Bracket Foot Construction

Bracket feet are those feet which are separately applied to case furniture and include flat, ogee and serpentine feet, but not (normally) splayed feet.

Fig. 1. Flat bracket feet, circa 1720.

Fig. 2. Ogee bracket foot, circa 1770. (Millington Adams)

Fig. 3. Serpentine bracket foot, circa 1775.

Bracket feet were normally glued beneath the base moulding/packers of chests, cupboards, desks and presses etc. and comprise the shaped brackets, corner blocks and supportive glue blocks.

The principal purpose of the corner block was to bear the weight of the furniture. Its secondary role was to support and protect the largely ornamental brackets. In truth though, the two elements are integral and essential to one another’s existence.

The typical arrangement employed a single, large, diagonally split (fig. 4) or chamfered (fig. 5) corner block, though square blocks were often used – the fourth, protruding corner appearing somewhat conflicting and incongruous when viewed normally (fig. 6).

Fig. 4. Diagonally split rear corner block.

Fig. 5. Chamfered rear corner block, circa 1780.

Fig. 6. Square front corner block, circa 1750.

A wide, diagonally split block is less obtrusive while still providing the greatest support for the brackets with the least likelihood of glue joint failure due to cross-grain movement.

Corner blocks typically protruded 1/8″ to 1/4″ below the brackets to elevate the brackets above the floor, protecting them from rising damp, wet-mopping and damage resulting from being dragged.

Fig. 7. Barely tethered to the planet: Tall corner blocks lift the show wood clear of potential harm.

A rarer method of blocking bracket feet (though favoured by Chippendale[1]) involved triangular pieces of pine boards, stacked horizontally – and with the grain direction alternating – which were then glued into the corners of the brackets (fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Horizontally blocked bracket foot. (Adam Bowett)

The extra work this blocking incurred cost significantly more than simply rubbing in vertical corner blocks and was charged for accordingly: Blocking the brackets with inch ſtuff, croſs’d . . . £0. 0s. 6d.[2] For something, the intent of which the customer would probably be ignorant of and would likely never set eyes on, the additional cost may partly answer for the relative scarcity of extant horizontally blocked bracket feet.

Another possible explanation for the infrequent occurrence of horizontally blocked brackets may be due to their comparative inefficacy: Horizontally blocked brackets appear (at least on the face of it) to create a more substantial and cohesive foot. However, horizontally oriented wood does not resist wear nearly as well as end grain and it is not uncommon to encounter such chests on which one or more feet are missing the bottom, protruding stratum of pine (either having worn away or split off) with the result the chest rocks or lists. The horizontal blocking in figure 8 has been eroded to the point the brackets themselves are worn. Indeed, a small section of the bottom stratum of the block has split off taking part of the adjacent bracket with it.

Rear bracket foot arrangement

The rear foot differs by the rear side bracket having a rebate in its back edge, into which is glued and nailed a plainly shaped pine bracket or brace (figs. 9 & 10).

Fig. 9. Rebated rear bracket feet on a circa 1750 mahogany chest.

Fig. 10. Plain pine brackets on the rear of a circa 1750 mahogany chest.

Jack Plane


[1] Rufus Bird, Who was the ‘Dumfries House Cabinet-Maker’?, Christie’s catalogue, Dumfries House, July 13, 2007, pp. 7-11.
[2] The London Society of Cabinet-Makers, The Cabinet-Makers’ London Book of Prices, 1793, A Dressing Chest, p. 2.

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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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19 Responses to Bracket Foot Construction

  1. Paul says:

    Is there a pattern book or website that has the various shapes of the feet therein? Did cabinet makers of the time “just wing it” until they found a pleasing shape for the bracket feet?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      In the early part of the eighteenth-century, at least, there were no pattern books for bracket shapes, but more accomplished cabinetmakers would have had comprehensive understanding of the classical forms to draw from. Provincial cabinetmakers, for the most part, would have simply emulated others’ work.

      From the mid-eighteenth-century a number of French and English pattern books appeared, many of which are presently available in reprinted paperback form.

      JP

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  2. John S says:

    Wish you had posted this about a month ago, I just took my first crack at these:

    http://newadventuresinwoodworking.blogspot.com/2012/04/slow-and-steady.html

    Very informative as always

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      Ah well, you’ve made a fine job of yours anyway.

      Eighteenth-century North Americans loved showing off their dovetails didn’t they! It wasn’t just the bracket feet, but carcases and anywhere else they could make a joint. Were they all maniacal insomniac sawyers, or do you know the history behind the trend? Was it the practice of one or two of the East Coast craftsmen, or was it widespread?

      JP

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  3. Marilyn says:

    Wow! This is great information. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Another (North American) reader emailed me a picture of a modern bracket foot blocked with diminutive horizontal blocks akin to sugar cubes. I now wonder if this is the type of blocking that you referred to in your comment on the post A George III Mahogany Kneehole Desk – Part Four.

      I don’t know much about North American furniture or if those little blocks have any historical basis, but they didn’t appear to be of much substance and I can’t imagine them surviving many decades.

      JP

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  4. Always learn something, didn’t realize they were 1/8″ to 1/4″ proud to protect the “good wood”. Seems as if most I’ve done ended up on carpet so guess that was okay to make them flush — thanks for info.

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  10. Ken Hughes says:

    Do the style of blocks indicate whether a piece is English or American or do they share forms?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I’m not as conversant with North American furniture, but I believe split corner blocks are universal. However, I have seen some very odd looking horizontal blocks akin to stacks of sugar cubes on North American case furniture.

      JP

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