A William and Mary Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Eight

Prior to applying the stain and finish, the whole chest was washed over with hot soapy water to remove any fingerprints and remnants of glue. The finish itself was built up over a period of days to allow it to harden and develop the required depth.

The brass escutcheons and pear drop handles I purchased for this chest are cast – by the lost-wax process – from original seventeenth-century examples. They are what the antiques trade use by the thousand, but they often require a significant amount of work before being fit for use.

Investment casting is very convenient for the likes of jewellers who want a multitude of identical rings etc., but when reproducing period furniture and restoring antique furniture, one doesn’t want a set of brasses that are exact replicas of each other. If the original has a flaw or other distinguishing mark, every item cast from it will inherit the exact same features – which in this instance, were diamond patterned indentations from when the original pear drop had, at some time, been tightly gripped in the jaws of a metalworking vice!

I spent some four hours fettling the brasses to eradicate the embossed diamond pattern and better replicate the almost-identical-but-not-quite sand-cast examples that would have adorned a commensurate chest at the end of the seventeenth-century. The originals would likely have been either gilt or lacquered, but not wishing to prematurely curtail my existence on the auld sod, I decided not to attempt gilding these particular lilies: Instead, I opted to lacquer the brasses in imitation of gilt. As William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All that glisters is not gold…” [1]

Gold-lacquered pear drop handles.

This gold-lacquer is very thin and not at all like the clear ‘plastic’ lacquer that is so often found protecting modern brass fittings. The image below shows one of the gold-lacquered pear drops beside a new brass hinge with its protective clear lacquer partially rubbed off.

Gold-lacquer vs. clear lacquer vs. polished brass.

In the seventeenth-century, common drop handles were attached either by narrow brass, flat iron or round iron wire staples. The staples were looped around the drops’ pivot bars, then passed through the centres of the back plates, through the holes in the drawer fronts and secured on the inside of the drawers.

One variety of flat brass staple had a small hole in each end through which iron or brass pins passed, securing the staple ends to the drawer. The ends of iron staples were simply bent at right-angles and hammered back into the drawer front – much like clinching nails.

Apart from changes in fashion, one reason drop handles were frequently replaced with other types of handles is because of their fragility. I want to give these handles the best chance of survival: Brass staples work-harden with frequent flexing, become brittle and then fail; round steel wire is tougher, but the small diameter and contact area will eventually cause the wire or the drops’ pivot bars to fatigue; flat steel staples spread the load more efficiently and won’t flex as much as wire or brass staples.

I cut a 5/32″ (4mm) wide strip of iron into ten suitable lengths, tapered their ends and formed them into staples.

Flat, and formed staples.

I marked out the hole centres on the drawer fronts and drilled them to be a tight fit round the staples. The handles were fitted and the staple ends clinched into the drawer fronts.

Iron staple on inside of drawer front.

The finished chest front…

… side…

…bun foot, bottom moulding and…

… top moulding.

[1]The Merchant of Venice, act II, scene VII.


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 Cabinet Fittings, Case Furniture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Devin says:

    Did you install mortise locks? Do the antiques actually have locks, or did the escutcheons become simply a decorative element?

    Beautiful work!


    • Jack Plane says:

      Thank you.

      Most period chests have a lock on each drawer, but some examples have locks on only the top two drawers and others have none at all.

      I was going to make cut locks for this chest, but decided against it. However, I have placed the escutcheons at a suitable height on the drawers should I have a change of heart.



  2. Jeff Aldred says:

    Thank you so much for documenting this kind of work.
    Since I have been reading your Wedsite, I look at furnature much differently, and really want to expand my skills past “I can cut a dovetail and (sort of) sharpen a saw)
    Thanks again


  3. 4five1 says:

    Now that is a truly magnificent piece of furniture. Maybe one day I too can make something as beautiful as that.


  4. Steven says:

    What’s the finish used, French polish? It looks like it was made a long time ago and has just been refinished, my compliments !


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

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