Three Legs; Endless Variations

Perhaps not endless but certainly many and varied.

I’m speaking of three-legged tables. Or is it three footed tables?

I looked back through the roughly 15,000 pictures I took of furniture in the past year and found over 140 examples of three-legged/footed tables I thought I would share. The idea first came to me when I noticed at an auction there were at least a dozen pedestal tables with three appendages.

There are a few major types that I am sure have proper names that I don’t know and couldn’t find easily. If you know, feel free to share.

This one reminds me of a ballet dancer on pointe:


Shakers on pointe. Perish the thought.

Then there is a variation with cuffed feet:


And the inverse of high arched:


Often this leg is reeded or might have brass toe caps.

Some are a bit flat-footed like a tired boxer:


I’ll do a blog about the birdcage tilt top tables eventually.

Of course there would be ball and claw feet:


Not a light look.A bit heavy, grounded.

There are carved legs like this one:


Not quite Eastlake but not not Eastlake, whatever that means.

And imminent joint failure:


I wouldn’t stand on this table.

To see all the pictures, click HERE.

Stumbling Through History

I often find something new about an old topic. A few years ago I came across this piece at large outdoor antique festival:


Described to me as a seagoing officer’s campaign chest.


Includes a drawer with a large wash bowl several small bowls.


Another view of the drawer.


Quality dovetail construction throughout.


Several drawers. Lower left drawer actually holds a chamber pot.


Pull-out shelf.


Split top opens to reveal a mirror and some small storage compartments.

I shared what I was told about this chest with a few people. They expressed some skepticism that this was seagoing  furniture. The dealer told me that there was a similar chest at thee National Maritime Museum Greenwich. I looked online and found:


Not an exact match but certainly family.

Their site has another view of the chest:


Not a different view but a mirror image of the previous picture.

You can see the chest’s museum  page HERE.

Recently, I received my copy of Shearer Furniture Designs from the Cabinet-Makers’ Book of Prices 1788. The full title seems to be:

The cabinet-makers’ London book of prices, and designs of cabinet work, calculated for the convenience of cabinet makers in general, whereby the price of executing any piece of work may be easily found.

I have a 1962 facsimile of the third edition, 1803, formerly of the Department of Education, University of Keele in Keele, Staffordshire. I have another copy of the same edition published in 2010 by Eighteenth Century Collections Online Print Editions that includes tables with highly detailed price lists for the manufacture of furniture. For instance, a 2 foot oval work table with plain tapered legs should sell for 7 shillings. Veneering the top would add 8 pence. Cross-band or a margin around then top would add 4 pence per foot. Oiling and polishing another 3 pence. Can’t get Bob Flexner for that.

The Shearer in the title refers to Tom Shearer, a presumed designer of furniture and craftsman that signed  17 of the original 20 plates in the 1788 edition of this book. The other three are anonymous.

In this book is the following plate:


Figure 1. looks to be another relative.

And the description:


Now you know.



Ohio Works

Or at least it did based on all the workbenches and tool chests I saw at a Cincinnati antique mall.

I recently spent a week in the Cincinnati area for Woodworking in America and then a pier table class at 360 Woodworking. Through strategic planning and determination I managed to carve out some time to explore Ohio’s past. The largest antique mall in the area stays open until 9:00 PM making this much easier.

First bench I came across is this large conventional bench:


Large bench with a face vise, a big tail vise and a drawer. Poodle not included.


Detail of the tail vise. I’m not sure the dogs (if they are dogs) are original.

A bit down the same row is this bench of the same type but with a more formal presentation:


City cousin to the first bench more primitive nature.

Not everyone needs the 8′ dreadnought workbench and there is bench for them as well.


This bench is for the woodworker of more modest means and needs.


With a leg vise.

Let us not ignore the tinker or casual user:


A lightweight commercial(?) bench.

A view of the top show an odd row of dog holes and the ever controversial tool tray:


I wonder if the vise once lived on the left side of the bench.

Even lighter is this small, metal framed bench:


No dog holes, no vises but drawers.

This one qualifies more as a work table than a bench but still supports work:


Probably fated to end its life as a kitchen island.

Most interesting of all is this English pattern workbench:


First one of these I’ve seen in the wild.


There was a leg vise but it’s gone. You could put it back…


There was also a large selection of tool boxes and chest:


There is a tool chest in amongst the clutter.


Of the highest quality because there be dovetails.

Or this one in the ever popular orange:


A really big chest.


OK, there are dovetails. I like dovetails.

The big problem with looking at tool chests at antique malls is that they tend to be buried under stuff. They provide horizontal surfaces on which to pile more stuff. Dealers really like to stuff their booths with stuff. It requires more patience than I have to check out the interiors because of all the stuff you need to move. If I needed a tool chest or were a better documentarian, I would do what must be done. But neither is the case.

Occasionally the chest is buried beneath something more interesting, like this Pocket Instamatic:


A 1920’s German view camera. Film may or may not be available. As far as I know, no digital back is available. Tripod not included.


Tons of tools there. Wooden bodied planes. Metal planes. Frame saws of all types and sizes. Too many to bother taking pictures. We’ve seen them all before. There was one tool that I’m not sure if is commercial or improvised:


A float with handle and knob.


Once you have the tools, the chest and bench, you need wood and fasteners. For wood you have to look elsewhere but they do have fasteners.


An assortment, as it where.

Go check out some antiques while they’re still there. Mid-century modern is coming. And collectibles. Chalk paint and other abominations.


They Passed

This interesting little game table recently went unsold at a recent auction:


Unloved. Won’t you help us find it a home?

The description is/was:

Description:   mid-18th century, fruitwood and mahogany with pine and mixed woods secondary, the slender form features a shaped top supported by a gate leg when open, above a single short lipped drawer, over an applied projecting scalloped skirt, raised on tall cabriole legs with spade feet. The gaming surface is covered with later felt with the exception of four square and four oval recesses.

The gaming surface:


Covered with later felt.

I liked the table but had neither the budget nor the room for it. Pre-auction estimate was $800 to $1200. But, they passed.

Other details:


Cabriole leg with spade foot.


Spade foot.


And the reverse foot view.

Unique convergence of the apron and the leg.


Either there are no shoulders for the leg or the aprons are the shoulders.

To accommodate the folding top, this is a gate leg table:


Back, right leg folds out.

Some details to notice in the picture above. Look at the small mortise and tenon on the table top. This promotes alignment and takes some stress off of the hinges when open and laying flat.

Here is another view of the mortises on the swinging leg:


The layout lines for the mortises. Are they from the 18th century?

And the corresponding tenons on the apron:


Two tenons to prevent racking when closed.

Here is a view of the gate leg hinge:


Wooden hinge.

An interior is quite revealing:


Back corner showing nailer support block and applied apron. This is the corner of the swinging leg.

And the other corner:


Note that they did not spend much time cleaning up the inner surfaces. But then why should they, it’s the inside of the table.

And yet, they passed.






Throwing More Wet Sawdust on the Flames

So, this blogger walks into an antique shop…

It really happened. Last weekend I walked into a shop and found chests that support both sides of the long axis/short axis backboard debate. Fortunately, they were both interesting chest in their own right and I’m not boring you for nothing.

First up is this fancy former tool chest:


I doubt the finish is original.

Dovetailed with skirt and dust seal.


Really unique handle.

Decorated lid:


A work of art unto itself.

And what you’ve all been waiting for:


Boards – Front to back.

Evidence that there once was more:


Missing are the tills, totes and trays.


I thought it deserved a closer look. I already had the picture.

The other chest is a more humble affair. I mean really humble, almost homely:


The brown thing in the back.


The molding has survived.

Also dovetailed:


Enthusiastic dovetailer but needs a bit of help on the glue up.

And the bottom:


A single board but running side to side. The till is on the right which is not typical but not rare.

And the till has a secret:


If you have been following me for over a month, you saw this one coming. Front of the till slides up revealing a drawer.

I liked the plinth. As them furniture writers might say, it has a certain naive, primitive quality:


Dovetailed with the same layout as the carcass. A bit rough but it works.


With a few expert repairs.


Charging the Crucible

I just got back from the launch party for Crucible Tool at the Lost Art Press, Covington campus. For those not paying attention, Crucible Tool, LLC is a venture by John Hoffman, Raney Nelson and Chris Schwarz  to  design and domestically manufacture high-quality, hand tools for building furniture. They perceive a niche that they need fill.

Interesting event. It looked something like this:


Like this but it’s dark out,  there are close to a hundred people milling about consuming beer and Mr. Schwarz’s hair is almost to mountain man length.

We all knew about their holdfast:


Cast, not forged.

I liked the look, feel and size. My only reservation is that these holdfasts require you to bore and fit a 1″ hole in your bench. With several of the Gramercy holdfasts and one from blacksmith supreme Peter Ross, I am deeply invested in the 3/4″ world for now. I do have some 22 mm. holes for Festool holding devices but I will wait until I build my new bench before considering the bigger holdfasts.

The  promised tool announced last night was a set of 5.75″ calipers. These are based on some vintage/historic patterns and manufactured using modern technology:


Priced at $120. It comes with a driver bit for adjusting hinge tension.

They are a very nicely built, useful tool. Considering the price, would I buy a pair? If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I am not very bright, I am very suggestible and I love Kool-Aid.

They had eight in stock at the launch with more coming soon. I don’t think any of the eight will make it to the Marketplace at Woodworking in America. But there will be more and all orders will be filled in time.

I believe that there is more going on than they are willing/able to let on. On the trip to Covington, I stopped at Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, VA and saw this:


A large pattern mold.


From an interesting company.

With my extensive knowledge of industrial history, I believe the next product is going to be relatively small steam engine to power the line shaft of a small to medium production shop. Like this:


The future of Crucible Tool?

I could be wrong…


The Society of the Purple Wood

Can the wood from a big box home improvement store be so bad they are embarrassed to sell it? The answer is yes and no. A local box has some wood they acknowledge is dreck but they still try to get some return on their investment. Sunday mornings this cart magically appears loaded some cruel jokes that had been lumber in a previous life. This wood is offered at a 70% discount and is marked with purple spray paint.

I can’t blame them for trying to get something out of it. They paid for it. It’s not entirely their fault that Mother Nature’s quality control leaves something to be desired. They might encourage their vendors save money in processing the wood or buy from vendors they know sell less than the best material. Price point is important. Ultimately it’s our fault for buying the stuff because it’s cheap. Maybe not absolutely cheap, but cheaper. We’re only encouraging them.


The cart.


Any boat builders out there?


For multi-lingual cheapskates, sorry, value shoppers. Don’t they proofread these signs?

To my dismay, I have found some purple wood in my scrap bin as I prepare it for the solid waste convenience center. Some members of the Monday night woodworkers buy it to save money I suppose. They go through a lot of effort to save a few bucks.


At least it’s not holding up your deck.



Don’t You Just Hate… Part One of an Occasional Series.

Don’t you just hate when someone seeks your opinion on something and then argues with you in the vain hope that you will come to see the wisdom of their view. They know they are right and are seeking confirmation/affirmation and not your honest opinion.

I can be one of those.

Consider, in 1982 Australian Drs.Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren proposed that the bacterium Heliobacter pylori (previously Campylobacter pylori) may be a cause of gastric ulcers and other GI disease. Conventional wisdom was that no bacterium could live in the acid environment of the human stomach. No one believed them. Yet in 2005, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.

They were right. So, there.

I am in the process of building two stacks of Thomas Jefferson’s book boxes for my wife’s extensive cookbook collection. For those who avoid woodworking topics, his book boxes consisted of a stack of individual boxes in several sizes. This is Chris Schwarz’s version:


Used without permission. It’s the interwebb, do you need permission?

And a stack by Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted:


Perfect and gorgeous as you expect. Simpler plinth.

I built one box a few years back as a proof of concept. What bothered me then as it does now is the horizontal orientation of the backboards. Long axis as it were. Or is. My belief is that it would be stronger to attach the boards on the short axis. The legend of these boxes is that when Thomas Jefferson sold his books to the Library of Congress, the books were transported in the boxes. All that was done was add some filler paper, nail some boards onto the front and throw them on the wagon. Book shelves and shipping crates in one.

Boards nailed on the short axis would tend to work better to keep the sides in. Only an 18″ span. Long axis mounting would mean that the boards would only be nailed at the ends and along one edge. If more than one board is required to span the width, the boards are not joined (jointed) but half-lapped/shiplapped. If you could span the width with a single board, I might buy it.

Some of you engineer types help me out here. (PE’s only) Boards mounted long axis makes a box beam. Boards mounted short axis in a stack provides continuous wood curtain in compression from the plinth to the top of the top. Wood in compression is stronger.

I asked a wood pundit for an opinion on this topic. The response was:

1. They are shown that way in the reproductions/reconstructions/whatever now at Monticello:

Scholarship in the 1950’s wasn’t what it is now. How would then build it now?

2. The individual cases were supposed to be “crates” for transporting books. So fewer boards seemed correct.

Board footage is the same. You could get by with narrower boards without losing any strength. More nails but Jefferson made nails.

3. Horizontal boards exhibit less wood movement than vertical.

An easy adjustment to make. Allowances have been made for hundreds of years.

It occurred to me that it would be useful to look at the historical record and actually see what orientation has been used traditionally. If only there was some source of pictures of antique furniture. I did some research and discovered that there is a source and it’s me. I have a lot of pictures of chests and boxes.

I am here to tell you that based on the record, horizontal wins by three or four to one. Amazing how many people have been on the wrong side of this issue. Here are some examples of both:


Short axis.


Another example.



And a third.

Representing the other axis:


It’s wrong.


Still wrong.


One wide board? Maybe.


Does Con-Tact Paper really strengthen everything? Structural Con-Tact Paper?

In my defense, most of the short axis backs were used on chests that carry more weight and were portable by use. Tool chest for example. Almost all showing more wear.

The chest with long axis backboards were more typically furniture. How much weight is blanket chest expected to hold? Unless you are using it for temporary storage of a relative in transition? Forget I said that.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my motives are not entirely pure.Part is aesthetic. In most of the case furniture I’ve seen, backboards run vertically. I am just used to seeing it. I prefer it.

The more pragmatic reason is wood availability. The Hardwood Store ran out of boards wider then 6″ in my chosen species. I am resisting the need to use four boards to make up the back. Running on the short axis would be a more efficient use of available lumber.

This argument has now fallen apart. When last I visited the Hardwood Store, there were only a few boards left, I cleaned them out. When I went there on Thursday, they had restocked. Well over 70-80 boards of widths from 12″ down. The problem is now not finding a board but excavating the board you want from the stack.

It’s ultimately my decision to make. Being a Popular Woodworking project, I know the woodworking police will not stage a raid and make me do it right. Fine Woodworking, I’m not so sure. A Woodsmith project would bring Don chastising me for not using plywood and pocket screws.

I’ll probably just run them long axis. Too much pressure…

The Soapbox From Which I Preach Is A Reproduction But It’s Made From Reclaimed Barn Wood.

I have been thinking about this blog for about a year but I just never quite had the narrative. But then a few days ago this happened:

Saguenay man has barn walls stolen. Are design trends to blame?

Then there was this on NPR:

Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV.

I have been seeing furniture made with reclaimed wood for several years. In the beginning, it was a few local builders that started showing up with some traditional looking pieces:


Look, a farm table made from reclaimed wood.


You can get matching benches.

And a few novel pieces:


A creative take on a bench/step unit.

Then it started showing up are some larger shows and stores:


Picnic style tables from used wood.

I’m not sure what this is:


Yet it exists and the barn doesn’t.

I know what this is:


Seeing is believing. Doesn’t mean I have to accept it.

Now it’s showing up at your favorite mall furniture store. Just go check out West Restoration Pottery Barrel. You’ll find things like this:


With two different styles of Scrabble games.

And there is this desk:


requiring none of that pesky EPA approval of the finish.

Sometimes there is an explanation:


Many tables and benches.


The explanation that assures us it’s not Stickley.

Not all the furniture is pine. This cabinet is not from around here:


No reason to decide on a single color.


Peroba, not your father’s reclaimed wood unless he’s from Brazil or Argentina.


Somehow they got the peroba from South America to Vietnam. The question is why.

We’ve only been contemplating the wood. Let’s consider technique for a minute. Look at the doors on the Clive Bar Cabinet:


They do have a very unique look. Yet very woody.

But examine the interior for construction details:


The grain in the front doesn’t match the grain around back.

With a view from above explaining everything:


And nothing.


Knowing how versatile and desirable reclaimed wood is, we need to prepare for the eventual loss of supply. One day, it might not be availble.

WIth this in mind, I came across the following in a big box harware store:


What is this we see?


Fake reclaimed wood.

Available in several colors:


Brown and blue on one side at least.


Or if you like grey. Beauty’s only skin deep and single sided.

I have a development deal with one of the basic cable channels. We’re working on a show all about building tiny houses from reclaimed farm tables.

Feeling Abused?

The third Tuesday in most months, I drive to Raleigh for the regular meeting of the Triangle Woodworkers Association. It’s about a forty minute drive unless you travel at rush hour. Traffic, while not Cross Bronx Expressway bad, is bad. So, I leave at around 3:30 (or earlier) for a 7:00 PM meeting.

When I do this, I need to find a way to kill time in Raleigh. I have a regular route of antiques shops. Their inventory doesn’t turn over fast enough to always justify a monthly visit. Woodcraft is good for about 10 minutes if visited regularly. The meeting is at the Klingspor  Woodworking Shop. No reason to head over there early.

At home, we just received a large, glossy brochure from the furniture company named for a great American patriot. Not Donald Trump. The other one. Trump makes his furniture in Turkey. This company makes 65 to 70% of their product here in the US of A according to the brochure. They have a store in one of the tonier sections of Raleigh and I decided to pay them a visit.

Their glossy brochure showed that they have jumped onto the Industrial/commercial steam punk trend. Steam punk used to be practiced by a few local artisans and counter-culture types. Now all the mall furniture stores stock the stuff.

First thing I saw when I walked in was this desk:


Looks not unlike a Roman workbench with less wood holding capabilities. For the low list price of $1599. But who pays list?

Some furniture is interesting. This piece isn’t:


They do weld better than I do.

I thought this might be reclaimed wood:


Not old wood but solid oak that’s been planked.

This company has a reputation for making quality furniture but the seem to have a real issue in the finishing department. Like this dresser:


If you buy it, can you use your chalk paint to spiff it up?


Someone left the dresser in the rain?

Here’s another French piece that needs help:


They need to get some more durable white paint.


They have issues with green paint as well.


Your primer is showing.

At this point, I stepped outside to make sure it wasn’t at a PTA thrift  shop.


I’m beginning to see a pattern.

Is it intentional?


Commercially made shabby chic? What do you do this your chains, rocks and sandpaper?

Such is the way of the world.


I almost liked this table.


Looks like they use white glue.

There is a reason many of us avoid furniture stores.

I was being stalked by an overly earnest salesperson. They observed me studying one of the dressers and offered to answer any questions I may have. Vaguely annoyed, I asked it was possible to order one of these pieces with the finish intact. Looking slightly stunned, they walked back to the sales desk and consulted the Big Book. Then online. It was available in either black distressed or white distressed but not undistressed. I asked if it could be pulled out of the finishing area before the distressing process. The sales people mumbled amongst themselves and decided it would complicate the workflow…

Years ago, Winterthur used to have an annual high-end crafts show. There were many makers of exceptional reproduction Windsor chairs with and without drawers and writing surfaces. All painted and all distressed. Or aged if you prefer. I asked them how much they would charge to not distress the chairs. I usually got a blank or contemptuous stare. One maker saw my point but implied I didn’t understand the market. I implied I didn’t want to.

A quick story. When we were building our house, I was assigned to visit several kitchen cabinet dealers and makers. One of the dealers excitedly showed me a line of distressed, painted cabinets. This line was great because they had the most authentically distressed cabinets. This company had done extensive research into how kitchen and bathroom cabinets were used and abused. Were they wore through the paint was where you and your family would wear through the paint given enough time. Other companies, for instance, would rub out diagonal corners of the cabinets but upper cabinet corners at seven feet shouldn’t and wouldn’t be worn.

He was right but couldn’t appreciate the irony of what he was saying.