A George II Ash Bureau – Part One

I have coveted this solid ash bureau (fig. 1) since the day I clapped eyes on it in a provincial English auction house nearly twenty years ago.

Geo_II_ash_bureau_c1755_01a

Fig. 1. George II ash bureau, circa 1755.

The bureau was in a fairly dirty and dilapidated state and was misrepresented in the auction catalogue: Described as “walnut” and not being in the best of condition was enough to put most people off as good walnut bureaus weren’t that difficult to come by.

Ash was widely used in the solid for domestic utensils, arcadian furniture and chairs and tables for kitchens and inns (I previously made an ash cricket table – a typical ale house table), however ash was seldom employed in fashionable case furniture for parlours, drawing rooms and bedrooms during the eighteenth-century – other than for crossbanding (fig. 2).

QA_ash-banded_walnut_bureau_c1710_01a

Fig. 2. Queen Anne walnut bureau with ash feather-banding on the fall and ash crossbanding around the drawers. (Christie’s)

Despite the anomalous use of ash for this bureau, the elaborate interior, bold feet and overall proportions speak of an accomplished cabinetmaker and not some estate carpenter with a convenient stack of ash boards.

I bought the ash bureau, restored it and displayed it in the shop along with other pieces from the same shipment. I would have dearly liked to keep the bureau for myself, but if I kept every stick of furniture I fancied I would never have had any floor stock. At the vernissage, the ash bureau was one of the first pieces to be snapped up.

I adore these divergent examples of English furniture; respectful of tradition in every regard, except for the very material they’re made from. Now that I have a bit of time on my hands – and have found some suitable ash timber (fig. 3) – I’m going to have a go at making a copy of this rare beauty.

ash_slabs_01a

Fig. 3. Air dried ash slabs.

Jack Plane

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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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13 Responses to A George II Ash Bureau – Part One

  1. Freddy Roman says:

    Jack Plane,

    This is amazing piece. I am amazed it is made from ash.

    Freddy

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  2. Robert says:

    Do you have access to the piece, for dimensions?

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  3. Joe says:

    I’ve always expected and seen ash to retain it’s light, blondish coloring as it aged. Except when weathered out side, then turning gray. What process is planned to aquire that nice color? Unless there is a difference between american and european ash?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      American White Ash and European Ash are, to all intents and purposes, identical.

      Over many decades, ash that has been oiled will adopt a pleasant honey colour. Some spirit varnishes will also impart a warm colour to ash.

      I’ll simply stain the bureau to achieve a similar colour.

      JP

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  4. Sylvain says:

    About the dimensions, the writing surface height is normally in the 70-75cm range let say 28-1/2″.
    Trying to take measures on the picture on my screen, it seems the top board is approximately 20cm deep. So the angle is probably 45°.

    I see on the bureau of picture 2 a moulding to keep a book when closed.
    The flap pulls (what is the right name?) are quite low, the writing surface would not be horizontal.
    Sylvain

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  5. Sylvain says:

    Looking better, the hinges on picture 2 are not placed the same way as in picture 1 + there is cockbeading around the flap. So finally the flap might well be horizontal.
    Sylvain

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    • Jack Plane says:

      The lopers (“flap pulls”) in figure 2 are located below the writing surface by the thickness of the fall – as they are in figure 1 and with all bureaux.

      The fall hinges are all mounted with the knuckles uppermost, as in figure 1. What you can see in figure 2 are the undersides of the knuckles.

      The D-moulding around the periphery of the fall in figure 2 does not impinge the lopers.

      JP

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  6. Ted Beyer says:

    Jack, I have questions about the finish you would use to emulate what is shown in Fig. 1. Would you use a grain filler? Seal with shellac first? Use a color infused wax? Are the product you would use special order? Thank you.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Although ash, like oak, is open-grained, it would be incorrect to fill the grain of this piece.

      I will likely use a thinly coloured oil-based finish; very little colour is required. I may use a coloured wax to adjust the final colour depending on how I do with the oil.

      Nothing I use is particularly special.

      JP

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      • Ted Beyer says:

        Thanks Jack. I am working on an ash cabinet now and sweating the finish. Would shellac be appropriate too? If yes, what would you use just clear, amber, etc.? In my limited finishing experience, shellac has been good to me. Also, how dark of a wax would you use? Thanks so much. Sorry about the 20 questions! Ted

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        • Jack Plane says:

          Shellac would certainly be an easier option. Orange shellac and/or button shellac should get you fairly close to the colour too.

          If using a commercial wax, I would try one of the brownish mahogany colours… but sparingly.

          JP

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