c. 1690 Dutch cabinet at the Toledo Museum of Art

This past Saturday, I was able to take a brief excursion down to the Toledo Museum of Art. I had never been before, which is ironic given that it is less than two hours from my home and I make it a point to visit art museums wherever I go for work, vacation, etc. It has a superb collection of 16th, 17th, and 18th century fine and decorative arts. They also have a modern arts wing, but as you might expect I'm not terribly interested in most things post-1800.

The furniture collection, while not large, has a number of very nice pieces representing the Middle Ages right up to the early 20th century. To me, the absolutely masterwork of the decorative arts collection is this c.1690 Dutch cabinet.

As the information card says, this piece is an absolute tour-de-force of the Dutch cabinetmaking trade. This real tortoiseshell, ivory, and ebony masterwork is even more stunning in person than in these admittedly questionable photographs. I was nearly kicked out of the museum for trying to see under the piece, and it took a decent explanation of what I was doing to keep me in the Museum. I spent more than 30 minutes studying this approximately 6 foot tall marvel.

I would say that I would like to replicate this piece... but there are two problems. One, the material is virtually impossible to find, and certainly in the amounts needed. Two, I doubt I have the skill! W. Patrick Edwards could pull off the marquetry I'm sure, but it is, for me, nothing more than an aspiration.

This is an incredible object on its own, but the most interesting this about it to me is that one can certainly trace the design elements from the Northern Italian baroque, through France and Holland into England, and ultimately into the William and Mary style pieces we find here in the States.

Here are more photos, again questionable given the no-flash rule in the museum, that show the intricate marquetry, ivory, moldings, and brasses. I would love to own such a piece but, alas, it is likely out of my budget... HA!

One update on my polychrome dresser... the drawers are done, now I just need to decide on a front foot... the turned foot on the original is likely not the original... the front stiles probably extended all the way to the floor. So... square extensions of the leg or turned foot? That's the next big challenge, then its on to paint!


Hand planed moldings for my dresser.

After a somewhat lengthy layoff from my woodworking (thanks to my equally strong passion for old cars!), I have returned to the shop for a couple of hours each of the last two days. I still have a rather large project to complete, namely my c.1720 Massachussetts polychrome chest of drawers. When I left off, I had completed the case and was beginning to sort out the drawers...

One of my favorite features on this piece, other than the wild paint scheme of course, is the molding on the drawer fronts. This piece will require about 32 feet of the narrow molding and about 16 feet of the bevel molding for the drawers. I had made one of these molded drawer fronts on Wednesday night but didn't take pictures of the process. I thought perhaps this would be an interesting thing for the readers, so I documented the process on the second shallow drawer.

The previous drawer front in place
To start, I took a piece of pine and jointed the edge. I then used a marking gauge to lay out the width of the molding to be struck (line darkened with pencil for photographic purposes).

Bench hooks and holdfasts make holding this 8 foot board easy
 After that, I grabbed my John Green molding plane (you can see it on the bench in the above photo) with a profile that is substantially similar to the original molding. Starting at the far end of the board and taking great care to maintain the spring angle, I began to stick the molding. You can see it start to take shape in this picture.

Taking shape

I then work the molding backwards along the length of the board, taking great care to maintain the orientation of the plane. This is one reason why I like to establish a deep section of the molding at the end; it gives me a reference to reset the plane if I should let the plane slip later on.

You can see some of the waviness inherent to handmade moldings

Even with this great care taken, the molding will not be precisely the same from one end to the other. This is one of the obvious hallmarks of truly handmade furniture and it is essential to make authentic looking reproduction pieces.

Molding ready for sawing
Now, the molding is removed from the mother board with a rip saw. The sawn edge will then be cleaned up with a plane.

Sawing 3/4" pine is quick and easy. I like to leave a
whisper of the line to take off with the plane later

Molding ready to cut into sections

Now, because the molding cannot be guaranteed to be absolutely the same down its length (even with a dedicated complex molding plane), it is vital to cut the mitered pieces in order from the molded stock. This ensures that the profile is substantially similar on adjacent pieces, minimizing the potential for visual discrepancies at the miters. Of course, the final corner will not follow this pattern, so some finessing of the fit there may be required.

I don't use a traditional miter box in my shop. Instead, I simply have a opposing pair of 45 degree cuts in my sticking board fence. I used these to make the cuts as needed to complete first one side of drawer, then the other. The moldings are nailed into place with headless brads from Tools for Working Wood.

We don't need no stinkin' fancy miter box!

First side complete at 8:18pm

Second side complete at 8:45pm

Despite the apparent complexity of this work, it is quite fast. The time stamps from my photos say that I took nine minutes to stick the profile on 8 feet of molding, 3 minutes to saw the molding free and clean up the back, 41 minutes to miter and install the molding on the first side, 27 minutes to do the second side, and nine minutes to plane the edges of the molding flush with the outside edges of the drawer fronts. I'm not sure a power tool could speed up any part of this process and using the proper vintage tools gives the right feel to the completed pieces.

Drawer fronts sitting in the case

Next up is making the beveled moldings for the deeper drawers, followed by more of the narrow molding for the same. Then its constructing drawers (simple since these are just nailed to together), and then on to paint!

Still need to decide on the front feet...