Author Archive

Sargent Combination Plane For Sale

This is a Sargent 1080 Combination Plane with 18 cutters. The irons have not been sharpened accept for the sash cutter , that I sharpened. There is no rust or pitting on plane or cutters. The plane has both spurs and is in very good condition.

The price is $ 150.00 plus shipping. Payable by check or money order. Shipment will be made when the check clears the bank. Tenn. sales tax applies to residents of Tenn.

Learn how to make Blind Dovetail Ogee Bracket Feet

I will teach a class in my shop Sat. Nov. 5  starting at 9 am on how to make blind dovetail ogee bracket feet. The class size will be limited to 6.  Prerequisite for the class is students must know how to hand  dovetail. Tools students need to bring are a back saw , set of bench chisels, mallet, ear plugs, and safety glasses. Bring a lunch. I will provide drinks. The class will go into the afternoon. Everyone will make a blind dovetail ogee bracket foot to take with them.

The fee for the class is $100.00 payable the morning of the class. To sign up for the class call 423-743-5643 or email  . If you need directions contact me.

Clinch River Fall Antique Festival

The 11th annual antique street festival will be Fri. Oct. 7 and Sat. Oct. 8 in Clinton, Tenn. I’ll be demonstrating Sat. Oct. 8 on the patio at The Shoppe At 350  Market. Hope to see you all then . It will be fun and some great buys in antiques.

Workbench that is easy to move

This is a work bench made by Sjobers in Sweden that Woodcraft carries. With a little modification it is great for the job site or demonstrations. It comes with a tail vice and two rows of dogs. At 32″ high that is a little low for me. I made raising blocks out of 2″x 6″ hemlock This added some much needed weight. The bench didn’t have a side vice. When the vice was installed again the weight helped. Also added was the board support with 3/4″ holes two inches apart. The bench is quite sturdy for surface  or edge planeing .

Slant-Front Desk

After 38 years I  know how to make a new piece of walnut match the color of 200 year old wood. Bail pulls and escutcheons are from Ball and Ball. The finish is brushed shellac. The finish  was rubbed out and waxed.

I believe this desk is from Pennsylvania, 1790-1810, because of the secondary woods that were used.  The desk is 44 1/4″H, 39 3/4″ W, 22″ D. The price is $2,800.00.

Ogee Bracket feet blind dovetailed

To me there was evidence that this desk had ogee bracket feet . Any time I make ogee bracket feet they are blind dovetailed together. Not all old feet were done this way. Most of the time they were mitered and butt jointed. The back feet are half blind dovetailed. I was taught to build furniture second to none and I apply that to my restoration as well. In another post I will show how to make blind dovetailed ogee bracket feet.

Drawers are remade

I had to make three drawers that were missing. All the surfaces have been hand planed. Later all new wood will be colored to match the desk.

I had one original drawer to copy. I used a 14 degree dovetail that has as 3/16″ neck on the pins . The drawer sides are walnut with popular back and bottoms. What is unusual is the top edge of the drawers sides and backs are rounded  over. I did this with a molding plane. Drawer bottoms were fielded with a hand plane to fit the groove in the sides and fronts.

Slant – Front desk restortion

I removed what was left of the lower interior. Them  I remade the  drawer blades and dust covers.

The drawer blade  is set into the case on a half housed dove tale. The dust cover slides into the case in a 1/2″  groove. There is a tongue cut on the front of the dust cover . This meets a groove that is cut into the back of the drawer blade. This will be glued together.  The dust cover will not be glued to the inside of the case.  The drawer blade will be glued to the case. This will let the dust cover come and go with humidity changes with out cracking the case sides. All the surfaces of the replacement wood have been hand planed.

Slant-Front Desk, 1790 -1810

This is how  I found this poor desk. It had been butchered. The lower three drawers, drawers blades and dust covers had been cut into. This was done to put a door on the right side. Also the feet are missing. It is made out of walnut. The secondary woods are poplar, chestnut, white ceder, and cherry.

It has a simple pigeonhole interior. The molding on the walnut door is cherry. The drawer bottoms for the small drawers is white ceder. The secondary wood for the letter pull outs is chestnut.

Eastlake Cylinder Desk Restored

The restoration is now finished on this cylinder desk. The desk is  made out of Mahogany. In this photo the cylinder is retracted showing the pigeon hole  compartment. The small drawers in the pigeon hole are veneered with Birds eye Maple. The writing surface slides out about 3″.

The cylinder is closed in this photo. The panel of the cylinder is veneered in Burl Mahogany. I French polished this panel. All the locks are original and have keys.  The finish was done in shellac which would have been originally used. The glass in the doors are original. The price is $2,100.00

Perfect match

The newly made molding is a perfect match. After grinding shaper knives from the pattern that I cast. The replacement molding was run. Both the left and right side of the return molding were missing. In the upper left of the top photo you can see oak molding, that doesn’t match, some one had put on. The mahogany molding was so close it just needed to be mitered and attached. Next I stained and finished  the molding.

Exact copy of molding

Here the silicone cast is  remover and turned over. There is less than 1% shrinkage of the  silicone. Measurements can be taken from the casting . Patterns can be drawn right from this to grind shaper knives. 

To make the casting of the molding. I first took the front piece of crown off. Then I made two dams across the molding out of clay. I used a two part silicone that sets in about 4 hours. When the silicone started to set a little I placed three  1/4″by 1/4″ wooden strips to stiffen the casting.

Cylinder Desk writing surface

I replaced the writing surface. What was on it when I got this piece was cheap red felt. The replacement cloth is worsted wool billiard table cloth. This gives a very smooth surface that will not fuzz and is durable.

Cylinder Desk bookcase

The quarter circles that enclose the lid and pigeonholes had to be re glued. This shows the way to clamp this piece. I used a piece of plywood cut out to distribute the pressure from the clamps  .

The molding on the left is a piece of pine half round some one had stuck on to the side of the bookcase. On the right is a piece of molding I made to match the original molding.

The book case is complete except for the crown molding. The crown molding is being made and will be another post. The plywood cleats on the bottom are for transporting. I feel very lucky to have the original glass. The glass is nice and wavy just the way old glass should be.

Cylinder Desk lid

This is the screw that the metal trammels pivot on. The original screw holes were worn out and had to be patched with new wood.  Here you can see the lid in the closed position.The metal trammel is fasten to the lid by screws and pivots on one screw at the bottom.

When the lid is opened the pigeonholes are exposed and the lid retracts. Notice the stop where the trammel meets a small angled block of wood on the side of the pigeonholes.

Eastlake Cylinder Desk

This is an Eastlake Cylinder Desk (1880’s)  that I recently found. At first glance it didn’t look like to much was wrong with it. Once I had it in the shop I could see it need some attention. There was a poor lacquer finish on it. The writing surface was covered in cheep red felt and would not slid out. The pivots for the cylinder were worn out. Not shown is the upper book case that covers the cylinder and pigeonhole interior. I’ll cover that in another post. The lower photo is after being stripped.

Plantation Desk

This is a plantation desk made out of walnut, secondary wood is white pine. The top of the table is two wide boards of walnut. The top had been nailed on. This caused the top to crack and split at the glue joint. I repaired this and reattached the top so it could float to allow for expansion and contraction. The drawers and runners were badly worn. I resoled the drawers  and replaced the drawer runners. The finish was gone. I put a new finish on of shellac. The writing surface is the original oil cloth and is in very good condition. This would date from1830-1840. Dimensions : height 57″ : with 39″; depth 24 3/4″.The price is $1,700.00 .

Butlers Desk

This is a Butlers desk that I just found. It is in very good condition. The desk has the original finish and hardware. It is made out of Cuban mahogany, secondary wood is yellow popular. This desk can be dated by the wave molding around the drawers. This molding wasn’t made and used until  1848 and by about 1860 it went out of style. This is in the late Grecian style. Dimensions : height 49″; with 43 1/2″; depth 20 1/2″.    SOLD

The cellerats are finished.

Another project comes to a close in the shop.

The finishing has begun.

Finishing is always my favorite time in a project. The finish brings out the rich color of the wood. After so long sitting in the white the wood comes alive when the finish is applied.

This is the final touch

The tops are inlaied

Wood Is His Mistress

The Art and Mystery of Finishing

In centuries past when the master of a shop gave a finish recipe to an apprentice the master knew the secret was safe. Varnish formulas were closely kept secrets of the craft. The apprentice was sworn to secrecy about his craft. The training was all by oral tradition. Those that knew the art of finishing were the varnishers’, stainers’, and painters’. These artisans were organized into guilds in both England and this country.

The first manual on finishing was written in England in 1688 by Stalker and Parker. This “ Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing” was not intended for the artist but for the gentleman that was doing it for a hobby. The first finishing manual in this country was by Jacob Moore in 1827 entitled “The Cabinet-Maker’s Guide” and was advertised to housewives as well as cabinetmakers. It’s interesting to note in reading this some critical steps were left out. The apprentice system had not completely broken down at this time but in another 20 years it was gone. The industrial revolution was the demise of the apprentice system.

The reason to apply a finish to the surface of wood is different today than it was 150 or 200 years ago. At that time what was most sought after was the polished surface that not only enhanced the beauty of the wood but also reflected light. You must remember at that time the only source of lighting was candles or later oil lamps. This is why looking glasses ,or as we say mirrors, were so valued. The more light one could reflect the brighter one’s house would be at night.

Today we apply finish for three reasons. The frist is to keep dirt and grime out of the pores of the wood,to put it another way, sanitation. Wood is also finished for stabilization. This is to slow down the moisture that wood will pick up by the change in humidity. Last is to achieve the sheen, color, and texture we find pleasing: i.e., decoration.

There were four basic finishes available to the 18th and early 19th century cabinetmakers: paint, oil and wax, oil varnish, or spirit varnish.A cabinetmaker could make his own spirit varnish. This was the most common finish used on furniture at the time. Each finish had its strong and weak points to consider.

Painted furniture was very popular at this period. Paint was made with linseed oil, whiting, a dryer, and earth pigments.To this was often added fossil resins such as amber or copal. This made the paint very much like an oil varnish. The colors were very bright and intense with a gloss sheen. Milk paint or “buttermilk paint did not come back into favor until the very early 19th century. One color paint schemes could be done in the cabinet shop but faux finishes such as wood grain or marble were the work of painters. The finish was very durable, moisture resistance, and easy to clean. Unfortunately many of these painted finishes were stripped off in the late 19th and early 20th century

Oil or wax finishes only partly met the requirements needed for a good finish. The oil used was linseed from the flax seed sometime a dryer such as lead was added to speed up the drying. On it’s own linseed drys very slowly and doesn’t fill the pores very well. It does produce a rich color and fair sheen. Bees wax was used as a finish as well. When mixed with turpentine it became soft enough to apply on the furniture and produced a good sheen. The drawback is that it remains too soft on the wood. Both of these finishes attract dust as they slowly dry.

Oil varnish is made with linseed oil, a dryer, and fossil resins. The resins were fossilized tree sap such as amber, copal, and sandarac. It was dangerous to make because of the high temperature that is required to melt the resin. Many a varnish-maker was burned to death when the hot oil burst into flames. It has many good points as a finish. It fills the pores, protects the surface, and adds a richness due to it’s amber color. The  drawback is attracting dust while it drys. Violin varnish could take several months to a year to dry. Work to be varnished was placed under tenting to keep the dust away from the surface while drying. Still occasionally you do find it used as a finish on furniture at this time but rarely.

Spirit varnish is made with shellac and alcohol, thus the name.Shellac comes from an insect secretion of the lac bug in India. It is easy to make, drys very fast, and produces a good moisture barrier. After the finish is built up it gives a very high sheen. It doesn’t hold up well to alcohol or water  spills. It can be made almost impervious to water by the addition of resins. Shellac gained a poor name from furniture of the 1920s’ and 30s’. Often old shellac or metal contaminated shellac was used that caused the finish to quickly degrade. It was the most widely used furniture finish of the 18th and 19th century. In about 1820 when the French started applying spirit varnish with a rag it became known as French Polish. This method of application left no brush marks and produced a higher sheen. Shellac is correct for most period furniture.


Unfortunately the vast majority of furniture has lost its original finish due to sunlight, weather ( being set out in sheds), or long ago being refinished. In 27 years of working with furniture I’ve only seen a few pieces that retained their original finish. The majority of these being in museums. Some books that say a certain piece has it’s original finish.  I’ve seen picturers of those same pieces from the 1930s’ in cabinet shops stripped with no finish on them. It is very hard to determine if an antique has an original finish. If you do think about having a piece refinished avoid letting some one use polyurethane or lacquer. The only place I find lacquer applicable is for dining table tops because of food, water, and alcohol spills.