A William and Mary Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Five

With all the quartered walnut veneers, ash banding and walnut banding laid on the carcase ends and cleaned up, I glued the banding to the front edges of the carcase ends and tidied it up too.

The top and bottom cross-grained mouldings were built up by gluing blocks of walnut onto a pine backing and planing and scraping them to the correct profiles.

The (inverted) top moulding.

The bottom moulding is finished off with a vertical veneer facing.

I mitred the bottom moulding at the front corners and glued it into place on the carcase and planed it flush with the bottom packer.

A great many bureaux, chests and escritoires etc. from this period stand on non-genuine bun feet; either because they didn’t originally possess bun feet (having begun life as the chest of a chest-on-stand) or because they’ve been replaced at a later date. This would likely account for the wide ranging styles of bun feet one sees on late seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century case furniture – in a period of general conformity.

As a former dealer in late seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century antiques, I had the opportunity to closely examine many pieces of furniture from this period which retained their original bun feet and made detailed drawings of several examples. I turned four bun feet from walnut branch wood. While preparing the wood for turning on the lathe, I noticed a shiny metal inclusion in the end of one of the blanks. My immediate thought was that I had damaged my saw on a nail.

I just sharpened that saw!

Fully prepared to dig a trench around the nail so I could get a good purchase on it with a pair of nippers, I took to it with a narrow chisel and extricated a lead shotgun pellet! I encountered several more pellets before the four feet were completed.

The briefest glint and it was gone. Another pellet hole.

I bored the spigot holes through the foot blocks and into the base of the carcase and glued the bun feet in place.

With the top moulding in place, I began laying the veneers and banding onto the top of the carcase.

The carcase was laid on its back and I applied the D-moulding to the front edges of the dustboards and the inner front edges of the carcase ends.

The carcase in-the-white.

The right carcase end.

The top, cyma moulding.

The D-moulding.

The base moulding.

The bun feet.

The carcase is now complete, but for the backboards, which will be attached after the drawers have been fitted and their stop blocks installed.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Case Furniture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to A William and Mary Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Five

  1. Hi Jack! Gotta say, I love the look of this piece. Very elegant and inspiring.

    I had a question about the cross grain molding. The English style pieces you build seem to use this style of molding a lot. Much more so than the standard long grain molding that was commonly used on this side of the pond. Do you think this was done to keep the molding grain direction the same as that of the cases in order to prevent cross grain construction and seasonal movement from tearing the thing apart? Or was it just an aesthetic thing? I have to imaging that the moldings are more difficult to plane with the grain running the way it does. However, the appearance is very striking.

    Thanks!
    Bob

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Bob,

      Thank you.

      Cross-grain mouldings were employed in the late seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century for purely aesthetic reasons. Earlier furniture had long-grain mouldings, but with the introduction of cross-grain mouldings in this period, intentionally thin cross-grain blocks of (predominately walnut) show wood were glued onto pine backings to reduce the effects of shrinkage along the mouldings. The pine backings would obviously have been at odds with any cross-grain shrinkage of the carcase.

      Thin as they were, cross-grain mouldings still shrank (and the cabinetmakers were fully aware of the likelihood of this), but the shrinkage was controlled and the resultant coruscation, caused by the gently cupped sections of wood, in conjunction with the wildly figured grain was as mesmerising to the clientele of the day as it still is to us now.

      With the commercial importation of mahogany circa 1730, fashions in design changed yet again and long-grain mouldings reappeared.

      JP

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  2. Halteclere says:

    Jack,
    Was branch wood chosen for the bun feet for particular reasons – tightness of rings, small pith, etc., or for practical reasons – the branch was on-hand? I’ve read where branch wood is typically not suitable for making boards due to the inherent stresses, but am not familiar enough with turnings to know if these stresses cause issues when the wood is turned.

    Your posts are a treasure to read, for each post contains a wealth of traditional woodworking knowledge.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      The use of branch wood for feet was probably a combination of economics and aesthetics: Branches of sufficient diameter to turn bun feet from were of little value for most other cabinetmaking purposes (smaller diameter branches, however, were used to produce oyster veneers) and would otherwise have probably fuelled the workshop fire.
      The deeply curvaceous profile of bun feet cut through the concentric growth rings of branch wood, producing very appealing swirls and patterns.

      Thank you for your kind words.

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  3. Steven says:

    Love seeing the work in progress, a lot of effort on your part as I know from experience! what do you use to smooth the endgrain on these mouldings yet still keep them sharp? I’m not so keen on the veneer selection/pattern on the ends of the cabinet middle sections. Was this lack of material or did you intentionally cut them not to line up? I’m sure when all finish is applied etc it will look as stunning as all your other work.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Thank you for the kind words.

      These mouldings aren’t strictly end-grain; they’re cross-grain mouldings although ultimately, end grain is encountered due to the deep profile employed. They were simply formed with a shoulder plane, hollow and round moulding planes, and a scratch stock and/or scraper. The pieces in the images are actually the ends/off-cuts that weren’t up to scratch (pardon the pun).

      I’m not sure what you mean by the quarter veneered panels not lining up. If you mean the disparity in the figure across the joins, this is unavoidable when using 3/32 in. (2.4mm) thick sawn veneer. The figuring of the 1/64 in. and 1/32 in. thick knife-cut veneers used in today’s extreme cabinetmaking is simple to match seamlessly because there’s no saw kerf involved and there’s minimal material thickness between successive leaves of veneer. If you examine any book-matched or quarter veneered furniture from the same period as this chest, you’ll be unlikely to see exact matching (unless the figure follows through the leaves at exactly 90°). On many pieces from this era, little attempt at all was made to match veneers, particularly on drawer fronts where it often appears they were veneered with off-cuts. Consumers revelled in the overall effect rather than focussing on the impossibility of precise matching.

      With the thick sawn veneer of the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, an allowance must be made for the width of the saw kerf which, in my case is about 5/64 in. (2mm). The effect of the loss of this amount of wood from the successive leaves is evident, but was not considered a fault (in the same way the splits in cross-grained mouldings weren’t considered defects). When quarter veneering, the issue is exacerbated by the compounded kerfs and veneer thickness; there is 19/32 in. (15mm) between the first face of the four leaves and the fourth face. With those figures, only a short series of successive leaves from the centre of a log or the intervention of a modicum of luck would permit ‘perfect’ matching.

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  4. Steven says:

    I thought that the 1st picture showed them matched on the top panel to a closer tolerance hence my comment, but perhaps its just the angle of the picture? You still did not say how you smooth the mouldings or are the plane blades so sharp they don’t need any sanding done? hope you don’t mind me asking?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      The quartered veneers on the top of the carcase were cut from a different slab to the ones on the carcase ends (you can see a slightly greener hue to the heart wood).

      The mouldings were cleaned up with scrapers (you can see feint tell-tale tracks along the mouldings). When it comes time to finish the chest, the mouldings will receive a light sanding to de-fuzz them prior to burnishing.

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  5. Tremendous project and really outstanding documentation. When I lived in the UK, I had a chance to see a number of W&M pieces go under the hammer at Sworders (Bishops Stortford) and Cheffins (Cambridge) but they were always out of my league. Maybe (with your blog in hand) I might have the courage to stray away from my Shaker stuff and give that chest on stand a try!

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      Thank you!

      I was a regular visitor to Sworders on my antiques hunting sorties round the southern half of England. Cheffins weren’t normally on my itinerary unless I spotted something of particular interest in the ATG.

      Come out from under your bushel and have a go at the chest on stand!

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  6. J E Podesva says:

    Jack,

    Could you perhaps give us a rundown on the process you used for laying down the veneer and crossbanding? For example, did you lay everything down on the substrate directly, or did you build up the veneer panels to create a complete unit and then lay them on the pine?

    I have seen examples where cabinetmakers in Colonial Williamsburg build up the veneered panels on a sheet of paper (the veneer is just loosely tacked onto the paper) and then lay the completed assembly onto the substrate. Is that your approach?

    I have really enjoyed your posts. It is nice to see someone actually build a piece of furniture!!!

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      The quartered panels were pinned at the outer four corners (in the margins that are ultimately trimmed off), but the banding was simply glued down as is. One or two sections of the wide walnut banding misbehaved, and required pinning. It’s not uncommon to see tell-tale pin holes in period veneered work. To the untrained eye, these holes blend with the multitude of dark blemishes, but when you know what to look for, and in which areas, the small square or trapezoidal (from using cut steel pins) holes are obvious.

      If I were laying marquetry, then I would back the panel with paper prior to laying it to keep it all together.

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  7. Pingback: Screw-in Feet | Pegs and 'Tails

  8. Pingback: Cross-Grained Mouldings | Pegs and 'Tails

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