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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reproduction Duncan Phyfe Lyre Back Chairs (ca. 1930)

Recently I completed the restoration of a few side chairs that were made in the style of what are known as Duncan Phyfe lyre back side chairs. Properly stated, these chairs are made in Neoclassical style that dominated the early 19th century, but most people identify them with Duncan Phyfe. Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854) Was a Scottish born cabinetmaker who came to America in 1784. Ultimately, he opened a shop in New York city and made fine furniture in the Neoclassical and later American Empire style. For more info on Duncan Phyfe, here is a link to the Wikipedeia page concerning him:


The chairs I worked on were reproductions, and lacked some of the refinement seen in originals or high end reproductions. These chairs were made in a factory and, as is often the case in factory furniture, ease of repeated manufacture dictates design choices. All of that being said these chairs have nice lines and look great restored.

The chairs are made primarily from Birch with the exception of Mahogany used on the lyres. The chairs originally were stained during the finishing process, with the result of making them uniform in color and hiding any defects or color variety in the wood. Likewise, the grain of the wood is also obscured when this process is used. Because of this and the fact that there was some significant dings and scratches overall, the customer decided to have the chairs refinished.

besides the finish work, the chairs were loose and needed to be glued. There was also one glue block missing and one turned finial on one of the lyres that needed to be replaced. Below you can see some photos of the entire process.

Here is a photo of one of the chairs as it came to me.
This photo shows some broken dowels and separated joinery. Originals would have mortise and tenon joinery as well as different glue blocks.
This is a close up of the lyre with the missing finial.

After the finish was removed, the chairs were disassembled and the joints were cleaned. The chair below was completely disassembled.
This photo shows one of the chairs being glued. I set them on the table saw (a flat surface) to make sure that all four legs are on the floor. This photo is followed by two others showing chairs clamped while the glue is setting.

As stated earlier, one of the finials that help to compose the bridge of the lyre back was missing. It was fastened by use of a small round tenon that fit into a drilled hole.Below is a photo of the new finial on the lathe next to the original I used to make the copy.
This photo shows the missing glue block being replaced.
The next photo shows the new finial being glued in place on the lyre.
Below, all four photos are seen sanded, repaired, and ready to stain. The photo following this one shows the chairs after they were stained.

The last four photos show the chairs finished and completed. The first three show the chairs from a few angles and the last shows a detail of the lyre back. The seats were left off because the customer was going to recover them.


  1. Beautiful work!!
    I have a similar set of chairs and table that needs cleaning and gluing (wobbly.) Do they need to be dismantled in order to reinforce them?

  2. They are beautiful and the detailed work you did is why.

  3. Its look like brand new chairs and nobody can even think of that these chairs was a art of reproduction furniture .

  4. You do beautiful work ! I have those chairs.

  5. We were recently given this set (Table, 4 leaf extensions, 5 standard side chairs and a Captains Chair) for free and have been swooning over them. I had to repair the Captains chair as the dowels in the front had snapped through the upper section. However, after looking at this blog here, I'm enthusiastic about stripping these down and re-finishing them. Wow.

  6. I have a set of 13 side chairs and 1 captain's chair made like the chairs you show here. They belonged to family with 12 children who owned this house for 100 years. I am missing 3 of those finials. Would it be possible to replace them through you?