In Chris Schwarz Blog, Joinery

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This week I’m at my father’s house in Charleston, S.C., to get my USRDA of grits, tasso and shrimp. Whenever I visit the Holy City, I always make sure to pack comfortable shoes and a tape measure , I never know what I’ll find.

This morning I’ve been poring over my father’s small collection of English chests. Most of them he purchased from dealers on King Street a few blocks away. When I helped him pick these chests out, I was always looking for the ones that displayed the best craftsmanship. These well-made chests, however, weren’t always the best-looking chests. So usually he purchased a chest that looked really good and was passable in the craftsmanship department. Funny, he doesn’t take me with him to shop for antiques anymore.

One of the chests in father’s dining room is similar to a piece I’ll be building at home this year. The chest is circa 1810, according a friend of my father who deals in Early American architecture and furnishings. It has some interesting details from the woodworking side of things.

The chest is a typical size: 39-1/8″ high, 37-5/8″ long and 19-1/4″ deep with four graduated drawers: 5-1/4″, 6-3/4″, 7-3/4″ and 8-3/4″. The entire chest is pine that has been veneered with mahogany.

The top is an interesting construction. The front 4-1/2″ of the top is 7/8″ thick. The rest is 3/4″ thick. I assume that the 7/8″ piece is edge-glued to the 3/4″ piece , at least that’s the way it looks.

As always, the drawers are interesting. The sides and back are all 3/8″-thick material. The front is 3/4″ pine veneered with mahogany (with some string inlay). Each drawer has a tail at its bottom edge that is straight instead of sloped. This straight tail houses the groove for the drawer’s bottom. Like all my dad’s English chests, the bottom of the drawer sides have been reinforced with small strips of wood to effectively double the thickness of the drawer side under the bottom.

The drawers in this chest run on solid dividers , no web frames in this chest. The back is four wide boards of pine in a rabbet. No shiplaps or grooves as far as I can tell , the backs have shrunk a bit, and you can see between them.

I really like the flowing lines of the plinth (they are repeated on the sides) and want to trace them before I leave. I’ll have to keep my eye peeled for some wide butcher’s paper in town.

– Christopher Schwarz


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Showing 12 comments
  • Mr. Just

    I don’t know if I am in the right place but I am just getting into Joinery and I was looking for programs that offer Joinery.
    There is a school that offers Joinery in my area (from what I was told that is rare enough) and I was wondering if anyone could give me some advice on if its worth it to go here.
    Quite an investment I must say.
    I was looking at http://www.teachwoodworking.com and they have links to the programs I was looking at attending.
    Thanks in advance for your help.

    Just

  • Steve McDaniel

    I love the details in the drawer dovetails! I saw some similar ones with the same detail in the dovetail at the bottom of the drawers on one of Adam Cherubini’s Web sites, and it took me a while to figure out what I thought was going on. (It didn’t help that the photo was taken of the drawer upside down, so the tail with the straight part was near the top in the picture.)

    Any chance you could get pictures looking at the front corner of the drawer from under the drawer, to show some more detail of the drawer bottom and the bottom of the sides? Or perhaps a sketch or exploded drawing of what’s going on?

    I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a detail like this in the drawers of my daughter’s hope chest.

    Nice Queen Anne chair in the picture as well. I’ve come to prefer the Queen Anne style over the Chippendale Style. One day we’ll have a new dining room set…

  • Christopher Schwarz

    It’s ceramic with a glass shade. My dad also has a lamp problem….

    Chris

  • Thomas Giacchina

    Neat lamp on the top. Is that ceramic or wood?

  • Casey Gooding

    I miss Charleston!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    My family and I lived there for five years and moved to Tallahassee, FL two years ago so my wife could get her Ph.D.
    The things you do for love!!
    I was always amazed at the great pieces and architecture in general there.
    Can’t beat the food there, either!!
    Have fun

  • Christopher Schwarz

    "Thickness" is correct. I fixed it above.

    Thanks

    Chris

  • Carl Stammerjohn

    >Like all my dad’s English chests, the bottom of the drawer sides have been reinforced with small strips of wood to effectively double the width of the drawer side under the bottom.<

    I’m missing something here. Can you explain further? Or, do you mean "double the thickness"?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    David,

    I’ve been to the Charleston Muesum many times. It is excellent. And it could be old growth white pine (VERY close rings). But I do know that Eastern White got exported to England. I’m about 99 percent certain it’s English.

    Chris

  • David

    Chris – At least the picture you’ve provided of the drawer side doesn’t look like English "deal" (norway spruce or red pine). It looks like white pine, which although not impossible to have had an English origin (colonial settlers quickly realized the worth of white pine and shipped it back to the motherland, so a "late" colonial piece could very well be English), may well be New England. If so, your Dad should up the insurance – it matters greatly on the collector’s market.

    And puh-leeze, while you’re there, don’t neglect going to the Charleston museum. Some of the greatest pieces of furniture ever produced anywhere, anytime are housed there.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Rick,

    I think the seller of the piece indicated to my dad that the chest had been imported from England to Charleston. The pine throughout looks like English stuff to my eye, as opposed to a Southern wood. But who knows?

    Chris

  • Rick Yochim

    Chris,

    Charleston builders of this period were so conservative (as was their clientele) that they held on to British style manuals and construction methods long after their Newport, Philly, and New York brothers were adapting, creating and revitalizing. Small wonder that the drawer construction you described models the way the Brits did it.

    I really love the neat and plain style.

    Cheerios.

    Rick Yochim
    Purcellville, VA

  • Sean Durkin

    For big sheets of paper, if you have an Old Time Pottery around ( or similar store) they always wrap stuff in very large squares of paper. My daughter always looks forward to a trip because of the new large canvas she gets to odraw with.

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