This picture sums up where I am these days. Looking backward and forward, old and new. The Hadley trunk, based on examples from 1695-1725, I made of sassafras and finished with paint and shellac. It rests upon a minimalist and modern white oak breakfast table. The trunk is festooned with an ancient carving pattern complemented by an escutcheon cast from original 17th Century brasses. The corners are nailed like the original.
The table is restrained, it is all about the form., the only decorations are the figure of the boards with which it is made. The finish is “dry” with a low shine that suits it perfectly. It’s modern and clean but approachable and warm, usable.
I’ve been bouncing back and forth between styles for the last 13 years, making custom furniture here at Antick in Lambertville, New Jersey. It’s never a straight line, but sometimes things relate to each other in style or species of wood. This year I’ve been making 17th Century case pieces or farm tables. Here are some of them.
This cabinet is based on a piece at Winterthur in Delaware. It is made of walnut with excellent hardware from Londonderry. I really like the turnings and, though it’s hard to see, the x-stretcher between them.
This is a farm table I designed in white oak with a plank top.
This valuables cabinet was particularly interesting. It is made of walnut with two figured tombstone paneled doors. Lots of great hardware and moldings.
Lastly we have another farm table. This one in walnut with a one and a half inch thick top. At nearly 7 feet by 4 feet it is truly a great table.
I start each piece by cutting parts out of boards, or some times one board. It’s a stressful time in the process of making furniture. I have a limited amount of material and have to make the best decisions regarding grain and figure. I’ll be working on these parts for a while and when it’s finished the parts will be that way forever.
Then there is a point where the parts start to take shape. The goal is to make each part like it was made of the same piece of wood. The grain should do the same thing in the same place on every leg, post or crest rail. It’s hard to do. You have to be sure the growth rings are facing the same way when cutting out the shapes. Things start to happen quickly at this stage.
This is my favorite time at the shop. Joints have already been cut and can be assembled. The board starts to come back together again and look as if it is completely natural. I’m no longer making smaller boards, I’m making arms, legs, feet!
Bible Boxes for Baby Books
This is a box I made for my son Isaac’s Baby Book. It also has lots of room for keepsakes. It is based on a box pictured in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture of the Pilgrim Century. The box in the book is from 1670-1690 and held together with nails. I decided to use half-blind dovetails to join the front of the box and through dovetails for the back. Half-blind dovetails can only be seen from one side, so they don’t interfere with the carving on the front.
Inside the box is a till with its own lid, which can be used to prop the top open. There is also a secret compartment. This box belongs to my oldest son, Malcolm, and is pretty much filled up already. I tried make the boxes unique while keeping the design identical. The difference is all in the finish. Isaac’s is painted green over red milk paint with a coat of shellac, and Malcolm’s is red with most of the paint sanded off and a coat of linseed oil. Both boxes are made of sassafras, a local hardwood that is light, aromatic and closely resembles chestnut.
The carving is of a tulip vine, which for me symbolizes new life and continuing growth.
So, here’s a funny thing…you may have already seen this box. It was used as a prop in the John Adams mini-series on HBO! Here it is with Abigail Adams (Laura Linney) and George Washington (David Morse).
The first sign I made for the store was made of maple and basswood. It has a typical trade sign construction consisting of a frame with a board let into a slot cut into the top and bottom rail. The board is shaped at the top and bottom like a Chippendale looking glass frame. The sides have two different Queen Anne chair splat patterns cut out. The posts on either side are turned with different forms taken from William & Mary table legs as well as the drops at the bottoms. They are topped with flames in the styles of Philadelphia and Boston. I painted it with milk paint, a bad choice for something that lives outside.
I re-painted it a few years later with a phoenix bird in red. Taken from a finial on a famous Philadelphia chest-on-chest.
I was looking at some finial carvings from a Boston carver and was inspired to make a new sign. This one had a more eagle like beak but a wonderful long neck and tail feathers.
I carved the moulding around the frame with a water leaf pattern and gilded the Phoenix bird with gold leaf.
If a table is to be used for eating, drinking or talking with friends, I believe it should be round. I realize that some rooms are too small, and some gatherings are too large to use a round table, but they are still the best shape for conversation.
My favorite round tables are gate-leg drop-leaf tables, meaning the top can hang down if the gate-leg is folded in. These tables can be any where from 3 feet wide to 8 feet. The large tables are usually ovoid. They commonly have turned legs like this table, but also could have straight ,tapered or cabriole legs. One of my favorites is a New York table with eight ball & claw feet.
Some folks don’t like the gate-leg because they feel like they will hit their knees, so this table was made without the folding top and legs. It is made of maple that was painted with milk paint on the base and stained on the top. It is 60 inches wide, a good size for 6 people.
It is a small detail, but I think it makes this simple little box something special. This piece is based on a early Queen Anne box but I’ve pushed it a little further back to William & Mary. An interesting time for cabinet makers. In fact it was when cabinet makers started to come into their own. Before then they were called joiners and would have also been building houses and using the same “joinery” for both.
So here we have a box that is nailed together with a dovetailed drawer inside. The top is covered with walnut crotch veneer and edged with walnut cross banding. The drawer front and sides are solid, highly figured walnut. The drawer sides are made of sassafras, a local aromatic hardwood.
Oh, so the detail. It’s the hand cast brass hardware. They help give an interesting rhythm,with the feet, to the facade.