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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Walnut and Maple Jewelry Box (Fall 2011)

I have been commissioned to build a custom jewelry box for a customer this coming fall.The jewelry box is to be made of Walnut with maple accents. The dimensions of the box are to be 15 inches wide by 6 inches tall by 12 inches deep. When open, the jewelry box will have a removable tray. the box will also sit in a stand so that the over all height will be thirty inches.

The basic design for the box right now is to have a Walnut burl veneer top that is captured by solid Walnut sides. The top will be inlaid with a 1/8 inch band of Maple and the front will have an inlaid diamond escutcheon of maple. The finished product will have a inlaid brass engraved plate in the top as well. The joinery will be keyed and the spline joints will either be made of Walnut or Maple. I have included preliminary drawings of the box on stand below that I have designed using Google Sketchup. This is a project that is still in development, so I will post some photos of the final  drawings, and ultimately the finished product. You can click on any of the photos to see them in a larger format.
A front view of the box with the Maple splines in the corner.
A view of the box in perspective with Maple splines.
A front view of the box with Walnut splines.
The box in perspective with Walnut splines.
Atop view showing the burled Walnut and the Maple banding.
A view of the Walnut base in perspective.
A view of the base from the top.
The box on stand from the front.
The box on stand from the side.

Duncan Phyfe Style Mahogany Sofa (ca. 1930) Part 1

Duncan Phyfe was a Scottish cabinetmaker who lived and worked  in New York City in the early 19th century. Working in the larger Neoclassical style of the time, he created furniture designs that have been widely copied ever since. One design element, the curved out swept leg (as seen on this couch) is so closely linked with Duncan Phyfe that it is often simply called a Duncan Phyfe leg. For more information on Duncan Phyfe and his contributions, check out the following link:


 The sofa I have been working on is made in the Neoclassical style, but is a reproduction that was made some time around 1930. the frame for the sofa is made of White Oak and the exposed parts are all Mahogany. The sofa looked to be in pretty good shape at first glance, but below the surface was a lot of loose joinery and some old repairs that were shoddily done by a previous upholsterer. The sofa also had a very thick,opaque finish on it that was really masking the grain below. Here is a photo of the sofa as it came to me.

The Duncan Phyfe Leg

The first step in working on this sofa was to remove the upholstery. This is no small feat! Not only does the fabric come off as well as all of the stuffing, but the tacks and staples all need to be removed as well so the the upholsterer has a clean surface area to attach the new upholstery. At the end of the day my shoes sounded like tap shoes because of all of the tacks that were stuck in the soles!

After the upholstery was removed, The next thing I did was to remove the finish and make the repairs to the sofa. The Arms, legs ,and back were all loose, so I repaired the loose joinery. Below are a few photos of this process.
Gluing a loose leg.

A piece of the frame was loose and later glued back in place.
Loose joinery where the arms meet the back.
After the repairs were made to the frame and cosmetic repairs made to the mahogany parts, the sofa was sanded and made ready for staining. Here is a photo of the repaired frame. The springs were left in place in the seat so that the upholsterer can examine their configuration.
This next photo shows the frame after it was stained.
These last two photos show the frame during the finishing process. After the finish is applied, I will take the frame to the upholsterer to get upholstered.

Continuous Arm Veneered Rocking Chair (ca.1920) Part 1

One of the pieces that I am currently working on for a customer is an upholstered continuous arm rocking chair. The chair is made of Birch and the arms are veneered with ribbon Mahogany. I could not find much in the way of history on this chair, but I think it comes from somewhere around 1920. The initial shape of the arms is cut using a bandsaw and then veneered over with a Mahogany. This technique in furniture making was introduced in the 1840's and can be seen on American Empire furniture. The claw foot on the rocker is machine carved.

When I received the rocker it had large sections of missing veneer on the arm and the joinery was loose. Below is a photo of the chair as it came to me. You can see that most of the veneer on the right arm (facing the chair) is missing.
This next photo shows the chair after the upholstery was removed.
This next photo shows the chair with the finish removed. The blue tape on the arm is holding a loose piece of the arm in place.
The chair had loose joinery, and it appears that it never had glue blocks in the rear of the seat frame. Glue blocks are pieces of wood glued and screwed to the frame in the inside corners to help add strength to the joints. The glue blocks on the front of the seat frame were nailed in place, so the the nails were replaced with screws and new blocks made for back. The loose joints were also spread apart and new glue put in place. The next two photos show the new glue blocks and then a photo of the frame getting glued up.

After the joinery was tightened, the next thing to do was to repair the veneer damage. The general idea of this is to clean the old glue from the damaged area, cut new veneer that will cover the space and attach it. After the glue is dried the excess glue is removed with hot water and the excess veneer is trimmed. Below are several shots of the veneer repair. I have put in captions to describe what is seen in each photo.
This is a photo of the right arm after the old glue was scraped from the Birch frame.

A long strip of veneer was assembled using smaller pieces taped together. This photo shows the glue being spread on the veneer.

Placing the veneer on the birch frame.

It is extremely important to clamp the entire surface area to prevent bubbles in the veneer. The easiest way to do this in this case was to use a  lot of clamps. I think every clamp in the shop may have been used here!

After the glue dried overnight, the clamps were removed and the veneer below was the new veneer. The blue tape is covering the seams in the veneer.

This photo shows the veneer being glued down on the left arm
The next few photos show the after the chair was sanded and the ultimately stained. The new veneer blends very well with the old and is hardly (if at all) noticeable.
The sanded chair ready for staining!

The right arm with its new veneer.

A patch on the left arm.
 The last two photos show the chair stained and ready for finish.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mahogany and Birch Fireplace Mantel (ca. 1898) Part 2

Below are a few photos of the mantel I have been working on completed. The stained glass doors really look nice and tie the whole piece together. On the back splash above the overmantel, there are two screws which hold the mantel to the wall. In an effort to conceal these, we used brass bed bolt covers to cover the screw heads. Here are the photos.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mid-Atlantic Ladderback Arm Chair (ca. 1780) Part 2

Well, I finished the restoration and repair of the ladderback arm chair I have been working on. It is always an enjoyable experience working on and spending time with a piece of furniture this old. I find my mind imagining the hands that created this piece as well as the many hands that it passed through. After all, isn't this why we are drawn to these things? Each piece is a direct link to another time and place, giving us a small glimpse of what life was like and how our ancestors thought about things. From the intention of the piece, to it's manufacture detail, to its subsequent use, all shed light on a piece of our collective history. Personally, Taking a chair apart like this and studying it to see what I can find out gives me a sense of communion with it's maker that gives the whole project a new purpose. We are fortunate to have these crafted pieces of art to admire in this day and age.

Once the joinery was reassembled on this chair, the next step was to clean the existing finish and build it back up. A previous owner had used linseed oil to "feed" the finish, resulting in a build up on the finish. This is usually a hard thing to remove, but it came off a little easier on this chair. After the surface was brought down to a consistent level, I applied new finish to the old in a process known as amalgamation. With a few coats of new finish, the chair developed a nice sheen, while still displaying the many signs of use. Below are a few photos of the chair, starting with the chair after my work was completed. The chair was then sent to the caner Chris Frear for a new rush seat. As always, Chris did a perfect job on the seat. The last few photos show the chair after it the seat was put on and ready for delivery.


Two small notes about the chair:

1) I do think that the chair was originally painted blue. My hunch is that the maker probably made the chair to be either finished clear or painted and that in this case it was painted. Not knowing the final finish on the chair during the manufacturing process, the maker probably decided to put the decorative scribe marks on the finials, in case it was finished clear. Because of the variation of the woods used and their different visual characteristics, chairs like these were often painted in the eighteenth century.  Evidence of white paint was also found showing that this chair went through several different looks. The places where the blue paint were found indicate that it was probably the original finish.

2) One thing I never discussed was the gap between the top slat and the second one down. Usually the slats are evenly spaced. This one has a greater gap between these two than the other slats. I have not seen another example like this and do not see an obvious reason for doing this, but I am positive it was done intentionally. Perhaps future research will shed some light on this.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mahogany and Birch Fireplace Mantel (ca. 1898) Part 1

One of the pieces I have been working on recently is a late Victorian Mahogany and Birch mantel made around 1898. The mantel is somewhat typical of the era and has an overmantel storage area for books or plates. The doors for the overmantel have factory made stained glass panels that I think are original to the piece. The interior of the overmantel has plate grooves in the bottom, indicating that the piece was made with the option for clear glass in mind as well as the stained glass. What is most likely is that  the mantel was ordered out of a catalog and the buyer  was able to choose the glass that they wanted.

When the mantel was removed and brought into the shop, I discovered that there was a date and signature on the back of the mantel. The inscription reads like this, "1898 F.W. Balt. MD."Written in Pencil. This could mean several things. It could mean that this mantel was made in 1898 by "F.W". in Baltimore, MD. This could also be an inspection mark as it passed through Baltimore to it's final destination.Who "F.W." is remains a mystery.  There was also a small label that had been painted over on the back of the mantel. I was able to carefully scrape off the paint to reveal that the label was a stock label for the worker or inspector to write down the mill number, mantel type, manufacturer, and wood. Under the "made by" heading there is the faint remnant of a signature, but it is illegible. Most likely this is in reference to the person who assembled the mantel and not the company that produced it. So in the end, no manufacturer, but I was able to find an approximate date for the mantel's manufacture. 

The mantle was in pretty good shape over all, but the finish had cracked with age and cleaning. In addition, some areas, particularly the columns, had been touched up with paint of a mahogany color. Luckily, the use of paint was not to cover up some significant veneer loss, but looks most likely to be a cheap form of "Touch-Up".

When the mantel was removed from the wall the 110 year old glue gave out at the joints, so it pretty much fell apart on site. Below is a photo of the mantel when it came into my shop.

This next photo shows one of the columns that was painted.

The following three photos are of the signature on the back of the mantel.

This next photo shows the overmantel being glued up. It was missing some glue blocks and had loosened up significantly.

To assemble the mantel, the entire piece was flipped upside down. Certain parts of the mantel were screwed together and others glued. here is a photo of the mantel being glued up followed by the mantel flipped right side up. Supports were attached to the bottom to keep the mantel from falling over in the shop.

The capitals of the columns were made from a resin that was poured into a mold and cast. Each capital was comprised of four sections that were glued to the column. there were several pieces missing from each capital, which I replaced and carved to match. After all of the repairs were made and the mantel was sanded, the entire mantel was stained to the original color. The next photo shows the stained column. The next post will show some of the finishing of the mantel and photos of the mantel completed.