A William and Mary Simulated Tortoiseshell Chest of Drawers – Part Seven

I will preface this post by admitting I am no photographer: Capturing the true colour and depth of the finish on this chest of drawers (it looks deep enough to swim in) has proven to be beyond my capabilities.

Applying the finish to the chest has been a comparatively slow process (it’s taken me well over a week) due largely to my decision to decorate it with, what feign to be, individual tortoiseshell veneers rather than simply painting the chest with an overall testudinal effect. The ‘veneer’ edges are crisp and the dramatic chiaroscuro effect along their delineations intensifies the illusion (figs. 1 & 2).

wmftcod_chest_280113_01aFig. 1. Simulated tortoiseshell veneers.

wmftcod_chest_280113_02aFig. 2. Banding accentuates the effect.

wmftcod_chest_280113_03aFig. 3. The completed tortoiseshell chest of drawers.

Wellard has inexplicably spent the past few days barking at the chest of drawers. More importantly though, Virginia approves of the unusual decoration and that’s good enough for me.


Jack Plane


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, Furniture Making and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A William and Mary Simulated Tortoiseshell Chest of Drawers – Part Seven

  1. FIG Woodworks says:

    It looks good Jack. you have more patience than me


  2. burbidge says:

    No complimentary coat for young Wellard?


  3. Ian wells says:

    Jack,I haven’t done it for years, but I was taught to tortoiseshell on a silver leaf base using (genuine) raw sienna, bone black and a little raw umber in a lac base and well isolated bitumen detail and washes for its incredible tonal range ,if I remember correctly . Have you used bitumen in tortiseshell work and if so do you have any thoughts on using it given its slightly fugitive nature?


    • Jack Plane says:

      Ian, I have done much as you describe (though not with this chest as its finish follows a different regimen), with artists pigments. I presume by the sounds of it that you used bitumen thinned with spirit. Have you tried mixing a little varnish in with the bitumen?



  4. Ian Wells says:

    Jack, I’ve only used spirit, but have accidentally mixed varnish and bitumen and found that It coalesced after a proportion of bitumen was passed. I have to say this was with a commercial bitumen paint, so other additives may have had an effect.Also we used two isolating layers after it had dried to stop it from “wandering” as it is want to do. I imagine a powdered Ashphaltum would be a better admix but it may require coaxing to go into solution . As an aside, old 78 shellac based records let down in alcohol provide a rich black and I know contain a proportion of ashphaltum so the two are somewhat compatible, probably with the addition of colophony or an emulsifying wax?


    • Jack Plane says:

      I think you’ve identified your problem. I don’t imagine bitumen paint to be much like pure bitumen… more like old builder’s mastic. The stuff I have used in the past was natural bitumen in lump form which I would smash a chunk off of with a hammer before dissolving it. I currently have some powdered “asphaltum” of unknown origin which dissolves easily enough when heated, but requires immediate sealing or the inclusion of a binder.

      On this chest, the finish is as it would have been done i.e. with semi-opaque glazes over a solid ground and not translucent glazes over metal foil (which I have also done when restoring caddies and trays etc.). I sealed each layer of glaze with spirit varnish which, although not strictly necessary, contributes to the deep 3D effect (which unfortunately doesn’t show in my images).

      Have you ever tried making polish from old records? The polish is not as good as the story!



  5. D.B. Laney says:

    You, sir, are an inspiration to the rest of us. Very, very nicely done, indeed.


  6. Joe M says:

    Jack, I have to say….another well done project. trully insperational as has been previously stated. Where did you get the brasses? and while on the subject how is the past “brass handle” project coming along?
    only 3 more days untill my” proposed furniture project list” becomes reality! and there will be several english pieces included!


    • Jack Plane says:

      Thank you.

      The brasses are from Optimum Brasses in Devon in the beautiful south west of England. Londonderry Brasses in West Chester, Pennsylvania are the North American distributors of Optimum Brasses; hence most serious North American period furniture makers obtain their brasses from them.

      I will keep an eye out for your proposed furniture list!



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