Full Chisel Blog

February 23, 2008

Reproducing Period Furniture

Filed under: Furniture,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:23 pm


Reproducing Period Furniture    This is a topic of much discussion and debate as to what it takes to reproduce period furniture.  Now it is my feeling that if you are making true reproduction furniture then you must use the same tools available at the time of the construction of the piece that is being reproduced.  This means that using non existing machinery to make copies of old furniture is not the same as reproducing period furniture.  Without using a lot of modern words (I’ll keep the soap handy) you can’t use a computer controlled piece of equipment to make reproduction furniture, you can use it to make a modern copy but that is it, a copy.     If some standard doesn’t exist then it is difficult to even talk about the subject.  So here is the standard, the tools, materials and techniques much match what the originating craftsman used.  Now slight variations in the carbon content of modern steel used in a panel saw would still qualify as a hand tool and appropriate.  Even I split hairs only so far.  Use what is appropriate for the period of time from which the furniture was made and you are truly making reproduction period furniture.  Use modern tools and you will have to call it something else.  Reproduction period furniture is made with period style tools, appropriate materials and proper techniques in the style and manner of the original  The word Reproduction means to replica, duplicate or facsimile of the original and you can not reproduce the same marks and characteristics without using appropriate tools.  The whole thing gets fuzzy when reproducing late nineteenth century pieces because you can make reproductions using modern tools as most of them were in use by then.     But if you are making earlier pieces in order to be ‘reproductions’ you must use the same style tools.  It pays to do your research; it is surprising at the advances in woodworking in the early nineteenth century.    Stephen


  1. A friend of mine makes ‘reproduction period furniture’ and he uses all hand tools, correct for the periods he recreates with one exception, he uses a power lathe.

    Now here is his argument: Our lathes look both about the same as illustrated in Plummier’s work with the exception of the power source. His argument is that the results are achieved by using period gouges and chisels to do the work, his lathe is just powered by a waterwheel that powers a dynamo… and his lathe spins around just like mine.

    I wish I had a water wheel, but I am happy with my Grand Wheel, treadle and bow lathes.

    He says the potential energy is being converted into continuous or reciprocal action just by different means. The work is still done by hand. Well, not a bad argument. I don’t know.


    Comment by admin — February 24, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  2. I understand your friend’s argument. I would personally agree–but then, I don’t fully buy into the argument of using period tools only for reproduction furniture. And I have my reasons, too.

    To me, as you write in the main entry, it is a matter of lines being drawn, a matter of which hairs to split.

    For instance. The rough processing of timber into planks or lumber. Time was that many would give a mill a cut list which included thicknesses, widths and lengths. The worker of the stuff would take it from there. Should I be concerned about how my local mill process the timber for me when I give them a list?

    Or is it OK to rough process using electric mills? If so, should it not also be OK as regards making period reproductions from rough planks that have been made into dimensioned lumber using electrical machines in my own shop?

    It’s all fuzzy to me. All I know is where my personal lines are drawn. I have been giving thought to this issue though as I am embarking on a desire to make late 18th and early 19th century furniture.

    Take care, Mike

    Comment by Mike — February 24, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

  3. Mike,

    Depending on the period of focus, certain ‘power’ tools are appropriate, nineteenth century furniture wood can be prepared with a Wadsworth planer where 18th can not. Same for the duplicating lathe (Blanchard) and after 1866 the bandsaw. Foot powered mortice machines and hand powered tenon machines are good for the time period you are interested in making ‘reproduction’ furniture.

    Early on wood was cut to order at saw mills and this was a great advance over splitting and riving ones boards. There were people who specialized in turning and just made chair and furniture parts for other craftsmen, hell Hitchcock sold chair kit.

    I am not sure where the line needs to be drawn, just how far to split that hair, but I feel something must be done in order to make the term ‘Reproduction’ mean something, or else come up with a better word for ‘authentically reproduced furniture’, maybe that is the term!

    I think the machines and tools need to be the types available that are appropriate for the period of furniture in question. Still have to contemplate the power sources issue. Do you have to use old style clamps for gluing? Maybe that is splitting the hair too far.


    Comment by admin — February 25, 2008 @ 7:51 am

  4. All,
    sorry for going off topic but where can I findout how to do a seat like the one pictured?



    Comment by Leon — February 29, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  5. Do I have a topic? Your questions are fine, here is a link to my web site with a description on how to make it. I also did an article for Woodworker’s Journal Feb. 2002.

    http://www.fullchisel.com/alburnam1.htm#Snow Shoe



    Comment by admin — February 29, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

  6. Great, I have some ladderbacks that I wanted to try something different on.



    Comment by Leon — March 1, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

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