A William and Mary Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Six

Drawers at this point in time were constructed with coarse, through dovetails which, on the fronts, were hidden by thick veneer. The top edges of the drawer sides at this date were square and fractionally lower in height than the fronts (to prevent conflict with any irregularities within the carcase) – a decade later, the top edges would be rounded over.

The drawer baseboards (with the grain running front to back) were now raised clear of the carcase’s dustboards; residing in a deeper rebate or groove in the drawer front. The baseboards were nailed to the underside of the side- and back-boards and narrow runners were glued up to the underside of the baseboards, supporting the weight of the drawer and its contents close to the carcase ends.

I prepared all the drawer stuff, cut the dovetails and assembled the drawers. The baseboards were rubbed together, but not fitted at this stage.

The baseboards set aside to dry.

I prepared the full width veneer panels and sized them as before. The slightly oversized panels were glued onto the drawer fronts and secured at each corner with veneer pins .

Veneered drawer awaiting trimming and banding.

A reader enquired about the method used to lay the veneers and I replied that I pinned down the veneers in the margins which are ultimately trimmed off. However, it’s not uncommon to see tell-tale pin holes in period veneered work. They are often visible either side of a split or joint, on corners, or anywhere the veneer lifted. Normally the pins were withdrawn (for reuse), but occasionally they snapped off, or were too short to grab hold of, and were hammered home. In the course of restoring veneered furniture of this date, one occasionally sees small black stains on the ground work which mark the site of the veneer pins.

To the untrained eye, the pin holes blend with the multitude of dark blemishes and general patina, but when you know what to look for, and in which areas, the small square or trapezoid holes (from using cut steel veneer pins) are obvious.

A nicely patinated George I walnut chest of drawers, c.1720.

The same image showing the placement of veneer pins.

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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.
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8 Responses to A William and Mary Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Six

  1. Tico Vogt says:

    Your blogs are wonderful history courses on furniture making. The price is just right, too!

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  2. Great post and thanks for the history! As someone who generally works with solid wood, I’m amazed that all the crossbanding seems to defy any cross grain movement issues — particularly since (I imagine) the veneer on period pieces is much thicker than current commercial veneer. (Convention would say that these thicker veneers would act more like real timber.) Am I overcautious about movement, or is there some combination of hide glue, growth rings, quartersawn-ness, etc. that keeps everything intact?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Thanks!

      Hide glue doesn’t creep like modern adhesives, so it’s not the glue that magically absorbs any movement. I think there’s an optimal thickness for veneer that just works. Any thinner and it telegraphs any underlying faults or movement too easily and looks decidedly rough. Any thicker and it would behave like any other board and want to cup, curl, warp and split.

      Which brings me to the next point; furniture, like people, can be riddled with flaws, but if they possess good character, then one is inclined to overlook the shortcomings. In most cases, pre-industrial furniture is stacked with character and so; one is often blind to the small splits, warps, ill-fitting drawers etc.

      Having said that, cabinetmakers of the late seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century knew that their cross-grained mouldings shrank across the grain and curled up slightly. They limited the effect by making the show wood as thin as possible and backing it up, at 90°, with pine. That they continued making furniture with ‘faulty’ mouldings for a period of over seventy years is an indication of the consumers’ appreciation of the whole and their ability to disregard any perceived imperfections.

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  3. J E Podesva says:

    Jack,

    I’m glad I could help with the topic for this post!!

    In seriousness, I want to thank you for sharing this informaiton. The internet is FILLED with information. Some of it is better than others. Yours is, of course, first class!

    I am working on a shop sawn veneer cabinet and I was struggling a bit getting the quarter match panel to lay flat at the corners. All of the other panels behave nicely, but it seems that the grain going in different directions causes the quarter match panel to misbehave. In my acse, I had made up the quarter match panels off the cabinet and then tried to lay the entire assembly onto the cabinet. But things were not laying flat.

    I made the mistake of trying to re-heat the glue and rehammer the difficult sections. And that is when it happened! The whole thing curled and the carefully jointed seams came apart.

    In the end, I removed the veneer and let it relax for a few days. I rejointed the pieces and then layed the quarter match veneer directly onto the cabinet. This time I used a few pins to make fix the difficult areas and set the seems from coming apart. It worked like a dream.

    Thank you for the information and I look forward to seeing more of your projects.

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  4. Greg Forster says:

    Another most interesting post. What should we look for/avoid when buying veneer pins?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I would definitely avoid using eighteenth/nineteenth-century veneer pins (not that you’d find any now) – they’re nasty little things. I had a box of them many years ago and the label on the box stated they were “No. 36 Veneer Pins” which I took to mean they were cut from 36 gauge steel. What ever gauge they were, they were guillotined or sheared from thin sheet steel, tapered and square or slightly trapezoid in cross section which assisted them in cutting through the veneer rather than wedging their way in and splitting the veneer. They were exceedingly sharp; even the sides could cut ones fingers.

      The last lot of ‘proper’ veneer pins I bought was in the 1970s. They were more akin to heavy duty sewing pins (round shafts) with blued (presumably hardened) shafts and large heads. They could be struck lightly with a hammer without bending, but they were prone to snapping off when being withdrawn. Their bullet-like tapered points were inclined to split the veneer – especially close to the edges.

      The ‘veneer pins’ I use now are sold at my local hardware outlet as “25 mm x 1.2 mm panel pins”. They’re basically very fine ‘bullet head’ bright wire nails with the same, (undesirable) tapered points. I hold them vertically on a firm metal surface and tap them with the hammer to blunt the points so they punch their way through the veneer without splitting it. So far, so good.

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  5. Pingback: A William and Mary Simulated Tortoiseshell Chest of Drawers – Part Five | Pegs and 'Tails

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