One of best ways to learn how a piece of furniture is put together is to take it apart. Many of the best furniture makers I know who work in historical styles have done a fair bit of restoration or conservation work
Last week at the Woodworking in America: Furniture Construction and Design conference, all the attendees got a chance to dive deep into how American casework is built with the help of Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton of Mack S. Headley & Sons cabinetmakers.
Jeff and Steve brought an entire van load of reproduction furniture they’ve built that could be completely disassembled. And during the three-day conference, they took pieces apart, put them back together showed us every single trick we asked about.
Want to know how to make a curved French foot? They showed us how. It’s so simple that I am now crazy to give it a try myself.
They explained how they do complex angled work. In a nutshell: Don’t angle the tenons. Angle the mortises. And when they passed the pieces around, the scales fell from my eyes.
I attended one of their lectures on Saturday where they assembled a Chippendale chest of drawers, a Hepplewhite chest of drawers with a French foot and a gate-leg table with some incredible angled work. Plus they disassembled a scale highboy (I think it was Queen Anne).
But that wasn’t the half of it.
At the two-hour-long question and answer sessions, Steve and Jeff worked with everyone one-on-one and showed us even more pieces, such as a Winchester drop-front desk with 13 secret compartments and a tall clock. And they had dozens of examples of carving and joinery to pass around for us to inspect.
They explained why they use white glue almost exclusively in their shop. How they finish their pieces. All the carving tools they use (by brand, number and sweep). In two hours I think I took in about as much information as I can gather by hunting myself in a year.
This is the same format (lectures plus extended hands-on/question-and-answer sessions) that we’re going to be using for our hand-tool conference in October in Valley Forge, Pa. If you liked our conference in Berea, you’ll be blown away by our conference in Valley Forge. I can’t wait.
– Christopher Schwarz