Full Chisel Blog

February 9, 2014

Getting down to Brass Tacks

This term comes from the upholstery trade; brass tacks are the finishing touch and final job of an upholstered chair, settee, sofa, lounge, etc. as well as leather covered trunks.  So ‘getting down to brass tacks’ is the last part of the job.


Here is a link to the website selling decent traditional brass tacks.  This link shows about the brass tacks.

brass tacks

My artwork [above] from 1994 was used by the site, I contacted the owner, proved I did the art and he sent me these tacks.  While they are not completely accurate, the originals were cast one piece, these brass tacks are the best available on the market.  They do pass the magnet test, which is a way to determine if the shanks are iron or steel.

If you are making 19th century accurate reproductions such as leather covered trunks, an upholstered piece of furniture or a brass tack knife sheath [the clinch looks correct] these tacks fit the bill.  I highly recommend them.


September 20, 2013

Extrapolating Furniture Parts from Photographs

I first received an email with a photograph of a walnut table leg, early nineteenth century [client said 1860’s, I think it is 1840’s] dining table from Virginia and was asked if I could make one as the 5th [center] leg was missing.  I said ‘yes’ and got a couple more photographs with a tape measure in the photograph.  Another email or two and I had other dimensions I needed.

walnut table leg7

I then made a scale drawing of the leg and worked on that until it looked correct and then proceeded to make a full size paper pattern of the leg.  With the help of Richard MacDonald [Master Wood Carver, who loves to turn] turn the leg from the pattern.

I then ripped the waste wood on the taper of the octagonal part, to a square taper.

walnut table leg9

Next I layed out the octagonals with a white pencil, easier to see on walnut than a graphite pencil.  I planed the first one by hand then decided to use a chisel to quickly remove the excess then my two small coffin smoothers [one set coarse, the other set fine] to smooth out the rough chisel marks.

walnut table leg8

A card scraper finished up the flats and it is ready to go.  Yesterday when the client called I had just finished up the work, it will be picked up today and be on its way to Texas.  They have a furniture restoration guy there that will cut it to length and do the finish work.

A fun project, the rendering took a bit of time but was well worth the effort and the customer was happy, just picked it up.


September 2, 2013

When you can’t take the chair apart…

because of nails in all of the joints.  Nails do nothing to increase the strength of the chair, but do weaken the wood where the nails were used.  This chair belongs to a friend, it was ‘unfinished’ furniture, table and chairs in oak.  Why the original manufacturer used nails is beyond my comprehension.

davis side chair1

Not being able to disassemble the chair to deal with the break or perhaps replacing it, it was necessary to repair in place.  I clamped the stretcher then cut a small mortise across the break to receive a loose tenon to strengthen the fracture.

davis side chair2

The depth of the mortise is to the end of the cross stretcher.  This is an inherently weak joint, exacerbated by the through nail weakening the joint even further.  The above picture shows the break spread open to receive hot hide glue.

I used 192 gram strength ground hide glue from Joel at Tools for Working Wood, high quality ground hide glue; 1/2 teaspoon glue, 1 teaspoon distilled water.  This is the smallest batch I make, put it in the glue pot, the pot on the stove and when the water jacket boils over, the glue is ready in minutes.

davis side chair3

I used a tourniquet and a couple of wood end cam clamps as well as a wedge of pine between the front legs to close up the fracture, not the easiest clamping job, but I accomplished the task.

Using a flat chisel I pared the excess oak away to bring the tenon down to the curve of the stretcher.  Then some shellac with yellow ocher and burnt umber to get the color match and a bit of beaumontage to optically hide the fracture and joint around the loose tenon.

davis side chair4

Cursing the inappropriate use of nails.



July 17, 2013

Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, Gustav Stickley Lamp Shade

A client referred by a local Antique Store asked me if I could make a ‘wicker’ top for their Stickley style lamp.  I said sure and they came to my shop with a picture of what they wanted and the lamp shade over which the wicker covering would fit.  So not knowing any better I said sure.

Between the time I said ‘sure’ and the time they picked up the lampshade I learned how to make the cover.  I actually spent more time thinking about making the shade to the actual process of weaving.  It also had a snowshoe weave pattern with which I was familiar as they are the same as the rawhide seats on my Quebec/Virginia ladder back chairs I make.

I first measured the diameter of the top and bottom rings, divided by two and multiplied it by 2 pi [6.28\, that math I hated in high school comes in handy come to think of it.  I then cut a rather thick piece of maple veneer to 5/8″ wide and 40″+ for the top hoop or ring then not having veneer material long enough I used a rattan chair spline, for factory woven cane, I had left over from another job.  I cut it to 62″ long and put a scarf on each end so I could glue them together.  The maple was also slightly scarfed and roughened with a file to increase the surface area for the Fish Glue.


With some scrap aspen I made a framework to hold both hoops 11″ apart in such a manner as I could weave the cane material, while keeping the hoops in place.  I purchased chair caning, 250 feet of 3.5mm, just over 1/8″ wide, it was the widest they sold and the shortest length.  I figured I used about 60 feet to complete the shade.


I first did a test with some linen string to make sure everything worked out, the first attempt had too many purchases; so I reduced the number.  The number of runs needs to be odd for the weaving to work out.  It is also critical that the strands running diagonally to say the right must be on top while the strands running diagonally to the left need to run on the back to make the final horizontal weaving possible.


Instead of soaking the cane material in water, I only did that to take the folds and kinks out of the pieces then allowed them to dry completely.  For use I just got the parts wet where I was knotting them to the rims.  I did a test of a piece that was soaked and cut it 12″ long when wet, it shrank over 1/8 inch in length which would cause problems.  So I just got it wet where it was looped over the hoops.


When I was ready to match the ‘fumed’ stain on the lamp I had the client bring the lamp base over.  They asked if it fit and I said I have no idea if it will fit.  There was a pause then they said ‘you must be very confident that it will fit?’, to which I said yes, the diameters of the hoops did fit on the test fit and the height is right.


The picture below is showing a couple of sticks and a holdfast to flatten out the upper hoop that got a bit of a dip in it during the process, it worked out fine.


Because the material will not fume evenly because of the different materials, so I used shellac with red iron oxide, burnt umber, yellow ocher, and a touch of black iron oxide to get a good pigmented stain/finish that matched the original.  I had help from my apprentice with staining the entire shade, the horizontal strands were stained before they were woven in place.  A bit of fish glue on the ends finished things up.



This is only the second Arts & Crafts period piece I have worked on,  I built a white oak bookcase for a friend.


July 5, 2013

Carved Mirror Frame Restoration & Gold Leaf

carved frame1

This carved mirror frame is made of some sort of South American hardwood, the species of which I have no idea.  When it was brought to the shop the owner wanted the pretty lavender paint removed for some reason.  So I obliged and suggested maybe they want the sun gilted, to which they agreed.

carved frame2

I removed the paint one section at a time, using blue masking tape to isolate surrounding areas for better control of the stripping process.

carved frame3

carved frame4

carved frame6

carved frame5

I worked my way around the frame again isolating areas with blue painters tape.

Once I had all of the paint removed, I used the slow acting citrus stripper, I cleaned up the surfaces with alcohol then added a thin coat of shellac.

Next I put a coat of gesso on the carving to fill the grain and smooth out the surface.  The gesso is hide glue size and marble dust with a bit of whiting and a touch of red iron oxide.  I lightly sanded between coats until the surface was smooth.

carved frame7

carved frame8

carved frame9

I then mixed up some bole using kaolin pipe clay, red iron oxide and hide glue size and painted it over the gesso.  I applied about 3 coats of the bole, smoothing them with a piece of coarse linen cloth between coats.

Next it was onto the gold size [a mixture of 10% hide glue and 90% distilled water.  I put a couple of coats on allowing them to dry between coats.

carved frame10

carved frame11

carved frame12

On to the gold leaf, because of the nature of the carving [not intended to be gilded] it required several applications to get it covered.  The gold size is made ready by applying gilder’s liquor a mixture of distilled water and alcohol to activate.

I got to use my gilder’s cush and gilder’s knife that I made, also my gilders tip, although I need to make another as the bugs did damage to the bristles.

After I finished I mixed up some shellac, red iron oxide, burnt umber and black iron oxide to cover a bit of gold that got on the side of the carving.  This worked better than trying to scrape off the little bits of leaf.  I also touched up the lighter area on the top right side of the frame.

carved frame13

And the customer was happy.


June 10, 2013

Painted & Grained Furniture at Historic Cove Fort, Utah

On a recent visit to Historic Cove Creek Ranch Fort in central/southern Utah I had an opportunity to photograph a fine collection of original pioneer era painted and grained furniture.  I actually made some of the chairs that are also on exhibit.  Also items from the Blacksmith shop and fences around the barnyard.


Said to be the original bellows from the fort, quite sure it is new leather. Bellows nozzle

Nozzel reinforced with rawhide, a good application. chairs and grained table

Ladder and Arrow back side chairs with mahogany grained table, not black stripes and edge.cochineal overshot quilt and mahogany grained rope bedstead

Croch mahogany rope bedstead with cochineal dyed overshot bed spread, log cabin patchwork quilt on blanket roll.cove fort

Entrance to the fort, the keystone and plaque were probably carved in Great Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. cove fort exterior

Exterior shot of the Fort, made from local volcanic rock, the fort was built for protection against the local Native American Indians. Cove fort exterior wall

The walls are very thick and there is a chimney for each room a total of 12 smokes. Croch mahogany grained bedstead with striping

Another fine croch mahogany rope bedstead.  The blanket roll should be loose, an extra blanket was wound around it and if needed pulled over the top.  The headboard is called a ‘rolling pin’ headboard because of its shape.  Some say because many are loose that it was used to flatten the straw and feather ticks [mattresses], this is a myth, you want the ticks fluffy not flat! curly maple blanket chest

Pine blanket chest grained to simulate curly maple. Detail Iron bracket on blacksmiths forge

Detail of rope holder on blacksmiths bellows. Edible fence

Strangest fence I have ever seen, held together with rawhide.  How many critters and farm animals would make a meal of this?  Silly modern interpretation. Farm yard

Barn yard. Finely grained chest of drawers with glove boxes, grained table and gondola chair

Mahogany painted and grained chest of drawers with glove boxes and black painted split column and handles.  The gondola chair is one of the 25 chairs made for the LDS Museum of Church History and Art back in the 1980’s. indigo overshot quilt

Indigo overshot coverlet on maple grained bedstead. kitchen and questionable clock

A view of the kitchen, the tall clock is suspected by many to be of newer manufacture. kitchen with gondola chairs

Another view of the kitchen area including more of the gondola chairs.  All of the rooms have connecting doors to allow movement around the sides of the fort without having to go outside. Loop hole in Fort wall

One of the view ports [loophole] around the ramparts on the sides of the fort. Mahogany and maple grained bedstead

Pine rope bedstead grained to look like mahogany with maple panels. maple burl game table

Tripod game table made of pine and grained to look like curly maple. maple grained armless spinning wheel rocking chair

Pine side [armless] rocking chair, low construction for working on a spinning wheel. nice grained set of chairs

Matched side winsor chairs, mahogany with black stripes. nice pair of rope beds

A pair of pine rope bedsteads grained to imitate curly maple. oak grained bedstead

This bedstead is painted to look like quartersawn oak. Ogee clock owned by original occupant of the Fort

Original ogee shelf clock said to belong to the original residents. Ox stantion

Ox shoeing stantion, because cows can’t stand on 3 legs like a horse. polychrome firewood box

Polychrome wood box, even the utilitarian pieces were painted. Proper gutter and downspout in copper

Last time I saw these copper gutters and downspouts they were bright copper, a few years in the weather put on a nice verdigris patina. quilt and clothing

Nice quilt and some original pioneer clothing. Stenciled rocking chair belonging to original owner

Rocking chair said to belong to the original residents, black paint with bronzed stencil work. telegraph office, maple grained table

The desk in the telegraph office is pine painted and grained curly maple.  Note the lead acid battery pile under the desk. Wooden Fort Gates filled with sand

The doors of the fort originally filled with sand for protection of depredations that never happened.  Four Native American braves showed up at the fort, Mr. Hinkley invited them to dinner and there were never any problems.

I recommend a visit but be warned there are some dry cities in Utah, so take along provisions.


May 15, 2013

Rocking Chair restoration

Filed under: Furniture,Historical Material,Of Interest,Restoration,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:21 am

This will be the first in a series covering the restoration of this late 19th century rocking chair that belonged to my friends grandmother.  He remembers the chair as brown so we will be removing the white paint, repairing any broken parts and re-caning the seat and backs with factory woven cane.


The cane on the seat and lower back are secured by the standard spline, however the top back with its double curves is secured in a wooden framework, I have never seen this method of attaching cane in 40 years of doing repair work.


Here is a photograph of my ‘apprentice’ Woody working on removing the seat and spline.  Boiling water was used to soften the spline.  Today he will be learning how to strip off paint.  It is good to have someone interested in learning and he likes the work.


May 3, 2013

The Complete Cabinet Maker And Upholsterer’s Guide – J. Stokes 1829


Gary Roberts over at Toolemera has done it again and reproduced a fine tome from the nineteenth century.  The book has many full color plates, hand colored engravings and Mr. Roberts has reproduced the entire book in color, so the pages appear as they would in an original edition.

Mr. Stokes has done an excellent job at assembling material from his peers and predecessors, which I won’t call plagiarism as it was common practice.  Some of the engravings have the long f for the s, indicating an earlier time.

The book is however full of very useful information about lay out, perspective, drawing, design and construction of furniture, with an emphasis on finishing, which I found fascinating.  This is a great hardbound edition of an historical work that is a pleasure to hold in ones hand and read about the past and the ways of old.  Add this one to your bibliotheque.


February 16, 2013

Pivot Hinge made from the under-rib of a muzzle loading rifle.

Filed under: Documentation,Furniture,Hardware,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:43 pm
pivot hinge1

I didn’t have my gnomon, that is a Mini-Mag flashlight

Here is another documented example of what lengths cabinetmaker’s had to go to make furniture on the frontier of Utah in the mid nineteenth century.  It is a pivot hinge that has been fabricated from part of the under-rib of a half stock muzzle loading rifle.  The cabinet was made by Henry Dinwoody in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory in the mid nineteenth century.  It is a wardrobe and these are the pivot hinges for two large flat panel doors.  The secondary wood is pine and the primary wood is black walnut made from packing crates.

pivot hinge3

Brigham Young instructed the saints to have items shipped to the West in hardwood shipping crates and these pieces of wood used in this large wardrobe have neatly bung plugged holes where the nails secured the shipping crate together.

When I first examined this piece in the 1970’s and immediately noticed that the hinges were made from the gun part, just from the visible end profile, the under-rib has a particular shape that was easy for me to realize, as I had recently just completed my first black powder gun.

pivot hinge2

Years later I was able to further examine the piece and found a touch mark on one side of one of the hinges and it is illustrated in the photographs.  I am not sure what they are, any ideas?

Someone gave me an old under-rib and I have it somewhere in my collection of stuff, and I intend to make it into pivot hinges like this historic example.



February 8, 2013

Double Leaf Hinge made from a wrought iron barrel band

Filed under: Furniture,Hardware,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 11:12 am

leaf hinge1

leaf hinge2

leaf hinge3

It is rare that one finds this particular style of hinge on a piece of furniture made from between 1847 to 1850, as the double leaf hinge usually dates from the late 18th century to the early 19th century.  It is also rare to find a documented piece of early Utah furniture, knowing the original owner from the family history but also be able to determine the original maker because of the construction and decorating techniques.

The piece of furniture is a large secretary with a fold down desk top with loafers to support and has an integral upper double glazed doors.  One of the doors was missing and one hinge was still attached to the carcase.  The intact door also had hinges made in the same manner.  This particular hinge has evidence that it was made from something else as it had a large hole on the underside [out of view] that shouldn’t have been there if it were made from sheet iron.

The hole, with evidence it had been punched is I am certain a hole from one of the two rivets on each barrel band from a water or whiskey barrel.  Out here in Utah in the 1850’s everything is repurposed because of the lack of supplies.  I have seen a pivot hinge made from the under rib of a half stock muzzle loading rifle.

double leaf hingeThe hinge is 2″ long, 1 13/16″ wide [open], [1 1/32″ wide closed], and the metal is .051″ thick, the pin is 1/8″ in diameter.

The drawing indicates how the hinge would look if it was unfolded.  There are two choices as to how the hole was arranged on the barrel.  Because of a small surface crack on the barrel, I think it was made from a fairly wide barrel band.  The grain in the wrought iron would go along the length of the barrel band.

Every other example from this period and place I have examined is the single leaf style hinge; see Shepherds’ Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker page 73.

Interesting piece of history.


Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress