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.


More Mysteries From An Auction.

For this blog, I need the knowledge and opinions of my many expert readers. I know you’re out there.

I can hear you breathing.

You all know I will and have traveled to the ends of the Earth to bring you the most interesting furniture I can find. One morning recently, I set on a perilous 8.4 mile drive to a local auction house to look at an unusual sale of a single-owner collection. The collectors could be charitably described as eclectic. It is a most interesting assemblage of stuff I have seen in a while. I will cover much of it in the near future.

Among the most interesting was this item billed as a late 17th century English Jacobean Court Cupboard:


This lot has sold for $1900.

Carved center in the front was this:


Either a date confirming its late 17th century origin or the IKEA stock number as part of the BJURSTA collection.

Many marvelous things about this cupboard including this miraculous transformation from these frog leg hinges on the left door:


Frog leg, that’s really what many call them.

to these butterfly hinges on the right door:


A repair. Look closely and you can see the ghost and screw holes from the former frog leg hinges. Not clocked but close.

The really interesting features however are these columns:


Interesting that the turned column seems to have been mounted flush at one point in history.

Under condition, the auctioneer states that there are front columns with shrinkage splits. I do not believe that shrinkage splits would change the grain and the character of the wood.

The left column is the same:


Again, this is either an added piece that was turned to match or the column blank initially was a glue up.

Take a step back and look again. Is this just how the columns were made or was this a 3/4 column that once lay flush against a cabinet and was modified to stand proud?


Interested to hear your opinions…

The other piece is a bit less well executed with no real attempt to integrate the changes. This Edwardian Paint Decorated and Inlaid Satinwood Bed has been modified:


This lot has sold for $400.

with its fancy painted bellflowers:


Bellflowers: is paint easier than inlay or just different?

The modification is functional and not at all aesthetic:


They just threw in a few block to lengthen the bed. There is another block at the head for a total of three additional inches.


Another view. Interesting that the bed’s slats were dovetailed.

This modification was most likely made to accommodate varying mattress lengths that differ by era and region.

Done For Another Year.


On Tuesday I finished the annual Toys For Tots toy build sponsored by the Triangle Woodworkers Association. Most of the build was a group effort but I did the final assembly of the 100 bulldozers by myself. It’s finicky work and I had run out of time and assistants. The Hillsborough Orange Woodworkers meet on Monday nights and had done most of the work during those meetings.


See the Hillsborough Orange Woodworkers woodworking!


And then they’re gone.


And so is the food. We up the snacks a bit during the toy builds.

On the last Monday night, instead of putting them to work, we had the annual HOW Seasonal Party. We had 19 attendees with seating for 18. We squoze a bit. Knowing what Tuesday foretold, I left the table early to start on the dishes, depriving many of my charm, humor and dazzling personality. Somehow they survived.

Dishes, it’s what I do. My wife cooks and I do dishes. It might be gender stereotyping but it plays to our strengths. We are both well suited for our appointed tasks. However, she enjoys cooking more than I enjoy doing dishes. I hope.

We had a similar situation earlier this year. A group of friends, local and imported, came to dinner. I bailed early to do the dishes since the drywall artiste was coming at 8:30 AM to repair our long, high seams. The house needed to be stripped down a bit to allow safe access. The glass collection needed to be stashed in the spare bedroom after the guests left.  The glass survived the move but around 1:30 AM I did lose 4 of 5 glass shelves left atop the 10-foot ladder when I moved it. They mostly missed me on their way to the floor. Band-Aids but no stitches were required. It did wake my wife. She has a day job and had gone to bed at a reasonable hour.

But, I digress…

This year we provided 385 toys for the TFT campaign. 50 hippos, 50 trucks, 50 tankers, 35 bear/pigs and 100 bulldozers were built.


Returning toys are the bulldozer, hippo, bear/pig and truck. The tanker is new.

There could have been 50 bear/pigs as well but pattern routing Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) did not go as well as I had hoped. I tried a straight bit, up spiral, down spiral an up/down spiral bit. 18 bear/pigs are on their way to the recycling center. The good news is that no fingers were lost and I kept the newly liberated blood off of the toys.

The previous Monday we finished all toys but the bulldozers. The bodies were complete  but the blades needed to be assembled and installed.


Another night…


Two hours later they left…


well fed.


94 of the 100 bulldozers.

I used a stopwatch while assembling the bulldozers as a tool to keep me focused on the task at hand. I suffer from some level of ADD and being aware of the time helps. Quickest was 1:54 and the slowest was around 4 minutes. Typical time was 2:30 depending on what I dropped and what adjustments were necessary. In that time I:

  1. Slightly beveled the ends of the rear axle and blade pins with my trusty yellow plastic pencil sharpener. Cleans up the fuzz and aids assembly.
  2. Glue the right rear wheel to the rear axle.
  3. Insert the rear axle into the body and glue the left rear wheel onto the rear axel matching alignment of the blade pin holes in the rear wheels.
  4. Check rear wheel clearances and adjust as necessary with my trusty Slyod knife. Note: when using the knife to adjust the clearances, the sharpened edge points DOWN and is inserted between the body and the wheel. Up doesn’t work nearly as well.
  5. Glue and insert the right blade pin.
  6. Glue and insert the left blade pin.
  7. Check alignment and clearances.
  8. Check that the blade moves freely.
  9. Repeat.

When I finished, I did a final quality control check on all the toys. This completed, I loaded all the toys into my car and headed over to Cary, NC for the annual TWA Seasonal Dinner. At this dinner, the toys are displayed, discussed and presented to the US Marines for transport and distribution. As it has been for the past twenty years, Roy Underhill was the guest speaker. He did a short humorous presentation after we ate and before we loaded the truck.

The last two years, we filled the Marine van and two large SUV’s. This year, the Marines sent one of their five ton trucks. We loaded it and with that, we were done for another year.


Saint Roy finishes loading the Marines’ five ton. For some Roy assumed being the guest speaker negated the need to pay $15 for dinner and hall rental. His choices were bussing the tables or loading the truck.


A less flattering angle.

I would like to thank the following for all their efforts in building the toys and not all coming to the party:

TWA Members
Jeff Leimberger
Ed Mastin
Ken Serdar

HOW Members (Hillsborough Orange Woodworkers)
Ed Brant
James Campbell
Matt Holway
Paul Leslie
Mike Matthews
Dan Rocigno
Dan Snyder
Dave Tarney
Steve Wedge

Better Know Your Tools.

I spent some time in Cincinnati earlier this year, first at Popular Woodworking in America and then a week-long class with the boys  at 360 Woodworking. I am neutral. My friends call me Switzerland. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about here, be thankful.

Not being a drinking person, I anticipated having some serious time to kill in my hotel rooms at night. Not that many antiques malls stay open past 6:00 PM. For situations like this I have been trying to find some sort of woodworking project. Chip carving might work but the group scheduled their class while I was away. I was driving so I could have brought my midi lathe. Dust collection might a problem.

What I did have was a 1607 7-Drawer Kit Chest from Gerstner & Sons. I had picked this up at a Stewart-MacDonald clearance sale. Not full-fledged woodworking but woodworking lite. Sanding, gluing and clamping. It’s something.


Assembled chest awaiting a finish.

Reading over the directions, I realized I could use another small combination square. I had one packed with the tools for the 360 Woodworking class but I didn’t want to breakup the kit. I have a marginal memory and figured I would end up leaving it behind at some point inconveniencing me.  I don’t like being inconvenienced especially by me.

I remembered that my dear friend Patrick Leach of The Superior Works would be there  at Woodworking in America selling pre-owned tools at prices that are high enough to make you stop and consider but not high enough to make you walk away.

Patrick had a nice 6″ Brown & Sharpe combination Imperial/Metric square priced higher than I wanted to pay. But with his big smile and winning ways, I couldn’t say no. I bought it.

It did what I needed it to do while in the area. Last week I was using it at home for some relatively precise, tight layout work and something seemed wrong. Things just weren’t adding up and everything was just slightly off. Things worked correctly when I retrieved my Starrett 6″ combination square. The Brown & Sharpe, not so much.

After about a half hour of stumbling about the shop I grabbed my dial caliper and solved the mystery. I thought I bought a 6″ combination square when in fact I bought a 150 millimeter combination square. 150 mm is 5.90551 inches. 0.09449 might not seem signficant but a tenth of an inch can really muck things up when working below 1/2″.


When is 6″ not 6″? When it’s 150 mm.


Ain’t that a shame?

Two lessons come from this episode:

1.Know what you bought, it helps

2.Work from the origin, the 0 end of a rule. Who knows where it ends.

The Results Are In.

The auctions have finished and the winning bids have been verified. I thought some of you might be interested in what went for how much. Or maybe not.

Tennessee Cherry Lift-Top Sugar Press
Estimate   $3,000 – $5,000

Description:  Circa 1820-50, att. Sumner County, with poplar secondary, one piece form with upper dovetailed case, hinged lid with applied molding, divided interior, base with single long drawer above two paneled and hinged doors, paneled sides, the whole raised on ring turned tapered feet.

Size   46 x 36.75 x 19 in.


This lot has sold for $4000.

English Lancashire Mule Chest of Drawers
Estimate   $800 – $1,200

Description:   Late 18th century, oak and mahogany, mahogany veneers, with oak and pine secondary, top with applied dovetailed three-quarter gallery, applied molded hinged full length lift top lid above three over two faux drawers over two over two side by side lipped drawers flanked by rounded quarter columns, raised on ogee bracket feet with shaped central foot.


This lot has sold for $1200.

North Carolina Piedmont 2 Drawer Blanket Chest
Estimate: $1,200 – $1,800

Description:   Circa 1840s, Western NC region, walnut dove-tailed case, yellow pine secondary, hinged lipped lid with breadboard ends, divided interior with single drawer, four long drawers, applied bracket foot base.


Realized Price: $650

Mid Atlantic Paint Decorated Miniature Blanket Chest
Estimate: $300 – $500

Description: Mid 19th century; 6.25 inches height x 12 inches width x 5.5 inches depth; made of solid white pine, hinged lid, full length drawer, supported by original bracket feet, has brownish red paint throughout, trimmed with mustard and green, front of chest is outlined in green with mustard yellow geometrics, bracket feet has wide green trim outlined with mustard yellow paint, paint is dry alligatored; overall condition appears to be complete and original, with original brass hardware, with minor chipping and scratches throughout, otherwise excellent; Provenance: Recently Discovered by NC Picker.


Realized Price: $750

And one more…

 Southern Railway Locomotive Engine Headlight 
Estimate: $2,000 – $4,000

Description: Early 20th Century; 31 inches height, 36 inches width, with 15.5 inch diameter lens; #1366 Pyle National Co. Chicago R.R. Record No. 20c230 Pat. Brevete, believed to be one of President Roosevelt’s favorite locomotives out of the S.R.R Washington district, this engine finished it?s journey in Washington at the head of President Roosevelt’s funeral train, light is mounted on welded iron stand for displaying, appears to be complete original with polished brass poles for displaying flags, overall outstanding condition and an important piece of Southern Railroad history; Provenance: Gamble Estate Collection Clemmons, NC.


Realized Price: $3700

Lesser Mules

Two local auctions houses are having their big fall sales today (Friday). It might surprise you to know that I managed to make it to previews for both of them.

As luck would have it, there were mule chests at both. Not quite the quality as the Catalan chests in my last blog but certainly better than the American example I showed.

The oldest is this late 18th century chest billed as an English Lancashire Mule Chest of Drawers:


Upper two rows of drawers aren’t.

The top really does open. There was too much stuff on top with too many people around to prove it to you. The lid breaks just ahead of the gallery.

Next is this early 19th century North Carolina Piedmont 2 Drawer Mule Chest:


The tall bracket feet where also seen on a few other case pieces in this auction.

From the same auction is this mid 19th century Mid Atlantic Painted Decorated Miniature Mule Chest:


Interesting piece.


All parts are present and useful. Paint could use a bit of refreshing,

And finally is this mid 19th century Tennessee Cherry Lift-Top Sugar Press:


It still qualifies as a mule chest in my book. Or blog,

And that’s all I have for now. More later as I sort it all out.