Line & Berry Inlaid Chest

I really like how, as an editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM), I have a say in what is covered throughout the year in the printed pages , and how nice it is to intertwine projects that I build into those pages. As an example, this summer I taught a class at Acanthus Workshops on a chest of drawers from the Chester County area of Pennsylvania. When the time came to suggest potential projects for future issues, I, of course, suggested that very chest , the piece I began in class, but didn’t finish in the week we were together. (I did work on the chest as time permitted, but there wasn’t enough time for me to complete the build while simultaneously teaching others how to go about it.)

As I had hoped, the other editors approved the chest, so now I not only had a reason to work on it during office hours, I had a deadline to meet.

The line & berry inlay, the decoration on the drawer fronts of the chest, was found on many of the pieces coming out of Chester County near Philadelphia in the middle of the 18th century. The original chest , although no one has an exact date , is thought to have been built between 1730-1760, possibly around 1740 at the apex of line & berry decoration. At the time (and many woodworkers use the same approach today), the inlay was scratched into the surface using dividers or a compass (some refer to this technique as compass inlay). However, I’m the power-tool guy at the magazine and scratching is what you’re suppose to do to cats and dogs. My method involved a power cord attached to a router.

I completed the construction last weekend and intermittently applied the finish in between other pressing concerns , such as preparation for Woodworking in America (WIA) that includes getting classes ready and setting up table saws, band saws and dust collectors for the “Power Tool Play Room.” As you can see above, the chest, as it sits on my makeshift spray carousel between coats of shellac, is about complete. A final coat, backboards and hardware was all that was between me and the finish line. And just so you don’t think I’ve mended my “just in time” ways, Monday night I applied the final coat of finish, and installed the backboards and hardware. Tuesday morning, we took photos of the chest for the upcoming article.

And speaking of classes, one of the sessions I present this weekend at the conference is how to create string inlay with a router. In 2001, my rendition of a spice box , also a Chester County piece with line & berry inlay , used this technique, but the complex-looking stringing on this chest pushes the envelope. We’ll talk about this and more during the class. I hope you can attend. (And you’ll find that spice box in a two-part story in the December 2001 and February 2002 issues.)

Not going to WIA? No worries. This Chester County chest of drawers is the cover project for the December 2010 issue of PWM. If you sign up for a subscription by October 17th, you’ll get the December issue. If you have plenty of time in the shop, you could wrap up your chest in time for the holidays. Or you could build Editor Christopher Schwarz’s wooden layout square, which is a highly decorated, functional tool for your shop (or a great piece of art if you want it to be). And if you’re an armchair woodworker, peruse the pages to find out how to deal with cross-grain construction issues or read the third installment of Marc Adams’ series on veneer, along with our regular set of columns and more.

- Glen D. Huey

8 thoughts on “Line & Berry Inlaid Chest

  1. Glen

    After reading Mark’s comment, I thought something was incorrect. I was only 100 years off. The chest would have been 1730 -1760 and the peak of line & berry decoration was around 1740. I corrected the post above.

  2. Mark Maleski

    I prefer scratching for authenticity’s sake, but love this project and am pleased that it’ll be on the cover. I hope to read more about the history of this style in the article, as I tend to consider ~1820 to be the end of furniture’s golden age (but am willing to be open-minded).

    It doesn’t look as if Chuck influenced you to use sulphur!

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