A George III Mahogany Cabinet-on-Chest Redux

… or, the Big Picture.

It’s a fact; people are fallible – even eighteenth-century cabinetmakers! Mistakes are often simply made but can be time-consuming and expensive to rectify. In a commercial environment one has to ask oneself if a mistake would even be apparent to others and if so, if it warrants complete replacement or some other sort of remedial action.

I know, on discovering my own faux pas, I have in the past tried to convince myself that I am mortal and that minor flaws in my work – if indeed, noticed by others – will be interpreted as humility in the same vein Persian weavers intentionally incorporated ‘mistakes’ into their carpets to demonstrate they weren’t as perfect as Allah. As it turns out, I’m more anal-retentive than humble and if I’m aware of an error, I will normally do whatever it takes to remedy matters.

However, I do find it fascinating to discover indiscretions in others’ works and how the transgressors addressed the issues… or ignored them as the case may be. Some oversights display certain guilelessness – like naive art – as is the case with the astragal moulding in figure 1. The construction is identical to that of the doors on the cabinet I have just completed viz. rectangular door frames with mitred spandrels in the corners. However, the cross section of the quadrant astragal moulding is disproportionate to the straight sections it adjoins: the overall width is commensurate, but the bead is decidedly narrower. The overall quality of the piece, however, is obvious and I actually find the inconsistency quite charming.

Fig. 1. Varying astragal cross section.

The astragal moulding in this type of door construction serves two purposes; its prime function is to retain the loose panel in the door frame and the secondary is to conceal minor seasonal shrinkage in the panel.

Of course, the astragal moulding must cover the join between panel and door frame in order to hide it – a technicality curiously ignored by the maker of the door in figure 2. The cabinetmaker has made full rectangular panels, but has applied quadrant astragal moulding in the manner of doors made with spandrels. The outcome is predictable: The panel has shrunk away from the frame and, not being entirely covered by the astragal moulding, the resultant gaps at the corners have since been clumsily filled by a callow restorer.

Fig. 2. An ill-conceived faux spandrel.

These sorts of oversights often go unnoticed, especially if the piece has otherwise, good character and/or is made with beguiling veneers and mouldings. As is so often the case with period furniture, it’s the overall impression that wins admiration.


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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3 Responses to A George III Mahogany Cabinet-on-Chest Redux

  1. confur says:

    Hi Jack,
    You’d need a curved mitre to be able to match astragals of the same cross section on a circ. to straight junction. Not many ebenists would go that far.


    • Jack Plane says:

      I concur: While, technically, a curved mitre is required to accurately join a curved moulding with a commensurate straight one, astragals of this size are more often than not simply mitred at a nominal 45°; the human eye doesn’t pick up any irregularities.

      However true, the discrepancy I was highlighting is the difference in width between the bead on the curved section of astragal moulding and that of the adjoining straight sections.



  2. Sorry, JP, was going to say something or other about the width of the bead, but then I got caught up in the warmth and almost “cat eye” shine on those little hand-carved beads in the moulding and the evidence of the compass markings and… forgot what I was going to say. :)

    That’s some lovely detail work right there, that is, though.


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