Picture This CXII

Several readers have, at various times, enquired why some eighteenth-century drawers have escutcheons – and indeed, keyholes – when no locks are (or ever were) present.

Locks were expensive items and not all drawer contents necessitate such elaborate protection. In a time when the majority of furniture was commissioned, a full complement of locks (with their drill pins peering out of the escutcheons) would have been quite the status symbol; however, for the budget-conscious, keyholes and escutcheons alone would have at least, alluded to the same opulence.

The long drawers of chests and bureaux etc. were commonly fitted with locks whilst the short drawers often went without, however there was a simple option for a reasonable level of security without the expense of fitting locks to all drawers.

The central drawer of the low dresser in figure 1 bears a brass backplate-cum-escutcheon and there isn’t a keyhole in the drawer front, yet the drawer is lockable.

Fig. 1. Oak low dresser, circa 1750. (Walton House)

By unlocking the door, a wooden spring catch on the underside of the drawer can be depressed, allowing the drawer to be withdrawn (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Drawer with spring catch. (Walton House)

The wooden catch is nailed into a sloping mortise in the underside of the drawer bottom (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Protruding spring catch. (Christopher Storb)

When the drawer is fully inserted into the carcase, the front edge of the catch springs down through an opening in the subjacent dustboard (where fitted) and engages the rear of the drawer divider (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Apertures for accessing spring catches. (Christopher Storb)

I employed a similar catch to secure the tabernacle in an ash bureau (fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Sloped recess and access hole for spring catch.

Jack Plane

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Starry, Starry Drite

This cupboard was described by a dealer as “astral glazed”.

George III painted corner cupboard, circa 1790.

Jack Plane

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William Kent Chair Conservation

The Wallace Collection recently completed conservation of an eighteenth-century English chair, which has not been able to be on display for some time because of its condition.

The chair is believed to be part of a set, designed by William Kent in c.1730, and made for the 3rd Earl of Burlington at Chiswick House. William Kent was a decorative painter, architect and celebrated designer whose work was inspired by his travels to Italy.

The extensive work would not have been possible without the help of the Friends, Benefactors and members of the public who generously supported the conservation appeal.

An English Armchair in Kentian Style, c. 1730.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXI

A dealer is currently offering this walnut chest for sale and describes it as Queen Anne with original brasses.

What do the sleuths say?

Fig. 1.

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.

Jack Plane

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A Trio of Lath-Back Windsor Chairs – Part Three

The chairs were washed down with hot soapy water and then stained. When dry, I (spirit) varnished the chairs, during which, I gave them a little additional colour before finally waxing them (figs. 1-12).

Fig. 1.

Fig. 2. The pegs were intentionally made proud of the crest rail to emulate 250 years of natural shrinkage of the rail.

Fig. 3. Likewise, I simulated the build-up of grime in appropriate places.

Fig. 4.

Fig. 5.

Fig. 6. Baluster turnings on front legs only.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 8.

Fig. 9. Rear of crest rail.

Fig. 10. Bob tail and bracing sticks.

Fig. 11. Three chairs for the new house! Hip hip…

Jack Plane

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In Favour of a Bigger Hammer

My recent production of Windsor chairs prompted a reader – himself, a Windsor chair-maker – to contact me concerning the moisture content of various chair parts.

We exchanged several emails, the content of which I have précised and edited together with a couple of similar emails from other chair-makers into the following dialogue.

Chairbler: I made a small kiln with a light globe in it. I put the ends of my turned legs and stretchers in there overnight to really bring the moisture down before I turn my tenons. What method do you use to dry your tenons?

JP: I don’t go to such lengths to dry them: In the damper months, I may leave partially-turned legs and stretchers in the shop for a while before completing the tenons.

Chairbler: It’s essential to have dry tenons to avoid your joints working loose. I dry all my tenons and haven’t had a single failure. Do you use kiln dried lumber for your chairs?

JP: Obviously sound joints are a prerequisite of any furniture. I use air-dried wood for the chairs I make and bring it into the shop as and when required. I haven’t experienced any chairs falling apart either.

Out of interest, does it require much effort to assemble one of your chairs?

Chairbler: After I have dried my legs and stretchers I accurately turn my tenons so they are a snug fit. This makes the chairs easy to assemble and when the tenons get back to equilibrium they swell and tighten.

JP: With only a “snug fit” during assembly, are you concerned at all about any effects that might arise from the mortises becoming ovoid as they dry out? Do you artificially dry seats and crest rails too prior to boring the mortises in them?

Chairbler: I don’t think it’s necessary and I haven’t tried it. I am amazed you get good joints using air dried lumber.

JP: All my learning is based on observation of traditional methods. The majority of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Windsor chairs were made from – at best – air-dried wood and many were made using green wood (or something between green and air-dried). I too turn tenons fairly precisely however, I turn them to be a pretty tight fit which require a big hammer to assemble (as does all the other joinery and dovetailing I produce – I’m not fond of “snug”).

Fig. 1. A big hammer being employed to knock stretchers into legs.

Fig. 2. Thumping an undercarriage into a seat.

During examination of period Windsor chair joints, this method is evident where the rough-turned tenons have dragged the fibres in the mortise sides in the direction of entry and which are locked for perpetuity by the glue.

The survival of many thousands of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Windsor chairs endorses the efficacy of this simple technology.

Jack Plane

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A Trio of Lath-Back Windsor Chairs – Part Two

I think one reader was a little upset with me for attaching the legs before bottoming the seats of the two forest chairs, so these lath-back Windsors were done vice versa. Natheless, the weather impelled me to bore all the holes in the seats, cut all the mortises and test fit the backs before bottoming them (figs. 1 & 2).

Fig. 1. The day started out at -6°C (21°F) …

Fig.2. … but then the sun appeared and the frost retreated.

When finished with the angry grinder, I scraped the seats and gave them a final sanding before gluing the chairs together (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. The lath-backs in-the-white.

Fig. 4. As tradition would have it, the laths are pegged top and bottom.

Jack Plane

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A Trio of Lath-Back Windsor Chairs – Part One

These braced lath-back chairs are of a popular form made in the Thames Valley during the latter half of the eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century. They regularly turn up singly and in sets of twelve or more, usually varying only by the number of back sticks, minor differences in splat profiles and occasional cabriole legs (figs. 1 – 6).

Fig. 1. One of a set of twelve lath-back Windsor chairs. (Moxhams Antiques)

Fig. 2. (Robert Young)

Fig. 3. (Robert Young)

Fig. 4. (Christie’s)

Fig. 5. Archetypal late eighteenth-century braced lath-back Windsor chair. (Yew Tree House)

In the late nineteen-eighties I made two copies of a chair virtually identical to that in figure 5 to extend a customer’s set of four chairs to six. In the intervening years, I have made literally dozens of lath-back Windsors to the same design, including a few slightly larger versions with arms, as in figure 6.

Fig. 6. Lath-back side chairs along with a taller and broader arm chair variant.

I had intended to make a few more forest chairs of one design or another (I may still do), but whilst sifting through my Windsor chair patterns I came across the ones for this old favourite.

Before the tatty paper patterns completely disintegrated, I transferred them onto MDF and then cut out the crest rails, seats and splats (fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Seat boards and splats.

Jack Plane

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Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Edinburgh between now and the second week of November, you might consider dropping in to see the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CX – Redux

To a comment in Picture This CX, I replied that warped Windsor seats were not uncommon.

A few minutes flicking through the archives returned the following additional examples of warpiness. (That is a word. Now.)

Fig. 1.

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.

Fig. 5.

Fig. 6.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 8.

Fig. 9.

Fig. 10.

As a great number of these chairs were intended for use outdoors, it’s not inconceivable that some were left out in the rain on occasion, the effect of which could well be a warped seat.

Jack Plane

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