Fix It or Just Split - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Fix It or Just Split

 In Feature Articles

Each month I receive newsletters from woodworking clubs and guilds around the country. Some come from groups I’ve spent time with and some arrive from people I’ve met while doing furniture and woodworking shows.

This month I was particularly interested in a newsletter from the Washington Woodworkers Guild , “The Wooden Word.” On the first page of the newsletter (open the pdf below to read the page) a man is pictured standing next to a Massachusetts Block Front Chest. That would normally catch my eye by itself, but this article had my name associated with it as well. What did I do this time?

Tom Witzig is an accomplished furnituremaker and member of the guild who decided to build his Block Front Chest using a chapter from my book “Building Period Furniture” (Popular Woodworking Books) as a basis. As I see it, he builds pieces exactly as he should. Tom changes the design to fit his style of craftsmanship, he allows the material on hand to dictate the size of the piece, and he makes the necessary adjustments along the way. In my opinion, not following the plan and directions to the letter makes you understand the process better. Understanding the process allows you to apply those methods to future projects. If you follow the directions, you build one piece. If you understand the process, you can build any number of projects employing the same techniques.

On the downside of the article, Tom nailed the drawer runners to the case (as I indicated to do) and the case side split. That upset him and he vowed to add rear drawer dividers and not nail the runners if he built the piece again.

That would upset me too, but only for an instant. I don’t mind cracks in the case side due to wood movement , although my customers weren’t real fond of them. I think it makes the furniture more authentic looking when building reproductions. If you examine period pieces in museum collections, you’ll notice many case pieces that are cracked at the sides. It’s what happens over hundreds of years. Some of the pieces show old corrections or fixes while some stayed as they were.

You wouldn’t dream of fixing an original John Townsend chest , would you? I let time take its course on my pieces. What would you do?

, Glen D. Huey

The Wooden Word October 2007.pdf (173.71 KB)

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Showing 3 comments
  • Joseph Stoddard

    when I build a repro from plans or photos I try to give the appaerance of the item being copied. I age the finish, leave light saw marks and sanding marks, maybe even a hand plane mark. On spindles and moldings I can always find a spot that would be hard to keep clean and add some dust, paste shoe polish also does a nice aging job or darker color before the final finish, and never finish with a gloss. Satin varnish, or a hand rubed oil finsih looks nice.

  • aaimlove

    Leave it alone……..My wife owned an antique store for a number of years. The task of "cleaning up" some of the pieces she acquired rested with me. I always, by instinct, tried to maintain the integrity of the piece when I brought it up to a usable and stable condition. Taking my lead from Bob Flexner and John Rodd, I did what I thought was right. I’m always getting requests to fix Aunt Aggies or Grandma Jones’ dresser, bed or chair. Some folks can’t understand why I won’t do a total make over so as to keep it as "good as old". If they argue, I send them on their way. Larry Love Canyon, Texas

  • Alex Moseley

    I don’t know, Glen. I tend to sympathize with Krenov’s advice to consider and plan for the effects of time and environment on the piece. Obviously most of us don’t build pieces with a highly-controlled museum environment in mind–and to me that’s a good thing.

    If we know how wood moves, if we know how it behaves when we drive a nail in it a certain way, don’t we have a certain obligation to make choices that take those factors to heart? Every once in a while, I make something for my in-laws in Tucson, but I’m in Kansas City. If I build a piece for them without taking time and moisture into consideration, it would likely self destruct upon arrival.

    As my kids are learning in grade school, it’s all about the choices we make.


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