|Iconic state of halted progress|
This buildout process has prompted me to think more deeply about the distinctions between industrial woodworking and handtool aesthetics as well as what it means to refer to a furniture form as iconic and whether there is much meaning left to the term, Shaker.
|The two boards that define the other dimensions|
I have the impression that the Handberg diagrams simply shows the cabinet assembled with the shelves dadoed into the sides, lacking any details about hardware fixtures or otherwise. Schwarz says as much as he debates the utility of securing the sides with sliding dovetails. He eventually decides that dadoes secured with brads and glue are his best solution. I agree and disagree with his line of thinking. I don't have any prejudices with regards to nails per se in furniture. But I disagree with his reason that nails continue indefinitely to function. He writes:
"There is a snobbery that nails in woodworking are low-class wood-butchery. Don't believe it. If you've inspected much antique furniture, you'll find nails used extensively. But you have to look close. The the nails might be easy to spot in moldings and carcase backs, some of the others are harder to find. Look inside a piece and you might find nails that toenail the shelves or drawer runners to the sides. lots of the interior guts of a piece can be (and were) nailed. It's a fast way to build. The nails will be there if the glue gives way. And the correct nail will wedge the joint tight for decades, maybe centuries..."Schwarz makes many assertions here that merit comment. First, low class wood-butchery is often defined by misuse of nails. His examples of where one finds nails are some examples, in fact, of low quality furnituremaking e.g 'toenail... drawer runners to the sides." This construction style is often a mark of factory production since the nails are hidden on the interior away from the mindful eyes of consumers. Most annoyingly, Schwarz makes no distinction between mass produced and handcrafted antiques in his support for nails. I have examined many examples of antique furniture under repair and one point I can stress is that not all nails found in furniture were put there originally both from factory and individually produced pieces. Not every discovered nail is, therefore, evidence of nail usage by the maker. The most encouraging part of Schwarz' thinking process is that he intends his furniture to last decades or longer. Yet as every furniture repairman knows, furniture lasts a century not because it is made indestructible but is made in order to be easily repaired. The use of brads in moldings allows for it to be gently pulled away from from the carcase with a puttyknife and patience, simplifying predictable repairs. This happens only because the original piece was constructed in a manner that allowed for ease of repairs. This explains why it is easy to spot nails in molding upon close inspection. A futureminded craftsman wants a repairman to find them!
|Full-size drawing from the Schwarz article|
|Checking the beads against the plans|
|Bulk waste removed before planing and scraping|
|Astragals before rabbeting and gluing to cove and bead section|
|Ripsaw cuts to remove waste|
|Rabbet (as per Schwarz) and relief cut to simplify fitting of cornice|
|Completed molding section|
This makes his comment about nails holding after glue has failed rather distressing. A failed gluejoint originally reinforced with nails likely invites a handyman with a hammer, usually somebody's brotherinlaw or a cheapskate retiree, decides that a piece of furniture only needs a few more nails to put it all right lickety-split. Schwarz gives a very mixed message in this regard, writing later in the article:
"Then take everything apart and reassemble with glue. Although this isn't particularly complex assembly, I would choose a slow-setting glue (Such as Titebond Extend) or perhaps a liquid hide glue (such as Old Brown Glue), which is both slow-setting and reversible with heat and water. You could also a polyurethane glue, which sets slowly, but there can be some foamy-squeeze-out problems if you're not an experienced user of this product."This list of adhesives suggests that any of these three can equally contribute to constructing a piece of furniture with the potential to last a century. It's only the reversibility of the animal protein glue that makes it possible to repair a piece with minimal intrusion. The hidden nails that Schwarz insists on adding to the dadoes are not only more difficult to spot but much more damaging to extract than headed nails driven from the outside of the carcase, which he advises in a later book. I don't suggest that his method of using a gimlet to prebore the holes for nails is wrong or ahistoric, but hiding nails on the interior with a nailgun is a method that industrial furniture manufactures perform routinely, too. Despite using more handtools than Kenney ever considers in his later reinterpretation, Schwarz does appear to be following the guidelines for an industrial manufacturer, which are not at all aligned with the original celibate woodworker.
|Backboards removed: shelf spacing|
First the minimal decorative elements and boxy forms appeal to modern woodworkers who have centered the tablesaw in their workshop. This is not a recent development but a trend that has been building up so that today it's possible to buy mass produced Shaker style pegs for any project that requires them. A weekend woodworker can feel reasonably confident that he can complete a project that looks good enough to justify to his wife why she is unable to park her minivan into their two-car garage.
There is also a sense that Shaker is an American (Unitedstater) form that rejected European extravagance while celebrating Yankee utilitarianism. As usual, there is a modicum of truth to many legends. Lastly, I think that Shaker style furniture as it has been redefined by manufacturers is easy for them to produce and for consumers to identify regardless of how closely it resembles the originals. More recently, it fits in nicely with the Real! Wood movement since the Shakers used only real wood from real trees and they tended to use natural figure as decorative highlights The fact that they also loved bright primary colors has conveniently been overlooked, at least, until instant milk paints started showing up in the market. Besides most of the photographs of original dwellings are in black and white so it's rather common to forget that anything was brightly painted until RCA began selling color TVs.
I cannot return to the local timber stands that an anonymous cabinetmaker in Enfield drew his primary materials from to source my lumber. He used local because that is mostly all he could procure. I use construction grade SPF and SYP because, in the same spirit, that is what I can readily procure. Underhill stresses the importance of finding high quality, dense white pine, calling SPF marshmallow wood. I decided that SYP would do better for construction of the casework. It's a compromise but I feel more confident that the end grain certainly wears better for the feet than SPF among other factors. Neither Schwarz nor Kenney explain their decisions to use Cherry and Maple respectively for their cabinets. Kenney mentions that the cupboard's intended use is for his wife's sewing notions. I doubt that her pastime demands a more durable case than a jelly jar cabinet. I certainly hope that their decisions didn't involve antiPine snobbery!
|Balancing the side to transfer the the tails|
|I seldom use a coping saw on smaller stock|
My own construction details of the carcase joinery came about because I didn't look at the plans of Schwarz very carefully. I think I would have used halfblind dovetails at the top corners because that seems what the piece calls for. The detailed description of the dovetail jig and setup in the Kenney article might have convinced me that all three woodworkers did the same. Schwarz rejected sliding dovetail between the shelves and the case sides as too great a challenge. But he assumes that all shelves must employ the same joinery option. I believe that I fell upon a better solution.
|Single sided dovetail|
|Tapered sliding dovetail joint|
|Making do with 2x10 stock|
|Spacer block in action|
|Faceframe glued and clamped|
|Predrilled prior to gluiing|
|Nailed and plugged|
I set the nailheads about an 1/8" below the surface with a pinpunch which left a round hole ready to receive the wooden plugs, which I sharpened just enough to create a snug fit that, consequently, are held in place with hide glue.
|Planing off the excess wood and adding chamfers|
The next step is making and hanging the paneled door. The frame is standard; the distinction lies in the beaded panels. I certainly don't know enough about furniture of this period to say whether this was a common feature or an innovation. The challenge in creating this bead is highlighted by the fact that only Underhill bothers to mention it. His suggested technique is to use a sharpened flat head screw secured in a block of wood that acts as a fence. I've used this technique in the past and it does work fairly well but in this situation, the sharpened screw cutter must span the gap that fits into the frame.
|learning curve on display|
|Sloping right; sloping left|
|Maple plugs tapped from the door back|
|Chopped endgrain before sawing the leg profiles|
More research is warranted to better understand beaded panels. I still haven't determined the best method for this nor has anybody proposed the method how the original was cut. The closest that I can compare this with is purfling and I thus wonder whether a specialized tool was similarly used to create the perimeter groove in the original.
|Simpler method of dovetail layout|
|Improved dovetail layout accommodating the back rabbet|
The Enflield Cupboard, Updated; An iconic Shaker cabinet gets a face-liftwhich set me to pondering how any piece gets labeled iconic and how then its iconic features can be so casually downplayed. I think it's fair to say that Kenney's reinterpretation drifted the farthest from a Shaker preindustrial spirit as FWW has drifted from the editorial focus of the first issue.
|Knots determine application|
|Packed for indefinite storage|
|Bundled until further notice|
|A very unfinished mansion|
|Putative woodshop for a day|
|Replaced by Ikea|