriptions are highly trained experts that in many states are licensed or certified. Believe me. I am starting to believe that the fault is in me. The dovetails are there and I just can’t see them. I hope that’s the case. I would hate to see someone lose the job over this…

Apparently A Very Popular Design

If you have visited the web site of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (sapfm.org)  recently, you have undoubtedly see this image:


Bob Stevenson’s Tambour Desk

From the SAPFM site:

Reproduction of a Seymour Tambour Desk with inlayed (sp?) Tambour. 
The original, by John Seymour, was made circa 1793-1796 in Boston, MA. 
It is now in the collection at the Winterthur Museum, Delaware. 

Plans by Robert Millard were used.

I have been to Winterthur and have this picture to prove it:

IMG_1827 - Version 2

The Seymour Tambour desk at Winterthur accessorized.

Their picture is better:


Nice picture. Better lighting.

There is also this desk at Bayou Bend in Houston, TX:


The pulls on the doors are different but you can see some similarities.

Bayou Bend offered the following explanation:

The tambour desk was a new and innovative form that reflects the increasingly important place of women in American society in the early 19th century, as well as the growing international influence on American furniture design. Rather than relying on English design sources, the desk appears to be related to a small group of furniture influenced by contemporary French models, in this instance the bonheur du jour, or small writing table, of the Louis XVI period (1774–1793). The desk enjoyed great popularity in Boston and in the cabinet making centers north of the city. Exhibited in the Federal Parlor at Bayou Bend, this example bears the script initials “TS” and is similar to a desk with a paper label bearing the names of John and Thomas Seymour. Although these relationships strengthen the attribution to the Seymours’ shop, they are not sufficient to attribute the desk to a specific maker. Thomas Seymour’s own advertisements specify that the furniture was made not by but “under the direction of Thomas Seymour.” Whether this elegant desk represents the work of an individual or a group, the accomplished results epitomize the cabinetmakers’ sensitive interpretations of the Neoclassical style in America, through the drawer pulls of English enamel, light-colored inlay, and delicate inlaid swags on the sliding tambour front.

Then, at a local auction, I saw this:


 This lot has sold for $310.

Federal Style Inlaid Tambour Writing Desk.

Description:  Circa 1900, bench made, white pine secondary, two-part form, upper case with unusual inlaid tambour doors featuring bell flowers and columns, opening to a divided and drawered interior with line inlays, hinged writing surface with felt lining, over two graduated cock beaded drawers with line and corner fan inlays, square tapered legs with repeating column and bellflower inlay.

Size: 46.25 x 34.5 x 18.5 in.

Condition:   Missing one interior pull; tambour doors with separation at ends; later felt lining.


And with the doors open.


A closeup of the inlaid tambour door.


A view of the gallery.

Different than the Seymour’s but in 1900, they might not have had plans by Robert Millard to work from.


The prospect with bill boxes. Note the missing pull as described.


Looks like there once might have been something in there. But not now.

One does have to wonder who made the reproduction in 1900? It was a time of colonial revival. But Federal revival?



Yet More About Dovetails…

We all are (I am) fascinated by the wonder and majesty of thin pins:


Thin pins are in?

We all (I) need to get over it. It’s just joinery. It might take a bit more patience and/or skill but it is not better or stronger than chunkier less graceful pins. They were just showing off.

Take this desk on stand:

New England Queen Anne Tiger Maple Slant Front Desk on Stand

This lot has sold for $400.

Description: Early 19th century, poplar and white pine secondary, dovetailed case, breadboard slant front lid with lipped edge, having loper supports, interior with pigeon-hole and drawered compartments, three graduated lipped drawers and applied molded trim, on a scalloped skirt stand, with later cabriole legs.

Size: 38 x 39 x 19 in.

Condition: Later legs and glue blocks; surface stains and tight shrinkage cracks to case; breakout and patch to lock; later pulls.


The builder was fond of sliding dovetails.

A minimalist gallery:


No prospect or document boxes, just pigeon holes and drawers.

The gallery drawers show a healthy disdain for the fashionable thin pins:


One tail wonders but they have survived for 200 years. Also note the drawer bottom is nailed on.

The main drawers are equally chunky:


I’ve seen prettier drawer sides but, still, it has lasted for 200 years.

Why should the carcass dovetails be any different?


A certain symmetry to them, no?

And no expense was spared in making of the back of this exceptional desk:


The wall never complained about having to view this collection of unloved boards.

Maybe this desk is more to your liking:

Georgian Miniature Slant Front Desk


This lot has sold for $525. Like a real desk only smaller. And more expensive.

Description: Circa 1800, mahogany, oak secondary, hinged lid with divided and drawer interior having loper supports, over four graduated drawers with bracket foot base.

Size: 8.5 x 8 x 4 in.

Condition: No key; later pulls; insect damage.

More Work Than Necessary

I recently came across this chest on stand at an antique tobacco barn in Asheville, NC.


A chest on stand. It is a chest sitting upon a stand, hence the name.

It is an odd form, relatively short, but I have seen other examples. A very plain stand with a simple cabriole leg and pad foot:


Not much to see here.


Old and fancy enough to have dovetailed drawers.


An interior view shows the relatively unsophisticated construction, wood species and a drawer stop.


Odd that the back boards, if original, were never trimmed.

I looked at the top to see if perhaps it had been a chest on chest on stand. Not likely that it was a lower chest in that the two drawer over three drawer is not a configuration seen in lower chests. It is a fairly common configuration for the upper chest but it is too big for an upper chest.


Similar upper chest in this chest on chest on plinth.

It might not be the original base.


It might have had a fancier base in the past.

As I said, I looked at the top to see if there was any evidence of a previous life. What I saw was a little unusual. No evidence of and upper layer but some indication the builder liked to do more work than necessary:


No indication of an upper chest.

But the case was joined with half blind dovetails:


Nice work but a bit over done.

In case work like this chest one would only expect to see half blind dovetails where one needs to conceal joinery like in the picture of the desk at the top of this blog page. In this chest, the joinery in hidden behind heavy crown molding:

IMG_5865 - Version 2

A nice, heavy crown molding.


Another view of the joinery and molding.

There’s nothing wrong with what they did, it’s just unusual to see somebody doing more work than necessary. The through dovetail would have been easier, fast and stronger.

Return of a Christmas Classic

Originally published December 27, 2013 as Old friends in strange places.

Now that we have real internet connectivity, we have joined the rest of the country in finding more ways to waste time staring at various sizes of glowing screens. I was browsing Netflix looking for reruns of Law and Order or NCIS we might have missed when I saw that White Christmas (Paramount Pictures, 1954) was available. We watch this movie annually. I have come to believe that it is part of our marriage contract although, as often as I have reviewed our marriage license and vows, I cannot find it in writing.

Watching the movie reminded me of the below blog. It was one of my early ones and one that I was actually not ashamed of posting. Since many of you were not reading The Furniture Record back then, I thought I would repost it as a public service.

It’s just that good.

And here it is.

Old friends in strange places.

A few days back I was going my husbandly duty and watching Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for the nth time on the big screen TV with my wife. As you might know, the opening scene of White Christmas takes place in an undisclosed location in Europe at Christmas, 1944. The scene is an impromptu holiday concert for the battle weary, homesick GI’s staged by Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. When the beloved General Waverly arrives, Danny Kaye moves a music box onto a familiar looking stool.


In the recent past there was an article in Popular Woodworking on the construction of the Moravian stool. Jim Campbell, the founder of the Hillsborough Orange Woodworkers, decided it would be an interesting project for our Monday night work sessions. My function was largely to supply a heated/air-conditioned shop (with bathroom and snacks) and to stand there and looked horrified at all the people using power tools, usually my power tools.


HOW many did we build?

And we built a bunch.A few months later I was researching the Moravian chair, a Moravian stool with a back. (Little known fact, this is the only piece of furniture that can legally have a cut-out of a heart as part of the decoration.) I came across a few articles pertaining to the German barracks stool, a knock-down variant of the Moravian stool. It typically has a two-piece seat supported by dovetailed battens, press in legs and pegged together.


German barrack’s stool

Back to the story

The stool on which the music box is placed is a German barracks stool. Only a bit too pretty.

German barrack's stool only nicer.

German barrack’s stool only nicer.

The piano player had one, too.


Another pretty stool


Although the movie was made nine years after the end of WWII, the set decorator or scenic artist actually expended the effort to see the type of furniture that could be found in abundance around European battlefields. Not a big deal but a nice touch.

My wife thinks I’m a bit weird.

Roy Underhill has an article with plans on the Moravian chair in this 1996 book The Woodwright’s Apprentice.

What Would Happen if a Roorkee Chair Met a French Curve in a Dark Alley? Nothing Good.

I took an hour off of my busy schedule on Friday to spend time at an auction preview. It was there that this question came to mind.

Many of you know and understand the question but for those who might not, let me provide some background information.


This is a Roorkee chair available from many vendors. There is also a fair amount of information available for the do-it-yourselfers amongst you.


French curves used in drafting, an early, manual version of CAD (computer aided design.

The product of this imagined unholy coupling is below:


The Hoop Chair – Børge Mogensen (Denmark, 1914-1972)

Description: 1950s, bentwood beech frame, stitched leather back and seat with underside straps, unmarked.

This lot has sold for $1,600.


A side view provides no further answers.


A rear view illustrates some adjustments but no rationale for its existence.

This auction featured more of what many call Modern Furniture or, in New York, Mid-Century Modern.


Søren Georg Jensen (Danish, 1917-1982), Set of Six Teak Dining Chairs and Niels Otto Møller (Denmark, 1920-1982), Model 12 Teak Dining Table

Description: 1960s, Norway, manufactured by Nesjestranda Mobelfabrik, teak crest rail/arms with finger joint, ‘Y’ formed back splay tapers into the turned rear spindle, black naugahyde seats on rounded tapered legs.

This lot has sold for $4,400.

Description: For J.L. Moller Mobelfabrik, Denmark, 1960s, top with banded edge and two pull-out extension leaves, on rounded tapered legs, labeled.

This lot has sold for $2,200.


Charles and Ray Eames, Rosewood Lounge Chair and Ottoman.

Description: Herman Miller, Zeeland, Michigan, models 670 and 671 in black leather with black painted steel and aluminum swivel bases, labeled.

This lot has sold for $3,600.


Herman Miller, Goetz Leather Sofa

Description: Designed by Mark Goetz circa 2000, molded walnut veneer frame with black leather upholstery, loose cushions raised on aluminum legs, unmarked.

This lot has sold for $2,600


Jens Quistgaard (Danish, 1919-2008), Flip-Top Executive Desk for Løvig

Description:  1970s, teak, rectangular form with four drawers and hinged bookcase to back edge raised on four straight legs with stretcher.
This lot has sold for $1,500.

Joseph Hoffman (Austrian, 1870-1956), Fledermaus Table and Four Chairs

DescriptionEarly 20th century, beech, including a circular table with eight turned legs, ball finials, circular stretcher, and four arm chairs with flat single piece bent crest rail/arm, triple bent-rail back support, oval bent wood arm supports on eight turned legs with repeating bent wood stretcher, later velvet upholstery.

This lot has sold for $2,000.


Jacques Garcia (French, b.1947), Auguste Lounge Chair

Description: Baker, contemporary, hammered and patinated iron frame with stitched black leather upholstery, labeled.

This lot has sold for $550.

and finally:


Alvar Aalto (Finnish, 1898-1976), Artek Tank Chair and Side Table

Description: Finland, 2003, model 400 chair in bentwood birch with Zebra style upholstery, together with an Artek circular side table, labeled.

This lot has sold for $2,300.