No, not the Fentanyl/Norspan patches that some of us stick on our upper arms; I am talking about the patches that were let into veneered (and on occasion, solid) furniture at the time of production to supplant dead knots, voids, bark inclusions or other blemishes.

To today’s burgeoning anal-retentive society, knotholes in the dining table are simply unacceptable! As a result, mills and factories discard thousands of feet of beautiful timber and veneer in an effort to compete with the plastic laminates that supposedly emulate real wood.

In the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, veneer was hard won and occasionally, upon opening up a log, a defect or two might have been discovered amongst some otherwise attractively figured leaves of veneer… so what? They’d lay the veneer as per normal, insert patches in place of the defects and get on with it.

“Ha! Jack has cut some veneer that has holes in it and he’s trying to justify patching it so he doesn’t have to saw some more!”

Well, yes. But I also have the evidence to support my assertion:

william__mary_walnut_escritoire_c1690_02a1Fig. 1. Walnut escritoire fall with patch to left side of cartouche, circa 1690.

william__mary_walnut_escritoire_c1690_02a2Fig. 2. Walnut escritoire with patch to centre of first long drawer, circa 1690.

queen_anne_walnut_cod_c1705_05fFig. 3. Walnut chest with patch to second drawer, circa 1705. (W J Gravener)

qa_walnut_cabinet_on_chest_c1710_01dFig. 4. Walnut chest with several angular patches to drawer, circa 1710.

A rather nice ash-veneered chest, sporting many circular, oval and rectangular patches (figs. 5, 6 & 7).

queen_anne_ash_cod_c1710_01bFig. 5. Ash chest, circa 1710. (William Word)

queen_anne_ash_cod_c1710_01cFig. 6. Ash chest, circa 1710. (William Word)

queen_anne_ash_cod_c1710_01dFig. 7. Ash chest, circa 1710. (William Word)

queen_anne_burr_walnut_bureau_c1710_01a1Fig. 8. Walnut bureau with patch to bottom centre of the fall, circa 1710. (Mallett)

geo_i_elm__walnut_cod_c1720_01cFig. 9. Walnut chest with central patches to top, circa 1720-25. (M Ford-Creech)

queen_anne_walnut_coc_c1705_02d2Fig. 10. Walnut chest-on-chest with patch to lower drawer, circa 1725. (Royal Antiques)

By comparison, the chest-on-chest in figure 11 has been patched in a couple of places by a restorer at some point… well at least he did use elm.

geo_ii_burr_elm_coc_c1735_01bFig. 11. Bur elm chest-on-chest, circa 1735. (Dreweatts)

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 Furniture Making and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Patches

  1. potomacker says:

    “To today’s burgeoning anal-retentive society, knotholes in the dining table are simply unacceptable!”
    Timely posting. The trend today is to emphasize the defects. Knotholes are tangible proof in the Plastics Age that an item is made of wood!


  2. paul6000000 says:

    Glad to know this. I bought a stack of burr elm veneer of a guy locally (along with a bunch of other veneer he had in his garage) and when I got it home, found that most of the middle leaves had guitar pick shaped holes in it. I’ll stop fretting go forward with it.


  3. Gavin says:

    Just a query regarding the radiata pine used in the construction. Do you find that it can have excessive movement making it problematic as a substrate for veneering ?


    • Jack Plane says:

      The majority of timber I employ comes in rough-sawn and I make an allowance for wastage. I season the timber properly before embarking on each new job. At the end of a job, I don’t see much difference (movement-wise) between pine and oak.

      There is a high percentage of bowed, cupped and warped dressed pine sold at hardware stores because it isn’t properly seasoned. This wood makes it very difficult to make anything substantial with.

      There will always be seasonal movement in wood no matter what the species, but I don’t encounter many problems with radiata pine. The vast majority of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century casework was veneered on soft pine.



      • Gavin says:

        Thanks for that, as of late there is some really nice graded stock available through Bunnings from New Zealand under the Claymark Brand (I think). Prior a lot was locally grown, for WA, and it wasn’t exactly reliable and I’m not referring to the expected seasonal movement. It has given radiata a bad rep. One older gent I spoke with had some quite unsavoury terminology for it. I have not had a large amount of experience with the multitude of European softwoods but even some of the timber I have come across from packing cases and the like has been quite nice to work with. Appreciate the wealth of experience you supply with your blog. Thankyou


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