Picture This CI

I mentioned mahogany wake tables in A Wake back in January this year: At approximately twelve feet long and six feet wide, when open, could the massive wake table below have been commissioned for seeing off one of Ireland’s renowned giants?

geo_iii_mahogany_wake_table_c1780_01aBowling alley-like wake table, circa 1780. (Windsor House Antiques)

The table is currently being offered for £230,000 (AU$388,134) by Windsor House Antiques.

Jack Plane

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Picture This C

“All craftsmen make blunders, but what separates the truly great ones is the ability to redress their mistakes.”

Regular reader, Burbidge, emailed me about an aspect of the mahogany linen press in figure 1. It conforms closely to the drawing in Thomas Chippendale’s Cabinet Maker’s Director and was almost certainly made by him: The bracket feet are horizontally blocked; a largely uncommon method favoured though, by Chippendale. The drawers and press doors have S-shaped escutcheons and commensurate steel locks – another feature almost exclusive to Chippendale’s workshop. The deal surfaces have all been treated to a red wash, once again, typical of Chippendale’s work.

ANTIQUESFig. 1. Mahogany linen press, circa 1770. (Summers Davis Antiques)

As one would expect with casework of this pedigree, the backs are panelled rather than simply boarded over. Each back comprises floating panels within a mortised and tenoned frame (figs. 2 & 3).

ANTIQUESFig. 2. Washed-over deal panelled backs. (Summers Davis Antiques)

If one examines the panelled backs, it will be seen that the central muntins of the two backs are out of alignment. So what’s going on?

geo_iii_chippendale_mahogany_linen_press_ca1770_01e1Fig. 3. Misaligned muntins. (Summers Davis Antiques)

Someone made a significant cock-up; that’s what’s going on! Both panelled backs were inadvertently made the same width (the correct width for the rebates in the lower carcase).

In ameliorating the overwidth upper panel, rather than remaking the whole back (or at a minimum, planing both stiles equally), the left stile, alone, was planed away until the frame fitted into the rebates in the upper carcase – not a craftsman’s solution where I come from!

Jack Plane

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On the Dismantling and Reassembly of Glued Joints

Having emailed a reply to a plea from a desperate reader at the weekend, I thought I might as well publish it here for the potential benefit of others.

Animal glue is mildly hydrophilic which alone, enables it to maintain its adhesive property. Glue that has been utterly deprived of humidity will become brittle and subsequently fail. Luckily for those who restore glued articles, this same action can be replicated chemically.

Alcohols are hydrophilic in varying degrees (methanol has the highest affinity for water, though ethanol rates a very satisfactory second) and restorers and furniture-makers normally have a supply of ‘dry’ ethanol on hand for making spirit varnishes.

Ethanol dehydration can be employed to reduce animal glue to a crystalline state, breaking its bond and thereby permitting dismantling of a loose or damaged joint. Ethanol is injected into the joint with the aid of a syringe whereupon the glue progressively relinquishes its moisture – often accompanied by a crackling sound – as the alcohol wicks its way in. The addition of a little tension and an audible crack will let you know the joint has been broken.

Further pulling, wiggling and possibly tapping of the joint is usually required to persuade the now granulated glue to crumble away. Larger chunks of crystalline glue can either be chipped or scraped from the open joint; however it’s not critical, as any residual glue will be rejuvenated with the application of fresh hot glue when the joint is reassembled.

Jack Plane

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Cross-Grained Mouldings

Mouldings on oak-framed buildings – and thence joyner-made oak furniture – followed the timber’s grain and were comparatively simple to produce. Then circa 1685, a new breed of specialised furniture maker appeared. Cabinetmakers developed more sophisticated techniques for making and decorating furniture, in particular, the use of veneers and cross-grained mouldings in the newly popularised European walnut (Juglans regia).

It has been suggested that cross-grained mouldings were employed to better ‘come-and-go’ with seasonal cross-grain expansion and contraction of carcases, however, this conjecture has no foundation as cross-grained carcase mouldings are backed with strips of long-grain timber.

Rather than cross-grain mouldings being made up of thick individual blocks of wood, short walnut ‘veneers’ of between 1/8″ and 5/16″ thick (in which the moulding was formed) were glued onto continuous, long grain pine backings to assist in controlled shrinkage and potential catastrophic failure of the mouldings.

Controlled shrinkage was the cognisant intention of the cabinetmakers and its deformation is part and parcel of the appearance of cross-grain mouldings: Light reflecting off the individual, often slightly cupped ‘veneers’ coruscates like candle light on a crystal chandelier (fig. 1).

crossgrain_moulding_c1735_01aFig. 1. Circa 1735 shrunken and cupped cross-grain moulding sections reflect light like jewels.

Larger mouldings such as cornices were often composite constructions, comprising a number of smaller, individual mouldings and veneers (figs. 2 & 3).

cushion_drawer_c1690_01aFig. 2. Composite cornice and cushion moulding, circa 1690.

walnut_dome_moulding_c1710_01aFig. 3. Composite hood moulding, circa 1710.

(European) walnut furniture remained popular until around 1740 and was rarely produced after 1750. Though mahogany was known in Britain as early as the end of the seventeenth-century, it wasn’t imported in commercial quantities until the 1730s. Mahogany (and North American black walnut [Juglans nigra], employed in the same manner as mahogany) saw distinct changes in design (in part due to mahogany’s unique working properties) and long-grain mouldings became fashionable once again.

Of course anomalies have a pitiless habit of cropping up; making fools and liars of furniture dealers and historians alike. The chest in figure 4 is archetypal of early George III mahogany furniture in every respect – including the profile of the top moulding – except the moulding is cross-grained!

cross-grain_mahogany_moulding_c1765_01aFig. 4. George III mahogany serpentine chest of drawers, circa 1765.

Jack Plane

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Chairs and Shelves at Christie’s

Christie’s are conducting The English Collector: English Furniture, Clocks and Portrait Miniatures at their King Street, London rooms on the 17th of November 2016.

Amongst the furniture on offer is lot 152, a set of six George II fruitwood Windsor armchairs, carrying an estimate of £30,000 – £50,000 ($48,073 – $80,122). The same set of chairs was offered by Christie’s in London on the 19th of May 2016 with an estimate of £20,000 – £30,000 (passed in).

geo_ii_fruitwood_armchairs_c1740_01fGeorge II fruitwood Windsor armchairs, circa 1740. Possibly commissioned for the Earls of Buckinghamshire for Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. (Christie’s)

Another familiar item in the sale is lot 148, a set of George III mahogany hanging shelves, which carry an estimate of £1,200 – £1,800 ($1,925 – $2,888). The same shelves were previously offered by Christie’s in their South Kensington rooms on the 20th of July 2010 with an estimate of £500 – £700 and ultimately realised £4,375.

geo_iii_chippendale_mahogany_bookshelves_c1760_02cGeorge III mahogany chinoiserie hanging shelves, circa 1760. (Christie’s)

Jack Plane

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Seemingly one of Donald Trump’s blowhard ancestors modelled for the seventeenth-century Flemish painter, Rubens.

rubens_atalanta_and_meleager_c1616_01aPeter Paul Rubens, Atalanta and Meleager (detail), circa 1616. (Metropolitan Museum)

Source: Art History News

Jack Plane

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Picture This XCIX

From the ‘what were they thinking?’ files, comes this eighteenth-century Windsor chair.

geo_iii_ash__elm_comb_back_chair_c1780_02a_robert_youngPrimitive comb-back Windsor, circa 1780. (Robert Young)

The keen-of-eye might have noticed the H-stretcher’s unusual (and original) orientation which must have been the cause of many a painful Achilles tendon.

Jack Plane

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Can you handle this?


I require a set of brass handles of the pattern illustrated above. Strangely, it’s not an uncommon pattern, yet I searched through my boxes of strays for comparable bails and backplates without any luck and I haven’t been able to locate satisfactory matches from any of the usual reproduction brass foundries either.

I am therefore appealing to the readership for help once again: If anyone should happen to have a set of eight of theses handles (or even a part set) that they would be willing to sell me I would be eternally grateful.

Alternatively, I would even be interested in borrowing/renting a single bail and backplate to carefully copy. The originals would be returned in as-received condition.

If you feel you can help, please contact me.

Jack Plane

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Picture This XCVII Redux

The dated walnut chest of drawers featured in Picture This XCVII realised £8,750 ($14,894) against a pre-auction estimate of £7,000 – £10,000 ($12,000 – $18,000).

geo_ii_walnut_cod_c1751_01aGeorge II walnut chest, circa 1751. (Bonham’s)

geo_ii_walnut_cod_c1751_01bChest top with dated inscription. (Bonham’s)

Jack Plane

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“Something for the Weekend Sir?”

barbershop_01a“Yes, I’ll take one of your chairs, thanks.”

Anyone who has restored antique furniture will likely have worn out one or two pairs of shoes walking round a chair, table or chest, dabbing a spot of polish here and another there. Like many, I suffer a few aches and pains, and stooping to work is a recipe for a visitation to the doctor or chiropractor.

To extend the life of my shoe leather and generally make life easier on myself, I have always employed a work table on which I place the piece of furniture I’m working on. The height of the table is adjustable and as I stand between my bench and the work table, I can rotate the table to work on any side of the piece of furniture without straying far from the bench. The table’s rotation can be locked so I don’t end up chasing the thing in circles when carving or planing repairs etc.

“How is this ingenuity achieved?” I hear you ask. It’s very simple; by unbolting the seat of a 1920s – 1960s cast iron barber’s chair and bolting a welded RHS or SHS frame onto the chair base in its place. A sacrificial work top comprising a sheet of 19mm (3/4″) thick plywood or HMR particleboard is then attached to the steel frame with self-tapping screws (fig. 1).

barbers_chair_base_01aFig. 1. Barber’s chair base with steel table frame and particleboard work surface.

Many of the old iron barber’s chairs are operated by hand levers and while these can be successfully modified, by far the simplest to convert are the chair bases that incorporate two or three foot-operated pedals: One or two of the pedals (depending on the make) are employed to raise and lower the hydraulic column and a third, brake pedal, locks the column preventing it and the work table from rotating (figs. 2 & 3).

barbers_chair_base_02aFig. 2. Height adjustable and rotatable work table.

barbers_chair_base_02bFig. 3. Straightforward foot controls.

Some barber’s chair bases have gibs attached to the hydraulic columns to prevent the chairs from rotating, but by simply removing the gib screws and gibs the columns will rotate freely.

Some dentist’s chairs from the same era are also suitable for converting, but may require a bit of fiddling to make them operable as tables, as some of the raising and locking controls are located conveniently (for the dentist) in the chair itself.

Later dentist’s chairs are usually electrically operated which can be a boon if you have (or can retrospectively install) a power outlet in the floor of your workshop.

Jack Plane

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