Picture This CXXXVI

I previously mentioned the differences between plain cut-in and worked-up shelf supports for bookcases etc.

The image below is a good example of simple cut-in supports.

Oak bookcase, circa 1760.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXXVI

Further to the walnut secretaire chest-on-chest in Picture This CXXX, this secretaire chest-on-chest recently caught my eye.

Fig. 1. George II oak secretaire chest-on-chest, circa 1750.

I previously mentioned early secretaire drawer fronts were commonly secured with simple iron hooks and eyes – as in this case. The shaped secretaire drawer sides are also more typical (figure 2).

Fig. 2. Secretaire drawer interior.

The iron quadrant stays in this example are period-correct too; however, they don’t normally retract centrally within the drawer sides.

Note the moulded drawer edges (figure 3) which ostensibly look like the lipped edges that were popular between 1730 and 1760 (figure 4).

Fig. 3. Moulded drawer edges.

Fig. 4. Moulded and lipped drawer edges, circa 1760.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXXV

Here’s another one for the sleuths: This is described as a “quality solid mahogany dressing table, circa 1770”.

Can I have your opinions please?

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXXIV

This table is described by its vendor as a “late 18th century Queen Anne walnut lowboy”.

Would the sleuths please set the record straight?


Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXXIII

I previously mentioned chair-back settees and how they can, with a modicum of forethought, be effectively created from extant side chairs. The settee in figure 1 is one such conversion.

Fig. 1. Utterly convincing transformation of three circa 1760 oak side chairs.

The chairs’ front legs appear to have been simply screwed together; however the three individual crest rails have been replaced by one solid rail (figure 2).

Fig. 2. New continuous crest rail.

The three separate rear seat rails have been skilfully linked together with dovetailed spacers (figure 3).

Fig. 3. Ingenious five-piece rear seat rail.

The chairs are probably Irish and it heartens me to think an Irishman also carried out this wonderful metamorphosis.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXXII

This chest-on-chest was made at a time when mahogany’s adoption was virtually universal and walnut’s quondam reign was all but over.

Fig. 1. George II walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1750.

The rather tardy use of walnut is not the only behindhand element of this chest-on-chest though.

Despite the practice of concealing drawer bottoms and runners within deeply rebated drawer sides (figure 2) occurring as early as 1720, the gluing of runners to the underside of raised, nailed-up bottom boards (both visible from the side) was common until 1730 and persisted in rare occasions (as in this case) as late as 1750 (figure 3).

Fig. 2. Drawer bottom and runner concealed within drawer side, circa 1730.

Fig. 3. Simple, early style drawer base construction.

Jack Plane

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The Old Irish Tree List

In pre-Christian Irish society, Brehons, or judges, laid down the law. This early body of law is now recognised as probably the oldest known European example of a sophisticated legal system. The Brehon law survived relatively intact right through the Early Christian period and on to the arrival of the Normans. The waves of forced settlement that followed meant that this legal system’s days were numbered, although it did survive in part right up to the seventeenth- century.

The Brehon laws were originally composed in poetic verse and memorised by the Brehons. As time went by, these laws were written down by Christian scholars. Today, texts like the eighth-century Bretha Comaithchesa (or ‘Laws of the Neighbourhood’) prove just how advanced the Brehon legal system was for its time.

Brehon law was the law of a pastoral people, whose economics were based on a self-sufficient agricultural economy regulated by tribal and family relationships and where wealth was measured in terms of cattle ownership. There were no units of money and barter was the main form of exchange.

It should come as no surprise therefore that there were specific Brehon laws dealing with trees and other flora. Under these laws, certain trees and shrubs were protected because of their importance to the community. Penalties were imposed for any unlawful damage such as branch-cutting, barking or base-cutting.

There were four classes of tree, roughly mirroring classes in early Irish society. These were the airig fedo (‘nobles of the wood’), the aithig fedo (‘commoners of the wood’), the fodla fedo (‘lower divisions of the wood’) and the losa fedo (‘bushes of the wood’). Which group a tree belonged to depended on its economic importance, usually related to its fruit, timber or size when fully grown.

The díre or penalty for an offence was a fine in the form of livestock. The penalties were graded according to the class of tree harmed and the form of damage inflicted. The díre for felling one of the nobles of the wood was two and a half milk cows, while the penalty for cutting down one of the commoners of the wood was one milk cow, and so on.

Class A

The most valuable class of seven is described as the “lords of the wood” (airig fedo).

  1. Dair ‘oak’ (Quercus robur, Quercus petraea)
  2. Coil ‘hazel’ (Corylus avellana)
  3. Cuilenn ‘holly’ (Ilex aquifolium)
  4. Ibar ‘yew’ (Taxus baccata)
  5. Uinnius ‘ ash’ (Fraxinus excelsior)
  6. Ochtach ‘Scots pine’ (Pinus sylvestris)
  7. Aball ‘ wild apple-tree’ (Malus pumila)

For any offence against one of the lords of the wood, the culprit must pay a penalty-fine (díre) equivalent to two milch cows and a three-year-old heifer. In addition, if the injury he has inflicted is merely branch-cutting, he must pay compensation (aithgin) of a year-ling heifer; if it is fork-cutting, a two-year-old heifer is due, and if base-cutting, a milch cow.

Class B

The seven trees of lesser value which are distinguished in the text are the “commoners of the wood” (aithig jhedo). The penalty-fine for damage to any of these trees is a milch cow. In addition the culprit must pay compensation. There is some inconsistency in the different versions, but it seems likely that the original text required the payment of another milch cow as compensation for base-cutting, a yearling heifer for fork-cutting, and a sheep for branch-cutting. If the tree is completely extirpated (aurbe), a payment of two milch cows and a three-year-old heifer is due.

  1. Fern ‘alder’ (Alnus glutinosa)
  2. Sail ‘willow, sally’ (Salix caprea, Salix cinerea, etc.)
  3. Sce ‘whitethorn, hawthorn’ (Crataegus monogyna)
  4. Caerthann ‘rowan, mountain ash’ (Sorbus aucuparia)
  5. Beithe ‘birch’ (Betula pubescens, Betula pendula)
  6. Lem ‘ elm’ (Ulmus glabra)
  7. Idath ‘ wild cherry (?)’ (Prunus avium)

For the complete list of classes, trees and shrubs, see Trees in Early Ireland by Fergus Kelly, the Augustine Henry Memorial Lecture, 11th of March, 1999, Royal Dublin Society.

Jack Plane

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A Counterfeit Tortoise Shell Frame

Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for Wednesday 27 June 1666.

He (Lovett) did also carry me to a Knight’s chamber in Graye’s Inne, where there is a frame of his making, of counterfeite [sic] tortoise shell, which indeed is most excellently done.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXXXI

Stand down sleuths; there is absolutely nothing wrong with the top of this William and Mary walnut chest-on-stand! I merely offer it as an untouched thing of beauty (click to enlarge).

Crossgrain-moulded, veneered and banded chest, circa 1695. (Mackinnon Fine Furniture)

The top is noteworthy however and I would welcome your observations.

Jack Plane

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What One Can and Cannot Do

You may read this as the forward to a book I have a mind to write.

When woodworking:

One can use kiln-dried timber for most purposes.
One can often employ machinery and power tools.
One can stick wood together with practically any glue or adhesive – brown or white.
One can easily lay any chosen type of laminate or veneer on a substrate.
One can colour almost any wood with ‘mahogany’ or ‘walnut’ etc. opaque stains.
One can achieve a glossy surface using water based varnishes and other low or VOC free finishes.

When creating virtually indiscernible period furniture copies:

One cannot ignore the importance of moisture in shaping solid and veneered work.
One cannot employ machinery or power tools within two processes of a finished surface.
One cannot make do without animal glue (the proper stuff, heated in a pot).
One cannot replicate the almost imperceptible fluctuations in the surfaces of two to three hundred-year-old veneered casework without the use of sawn veneer (think thin boards as opposed to ultra thin, machine-peeled sheets).
One cannot reproduce the subtle tints and shades of antique furniture without using translucent chemical, mineral and vegetable stains.
One cannot create convincing old patinated surfaces without spirit (alcohol) varnishes and mineral spirit/turpentine based oil varnishes and waxes.

… in my experience.


Jack Plane

Posted in Furniture Making, Materials, Staining, colouring and polishing, Techniques | 9 Comments