There are still a couple of brass founders in existence that reproduce faithful seventeenth- and eighteenth-century style furniture brasses for discerning furniture makers and restorers. Their voluminous and diverse inventories are to be commended.
Iron nails, locks and whitesmiths’ goods, on the other hand, are sadly lacking in variety and the majority of it that I’ve seen of late appears to have been made to retailers’ skewed drawings rather than from any conversance on the part of the artisan.
Shortly after I completed a reading table with a steel triangle beneath its base (here, here and here), I noticed one hardware company added steel triangles to their catalogue. Their triangles are ill-shaped flimsy looking items, presumably water-jet/laser/plasma cut from thin sheet steel and totally unsuitable for the restoration or reproduction of Georgian – or earlier – furniture. The opposite is true of much modern blacksmith-made bolts, handles, hasps, hinges and other ferrous furniture fittings; they are predominantly heavy, clumsy interpretations of eighteenth-century whitesmith-made iron fittings.
There are companies on both sides of the Atlantic that continue to churn out cut carpentry nails which is convenient if you want to nail down pine floorboards or make ledge and brace doors, but of the three remaining nailworks that I’m aware of, none produces a range of really fine headless brads suitable for cabinetmaking (passable one-inch-long cut headless brads, at least, are available from Tremont Nail Company in North America).
The same manufacturers’ rosehead nails are also machine made, lacking the characteristic feather-edged heads produced manually by eighteenth-century nail workers for use in cabinetmaking – and at any rate, the current offerings aren’t available less than two inches long.
In the absence of good reproduction iron niceties, I have made my own whitesmith goods, nails and screws for decades. Not much is required in the way of equipment; a simple homemade wheel rim/hair dryer/vacuum cleaner forge will suffice for heating the iron or steel, a sturdy metal-working vice, a selection of hardies, nail-headers, tongs and an anvil.
My large antique anvil didn’t accompany me to Australia, so I bought a brand new mid-range 50lb anvil when I first set up shop here. The anvil was a handy size for making furniture hardware, but it wore fairly rapidly and I managed to knock the point off the horn one day whilst forming a ring handle on a branding iron. The anvil sounded a dull ‘dink’ when struck with a hammer and as it turned out, was made of cast iron.
I sold that anvil when I retired more than a decade ago and I used a short length of railway iron as a make-do anvil for the past few years. Then when we moved to the country seven weeks ago, I mentioned to a friend that I was looking for a small anvil. A few days later he turned up with a nice little 100lb anvil in the back of his ute.
The anvil has some age to it, but appears virtually unused. Unlike the old cast iron anvil, the new one is forged steel and sounds as clear as a bell when struck. As a result, I’m happy to say, there will be ringing in the New Year.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my posts over the past year, and a special thanks to those who posted comments.
Have a happy and prosperous New Year!