A George II Ash Bureau – Part Seven

I have omitted the construction of the drawers on this job as I have covered virtually identical work in depth in previous mid-century chests of drawers. Suffice to say their construction adhered to the period norm.

The fronts of the oak lopers were veneered with ash and then cockbeaded in the same manner as the drawers (fig. 1).


Fig. 1. Loper decorated to match drawer fronts.

A loper requires two stops; one – similar to a drawer stop – to prevent it from disappearing inside the carcase and a second one to restrict its withdrawal from the carcase. The former comprises a simple glue block at the rear of the carcase side and the latter is attached to the loper itself and stops against the back of the adjacent vertical divider.

I bored a Ø5/8″ hole through each loper and then with the lopers in place in the bureau, I tapped stout, slightly tapered pegs into the holes (fig. 2).


Fig. 2. Loper retained by ash peg.

The backboards warrant a brief description as they vary from the more common plain butt-jointed backboards. Backboards can shrink across their width and those that are simply butt-jointed together often reveal gaps (and sometimes daylight) upon shrinking, which normally go unseen when hidden behind drawers, however, bureau backboards are visible with the pigeonholes vacant. Of course, once the bureau becomes inhabited and the pigeonholes are populated with stationery etc., the backboards are less likely to be visible. All the same, it’s a nice touch to half-lap the backboards (fig. 3) – as they were on the original bureau – which permits a degree of shrinkage without creating gaping voids.


Fig. 3. Half-lapped backboards.

That’s the cabinetmaking all done barring the interior drawers and tabernacle which will be completed at a later date (the reason for which will be revealed in an upcoming post).


Fig. 4. Interior (minus drawers and tabernacle).


Fig. 5. The ash bureau in-the-white.

Jack Plane

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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15 Responses to A George II Ash Bureau – Part Seven

  1. greg forster says:

    I am curious as to how documents would have been stored/organized in a bureau;
    boxes, folders, tied with colorful silk ribbons…? I wonder if a fairly common system existed
    or was it merely ad hoc


    • Jack Plane says:

      Bureau interiors largely follow the same architectural layout which individual owners/users would have adapted to personal preferences.

      Paper would have been stored, in the case of this bureau, in the large drawer. Some bureau interiors don’t accommodate paper which would then presumably have been kept in one of the main front drawers. Letters were folded and sealed with sealing wax: The envelopes that people believe were kept in the pigeon holes were a much later invention.

      Some of the pigeon holes would likely have been used to display a favourite treasure or relic.



  2. Joe M says:

    Looking great!, As usual! Are all the back boards quartersawn? intentional or just worked that way? I looked back on previous posts and saw that most/many of the secondary pine was what appeared to be flat (or riff)sawn. Are all the backboards equal width? I also see there is not much spacing between them…any concern that expansion from moisture would cause them to cup or bow?


    • Jack Plane says:

      Some of the backboards are quartersawn, but I just take them as they come – as our predecessors did.

      Yes, the boards are of equal width.

      What you see in the image is several of the backboards in situ, but with my foot supporting the nearest board (which held the remainder in place). I posed the image to illustrate the procedure of half-lapping the boards. None of them were nailed onto the bureau at that time, though they are now and with roughly 1/32″ gaps between them.



  3. Ron says:

    Your work always looks flawless.


  4. Jim Pallas says:

    Very nicely done. Are the verticles at the pigeon holes glued at the top and bottom at the rear? I believe I may have figured out the fall lock, if it were a 90 with the climate control at the time a pry bar would be required for opening after the solid top met the solid fall and I’m sticking to it. Those guys were smart where wood was concerned. Something about this particular piece just looks right, have you a theory on that? Thank you for doing this one. I’ll be watching for the drawers.


    • Jack Plane says:

      The pigeonhole dividers are a reasonably tight fit and only glued at the front to keep them in place. The two vertical dividers above the long drawer are glued in several spots, top and bottom, to prevent the long subjacent horizontal divider from sagging – a common enough occurrence.

      As I alluded in my opening spiel in Part One, I have always thought this bureau to be of uncommon beauty. I can’t easily put my finger on the reason(s); it’s well drawn, though not a ‘London’ piece, and is well made; the proportions and loftiness are ethereal; the choice of timber is absurd yet sublime; and on and on.

      I have been criticised (via email) for the through dovetails at the top of the carcase. Of course the top could have been blind-dovetailed or lapped, but the original bureau exhibits through dovetails and, though I don’t subscribe to the modern dovetail aesthetic per se, I do think they lend a certain humility to the piece.



  5. That’s amazing Jack, your work is beautiful!!


  6. LD says:

    Do you have plans to add a leather writing surface? If so, would the surface extend beyond the fall front hinged joint, and toward the interior?


  7. Brian Lowery says:

    I not only don’t object to the dovetails on the top, but prefer them. Most antique bureaus that I have liked have had them, too.


  8. Pingback: Picture This XXXV | Pegs and 'Tails

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